“Creep” shaming

There is a rule most boys learn by the time they reach high school: Be handsome. Be attractive. Don’t be unattractive.

When it comes to attracting the opposite sex, that rule is absolute. No matter how nice, how polite, or how respectful a man or boy behaves, his level of attraction plays the biggest role in whether the woman or girl will consider him likeable or creepy.

That reality poses a problem for feminists like Hugo Schwyzer. As he explains in a recent article:

What SNL played for laughs, many men (and some women) took – and still take – seriously: Some men can’t win with women, these people believe, no matter what they do or say. This attitude is best observed in the recent backlash against calling men “creepy.” […] Others argue that “creepiness” connotes something specific: male homeliness. […] I often hear something similar in my gender studies classes. […] Whenever the subject of sexual harassment or “creep-shaming” comes up in class, someone–almost always a man–makes the case that SNL was right: the only way for straight men to safely express sexual interest in women is to do so while following the skit’s three rules. With almost invariable bitterness, these young men complain that unless a guy has won striking good looks in the genetic lottery, he’s doomed to be rejected and seen as overstepping his boundaries, no matter what he does.

This eye-rolling response is nothing new for Schwyzer. He has previously expressed a disregard for men’s dating plights and condoned unfair suspicions about men by women. Schwyzer does not see this is a legitimate issue of unfairness on women’s part. Rather, he sees the “backlash” from men against being called creepy as “an unwillingness to accept [a woman’s right to decide whose attention she wants that has] given women unprecedented power to say ‘no’ to the lecherous and the predatory.”

Yet he provides no examples of anyone arguing anything remotely close to that straw man. Instead, he contends:

Complaints that unattractive, socially awkward men are unfairly labeled “creepy” miss the point. “Creepy” describes having “the creeps;” it’s a word that centers on women’s own feelings. It’s no more “unfair” for Ashley the hypothetical barista to be “creeped out” by the advances of an older, unappealing co-worker than it is for her to be excited by the same approach from the man to whom she’s attracted. In that sense, the SNL sketch got to an important truth: Women’s subjective experiences and instincts matter.

The issue is not whether it is unfair for Ashley the hyptothetical barista to be “creeped out” by the advances of someone she does not find attractive. As Schwyzer points out, “enjoyment can’t be coerced.” Women can feel creeped out by “unattractive” men for the same reason I can feel creeped out by feminists who approach me.

Yet the issue is not whether one can feel someone is creepy; it is whether it is fair to label someone person creepy solely because one does not like them. “Creep” carries a very specific connotation in our culture. It implies the person is perverted, sexually depraved and dangerous, and lacks a basic respect for other people’s boundaries.

Is it fair for me as a male survivor to find it creepy that a group of people who seem to dislike male survivors and relish mocking them would flirt with me? Absolutely. However, to label them creeps or creepy implies that they engage in a set of behaviors that they may not actually engage in. I can feel whatever I want and refuse their interest, but I do not get to tarnish their character based solely on my feelings.

That is the point that Schwyzer misses. Many of the men complaining about being labeled creeps are doing precisely what happens in the SNL skit he cites: simply approaching women who do not find them attractive. They are not hounding the women, violating their personal space, making rude comments, or trying to touch the women. Their only crime is not looking like Channing Tatum.

That is indefensible, and as much as Schwyzer tries to argue otherwise, he cannot present a coherent argument to justify his position. The best he comes up with is:

In his indispensable 1997 bestseller The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker encourages women to rely on their own intuition to keep themselves safe from violence. There are few things more risky, de Becker argues, than overriding one’s own sense of real danger (“the creeps”) for the sake of preserving a relationship – or simply being “nice” to a stranger. Crucially, de Becker points out that people-pleasing and the urge to avoid causing offense put more women in danger than acting on sexual attraction. Women are more likely to be assaulted because they were too polite to someone whom they sensed was creepy than because they were too responsive to the charms of someone who turned them on.

Firstly, Schwyzer provides no evidence for the latter claim. To my knowledge, there is no research suggesting that women who were too polite are more likely to be assaulted than those who were too responsive.

Secondly, the issue of perception is tricky. To use a current situation, if one followed Schwyzer’s logic, George Zimmerman was well within his right to shoot and kill Trayvon Martin because Zimmerman “felt” Martin was suspicious. As a result of life experiences, social norms, biases, bigotry, or some combination of the above, a person can feel they are in danger or that someone is a threat even when they are not.

Socially speaking, unattractive men are viewed as more likely to engage in lecherous behavior (presumably because their looks would prevent any woman from willingly choosing them). That cultural perception could therefore lead women to assume that men those women do not find attractive are threats even when they are not. That factor cannot be ignored, yet it is one Schwyzer seems fond of ignoring.

Schwyzer likes to view these complex social issues in a vacuum, one in which men are always wrong and women are always right. However, that is not how things work. The situations are more nuanced, and unfortunately some men who do not meet conventional beauty standards face discrimination that pretty boys like Schwyzer do not.

Schwyzer ends with:

When men complain about being “creep-shamed,” or insist that the Tom Brady sketch accurately reflects reality, what they’re really lamenting is a culture that is increasingly willing to honor women’s right to be sexual — and women’s right to be safe.

Or they could be lamenting a culture that makes it increasingly difficult for them to show their interest in potential partners by labeling any attempt at flirtation from an unattractive man “creepy.”

25 thoughts on ““Creep” shaming

  1. Wait isn’t this the “creep” who almost killed an ex in a drug fueled rage?

    Why is it socially acceptable to bash low status men but Schwyzer gets away with his abuse?

    If women really do have a sixth sense, then wouldn’t it imply that it is their fault if they get in an abusive relationship? But, oh, wait, women aren’t allowed to have “agency” so nothing is their fault, everything is men’s….

    the hypocrisy is just too much to bear…

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  3. Is Hugo really suggesting it’s ok for women to be rude n act rude based on internal judgments alone? By that logic then a guy who feels a woman is a slut, can call her a slut right? Or a bitch if he feels threatened?

  4. As usual, Schwyzer is full of it. No one is objecting to women being safe. We just don’t think it’s fair to label someone negatively just because you don’t find them appealing. Don’t project your own superficiality onto other people: “I didn’t turn him down because he is paunchy and bald, but because he is creepy. I’m not shallow, I swear!”


    “Early last year, women’s studies professor Hugo Schwyzer disclosed on his blog that he had attempted to murder an ex-girlfriend in the course of a 1998 suicide attempt. “

  5. To be fair to him… I strongly doubt he could understand being a creep considering what I remember reading about him. However… If you don’t understand a subject you don’t talk about it. Creep is one of those words I personally refuse to use unless I’m making fun of the word or joking about a character of mine being creepy. It’s such a heavy word to jab at someone and very subjective in some of the ways it is used.

  6. “a woman’s right to decide whose attention she wants that has”

    What? Typo?

  7. “Socially speaking, unattractive men are viewed as more likely to engage in lecherous behavior (presumably because their looks would prevent any woman from willingly choosing them).”

    I think ALL men are presumed more likely to engage in lecherous behavior than women. Those who don’t are treated as asexual anomalies, non-men.

    The thing is, attractive men are presumed to engage in lecherous behavior that is wanted some of the time. But all men are still presumed to be “pervert, hentai” and someone who would not hesitate one second to spy on the women’s changing room.

    On the other hand, women are not presumed to be lecherous at all. Men are seen as drooling idiots in front of the pretty women – regardless of wether they drool. Some will react like Penny from Big Bang Theory, and find it weird when men are NOT bending over backwards for getting sex or a glimpse of female flesh. It’s confirmation bias from stereotypes (women are pretty, men are bleh), and a bit too much self-importance (from mostly pretty women).

    Japanese media turns this up to eleven. Where men are punched in hyperspace using mallets-from-nowhere, invariably by women, for being perverted or even being caught in a situation where he could be SEEN as perverted (even if a naked girl throws herself at him, its HIS fault).

  8. What? Typo?

    No, in context it reads ““an unwillingness to accept a woman’s right to decide whose attention she wants that has given women unprecedented power to say ‘no’ to the lecherous and the predatory.”

  9. There is a rule most boys learn by the time they reach high school: Be handsome. Be attractive. Don’t be unattractive.

    That reminded me of this Jezebel article:

    which speculated if the upswing in female teacher-student “relationships” had anything with teen boys being more attractive these days:

    Certainly the bulk of teen boys are not at the peak of their beauty, which may have something to do with it; has the prevalence of Retin-A, the importance of grooming and weight-lifting, distasteful as the question may be, had anything to do with the strange up-swing?

    Not to mention the first comment by Erin Gloria Ryan (who later became an editor at Jezebel as well as a SlutWalk organizer):

    This problem would go away if just teachers would stop being so hot.

    This comment is since been deleted, but it can be seen here ( http://imgur.com/a/5d3Px ) on a screenshot I took back in April this year.

  10. @Schala: I think men genuinely *are* more likely to engage in behaviour that is seen as harassing or border-crossing than women are. The reason for this is that women have the priviledge of passivity, they do not need to initiate. Initiating is by definition taking the first step, and you cannot usually know for sure if that step is welcome or not, thus you’ve got no choice but to try it when you think it’s possibly welcome. It’s pretty much unavoidable at this point that you’ll sometimes get it wrong, I do not think it’s fair to shame anyone for getting a guess wrong.

    The distinction which Schwyzer doesn’t get is the distinction between “I am *feeling* creeped out” on the one hand and “What you did violates common social norms thus it’s objectively creepy”.

    If a certain behaviour would be welcomed from a male the female is interested in, but not from one she finds unattractive, then by definition that behaviour isn’t creepy. Yet, if women used this as a filter on their labeling, theyd end up labelling men a lot more seldom. If you’d welcome Brad Pitt doing that to you, then clearly your problem is with *who* not with *what* and you’re labeling someone purely based on his looks.

  11. Tamen, Ryan’s comment does not surprise me, and I am glad you saved a copy of it. If anyone ever brings it up, now she will not be able to deny what she wrote.

  12. The distinction which Schwyzer doesn’t get is the distinction between “I am *feeling* creeped out” on the one hand and “What you did violates common social norms thus it’s objectively creepy”.

    I doubt Schwyzer does not get that. He seems aware of the idea to try to refute it by citing women’s feelings as the most important factor. I think he simply does not care. Whatever women feel is paramount, regardless of whether it is reasonable or rational. He applies the same logic to women’s fear of rape. The vast majority of women are not raped and the vast majority of men are not rapists. However, many women fear rape (because as a society we teach them to) and therefore suspect virtually any and every man they encounter is a potential rapist. It is grossly illogical, yet feminists like Schwyzer find it acceptable because some women have been raped. When applies the same logic in reverse, whether talking about male victims of female violence or men being rejected by women so often that those men come to suspect women’s motives, Schwyzer considers it sexist.

    All of his logic revolves around double standards, false equivalences, and a heaping dose of narrow-minded doctrine.

  13. I read EG Ryan’s comment as tongue-in-cheek. I don’t think it’s serious.

  14. Not being “creepy” can often be avoided by being 1) very physically fit and 2) following some of the advice of “PUA’s” like Mystery, Roissy, Roosh, etc – display high levels of confidence, aloofness, superiority, and what I’d consider to be jerkiness.
    For men who are very short, disfigured, disabled, or otherwise irredemiably unnattractive, well, you’re probably doomed to being painted as a “creep” no matter what.
    In a way, that could be liberating – you don’t really need to worry about your appearance, or your clothes, or your hair (or lack thereof), your possessions, or your physique.
    And there are women who are equally repellant who may be receptive, or lonely, or at least willing to provide you with some affection for a price.
    It is quite tragic that some of us must pay to see a woman naked, or to enjoy something that should be freely and lovingly given.
    But one can make one’s peace with that sad fact, too, and still lead a rewarding, meaningful life. Even if what passes for love charges by the song or by the act.
    Love can exist in many forms, but the most important love is to have love and respect for oneself – no matter how monstrous the man in the mirror may appear. A mirror says nothing about a man’s heart, and can easily miss his essential goodness or decency.
    Remember that, when some snide, entitled, egotistical bitch (no insults — TS) tries to dehumanize by categorizing a man as a “creep.”
    What’s truly creepy is the shallow, the vain, the solipsistic and the sanctimonious.

  15. Pingback: When Ideologies Teach Hate | Toy Soldiers

  16. Pingback: Creepy | Discovering the Male Mysteries

  17. He’s off his fucking rocker. I was outside a club in a certain British city recently, and a female acquaintance came to me for protection because she was being followed around by this weird Korean guy, who seemed to appear just as she mentioned him.

    I started talking to him to try and keep him from talking to her, and I got a very unpleasant vibe from the guy, he had ‘WANNABE RAPIST’ written all over his face. (I’m quite skilled at reading people, one guy I got a taxi number from in a railway station I was positive was an Islamic extremist.)

    He even started swearing at and threatening me just because I was blocking him from speaking to her. Fortunately we managed to shoot him off and the girl got home safely.

    THAT’S creepy behaviour, not what idiots like Schwyzer and Watson describe.

    (TBH if a woman describes you as such because you merely asked her out once and she found you unattractive, she’s probably not worth your time or effort.)

  18. Mind you, if you have the described physical shortcomings, then you can still win if you’re confident. Not easy, but male or female it makes a world of difference.

  19. But that tends to derive directly from your experiences. If women usually respond positively or enthusiastically to being approached by you, it’s a fairly safe bet that over time you’ll come to be quite confident in that situation.

    On the flipside; if they tend not to, because you’re physically unattractive, then it’s rather unlikely that after a lot of experience with rejection, you’ll come to be confident about your approach.

    In short; I think this amounts to (at least sometimes) confuse effect with cause. Is it that confident people are successful, or is it that people who have experienced a lot of success are likely to become more confident as a result ? (It’s a bit of both; of course)

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