I wrote a post a while back about how some people are very good at getting away with doing intentionally creepy things by passing themselves off as just ~awkward~.
Recently, I noticed a particular pattern that plays out. While creeps can be any gender, there’s a gendered pattern by which creepy men get other men to help them be creepy:
- A guy runs over the boundaries of women constantly
- He makes them very uncomfortable and creeped out
- But he doesn’t do that to guys, and
- He doesn’t talk to guys about it in an unambiguous way, and
- When he does it in front of guys, he finds a way to make it look deniable
- And then some women complain to a man, maybe even a man in charge who is supposed to be responsible for preventing abuse in a space
- and he has no idea what they are talking about, since he’s never the target or witness
- And he’s had a lot of pleasant interactions with that guy
- So he sympathizes with him, and thinks he must mean well but be have trouble with social skills
- And then takes no action to get him to stop or to protect women
- And so the group stays a place that is safe for predatory men, but not for the women they target
- Mary, Jill, and Susan: Bill, Bob’s been making all of us really uncomfortable. He’s been sitting way too close, making innuendo after everything we say, and making excuses to touch us.
- Bill: Wow, I’m surprised to hear that. Bob’s a nice guy, but he’s a little awkward. I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything by it. I’m not comfortable accusing him of something so serious from my position of authority.
What went wrong here?
- Bill assumed that, if Bob was actually doing something wrong, he would have noticed.
- Bill didn’t think he needed to listen to the women who were telling him about Bob’s creepy actions. He didn’t take seriously the possibility that they were right.
- Bill assumed that women who were uncomfortable with Bob must be at fault; that they must be judging him too harshly or not understanding his awkwardness
- Bill told women that he didn’t think that several women complaining about a guy was sufficient reason to think something was wrong
- Bill assumed that innocently awkward men should not be confronted about inadvertantly creepy things they do, but rather women should shut up and let them be creepy
A rule of thumb for men:
- If several women come to you saying that a man is being creepy towards them, assume that they are seeing something you aren’t
- Listen to them about what they tell you
- If you like the guy and have no idea what they’re talking about, that means that what he is doing is *not* innocent awkwardness.
- If it was innocent awkwardness, he wouldn’t know how to hide it from other men
- Men who are actually just awkward and bad at understanding boundaries also make *other men* uncomfortable
- If a man is only making women uncomfortable but not men, that probably means he’s doing it on purpose
- Take that possibility seriously, and listen to what women tell you about men
tl;dr If you are a man, other men in your circle who are nice to you are creepy towards women. Don’t assume that if something was wrong that you would have noticed; creepy men are good at finding the lines of what other men will tolerate. Listen to women. They know better than you do whether a man is being creepy and threatening towards women; if they think something is wrong, listen and find out why. Don’t give predatory dudes who are nice to you cover to keep hurting women.
It applies if you flip the genders too. Women undeniably have it worse, but they can be targetted by predatory women as well as men. If anyone tells you someone is being creepy and threatening, listen and find out why.
I definitely agree that creepiness needs to be taken seriously regardless of gender. (And I also agree with you that this does not go without saying).
There are different forms of creepiness. And most of them are gendered to some extent or another. The pattern I described in this post is about a way that creepy men, specifically, tend to use male solidarity to get away with hurting women — and reasons that this may not be obvious to other men. That dynamic exists and it’s usually gendered. It’s also not the only kind of creepiness.
There are other patterns too. Some of which are gendered in different ways. For instance, here’s a post I made about Nice Lady Therapists who treat clients inappropriately. That kind of thing is usually much easier for women to get away with. (It’s also much easier for mothers than fathers to get away with posting inappropriately personal things about their disabled children on the Internet.)
tl;dr Creepiness always needs to be taken seriously, regardless of gender. Barriers to taking creepiness sufficiently seriously tend to follow gendered patterns. It’s important to talk about those gendered patterns, and also to acknowledge that there are exceptions.