Naturally, most people do not want a reputation for making others uncomfortable or fearful, especially if they themselves would never intend to do such things. So it follows that people who step on boundaries by accident to the point of it becoming a recurring problem are concerned about what to do about it and many have turned to the blogosphere for insight and assistance. The response has not always been friendly.
Many feminist bloggers who are sick to death of the Creep question angrily respond to the massive chimeric wave of guys going “I’m not a bad person, I swear!” with
“Back off and apologize! DUH!! (You entitled misogynist, you!)”
Being Creepy is not a state, it’s a process. It’s a pattern of actions that can be interrupted at anytime. It’s not forever. Your understanding of “Creepy” will affect how you respond to advice on how not to be. We’ll work on that.
Many people aren’t looking for absolution or excuses or for some symbolic authority figure to assure them that they really didn’t make a mistake. They want to understand their situations better so that they understand what “creepy” means for them and their situations. That’s a complicated issue that’s too big for one post or one response.There’s no easy answer for that, though there are many not-simple answers that I hope to cover a fair chunk of. However, in practice, for the newly accused Creepy Guy, minus the unnecessary snark, the basic instructions :
Back off Stop the offending behavior and apologize.” really is the best advice.
Lots of different people find lots of different things creepy. People’s comfort level with you will always vary from person to person. These things can be confusing and yes, you might step on a boundary you didn’t know was there. This in itself does not make you Truly Creepy. What matters, and what makes the difference between a Socially Awkward Creepy Guy and someone who’s Truly Fucking Creepy is how you handle it when someone says “Knock it off!”.
An apology does not mean submission. It does not mean you’re admitting to being a terrible person. If you truly meant no harm, there’s nothing that says you can’t tack that onto your apology too (though note: it is NOT a substitute. See below.). The point is, this communicates that you can respect a boundary when alerted and that you intend no further harm and offense. And that’s the point you want to make, no? Do this enough and people will understand that even if you stumble on a boundary, their “no” will mean something to you and thus they have nothing to fear. People will feel safe being direct with you and you won’t be the kind of asshole who does any of the things listed below:
– Continuing the behavior as if nothing happened.
– Concluding that because you don’t like the timing/tone/word choice of what she said, there isn’t really a problem and you can continue the behavior.
– Arguing with her about why she ought to be fine with the behavior she objects to or that she’s a bad person for not wanting it.
– Insisting that the behavior is okay because it’s coming from you and you’re a good person.
– Going into a rage.
– Acting as if the real injustice in this situation is that she’s hurting your feelings by telling you to cut it out.
None of the above are acceptable nor are they effective. As you argue and blast and protest, you may feel as if you are taking a stronger, more assertive stance in favor of your innocence than if you simply apologized and quit the offending behavior. However you’re really just hurting your case and make yourself look like an ass. AND you’re effectively communicating that you believe you know better than she does about what she should and shouldn’t be comfortable with. You’re showing that you consider your ego and reputation to be more important than her comfort and safety. You’re actively trying to move her boundaries to accommodate you and not respecting where she’s chosen to place them. Congratulations! You’re a Fucking Creep!