What’s probably one of the biggest concerns among well-intentioned Socially Awkward Creepy Guys trying to figure out their place in things, is why a term used to describe how social awkwardness makes you weird and annoying is also being linked to violence and rape.
Some Creepy Guys don’t immediately see the tie-in, especially if they aren’t guilty of more obvious offenses like unwanted touching, groping, peeping or making lewd comments; things they know to be wrong and wouldn’t dream of doing. Guys are often called Creepy for relatively subtle, harmless things that they may do unconsciously like stand too close or fail to realize when a conversation is over. So it’s understandable for someone in this predicament to be both alarmed and baffled as to how people make the jump from being annoyed by innocuous social accidents to fearing for their safety.
Creepiness is not always about rape. Creepiness is about crossing boundaries and ambiguity of intent. Rape is about using one’s power to violate sexual boundaries often times using ambiguity of intent as an in. As you can see, there is overlap. This isn’t to say being annoying and socially fumbly means you’re more likely to rape, nor is it to say that if you misread a social cue you’re committing micro-rape and may as well put your name on the sex offender registry in advance because you’re well on your way to the big leagues. Creepiness is a particular combination of features that makes a person unsure as to whether a situation might headed in an undesirable direction.
When I worked in a college bookstore, one of my coworkers who I’ll call “Duster” would frequently make silly mistakes on the job which meant frequent talks with our boss about why she should avoid making them in the future. She was awkward and clumsy and dropped supplies and stacks of books often. He’d have to tell her why it’s unprofessional to walk around your workplace with price-tag stickers all over your face or why you shouldn’t try to use the high-temperature shrinkwrap equipment when you haven’t been taught how to use it and haven’t been authorized to do so (fortunately it wasn’t even on). He had to explain that if you find a hypodermic needle on campus, you don’t pick it up, bring it into the store and play with it. He had to explain why it’s not okay to rub the feather duster into your face or into customers’ faces. There were a LOT of these talks, some of which had to happen repeatedly. Outside of serious circumstances, he had a sort of comedic “my anger is funny” thing going on so, my best guess is that she mistook his serious tone for amusement and an indication that she should do this kind of thing more often.
After pre-semester book-rush, Duster was let go along with several other employees the store didn’t need once the semester was in full swing. It was par for the course and generally considered not a big deal. Since she was also a student at the college, she’d still come by every so often for supplies and things or just to chat with old coworkers. One Halloween, she came into the store with two of her friends to visit and show off her sailor costume which she added a large whip to as a prop. (And no, I don’t know what she thought a sailor would need a whip for.) As this was happening, my boss and I were in the process of dismantling and disposing of a large glass display case that had begun to fall apart and had become dangerous. We didn’t want any customers going near this glass house of cards much less one we knew to be extremely clumsy and danger prone. We certainly didn’t want such a person to come by just as we were at the base of this thing, unable to move til we were done lest the whole thing crash to the floor. So my boss immediately informed her that she needed to stand away from the display case. Duster appeared to take this to mean “Aww, he’s being all funny-angry again. Lemme stand right next to the display so we can yuk it up some more.”
In the 5-7 minutes I estimate it took us to safely remove all the loose glass pieces, we had to shoo Duster away from the display somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 times. After it was safe to get up, the overall vibe in the room returned to one of normal conversation about Halloween plans and other trivia. Then, out of nowhere, mid-conversation, Duster said to my boss “Why are you so mean to me? I’m mad at you!” and then proceeded to loop her prop whip around his neck and tighten it, all while wearing this weird goofy smile which in hindsight seemed like the only face she ever makes.
Even though that was the extent of what took place during that incident, we really weren’t sure what to make of it. Yeah, sure, she did tend to joke around in situations where that wasn’t appropriate or in ways that were immature or unfunny. But was this just another dumb joke, or was something else going on? My boss decided he’d leave it at that for now but make a note just in case this wasn’t the end of it.
And it wasn’t.
Over the course of the week, as my boss was walking through the building on his way to the bookstore, on his way to the restroom or on his lunch break, if he happened to pass Duster, she could be counted on to make her presence known. If she saw him in the hallway, she’d yell things like “You’ll be sorry!”, “Sleep with one eye open!” or “You’re on my hit list!”. If he kept walking and pretended not to hear her, she’d follow him and yell some more until he acknowledged her presence. He spent the week trying to figure out what if anything he should do about this. Would it stop on its own? What if it didn’t? And was she serious? This was getting annoying. This was also getting very creepy.
The situation came to a head one day as my boss was standing in line at the cafeteria on his lunch break. She spotted him standing there, walked right up to him, started poking his bald head and loudly rambling about various things she was angry at him about. He repeatedly told her to go away; that this was harassment and needed to stop. When his last and loudest attempt seemed to fail and the incident began to draw onlookers, he took his food, walked away and reported everything that took place to the campus police.
To bring further closure to any questions I had about this, a former coworker and close friend of Duster’s explained the situation to me from Duster’s perspective some time afterward. She said that Duster thought that by pointing out her mistakes all the time, our boss was being unfairly mean and treating her differently than her coworkers and she was really upset about it. She said she kept trying to talk to him about it but he just kept “taking it the wrong way” until one day he just “blew up” at her in the cafeteria. This was when Duster came to this friend in tears with this story. And that was *before* she got the talk from campus police.
Now, you all may have differing views on whether or not my boss’ actions were fair or even necessary. She was a generally ditzy, 20 year old who was pretty small and weak and not a huge physical threat alone and unarmed. I truly believe that underneath the weirdness of her antics, she meant no harm and was just extremely bad at communicating and reading cues. With other things in mind, and various observations I made during work, I’d say I think there’s even a pretty good chance she was on the spectrum. I’d suspected it for a while in fact. None of this matters.
Could my boss take her in a fight? Certainly. But why should it have to come to that before it’s acknowledged as a problem? Why should it have to come to a fight especially if a fight could still involve risk of bodily injury if she did the smart thing and used a weapon against a target she had a size/strength disadvantage to? Plus, nearly anybody can pick up a gun or get someone to pick it up for them. Hindsight may be 20/20 but there was no way of knowing for certain at the time whether a true threat was imminent. She may or may not have had diagnosable impediments to communication but those conditions do not preclude acting on a vengeful plot or impulse.
This is the essence of being creepy. Not rejection. Not being a sexually interested but undesirable male. Notice that here we have a Creepy Girl instead of a Creepy Guy and no element of sexual attraction at all. To be creepy, in essence, is to be someone who invades others’ boundaries while leaving the guesswork up to them as to why it’s happening. This is why “creepy” is almost never used to describe clear threats like masked men with guns entering a convenience store. Most often when people use the word creepy, the feeling of uncertainty regarding their safety is what they are describing.This leaves assuming the worst to be the safest option. Which it was in Duster’s case.
With this in mind it will be a lot easier to figure out how to keep your creepage to a minimum.