Creepy: Having or causing a creeping sensation of the skin, as from horror or fear.
As I have written about previously, it seems we prefer to relegate specific negative descriptions of people to specific genders. For example, men are assholes while women are crazy. When it comes to the creep, it seems we as a society reserve this, what I consider a vague and ambiguous term, nearly exclusively for men.
So today I explore the idea of being creepy while examining just what it means to be labeled a creep.
I first began thinking about the whole “creepy guy” thing when a former colleague of mine; a very sharp, well-educated and progressive minded woman -whom I consider a friend- made the observation on social media that all “older” men are creeps. She wrote that she had a series of episodes when older men made untoward comments and advances on her…therefore concluding that all older men must follow this same profile.
Which, of course, would make the likes of Mick Jagger, Richard Gere, Alec Baldwin, hell, even George Clooney, some of the creepiest among us as decades separate the ages of their younger lovers, but I digress…
I really expected much more from an educated person and, of course, as the target demographic of this stereotype you cannot blame me for being a bit on the defensive, right?
Now, a year later or so, I just read a wonderful blog entry by a female friend of mine, Jean Franzblau, of Cuddle Sanctuary fame, ironically entitled, “In Defense of Creepy Men,” which dusted off the creepy male milieu topic once again in my mind. This very short and readable blog entry -an entry that I would strongly recommend you take a moment to read- refers to the idea that often times certain behavioral signals are frequently interpreted as creepy, when, in fact, they come from a much different place.
I hadn’t thought much about creepy men before…I thought that a creepy man was creepy all of the time. What I learned is that a person can come off as creepy because in that moment he feels awkward. I googled “I’m afraid she’ll think I’m creepy” and got over 19 million results. In Jon Anthony’s article, Why Girls Think You’re Creepy, he explains that creepiness is “much more of a ‘vibe,’ than it is a look.” It comes from a lack of confidence and the need for validation from others.
But wait. A lack of confidence? I feel that sometimes. A need for validation from others? I’ve certainly had experience with that, too. I had no idea I had so much in common with creepy men!
As Jean so artfully demonstrates, it is imperative that we take an educated and critical look at behaviors and make reasonable judgments based on the individual, not the stereotype.
Referring to one as a creep is, at best, just lazy thinking or, at worst, passing terrible judgment onto a man who, among other things, may lack certain social skills or possesses physical traits of which he has no or little control.
So just what are these behaviors women believe to be creepy?
I really wanted to dive into the creepy deep end so I did a little bit of research.
“Creepiness is all about not being able to figure out whether there is a threat,” said Frank McAndrew, Professor of Psychology at Knox College and author of a study on creepiness. As I have already mentioned, he asserts that men may be seen as creepier than women because they’re perceived as more menacing.
As a result of this study, creepy traits and behaviors include:
- Standing too close to someone
- Smiling peculiarly
- Talking too much about a topic, especially sex
- Laughing at inappropriate times
- Not letting someone out of conversation
- Displaying unwanted sexual interest
- Asking to take pictures of people
- Displaying too much or too little emotion
- Having bulging eyes
- Having long fingers
- Having pasty skin
- Having greasy hair
- Having dark eye bags
- Wearing dirty or weird clothes
- Licking lips
Creepy? It seems to me that any behavior/trait that we do not understand can simply get thrown into the creepy pile. Any one of these traits and behaviors, perhaps sans the sex stuff, can be the result of any number of legitimate conditions. And if man is too sexual? Tell him to STFU and you are not interested. Rather than throwing him under the creep bus assert some much needed boundaries.
And here is what I am NOT saying: There are no such men that exhibit these traits who have malicious intention. Of course some do. There are some people we should absolutely be concerned about when certain signals demand it. My concern is that we have only two options when pondering one’s creepiness, a legitimate concern or an illegitimate one. A legitimate concern rests in the human propensity to sense fear and danger in the environment due to REAL threats. While recently having lunch in a family bar and grill, a man walked past and the hair on the back of my neck immediately stood on end and I sensed fear. I could not even see his face from my angle, only noticed it was a sleight Caucasian man, probably a bit older than myself, with a cowboy hat and rodeo-like gait. Long story short: My inclinations were correct as he was shortly kicked out of the restaurant for inappropriate words toward a waitress.
However, and this is my primary concern and the one that drives the central idea of this blog, as human beings we have a disposition towards tribalism and when a person, behavior, thought form or new idea enters our life that transgresses our tribal norm, we typically have the same response: Danger. Rather than deal with the nuances of this “danger,” we dismiss it all as creepy and move forward, or, perhaps more aptly, backward.
“But wait Jimmy, you sensed creepy and your perception turned out to be correct.” Yes, yet my inclination was not based on a different type of person (an older white male, just like me), behavior (walked normally), thought form or new idea (we never even talked); it was a purely vibe-filled, guttural like, instinctual reaction of which I had no immediate control. My then rational side can then conclude that rather than calling this guy a creep, he is more likely an alcoholic that needs to check himself into a 12 step. Sensing danger can be our friend, jumping to irrational stereotypes can be our foe.
I would never want to suggest to stymie one’s perceptual antenna of fear, rather make certain this fear comes from an authentic place and not an irrational one.
As I write the word creep I realize the utter mystery and ambiguity of the term itself. We can describe one as a liar, cheat, nice, friendly, mean, loud, quiet, inappropriate, etc…based on a very particular set of behaviors that may lead you to one of the these descriptive conclusions. Yet to define one as “creepy” there are no set and definitive identifiable behaviors that provide a direct correlation to creepy.
Just like all stereotypes, it seems we like to throw the creep term around when we are too lazy to make more nuanced and accurate assessments of human behavior, only to then make rash and ignorant judgments on an entire segment of society because they appear weird to us…which is really just a self-justified form of xenophobia.
In the day and age of political correctness, an age in which we are constantly changing our terminologies in order not to offend, extending olive branches out to traditionally disenfranchised communities and building an overall culture of acceptance, it seems we are fine with liberally throwing out a label to a demographic of individuals who may have exhibited a particular behavior that we can freely and lazily now refer to as creepy simply because we do not understand it, without so much as a bat of the eye from the society.
Defensive much? Yep. As an older, straight, and “privileged” white male it is not often that my demo is the victim of stereotyping, thus it feels a bit odd and disconcerting. However, it concurrently reminds me of the shortfalls of stereotypical thinking that tears culture apart and how I need to be more sensitive to this shortcut way of thinking in my own life.
So, kids, next time you see or feel the vibe of a creep, think again. Perhaps the person suffers from a diagnosis (ie. Aspergers, alcoholism, autism, stuttering, shyness) of which you know nothing about or you are just reacting in fear as you try to make sense of your world.
It’s 2017 and I think it is high time we retire the creepy term in with the faggot, nigger, wop, kike and retard. At one point and time we called all of these once disenfranchised groups creepy as well.
We should know better.
On such a rare occasion, I find myself in complete disagreement with you.
While I agree that one behavior doesn’t necessarily define someone as “creepy,” I feel like you ignore a key element in interpreting the communication which is context.
For example, an old joke I heard once said “Finding a note reading ‘I’m always here for you’ in your fogged bathroom mirror is cute…unless you live alone.”
But as you know, communicating is a transactional process. While the intent may not be for someone to give off creepy vibes, sometimes it’s just interpreted that way. Allow me to illustrate with a few examples.
As a server, we have this older gentlemen who comes in from time to time and he enjoys the company of younger women. Nothing inherently creepy about that. However, I generally dislike serving him because he tends to tip me very poorly when I believe I have provided adequete (dare I say even exceptional) service. However, our hostesses (who are typically rather attractive women in their 20s) always seem to walk away from his table with a few extra dollars in their pocket for simply seating him at the table and nothing more. Some find it flattering and some are uncomfortable by it. While the behavior in itself isn’t necessarily creepy, the message behind it can be interpreted that way varying from person to person. Yet, as he comes in fairly frequently you notice the pattern, if the staff that serves him is female, he tips them very generously, and if they’re male, not so much. So a lot of us think of him as a creep.
Another example, about a week ago some friends and I went to a bowling alley to celebrate a birthday. I was at the bar a few feet away from a friend of mine while she was approached by a guy about my age. He was hitting on her and she wasn’t interested so she tried to imply that her boyfriend was here with her. The guy said he didn’t care and made some attempt to continue flirting with her while she was evidently uncomfortable. While we returned to the group, she borrowed my sweater for the rest of the night because the guy kept staring at her and just made her feel uncomfortable for the way she was dressed even among a group of friends.
I just wanted to demonstrate that the behaviors vary and are not always aggressive. Your Clooneys can be a charmer or a creep depending on the way the behavior is interpreted. I think a fantastic pop culture reference is illustrated in HBO’s Girls. In episode 4 of the first season, Lena Dunham’s character begins a job as a secretary and feels uncomfortably because her boss is rather touchy. Nothing sexual, but enough to make her uncomfortable. A lot of her coworkers dismiss it because it’s just the way he is, or because they benefit from it. She takes their advice and tries to ignore it or use it to her benefit but ultimately she leaves the job when she tries to have sex with him, assuming that was what he wanted from her. But it illustrates the point of privilege, power, gender, and numerous factors that contribute and are far more important than a singular behavior that isn’t in itself creepy.
Still some points, I agree that we can be rather hasty in our judgment for something that can be explained. But it is our job as communicators, as humans, to find the contextual clues that affirm or deter our beliefs.
Who among us hasn’t been a creep in some way…I don’t believe I’m wrong when I assume that many of my peers including myself scroll through the pages of someone’s instagram or facebook feed without direct social interaction, trying to find information about others like their interests, hobbies, pets, or partners. Is the behavior in itself creepy, perhaps not, but what we do with the information we gain and how we proceed with the future interaction tells us more.
A creep describes the patterns of behavior that may warrant people to feel uncomfortable, with little to no regard for how the other person feels. It isn’t necessarily aggressive, it may even seem innocent. But it is ambiguous and I see your concern for using a lexicon that may not entirely be accurate..
Anyway, great to read one of these again. It’s been a while since I kept up with your blogs, I always enjoy reading them when I can.
I don’t think being referred to as creepy belongs in the same category as “retard, faggot, etc…” Some people are just creepy. The people who we tell to STFU and leave us alone do not always listen. I recently did not text a guy back because I was on vacation and when I came back to the gym that I have been a member of for five years and he only two months he made an entire scene in front of all the gym goers loudly expressing how upset he was that I did not respond to his messages. This man is creepy, thinking I owe him (a person who I met only a month ago” a conversation and being so sure with that fact he was willing to cause a scene in front of people. That is creepy. Someone who barely knows you that thinks they have a say in what you do and if it is not what they like they can call you out. That is creepy. Because unlike people who have dealt with being called “retarded” or “faggot” this person can control it. Gay people did not choose to be gay and people with down syndrome did not choose to have an extra chromosome. People who are actually creepy, they have a choice, and they choose to make people fear going places or fear not replying to a text. That amount of aggression for a small thing is creepy, and I would not give him a pass and say that he just lacks confidence so he overdoes it to try to make people think he is confident. No, some people are just creepy.
Great points! I hadn’t given much thought to the term or those men I have put in that specific creepy guy category. I must admit, it is a category for many of us ladies. Being a 12 stepper myself, I have encountered the “weirdos”, “freaks”, “outcasts”, ….the list goes on, and …I great all of them with a hug today! I have learned that some people exhibit odd social behaviors, including myself. Sometimes its a nervous laugh or simply being too quiet. Yet some are accountantably stranger than the average encounter and rather then explore with reason and logic they maybe classified in this catch all category. And yeah, I must admit, it’s all men in there in my experience.
This is awesome. ‘Creepiness’ really is the final frontier in terms of socially acceptable discrimination! As we discussed a bit, it is absolutely tied in with ageism. And it’s amazing how unaware most young people are of their own judgments and verbal reflections with regard to age, so conditioned are we by a youth-centric society! Time to stop sucking the teat of youth! Womens’ instincts to rebuff the advances of the ‘genetically undesirable’ (sense and avoid danger) inform the characterization of males as ‘creepy.’ E.G.: If it’s welcomed, it’s a ‘workplace romance;’ if it’s not, it’s ‘sexual harassment.’ If the guy under your balcony serenading you to a 90’s song is cute, ( good reproductive stock ) it’s romantic. If he’s physically repulsive to you, ( or older with dried-up sperm ) he’s a stalker. You know what? We’re evolving. Time to add ageism and Creepyism to the list of social institutions we are more than ready to retire! Men are socialized to play the numbers game and approach women as a matter of course; let’s stop judging them for their advances even when they are unwelcome- THAT is discrimination! Instead, let’s applaud men for their efforts- huevos not everyone has. Every last female I know of a certain age ( and many men, myself included ) railed against the feeling of objectification when unwanted attention came their way in youth, but would kill or die for a cat call or a head turn now. Somewhat tangential, it’s pretty amazing ( and something I am hyper aware of ) how narrow our range of what’s ‘normal’ in the codes and behaviors of others really is. I know bat-shit crazy ( or dangerous ) when I see it, but otherwise, I strive to embrace diversity, creepy or not! The article was thoughtful and well-written- I am just adding to the discourse cuz that’s how I roll!!
I love reading your blogs and hearing your point of view. I do believe that the word “creepy” is simply a reckless description of how one person is interpreting another and categorizing them. I think of the word “creepy” for men to be similar to when women are described as “bitchy”. Another stereotypical term that is loosely thrown around.
I think that the way you are describing the creepy category is the slang way it is used for the way something made someone feel. People often describe a house as being creepy or the way a full moon looks in the dead of night when you are viewing it through a forest.
If the true definition of the word is being considered, it is defined as “causing an unpleasant feeling or fear or unease”. You noted a few behaviors that evoked these unpleasant feelings but did not feel that the category of creep was appropriate. With the definition of the word being so broad and having individual feeling towards something it is hard to debunk a persons feelings, isn’t it? We all interpret our inner feelings, and emotions differently.
I feel that you are being objective over a subjective topic, feeling, or interpretation of the word “creepy”.
On that note, I do feel that we, as women, throw the term, creepy, around a bit too much. There are so many other adjectives we could be using. I do share the same opinions as you towards the stereotype of women being “bitchy”. We live in a world where acceptable broad spectrum slang terms are becoming a universal language. It’s a shame because one day behaviors will no longer be described with adjectives but rather with these “blanket words” that we use to describe a person.
Great Blog! Really sparks some deep thought as to why people do and say the things they do.
Thanks for the reply Marsha! I love your take on this. I suppose “creepy” is in the same vein as the words weird or strange. My son is currently in West Africa and the great majority of that population has never seen a white person before….thus he could be considered “strange.” Yet this “strange-ness” is the result of ethnicity and skin color…not at all a character flaw. Thank you for adding to the conversation!
I can relate to the portions of the stigmas that males are creepy and how this false stereotypes can be harmful and useful at different times. The example I want to support my argument around is hitchhikers, how many times have we passed a hitchhiker because they looked dirty, or big, or even just a male. The world we live in now and the movies and ideas around hitchhikers scare people, when in fact this was a huge means for transportation back then when people had more trust. I fall victim to this too, I literally just picked up two hitch hikers on Tuesday and even told them what I’m about to say. It was a couple and the male having his fiancé there, a woman, made it feel safe to me that they truly needed help and were not malicious. The guy laughed at this comment and agreed adding “its difficult for guys on the streets.” This is absolutely true! We all have had that filling that if I were to pick that guy up he would surely pull a knife on me, steal my car, and I would end up in the desert. This has a lot to do with stereotypes and stigmas as well, but its slightly different then the man who passed you at the bar and grill restaurant. The guy that gave you bad vibes and feelings created that with his presence, now the presence of a hitchhiker does play a role in it, there is also an already predetermined judgment of this person. You didn’t look at the guy in the hat and initial think, all people who wear cowboy hats are alcoholics. Yet as a society we do look down on hitchhiking and the type of people we believe to be associated with this. I have picked up young kids hitch hiking before as well, they also are exempt from this creepy stigma, just like women, even though in reality, they could be far more harmful then a dirty man. Hollywood definitely has not helped with all the creepy guy hitchhiking movies, the stories we hear on the news, the fears we facilitate as we pass hitch hikers. But how many people have ever had an actual reason to explain this distrust? How many of us have actually had a bad experience with a hitch hiker to make these generalizations? Very few of us, yet we hold onto the judgment. I know it may seem like I am persuading against the continuation of this action, but I am more shedding light on the observation within myself and our society. I will not be changing my views on this even with the way that I feel simply because of the other issue you touched on; when these instincts or vibes are actually real. The chance of something negative happening alone is more than enough to fear one away from the balance of judging unfairly and judging in a security sense. In conclusion I agree that this stigma exist, and with the examples of hitch hiking, Hollywood, and personal experiences, I don’t believe this will be changing any time soon.
Lets start with the real definition of creep: To move slowly and carefully, especially in order to avoid being heard or noticed, or a detestable person. Creep out as you mentioned is to make someone uncomfortable or nervous.
In our society like in any other societies we have canons, or stereotypes, we are so influenced by stars that we want to be like them, we want to look like them, and we want to act like them. The error is to expect for everyone around us to act, or think in this manner, our youth think of an elder crowd as being creeps, because it’s a different generation, also our youth do not understand them. I do not agree with you’re colleges point of view, she labeled “ALL” elder men are creeps, there are very decent elder gentlemen, who would pay a compliment when seeing a beautiful woman, not in a sexual cog notation, they simply appreciate beauty!
Our society has become more, and more aggressive, we live at a defense, a lot of people are aggressive, we can even see this when we grocery shop, everybody wants to be right, everybody wants to win, everybody wants to be first, and everybody wants to dominate the person standing next to them, are they creeps? or is it that society has change our point of view? I notice a drastic change in this Nation when economy crash in 2008, a lot of people lost literary everything, they had to reconstruct their entire lives, this make a lot of people unhappy obviously, aggressive, this brought a National sense of despair, a lot of people due to their losses suffer from any type of mentally ailment, this could be the cause of their creepiness as well!
Men are men, they will prefer to type a female than a male, to some men woman are “eye candy” that’s all, does this make them creeps, when they cross the line with inappropriate unwanted sexual connotations, is when that behavior becomes inadequate, or creepy, making that person feel uncomfortable. The word creepy like you said has been over used, now there are some people after they end a romantic relationship calling their ex a creep, and other names, who is the creep in this scenario? I am translating this littery from spanish into english ” a man will advance until where the woman allows it” , woman have the right to say NO, STOP when they feel threatened, and men have the same right too, without having a feeling that I am not it if I say NO!
To a greater extent i do agree with the contending article where men are stereo typed in a million ways, for instance, i personally was in a situation where coming from africa with a different culture, the way i just presented myself, some of the youth from my United States church called me a creep because of the way i just stare at things when its how i look and basically thats who i am a view things. So to a greater extent i do actually agree with this article Jimmy.
Great job, by the way. Thumbs up
I’d love the see the study and the article to where these traits were accumulated to. I loathe the fact that some people identify others as “creepy” or “weird” purely on looks. Five of these “creepy” traits are things that cannot be controlled by the person in question. Having pale skin is NOT something that you can control, the same is said about the length of your fingers. If we’re going to consider people creepy on the way that they are built, we may as well single everyone out in places such as Wales or Ireland because it’s a land of creeps.
To go with what I was saying, there are people who do these things subconsciously, without hesitation, and yet, are they creeps? Clearly anyone with these traits should be generalized as creepy, it’s only fair!
While I do agree with many of the points that you made on this page, I did find myself disagreeing with one point that you made in this entry. Of course it is dangerous to generalize a group of people, in this case it’s older guys, I think that you are projecting more of a male perspective into this topic. This is not a bad thing, however, I think we can both agree that the sex that has the most encounters and therefore more experience in this ares of creepy guys are females. And while your colleague was wrong in characterizing ALL old guys as creeps, it is a point that as men is harder to refute due to the fact that our experiences with creeps are likely to be few and far between. You state that we just group any foreign or unfamiliar trait as creepy, but in asking women this question, they typically present the same image. That image is of an older man who is crossing personal space in dialogue or physical interaction. This was the case with most women I asked, and one of them had stated that these interactions continued in her time out of the country in Europe. I still do agree with you that any instinctual reaction needs to be analyzed further before action, but in this case I would say that women have a better grasp on what it is to be a creep than men do.
You have really great points which gave me a different perspective. I think one of the main focus on this term ‘creep’ is time. For me being a female, I think it’s a lot harder for me to not to label a stranger as a creep with the limited information I have on that person. One of the reasons is that there are so many instances where a girl is harassed or even killed for not giving attention to a man (or even a woman). I want to note that men are also victims of this however their stories are shared less in society which is something that needs to change in the future. Anyways, back to the point, there is constantly this fear of ‘Am I next?’ running in my head which is why, when I feel like I could be in potential danger, it is easier to convince myself to leave the situation if I label the person as a ‘creep’ that I need to avoid. Of course, if I feel safe and I am not alone, I would take time to try to figure out the person more than just label him or her as a creep. This is why I would say that labeling someone as a creep might be a part of our ‘fight or flight’ process because we might not have the time to sympathize for the other person’s demeanor.
A lot of updates have happened to your blog sense I last subscribed in 2016. It’s awesome! I really enjoyed reading this “Creep” blog.
In all honesty I take the word creep/creepy as a last resort term when I am absolutely uncomfortable/disgusted with a person. In my opinion if I had to describe an individual as Creep/Creepy I would say it is because this person went over the limit of borderline issues, and boundaries. I think of creep and I think of something that is way beyond unwanted, more then unliked, and something to never want to witness or be around ever again.
However, words like Strange, Weirdo, Nerd, Jerk, Asshole, Bitch and Nasty are all still terms I would consider calling one self and others and still not be close to the the meaning of the word creep.
I do believe that this word can be thrown out without sensitivity to others and it should only be used or described as something way more profound.
For example I would call someone out for being a creep if they were performing an act that was considered creepy, which in my opinion is performing an act of something extremely illegal and/or perverted.
This was such an interesting article to read, especially from a males stand point. When a woman deems a man creepy, she typically is not argued with, but instead listened too. If a man is deemed as creepy, theres not much arguing. When you said, “Referring to one as a creep is, at best, just lazy thinking or, at worst, passing terrible judgment onto a man who, among other things, may lack certain social skills or possesses physical traits of which he has no or little control” it makes you think a little more about the motive behind these “creeps” actions. So, maybe these individuals lack social skills, and simply has no control over his action. Does that give him a pass? Well, to answer rhetorically, not in this society. It seems as though this world is FILLED with creeps, almost like it’s the new normal? Maybe thats a bit extreme. or maybe everyones a little more sensitive.
It was very interesting to read a new stand point about this topic. This world teaches you to go to the extreme when faced with a creep, when in reality maybe they are simply only looking for validation of themselves.
I agree that we should retire the term creep, as someone acting creepy towards someone else could just be misunderstood.