On Not Being Creepy

Basically, this boils down to TAKE THE HINT:

10. Someone doesn’t want you around? Go away. Here are some subtle hints: When you come by they don’t make eye contact with you. When they are in a group the group contracts or turns away from you. If you interject in the conversation people avoid following up on what you’ve said. One of the friends of the person you are interested in interposes themselves between you and that person. And so on. When stuff like that happens, guess what? You’re not wanted. When that happens, here’s what you do: Go away. Grumble to yourself (and only to yourself) all you like about their discourteousness or whatever. Do it away from them. Remember that you don’t get to define other people’s comfort level with you. Remember that they’re not obliged to inform you about why they don’t want you around. Although, for God’s sake, if theydo tell you they don’t want you around, listen to them.

In working events for a number of years now, both as an author and a volunteer at various conferences, I’ve come to know this kind of guy much better than I want to know him. At a recent event, there was a dude who kept hanging around the entrance where I was working check-in and talking to me about things unrelated to work. Standing too close. Leaning over. Staring expectantly at me like a cat at a mouse hole.

This was problematic for a couple of reasons. One, I wasn’t there to have chitter-chat. Two, his standing around was causing a backup and a crowd at the door, and if there’s one thing that drives me bananas at events, it’s badly-designed ingress and egress routes that cause crowds, because right from the get-go people are inconvenienced and pissed. The point of event check-in is to get people inside as fast as possible so they can enjoy themselves.

I asked the fellow to please move off to the side, and told him I was sorry but I didn’t really have time to talk. He wandered off for a while. Later, when the crowd had thinned out a bit, he came back, again standing just a little too close, staring just a little too intently, and I had no built-in excuse to make him leave. I was stuck at the entrance, and he was taking advantage of that. Once again, I smiled and mentioned that I had work to do. “Oh, don’t mind me,” he replied, smirking. “I’m just here to bother you.”

I’m claustrophobic. Not in elevators or cars, but in crowds. If you trap me, I get the overwhelming urge to make like a badger and claw and chew my way out of whatever enclosure I’m in. If that enclosure happens to be your ass or face, best MOVE.

Now, I don’t for a second believe this guy was hitting on me and being sweetly clumsy about it. First, he was the steady boyfriend of someone else at the event. Second, the whole time this was going on Mr. A was sitting right beside me (also working, and we’re not that couple that gets each other into fights), so if he was trying to ask me out it would have been spectacularly inept, even by the standards of Weirdos I Have Known. Third, I don’t assume everybody who’s an asshole is that way because they secretly want me, because please.

This guy wanted to bully. He wanted the petty power that comes from making somebody else twitchy and he wanted to be the good guy who was just trying to be nice when the bitch told him to go away. He wanted that BAD.

That’s the thing about this. People who accuse women (especially women at cons, because geekdom does have its own boundaries and issues therewith) of taking this all too seriously ignore the fact that you always KNOW. I mean, unless you have some kind of condition that causes you to miss social cues and you haven’t dealt with that, generally, though, people know when someone is approaching them trying to be charming.

There’s a warmth there. A genuine interest. A willingness to give space, to have some kind of open response and approach. Most of all, a lack of presumption: I want to be near you, but I don’t think for a second I have the RIGHT to be near you contrary to your wishes. I’ve had many, many, many friendly encounters with strangers, even flirty ones, and rarely felt threatened, but the couple of times I have, it’s been night and day. And in those cases, I was incidental. They would have been creeping at anybody who was behind the table, because bullying is never about its object.

What eventually happened at my event was I was rude enough to this dude to get him to think I was just one of those bitches who don’t appreciate Nice Guys, and off he went, hopefully to his actual girlfriend. I felt bad, momentarily, and wondered if he’d cause some kind of trouble about it. Because I’d be the one to get into trouble, you see, for not being nice enough.

That’s the point of bullying someone like this. It’s not because you just LOVE THEM SO MUCH. It’s that you want to be able to make them uncomfortable with no repercussions for yourself, by putting them in a position where objecting to your behavior makes them the bad guy.


5 thoughts on “On Not Being Creepy

  1. Yes. This happens all the time with the student population I serve. All. The. Time. And since we are obligated to provide customer service to them, we’re doubly damned when we get the crawling heebie jeebies and just can’t take the standing-in-the-door-to-your-office blocking you in and talking about your last deployment ANY MORE. And jeebus forbid the student in question pick up on the fact that you’re not a flag-waving, do-or-die supporter of everything the USA(Army, that is) does. Then you’re just a bigger target for the hovering, too-close, threatening afternoon chats.

  2. It’s like the sexist jokes–if you object, it’s “Can’t you take a joke?”

  3. I have taken to calling this and similar behavior “public displays of dominance”.
    Instructing a woman to smile is the #1 public display of dominance.
    Street harassment is #2.
    #3 Compliments from strangers that are actually an assertion of the strangers right to judge your appearance.
    #4 Blocking the space so people either have to ask you to move or squeeze by you.
    Your guy made no bones about the fact that what he was doing was a public display of dominance when he said he was there to bother you.
    It’s one of those things that once you name the behavior you see it everywhere.

  4. WHAT IS THE SMILING THING? Oh, that drove me so crazy when I was little. I didn’t realize it was what it was, all I knew was that it was some grown-up giving me instruction which usually meant I should follow it, but when you have front teeth that could open a soda bottle you DON’T SMILE THAT MUCH.
    Thank God for getting older and developing the vocabulary to tell those people to fuck right the fuck off. I still like Felis Demens’ response to being told to smile, which is to yell back, “Bark like a dog!”
    More and more I think we need to equip young girls with like note cards for various common situations of assholitude, so that they have witty and cutting responses they can practice. Like Rude Jane Austen or something.

  5. “told him I was sorry but I didn’t really have time to talk”
    This means you WILL have time to talk later. I don’t know what his motives were and I don’t care. When he came back after the above statement it was because, in his mind, you invited him. Don’t smile at creeps. Don’t tell them “I’m sorry but…”
    Don’t make nice. Every smile is a positive affirmation to him. Don’t be “sorry.” Don’t make excuses as to why you don’t want to interact. Just Say No. No explanation. No smiles. No being the nice girl who doesn’t want to hurt the creep’s feelings.
    I’m very hard on this question because I know more than one woman who was assaulted because they kept trying to “let him down easy.” One is dead as a result.
    Read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. It’s genius.

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