Friday, December 11, 2015

In Defense of Creeps

Creeper by Thangaraj Kumaravel is licensed CC BY 2.0.
[Content warning: I'm going to stick to a generally cis-heteronormative perspective here because, frankly, that's the one I live in and I prefer to "write what I know". I'll try to keep it broad when and where I can, but I don't want to make blanket assumptions here if I can help it.]

A couple weeks ago, I turned my attention to "creeps" and why men defended them. In that article, I tried to make two basic points:
  1. There are good reasons why men might defend creeps, and it has a lot more to do with empathy toward those that are less romantically fortunate than anything else.
  2. Creeps don't deserve the empathy, especially those that lean hard on supposed "disabilities" as an excuse for their creepiness.
Those two basic points rested on a rather specific definition of "creep", however:
Creepiness occurs when someone demonstrates sexual intent while undermining or disregarding the recipient’s personal autonomy or consent.
Some comments, both here and elsewhere, convinced me I need to fine-tune this a bit. Before I do, though, I want to start by acknowledging that this is probably going to end up as a male-targeted version of this, via The Unit of Caring:
I think some fraction of the obnoxious people saying, 'but I just don’t find X people attractive!!!’ are trying and failing to articulate this: 
I have a really strong instinctive 'no stop telling me who to be attracted to and what it says about me’ reaction to the thing you’re saying. I feel like acknowledging 'yes my preferences cause harm to people’ is giving leverage to a pattern of thought where my sexuality gets distributed to people who deserve it. I feel like 'but I am not attracted to X people' has to be sufficient, has to be respected, for me to feel safe. I feel like 'well maybe you should question that’ is an open-ended obligation to improve my sexuality toward your ends.  
And so 'shut up and keep hurtful preferences to yourself’ doesn’t work, not if we want everyone to hear the message 'your sexuality isn’t something that gets distributed to the deserving. Your 'no’ is always good enough. Experiencing or not experiencing attraction does not make you a bad person, ever.'  
And yet. 
Preferences are culturally mediated! There are lots of people who would totally be attracted to trans people and to fat people and to disabled people and to every other constructed-as-undesirable category of people if they asked themselves about it! There are even more people who would be attracted to those groups if they hadn’t been raised saturated by media messages about what beauty is!  We should be angry about this! We should say things about this! 
…and when we do, people will hear 'your sexuality makes you a bad person, fix it, fix yourself’, and they respond 'but I’m just not attracted to Xs’, and they aren’t wrong either, and telling them to shut up is not as obvious or as necessary as it once seemed to me.  
I have no idea how to fix this.
A lot of the conversation I see surrounding "being creepy" strongly resembles this dynamic. On the one hand, we have a group of people saying, "Hey, people shouldn't feel comfortable following other people around and demanding sexual attention!" On the other hand, we have a group of people saying, "Hey, people shouldn't feel uncomfortable asking about mutual sexual attraction!" Then, just to add insult to injury, we have people behaving poorly on both sides of the argument - certain men openly defending something dangerously similar to the "50 nos and yes mean yes" school of thought, while certain women treat men who complain that it can be quite challenging to talk to women without unintentionally coming across as "creepy" as self-entitled jerks. Of course, it doesn't help that not everyone uses the same definition of "creepy". For a lot of people, "creepy" means "person I'm not attracted to", so when they see articles (like mine) that say, "Hey, stop being creepy!", what they read is, "Hey, stop being unattractive!", instead of, "Hey, stop demonstrating sexual intent while undermining or disregarding the recipient's personal autonomy or consent!"

This, needless to say, does not go well.

Which brings me back to the end of my last post on this subject:
Of course not. Creepy guys kill vibes. Nobody wants to be around Uncle Lou. Nobody wants to be Uncle Lou. If you see someone being an Uncle Lou, pull them aside and tell them to stop being an Uncle Lou. Tell them what they’re doing that’s Uncle Lou-ish. Make it clear that, if they persist in being an Uncle Lou, you’re either going to escort them out of whatever venue you’re both sharing or you’ll find someone who will. Make it clear that, from that moment going forward, if they don’t alter their behavior, you will name names. You will take pictures. If they can’t be a good example, then they’re just going to have to be a horrible warning. Don’t let them oppression olympics their way out of it, either - a truly neuroatypical person isn’t going to say, “Oh, sorry - I’m autistic. I can’t help it.” No, they’re going to apologize and they’re going to ask what they can do to avoid that sort of behavior in the future. If you get any other response, you’re not dealing with a neuroatypical person - you’re dealing with a manipulator.
This paragraph was, by far, the most contentious of the entire article. I got a little push-back regarding the numbers I used on sexual violence (intentionally so - I went for conservative, government sourced ones that probably understate matters considerably to demonstrate that, even using the official numbers, it makes rational sense for women to be concerned about creeps and their intentions), but nothing like I got on the part in red. The most consistent criticism was that, well, actually, neuroatypical people can be manipulators too, which, okay, fair enough, and that was that. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that I needed to put some serious thought behind the ramifications of this. Let's assume for a moment that:
Given these assumptions, it's not a stretch to assume that, at some point, a neuroatypical person is going to engage in behaviors that seem legitimately "creepy", in the sense used in the definition I posted at the top, simply because they're not going to pick up the signals that say, "No, seriously, I'm not interested in you!" without actually saying exactly that. Then, when they finally get that forthright negative response they need to actually know that, no, really, that person isn't interested in them, and it's followed with, "you creep!", from their perspective they see it as someone using "creep" in the "You're unattractive!" sense, not the "You've been demonstrating sexual intent while undermining or disregarding my personal autonomy or consent!" sense that the person rejecting them meant it in. After all, from the neuroatypical standpoint, that's the first, last, and only sign of rejection they've perceived from that individual - why wouldn't they shrug when someone tells them to "stop being creepy" after that? If you briefly greeted a woman at a party and then some "well meaning gentleman" immediately approached you and told you to stop creeping everyone out, wouldn't you tune him out, too?

Thinking about this further, I also realize there's another group of men that are going to be in the same boat - younger men with zero experience with women who are dealing with women that don't know how to communicate rejection effectively because they have zero experience with men. Considering how many teenagers are firmly convinced, either through Hollywood or hormones (I haven't decided which - someone page a psychiatrist) that romance confers telepathy to both partners if it's "true love", it doesn't take a leap of imagination to think of a scenario where a young woman decides, "Well, I'm touching his shoulder, but not in that way, so he should know I'm just being polite and friendly" at the same time that a man thinks, "Wow! She's touching me! She must be interested!", which then leads to a correspondingly inevitable confrontation later that day that leads to a series of angsty blog articles shared across the MRA/Feminist banks of the Tumblrsphere. Then, we fast-forward a few weeks and the woman says something like
There’s another reason why I don’t like to go places alone — and it has nothing to do with my own failings. I’m afraid of being approached by men who want to chat me up, or ask me on a date. I don’t know how to reject them — the fact is, it doesn’t matter how polite I am, things can turn dangerous in a split second. 
"It’s awkward that they would put you in this sort of social position in the first place. I guess men feel it’s necessary because they tend to require more direct communication while women pick up more on feelings, social cues, etc. While we feel we’re making it obvious that we’re not interested or only want to be friends, men think that we are in fact interested and showing our interest."
So, what do we do about this? Feminists have a point - men can turn dangerous (or at least ill-tempered) in a split second if rejected. Obviously, this isn't true of all men, or perhaps even most men, but, as I discussed previously, even at a rate of 1 in 5,000 (a rather low estimate of the number of men that are rapists), there's a pretty good chance that a woman is sharing a public space with a rapist at some point in her life, and there are a lot of other unpleasant things men can do to a woman that don't involve rape or sexual assault. There is a simple, straightforward solution to this problem - encourage women to make the first approach, that way they're the ones in control of the situation - but then that would mean "women are doing all the work".

*rubs bridge of my nose while sighing audibly*

Ignoring society's failure to apply simple predicate logic for a second, though, let's be honest with ourselves - if women were encouraged to make approaches, it wouldn't solve the problem. As women will be happy to tell you, quite a few women aren't approached, and they're not happy about it. Realistically, the only guys that are going to consistently get approached are precisely the same women that are consistently approached - the top 20% (or less) most attractive guys in the bar. Everybody else is going to get filtered out as "background radiation" - they're neither handsome nor ugly enough to draw attention so they're never noticed. Since most of the "creepy" people women complain about aren't in that top 20%, they're still going to have to make approaches to get noticed, which is going to lead us right back here once again, especially as long as there's a large enough group of people out there that insist on using "creepy" as a synonym for "unattractive person".

What's the solution? I honestly don't know.

What I do know is that we can't simultaneously believe that men approach women because they think they're entitled to sex while we're simultaneously complaining that men won't approach women. We can't have a society where women are considered "desperate" if they approach at the same time we're telling men that they may approach if and only if they follow a very particular set of rules, especially when the first of those rules violates another set of rules. If we're lucky, that is the path to neo-Victorian flower exchanges, which might be useful for the descendants of Dutch tulip stock owners, but is less useful for those of us that would prefer courtship rituals to take less than a few years to complete while each side initiates the first few delicate feelers of interest through friends-of-friends in front of neutral intermediaries.

Quite a few of us, believe it or not, do not see Jane Austen novels as something worthy of emulation. Not even the ones with zombies.

So what do we do? Personally, I think we have to accept that some people are going to approach when they shouldn't, some people won't approach when they should, and there's not enough virtual ink on the Internet to keep that from happening. An opt-in "fuck yes or no" approach might help - if we taught everyone that, if you're not seeing clear, unambiguous signs of interest almost instantly, that's a "no", that would not only help those who are less adept at reading non-verbal social cues behave according to more sensible, less "creepy" defaults, but would also take a lot of the pressure off of women to make a clear, confrontational rejection - but that's not going to keep people from making potentially inappropriate approaches in the first place. It would also help if we could decide, once and for all, whether or not we should encourage women to make the first approach, or at least decide whether or not men are immature and worthless if they don't make that first approach. It would also help if every side of this issue realized that we all want the same thing, more or less - to be loved by people we love and to not be forced to cause pain to others. Rejection hurts on both sides - it's not fun - so if someone is rejecting you, it's because it's the least worst of the options available to them. If you don't want the sting of rejection to feel so sharp, don't force someone into slapping your face before you get a clue. 

1 comment:

  1. I like your blogs. You have good things to say. That is all.