***WARNING: TRIGGER ALERT! Please don't read on if any of these subjects is a trigger for you: Creepers, rape culture, pervasive sexual harassment, etc. /WARNING. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!***
**SECOND WARNING: This is a long post. I also wanted a little buffer space between the trigger warning and the beginning of the trigger-inducing words below. Sorry to make the post even longer, but those are two very good reasons for a few extra sentences. /WARNING.YOU HAVE BEEN DOUBLY WARNED**
I know, you're thinking, "Not another one of those posts!" But I gotta say something, so here it is.
I started hearing about this upsetting behavior when the Readercon Creeper Incident came to light and every blogger in the known universe put forth their two cents. (By the way, that link takes you to a comprehensive listing of posts about the Creeper.) The ugliness continued with disgusting comments on some of these blogs that only perpetuated or excused Creeper behavior.
I started seeing more posts about Creepers at other conventions, as well as in ordinary life. This post by John Scalzi sums up the creepy phenomenon pretty well. This VERY LONG post by Captain Awkward goes one step further, and outs a broad spectrum of the kinds of problems creepers cause for people, and introduced me to the concept of rape culture. This post is very hard to read, but I encourage people to do so, including the comments. Even Wikipedia has an entry for rape culture. Jezebel has an entire section devoted to it. The fact that all of these entries need to exist at all proves there is something very wrong with our society.
So now that you know the backstory (sorry for the info-dump, by the way), here's my thoughts on the whole matter.
I consider myself to be a friendly person. I'll happily say hi to strangers who smile and greet me politely. I never thought much about the intentions of the people who comment on my appearance, for a very good reason. Frequently when I go out, I dress like Evil Mary Poppins. I expect to get some offbeat comments from random strangers. If I didn't like the attention to a certain degree, I'd buy "normal" clothes. This is not to excuse creepy behavior toward me because of the way I choose to present myself in public. There is still an appropriate way to ask about my outfit, or to compliment my unusual sense of style without being creepy. Some people understand this boundary just fine, and I'm happy to engage in a brief conversation with them, as long as it's polite.
|Me and Lulu. Evil Mary Poppins at Disney World.|
When I know I don't have time for the commentary and conversations -- if I need to get errands done in a hurry, for example, or if I'm going out to enjoy time with my friends and not spend the day chatting with every random stranger that feels entitled to comment because I stand out -- I dress down. Dressing down involves casual clothes (jeans, t-shirts, ponytail, no makeup, etc.). This strategy only backfires when people who know me for my odd clothes recognize me in my incognito getup and wonder why I'm not in my finery.
Reading all the posts mentioned above got me to thinking, though. I usually don't take abuse from people. I'm not exactly shy, and if you rub me the wrong way, I will let you know it. The problem is, creepers are gonna creep. Because I try to be nice to people who ostensibly noticed the effort I made to look nice in a stand-out kind of way, I sometimes let things go too far before I realize the commenter's intentions are less pure than is comfortable.
Then came the revelation: EVEN THOUGH I DRESS THIS WAY IN PUBLIC WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS UNUSUAL AND WILL ATTRACT ATTENTION, THAT DOESN'T MEAN I'M ASKING TO BE CREEPED ON. THERE IS AN OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POLITE COMMENTARY AND/OR APPRECIATION AND CREEPING ON SOMEONE. /end yelling
I like talking to people I meet. I genuinely enjoy it. But it can go too far very quickly if I'm not careful to stop it. I should not have to worry about this sort of thing, but I do. Dressing nicely, wearing unusual clothes, carrying a parasol, applying makeup in a tasteful fashion, or even responding to your inquiries with a smile and polite "thank you" IS NOT AN INVITATION TO CREEP. Sorry for the additional yelling. This is upsetting... *deep breaths, count to ten*
I thought back over my life and remembered these incidents that still make me cringe:
I briefly ran cross-country and track in high school. We had running practice down Main Highway in Coconut Grove. I remember being whistled at and having highly inappropriate things yelled at us from passing motorists. I was 15 years old, you skeevy middle-aged creeps. I can't say EWWWW loud enough. Not to mention, when a truck full of creepy guys paces you as you run, it doesn't make you feel good. It makes you feel fear. It was the main reason I quit running. So thanks, creepers. That was special.
Years later, I was at the grocery store with my young daughter. She was about four years old at the time, and sat in the shopping cart while I did the shopping. This was back in the days when I was too busy raising a small child to worry about dressing up to go out of the house, and I think I wore something super-sexy like a pair of long pants, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. While perusing the produce, I noticed a strange man with an empty shopping cart zipping through the store. He seemed to be in a hurry, and raced up and down the aisles without putting anything in the cart. By the time I was half way through the store, he'd passed by me several times. The third or fourth time he zoomed past, he stopped and said something to me. I don't even remember what the initial few comments were, or his "reason" for stopping to talk, because the rest of the conversation was so creepy that I blotted out any "normal" chatter that came out of his mouth.
He asked me if I was married, and I told him yes. He asked how long I'd been married, and I told him my seventh anniversary was in a few weeks. This is where the conversation derailed completely. With no one else in earshot, other than my daughter, he raised the bar to new heights on creeping. The next question out of his mouth froze me completely. To this day, I wish I'd had a better comeback ready. I just couldn't believe that ANYONE would say something like this FOR ANY REASON.
He asked if I was having a "seven year itch." O_O
I think I stared open-mouthed, or something equally intelligent. I wish to glob I'd said something like, "OMFG, YOU DID NOT JUST SAY THAT, YOU DISGUSTING CREEP. GO DIE IN A FIRE!" I was paralyzed by the jerk's audacity. That's the only explanation I have for my failure to defend myself.
While I gaped like a fish, and my daughter sat there staring at this strange man, and looking to me for clues about what the hell was going on, he kept talking. He went on about how his twenty-first anniversary was coming up, and he was "looking for his third seven year itch." He asked if I was interested. This is where I began hallucinating the WHOOP WHOOP siren noise you hear when the starship Enterprise is under attack.
I said something forceful and pointed, to the effect of, "Um, No. That's sick." I stared at him until he went away. I also reported him to the store manager. She said there was nothing she could do about it. They couldn't ban a man from the grocery store, let alone call the cops, if he didn't commit a crime. Being creepy isn't a crime.
Well, it should be.
This guy was clearly on a mission. He was trolling a grocery store with the sole intention of finding a woman who would agree to sleep with him because he needed to cheat on his wife for the THIRD TIME. Oh, lordy. In what universe is any of this acceptable behavior? Shouldn't people at least get tickets for acting this crassly? It was demeaning and insulting. Nothing about his approach, his behavior, or his words was flattering. If I hadn't been proficient at kung fu, I would have been scared to walk out to the parking lot alone. The manager did offer to have a male employee walk me to my car, but that would be admitting this guy got to me. He got to me, all right. I had a feeling if he'd approached me in the parking lot, the poor employee would have had to step in to protect the creeper from my Fists of Death, or my Kneecaps of Castration. (Sorry, getting a little ragey there. I hate that he was able to ruin a perfectly pleasant day and make me all ragey.)
You might think, "Hey, be glad he found you attractive! You have a kid, and still manage to keep yourself nice enough looking to get a little attention from men!"
This was not flattering. It did not make me feel pretty. You know what gets this level of attention from members of the opposite sex? Dogs in heat. This guy just did the human version of humping my leg in public. How is anyone okay with this? And he did it in front of my CHILD.
I propose women (and sane, normal men) everywhere begin handing out tickets for this sort of behavior. It doesn't have to be a real paper ticket, but we have to start standing up and shaming these people when they act this far out of line.
You can't tell me this guy was unaware that his behavior was inappropriate. I don't care how socially awkward you might be. Propositioning a woman in the grocery store is never okay. Nor is angrily demanding a response to your hoots and howls while we walk or run down the street. I am not here for your entertainment, even when I'm dressed like Evil Mary Poppins. I do that for my own entertainment. If you derive pleasure from it, how about keeping it to yourself. If you must say something, a polite, "You look lovely. I admire your sense of style," should be sufficient. I don't want to hear about every time you ever donned fancy dress in your lifetime. Nor do I want to tell you my life story, and all the reasons I like to dress that way. I wish that people who see me walk away smiling because they saw something they don't typically see. I wish that they might have a more pleasant day for it. I don't owe you anything else. Hell, stranger, I don't even owe you THAT.
To end this post on a note that doesn't turn my stomach, I have a pleasant experience to relate. The day that picture was taken, we walked through Tomorrowland and a pleasant young gentleman approached our family. He was dressed in Steampunk finery -- a brown pinstripe tailcoat and a matching bowler. He came over to us, complimented me on my fashion bravery, and wished us a good day. We saw him several more times over the next few days, and each time we exchanged a smile, a wave, and a howdedoo. Nothing creepy at all, and everyone went away feeling happier for the exchanges. So, Steampunk guy from Orlando, it was a pleasure to meet you. Why can't more people get it like that? See how easy it is to NOT be a creeper?
I'm a little nervous about opening this post for comments. I've seen how some people who posted on this topic have been abused by negative, spiteful, or downright threatening comments. I will be watching closely. If you are demeaning, I will delete your comment. If you are offensive, I will delete your comment. If it gets ugly, I will turn moderation on, but I hate to limit the flow of ideas. I would rather keep an open forum if at all possible. So be like Steampunk Guy. Just be polite, speak civilly, and then move on.