At fourteen years old, dressed in an indistinct hoodie with new bangs covering my pimpled forehead, I met my first “creepy” guy. As I waited in a pizzeria for a pie to bring home to my grandma, the forty-year-old man across the counter stared at me hungrily. When my dinner was ready and I was finally able to leave, he followed me through the exit and down the block to ask for a relationship. At the moment I laughed in his face but later that night I cried; I felt exposed, violated, and newly ashamed of my femininity.
At sixteen years old, dressed in tight jeans and an obnoxious hair bow exposing my pimpled forehead, I met my second “creepy” guy. He was my first boyfriend; a sweet, attentive boy who showered me with attention and declarations of his affection. He was everything a young woman could hope for in a high school sweetheart, but I didn’t reciprocate his love. Feeling smothered, I labeled him a “creep” and broke up with him in an overwrought, teenaged fashion.
Clearly, these stories don’t add up.
In our modern dating culture, we have forgotten how to speak about unwanted lovers and unwanted behaviors with nuance. In the same vein that everyone’s ex-girlfriend is “crazy” everyone’s male admirer is a “creep”.
And that’s unfair.
Further, it is absolutely damaging. By repeating an adjective as an umbrella phrase for any undesirable person or action, we give that phrase an everything-and-nothing meaning and, therefore, render it meaningless. If every guy is “creepy” then no guy is.
Unfortunately, we live in the world where women endure a lot of terrible behavior from men (from catcalling to sexist Internet comments to physical violence) and that is absolutely unacceptable. But if we choose to describe these and all behaviors that perpetuate fixation of and violence against women with a word as mild and meaningless as “creepy” we fail both to get to the root of the issue and to work to correct the issue.
If we want to teach men to treat women correctly, we need to first better communicate how and why certain behaviors are inappropriate.
The man at the pizzeria wasn’t “creepy”, he was predatory. My first boyfriend wasn’t “creepy” he and I just weren’t compatible.
In many instances when a woman calls a man a “creep”, she is pointing towards a strong issue in the way that he is interacting with her. To combat that, she needs strong language. And if she’s a Lala girl, you know she has it.