This article was last updated on June 18, 2022
Kat Wilder raises the issue of men staring at women and the subtle distinction between a welcome glance and an uncomfortable gaze. Considering that we men are spending 43 minutes each day looking at women according to a 2009 study, one would think we would be better adept at achieving a glimpse which is positive, that is, appreciated by women, as opposed to a leer with its negative connotation. (see Sex: Men stare at women. Who knew?) There seems, however, a very thin line between the welcome and the creepy; presentation is everything. A man can glance and add a smile or a nod to show polite appreciation for the woman in question as opposed to just staring while licking his lips. Eew.
Clarisse Thorn writes about the problem of a man expressing his sexuality without being a “creep”.
Many of us women go through our daily lives fending off unwanted male attention; most of us have worried about being attacked by men. So it’s completely understandable that we’re all on high alert for predatory expressions of male sexuality.
Do we men fully understand and appreciate what’s happening on the other side of the great divide? Do we know the difference between a glance and a stare? Clarisse continues:
… while certain situations and certain people deserve our disdain — like, say, the guy who once leered at me as I walked out of the public library and whispered, “I can smell your pussy” — most guys really don’t. The pressure put on men to be initiators, yet avoid seeming creepy or aggressive, leads to an unpleasant double bind. After all, the same gross cultural pressures that make women into objects force men into instigators.
She keeps this train of thought elsewhere:
Because women aren’t seen as threatening, we have an easier time doing confrontational things like approaching strangers on the street. Because women aren’t seen as fighters, we stand a lower chance of being mugged than men do. Because women are seen as emotional, we’re given a huge amount of social space to consider and discuss our feelings. I can work with and be affectionate with children far more easily than a man could. I can be explicit and overt about my sexuality without being viewed as a creep.
The pressure is on men to be initiators but without being creepy or aggressive. Some wise person pointed out the distinction in two pairs of terms: dominate and submissive as opposed to assertive and receptive. The idea is that the first pair of terms could be construed as negative or unwelcome while the second pair of terms is desirable in that the people in question are more equal and the concept of “choice” is integral. Never was this as apparent to me as when I had the opportunity to take some ballroom dance lessons a few years ago. (see Ballroom Dancing: A metaphor for men and women)
Ballroom dancing involves rules. While the man has the job of leading, he can only do so with the full cooperation of his partner; he cannot “force” his partner to do anything. There is no dominate and submissive; this is purely assertive and receptive. The man asks the woman to dance; she has the choice to accept or refuse. They can only dance together if, of course, they both know the steps but more importantly that they both do so willingly.
Avoiding the predatory
Yes, we men need to be assertive, sometimes forward; we need to be the instigator. But we must avoid coming across as predatory. I’m sure somebody has written some sort of metaphor about “don’t scare the prey” in a men’s advice column in an attempt to joke about comparing meeting women to hunting your target. Funny maybe, but let’s remember that anything smacking of stalking is not. No is no.
During the evening, if I am walking down a street which is dimly lit and I see a woman coming towards me, I have, depending on my read of the situation, crossed to the other side of the street. Why? My gut instinct is that she would be more comfortable if she didn’t have to come close to a stranger in the dark. I have done the same thing in, let’s say, the library where I end up in some obscure corner and discover somebody there. I exit and leave them alone. Not all the time; it depends on how I judge the other person’s body language. Exiting is not always an option or desirable. Defusing that fear of the “predator” can be achieved with a smile, a polite hello or just going about your business while ignoring the other person.
By the way, I have been in situations on a dark street where I have crossed to the opposite side of the street when I’ve seen a man or a group of men that, for whatever reason, makes me feel uncomfortable. I will add that I myself have never felt uncomfortable when I’ve seen a woman or a group of women. Telling, isn’t it?
Now take this dark street and turn into anything else: the supermarket, a coffee shop or any public place. Are we being predatory? Are we being perceived as being predatory? Are we leering while licking our lips? Eew!
What a curious thing to write about. Then again, reading the blogs of Kat Wilder and Clarisse Thorn reminds me that none of this is imaginary. There is a “great divide”. Do we talk about history, tradition, a mostly patriarchal society and a culture which is male dominated? Is there more of dominate and submissive as opposed to assertive and receptive? Yes, we have laws about equality but the true litmus test is the conversation around the water cooler with a bunch of guys. There is more predator and less equality than we think, than we would like.
Years ago I’m doing some computer consulting work. I’m at a small company talking with Bill the manager and Lori the head secretary. Out of the blue, Bill the manager decides to tell me a joke and says, “What’s the difference between a woman and a walrus? … One has a moustache and smells like fish, the other lives in the sea.”
I was stunned. He says this in front of Lori. She nervously laughs not really knowing what to do. After all, Bill is her boss and signs her pay check. I didn’t know what to say either; I was positively appalled he would say such a thing in front of a woman for starters but secondly; the premise of the entire joke is based on a sexist stereotype to which I do not at all subscribe. What an absolute idiot!
Where does this stuff come from?
In his article “How We Turn Men Into Creeps“, author Steve Biddulph talks of how we collectively have failed to teach boys how to be sexually mature. He is of the mind that the development of mature, loving men requires some deliberate help and training during the first two decades of a man’s life, and that this process frequently does not take place. He paints a not good picture of the current state of affairs but does give a glimmer of hope.
Boys have many positive impulses around sexuality. Deep down most teenage boys are deeply romantic, capable of quite spiritual feelings towards women and girls. Yet schoolyard and pub culture with its derisive dialogue about women and sex can erode and destroy a boy’s finer feelings. This yob-culture must simply be overpowered by more persuasive, more affirming messages from men who live what they speak.
The University of Southern California reported on a study that showed boys raised by lesbians appear to be less aggressive and more nurturing than boys raised in heterosexual families. Just what is junior learning from dear old Dad? (see my blog: Marc Lépine: in remembrance of December 6, 1989)
How can men not help being creeps?
Steve Biddulph talks about help and training during the first two decades of a man’s life. If I think about, if any of us think about it, without instruction, without training, without an education, how could anybody do anything?
Cindy Gallop started a web site called “Make Love Not Porn” (see Cindy Gallop: Make Love Not Porn) dedicated to eradicating some myths about reality as portrayed in pornography. She explained that her motivation for doing this was based on her personal experiences with younger men whose sexual education seems to have only come from watching pornographic films.
I’m sure that any of the conservative readers will immediately jump on the word pornography but for me, the more important point is how could a young man grow up and date Cindy Gallop but have never had a proper sexual education? While some of Ms. Gallop’s stories are amusing, I was absolutely flabbergasted to hear what some of her dates thought women wanted. It was a testimony to parents who taught their sons nothing and an education system that failed as well.
Men can be creeps; no doubt about it. But I do think men have the same potential for being good as anybody else however I qualify that by adding “with a proper upbringing”.
If all of us guys are truly spending 43 minutes a day checking out the ladies, can we do it without being creeps? Can we throw out dominate and submissive and trade it in for assertive and receptive?
But, but, but I have to come back to Mr. Biddulph’s talk about help and training during the first two decades of a man’s life. What are we as parents teaching our children? What is our education system teaching our children? Are kids really being taught about sex, relations with the opposite sex and love or are they being thrown out the door with the idea “they’ll figure it out for themselves”? Does it end up by default that porn is how kids are learning about sex and relations? Gee, would a Schwarzenegger film teach us about justice?
Isn’t it odd? You have to take driver education course and pass a test to get your licence before you are allowed to get behind the wheel of a car. I can add to that pilot, engineer, teacher, car mechanic, doctor and plumber. Need I list off just how many things we can do in life without proving to a single soul that we have the foggiest notion about what the heck we’re doing? Things which may have a critical influence on other people? I would include here dating, sex, marriage and being a parent. Odd, indeed. We expect people to be good – okay, half decent – at something all while providing no instruction and not mandating any testing before getting behind the wheel.
Men can be creeps? “What’s the difference between a woman and a walrus?” Men can be pigs.
Kat Wilder – Oct 20/2010
It’s not OK to stare
Clarisse Thorn – Jan 2/2011
Men don’t deserve the word “creep”
How We Turn Men Into Creeps
my blog: Cindy Gallop: Make Love Not Porn
I think Ms. Gallop displayed a lot of guts in making this web site and making a public speech about it. The truth is never easy and sometimes you have to go against traditions and silence and just speak your mind.
my blog: Marc Lépine: in remembrance of December 6, 1989
As reported by the University of Southern California, a study of children raised by gay parents showed differences in their behaviour from those raised by heterosexual parents. For example, boys raised by lesbians appear to be less aggressive and more nurturing than boys raised in heterosexual families.
Craigslist (anonymous) – Dec 28/2006
Rant: All men aren’t creeps…
(I’m copying the entire message as I’m afraid it might someday get taken down.)
This woman is intelligent and a shrewd observer of men.
I have been approached more times than I can count over the years by men trying to get to know me better. I think that is average for most women in their 20s.
I always try to be respectful whether I am attracted to them or not. Believe it or not, women get rejected too and I try to treat folks like I would like to be treated.
These are just some questions I would love to have answered. I am sure I will get some s**t for writing this. I don’t want to be negative; I love men and think for the most part that they are great. I have been approached by nice guys (attractive-to-me and not) in class, at work, at bars, at cafes, at the roller rink, etc and have appreciated the conversation and the stuff that sometimes follows.
That being said, please tell me why men think that it is ok to do the following:
-Skulk around the bar for hours and stare at me while I am drinking with my friends and only approach me at the VERY end of the night (even though I said hello and smiled a few times) when I am outside of the bar and parting ways with my friends. Either you think I am drunk enough to make you look good or you are waiting until I am alone for some creepy reason…ugh.
-Try to kiss a woman’s hand the first time you meet her. It is not the Victorian era and it is not the Renaissance Fair. From my understanding it was customary for ladies to wear gloves and for gentlemen to “air kiss”, anyway. I don’t know you and you don’t know where my hand has been. I certainly don’t want your lips on me the first minute that we meet. I had to repeatedly tell a 50-something year old guy with scraggly hair and a beret to please not kiss my hand and that a hand shake was enough. I said this politely but he persisted x3. When I said “PLEASE DON’T” in a firm tone to him he called me a “bitch”. That was 4 years ago and I still see the guy in my neighborhood and he STILL glares at me. Grow up and get over it grandpa.
-Try to dry hump women while they are talking to their friends…I know you are drunk and I am so sorry that your girlfriend broke up with you, but wtf?
-invite my friend and I home with you…believe me darling, if we want a threesome with you, WE will come to YOU. We are pretty sure of getting a taker if we are offering that set up. You are just asking for rejection there and will be given no sympathy.
-Not take a hint that my friend and I are not up to flirting when she is crying her eyes out after being dumped…especially when we say point-blank “sorry, now is not a good time. Maybe we can hang out next week”.
-Loudly ask me and my friend (in front of my mom) to smoke weed with you in the back alley when it is pouring rain. You could at least introduce yourself first…sheesh.
-cockblocking sucks. Don’t do it. If I am speaking intently with a hottie please don’t try to sit between us and take over the conversation.
-yes I am a busty lady. I am not interested in hearing about how you used to like skinnier gals but you have come to the realization recently that curvy women are sexy, too. Yawn. Or is that your way of letting me know that I am on your hotlist and you find me dateable even though your jockohomo friends might make fun of you. Oh boy! Lucky me!
-being rude to my male friends when I bring them in the bar/cafe that where I and you both happen to be regulars. That will not impress me. It was really funny watching this regular get all huffy and competitive with my GAY co-worker who I brought to the cafe. I know we usually exchange pleasantries when we see each other, but I have no commitment to you. If you want to show you care, be nice to my friends
-why would a man tell a me that he had painted a portrait of me face and superimposed it on a picture he had previously painted on his ex-girlfriend? I don’t want to know that I have a “divine” face that is the muse to your artistic genius. For one thing, I don’t even know your last name. Secondly, I am not impressed by the “art in pain” persona. Finally, that conversation was so creepy that I avoided that location for several months.
-I’m with the Clinton biography reader who posted. If I am reading a book or doing my coursework, I don’t mind a “hello” but being unable to take a hint is just f**king pathetic and unattractive in the extreme. A man who doesn’t catch normal social cues or even worse pushes my boundaries on the first meeting is not going to get too far with me.
-If you are an older gentleman, expect to be rejected if you approach a younger woman. I have enjoyed dating older men myself, but most women don’t. Sorry but that’s the way the cookie crumbles pops.
Thanks for letting me rant!
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