Trigger warning: predatory behaviour, creepiness, sexual assault.

Yesterday, I read this account of creepy stalking behaviour retold by a woman whose husband had witnessed it first-hand and subsequently described the incident to her in detail. During the course of her husband’s recitation, the woman asked him what she refers to as The Question, capitalised because, once asked, he stopped seeing the creeper as simply being awkward and inappropriate and started seeing him as frightening and potentially dangerous. And as I was reading, something clicked in my head regarding an incident which, approximately sixteen years ago, left me deeply unsettled, and which continues to unsettle me in memory. It’s not a story I’ve ever told more than once or twice, partly because even now, at the age of 26, I find it as difficult to articulate as I did at age 10, but mostly because, up until yesterday, I didn’t know how to convey the the thing that most bothered me about it, because when it happened, I was too young to ask The Question, and until yesterday, I hadn’t known I could ask it retrospectively. But now I can, and so I’m going to put it all on record.

I don’t remember my precise age, though ten seems the best guess: certainly, I was no older than eleven, and I doubt I was younger than eight. The occasion was a child’s birthday party – not one of my close friends, but a family friend, a son or daughter of someone from my mother’s extended social circle. The setting was a restaurant: all the adults were at a big table in the front room having a roaring party of their own, while the kids were in another out the back, with music and balloons and a trestle table against the far wall where the presents and party bags were. I remember that the kids’ room lead directly outside in two directions – one past the kitchen, one past the toilets and storage room – and that there was no direct line of sight, or indeed point of access, between the adults’ room and ours: you had to pass through a third dining room, occupied by other patrons, to get between them. I remember, too, that I was pretty much on my own: I knew the other kids, but I wasn’t great friends with any of them, and so was standing alone when one of the waiters approached me.

To my child’s perception, he was a youthful-looking adult; in memory, I’d say he was in his twenties. He was blonde and not bad-looking, but something about his eyes bothered me, and when he spoke, he addressed me by name.

“Hello, Philippa,” he said. “That’s a pretty name.”

I felt uneasy. “How do you know my name?”

I have never forgotten, nor will ever forget, the type of smile that accompanied his response. It was a wrong smile, a shark smile, a greasy smile that flicked his mouth up at the left corner and which didn’t match the intensity of his eyes, which were pale blue. His answer, too, I recall verbatim.

He said: “I read it on your lovely little lolly bag.”

And in that moment, I was frightened. I knew, with an absolute certainty, that the waiter shouldn’t have talked to me; that I needed to get as far away from him as possible. I don’t remember what I said to excuse myself, or if I even said anything at all: either way, I went straight to the room where the adults were, determined to tell someone what had happened, because over and over, when you were taught about stranger danger at school, you were told to tell an adult. I got right up next to my mother; I stood beside her chair and waited for a pause in the conversation. There must have been ten or more adults present, and all of them were laughing at something, presumably a joke. When my mother had finished laughing, she turned to me and asked me what I wanted. I opened my mouth, but all at once, my confidence failed. I didn’t know what to say; I didn’t know how to describe the fear I’d felt or the reason for it in a way that would make sense, or that would give the adults something to act on if I did. The waiter hadn’t done anything but talk to me. What if I was wrong? What if they laughed at me, too? What if I ruined their evening?

“Nothing,” I said. “It doesn’t matter.”

But it did matter, because I didn’t feel safe. So strong was my fear that I left the kids’ room and spent the rest of the evening sitting just outside the back entrance to the kitchen, where I was constantly in view of the adult staff. More than once, I was asked if I wanted to go back inside, and each time I said no, I was fine, thanks for asking, I just liked being out in the air. Eventually, one of the other girls at the party came out and sat with me. We talked for a while, and when she asked why I was sitting there, I whispered in her ear that the blonde waiter made me uncomfortable, and so I was keeping away from him – and in reply, she whispered back that she felt weird around him, too. From time to time, I saw him looking at me from inside the kids’ room; he had to walk past my seat to get to and from the kitchen, too, but he didn’t try to talk to me again, presumably because we were guaranteed an audience.

I sat outside for the rest of the night, until it was time to go home. I never told any adults, and in the years since, I’ve often wondered if that was ultimately a good thing or a bad thing. My fear was certainly real, and the phrase lovely little lolly bag still strikes me as being very creepily worded. But still, what does that prove? Nothing actually happened, and apart from my own deep sense of unease, I have no evidence that I was actually in danger. What if I’d raised suspicions about someone who, though seemingly creepy to me, was ultimately harmless? But then again, what if he really had posed a threat? What if the fact that I didn’t speak up meant that, somewhere down the line, he ultimately acted against someone else? In either case, I have no way of knowing. But yesterday, I finally thought to ask The Question, which went a long way towards explaining my unease. Viz:

If the waiter learned my name from my lolly bag, how did he match it to my face?

The only answer is: he was watching me. I wasn’t the only girl at the party; he would’ve had to tell me apart from the others. And he couldn’t have just eavesdropped it, either – then as now, both my actual family and all our family friends called me Foz, and while it’s conceivably possible that one of the adults might have used my full name at some point, it’s also very unlikely given that they spent the majority of the night in a different room. Certainly, the other kids would never have called me Philippa, and in any case, even before the waiter spoke to me, I’d mostly been standing alone. And then there’s the incongruity of him talking to me at all. I’ve worked as a waitress, and when you’ve got a big party taking up two whole rooms of the restaurant plus regular customers in the third, you don’t have time to stop and talk to children. But this man did, and even though it’s taken the power of hindsight for me to understand exactly how odd it all was, my instincts at the time still screamed at me that something was amiss.

There’s a poisonous double standard in our society which says that it’s reverse-sexist and wrong for women to feel threatened by creepy-awkward male behaviour because our fear implies that we hold the negative, stereotypical view that All Men Are Predators, but that if we’re raped or sexually assaulted by any man with whom we’ve had prior social interaction – and particularly if he’s expressed some sexual or romantic interest in us during that time – it’s reasonable for observers to ask what precautions we took to prevent the assault from happening, or to suggest that we maybe led the guy on by not stating our feelings plainly. The result is a situation where women are punished if we reject, avoid or identify creepy men, and then told it’s our fault if we’re assaulted by someone we plainly ought to have rejected, avoided, identified.

And sometimes, even our rejections are ignored. Here’s another story: when I was twelve or thirteen, a boy at my high school developed a crush on me. He asked me out; I said no. He asked me out again; I still said no. One would think that my feelings had been made abundantly clear by this point, but apparently not: his next step was to follow me around every lunch and recess for over a week declaring that he loved me. During this time, I told him repeatedly to fuck off, go away, I didn’t like him, he was making me uncomfortable; on multiple occasions when he came too close, I even resorted to physically shoving him back. When that still didn’t work, I started running away, literally running, right to the other side of the campus if need be; he wasn’t fast enough to follow in the moment, so he started sending messengers after me, other boys who, amused by the absurdity of the situation, thought it was great fun to track me down, wherever I was, and tell me that this boy loved me, and wouldn’t I come and speak to him, go out with him? So then I had to hide from them, too: the only place I was safe was the girl’s toilets, where they were forbidden to go. At one point, a pair of senior girls saw me loitering by the sink and asked what I was doing; I had to explain that I was being chased by boys, and this was the only place I could hide from them. The situation finally came to a head when some other boys were alerted to my harassment by my female friends, and joined our group one day as a sort of protection detail: when the boy who liked me showed up and started professing his love, two of them physically attacked him – a few hard shoves and punches – and warned him to stay away.

He listened to them.

I’ve written before about my brush with sexual assault at university; two incidents which, despite leaving me unscathed, nonetheless serve as reinforcement for the idea that persistence in matters of sex and romance, even once the girl has said no, are considered a male prerogative in our culture. Indeed, the idea of ‘winning the girl’ – of overcoming female objections or resistance through repeated and frequently escalating efforts – is central to most of our modern romantic narratives. (Female persistence, by contrast, is viewed as pathetic.) And the more I think about instances of creepiness, harassment and stalking that culminate in either the threat or actuality of sexual assault, the more I’m convinced that a massive part of the problem is this socially sanctioned idea that men are fundamentally entitled to persist. Because if men are meant to persist, then women who say no must only be rejecting the attempt, not the man himself, so that every separate attempt becomes one of a potentially infinite number of keys which might just fit the lock of the woman’s approval. She’s not the one who’s allowed to say no, not really; she should be silent and passive as a locked door, waiting patiently while the man runs through however many keys he can be bothered trying. And if he gets sick of this lengthy process and just breaks in? Well, frustration under those circumstances is only natural. Either the door shouldn’t have been there to impede him, or it shouldn’t have been locked.

We tell children – and particularly young girls – to beware of creepy adult behaviour; to identify, report and avoid it. But at some point during adolescence, the message becomes reversed: if you’re old enough to consent, the logic seems to go, then suddenly you’re old enough that being too scared to say no, or having your no ignored, is your fault rather than your assailant’s. When adults behave creepily towards children, our first priority is to ascertain whether a threat is posed, because we’d rather call them out for their inappropriateness than risk a genuine threat being written off as harmless, particularly in instances where the child is visibly upset. Certainly, if a child ever came to you and said they didn’t feel safe or comfortable around a particular adult, you’d treat it as a very serious matter. And yet we don’t extend the same logic to people who behave creepily towards other adults – partly and very reasonably, it must be said, because adults are better able to defend themselves than children, and because, on the sexual side of things, children literally cannot consent to anything, whereas one adult propositioning another is not morally repugnant in and of itself, regardless of how creepily they choose to go about it.

But surely the threat of sexual assault is still legitimate and grave enough that it’s better to call someone out for being inappropriate and creepy than to risk a genuine threat being written off as harmless, particularly when the subject of their behaviour is visibly upset? Surely if a friend or colleague comes to you and says they don’t feel safe or comfortable around a particular person, this too is a serious matter? Because even if that person has the best of intentions, poses no threat and doesn’t mean to be creepy, the fact remains that they are still making someone uncomfortable, and that’s definitely worth addressing. As the excellent John Scalzi points out, you don’t get to define someone else’s comfort level with you: sure, it might suck that someone thinks you’re being creepy, but your hurt feelings at that verdict are ultimately less important than whether or not the other person feels safe. If you persist in bothering someone after they’ve made it clear they don’t like you, or in treating them in a manner to which they object simply because you, personally, see nothing wrong with it, then you are being an asshat: you are saying that their actual fear and discomfort are less important that your right to behave in a way that makes them afraid and discomforted, and if that’s the case, then why the hell shouldn’t they call you out?

I’ll never know if the waiter represented a genuine threat to me, or if he was simply creepy and harmless. But my fear was real, and that alone is enough to convince me that his behaviour, whatever his intentions, was inappropriate. Because ultimately, good intentions aren’t a get-out-of-jail-free card; you can’t use them to debunk accusations of creepiness any more than writers can use them to handwave accusations of having created racist or misogynist stories. Intention is not the same as effect, and if someone asks a question – The Question – to which you have no reasonable answer, then prepare to admit that you might be in the wrong.

  1. annomalley says:

    I really like this. In Highschool we had this guy who hung out with my ‘group’ who always made me feel really uncomfrtable. He was the kind of person I didn’t want to be left alone with. But I felt like trying to exclude him was ‘mean’ or ‘unfair’. He was always included in our parties and events and was much more touchy feely than I was okay with. There were times when I would allow it, either to not rock the boat or because I felt it was expected. Even now there’s awkward guilt about the whole thing. It actually fell to one of my best friends to finally stop inviting him to parties. He had made me uncomfortable at an event and she had had enough. For ages after that he sent me messages about how it was my fault that he was no longer included, that I had villified him and thus ruined his social reputation. But I was glad that I no longer had to deal with him personally.
    I don’t really know why I included this story, except to further illustrate your point, that girls are taught to put up with creepy behavior, to be ‘nice’ and ‘accepting’. Even when their gut is telling them ‘ AVOID AVOID AVOID’.

  2. Anon says:

    I have a disability that means I always come across as the Creepy Guy. I’ve been through years of therapy, counselling, social courses and.. I’m better but people still find me creepy. I’m not commenting to disagree with you or anything, I 100% agree that people should follow their gut and if something sounds wrong you should listen to those alarm bells. But… I don’t know, do you have hints on how to avoid scaring others? I try to avoid looking at, talking to or interacting with other people whenever I go outside. But I can’t always avoid it and I end up so disheartened every time I can tell a cashier clerk is stumbling to ring up my total as quickly as possible because I’ve made them nervous. Or a bus driver that keeps watching me in their mirror to make sure I don’t try to do anything to the other passengers. It’s leaving me incredibly depressed, knowing I’m doing this to other people 😦

    • fozmeadows says:

      I’m really sorry you’re in this position – that must be incredibly tough to deal with. Without knowing what your disability is and the specific manner in which it affects you, I’m not sure how useful my tips might be, so my apologies if any of these are obvious, inapplicable and/or unhelpful for whatever reason. That being said, here’s a few suggestions that hopefully might help:

      – It might be difficult, but in instances where you do have to interact with strangers (bus drivers, cashiers), try to look them in the face and acknowledge them, however briefly. You don’t have to stare, smile or make conversation (though if they smile or talk, it’s best to echo the sentiment), but it can unsettle people to deal with someone who – albeit for completely understandable reasons – signals through silence and body language that they find the interaction upsetting. It’s an unfortunate feedback effect: you’re anxious about the encounter, the other person picks up on that, and so they in turn become anxious, because they don’t know why you’re anxious to begin with and are fearful of making things worse. If it helps, maybe pretend for the duration of the encounter that you’re on your way to do something you really enjoy; that way, you might seem a little more confident and happy, which could help put the other person at ease.

      – In social situations, try to be physically calm (slow, quiet breathing, muscles relaxed) and stay aware of your body language. An arm’s length is generally a comfortable distance to stand apart from whoever you’re talking to, and it’s important to make regular eye contact, both with the person who’s speaking and other members of the group, if you’re all talking together; again, you don’t have to stare, but don’t keep your eyes entirely elsewhere, either. A good stance I’ve found for when I’m feeling a bit awkward or nervous is to fold my arms behind my back: it’s comfortable, it helps push your shoulders back so you stand a little straighter, it’s nonthreatening, and it solves the problem of what to do with your hands.

      – Self-confidence is never as easy as just telling someone ‘be confident!’, and I get quite angry at people who say otherwise. You can’t become confident on command, especially if you’re dealing with depression, and behaving as though it were a simple process is profoundly counter-productive. Nonetheless, confidence is clearly a good thing to have, and it can definitely help with how others perceive you. So, as a way to help build your confidence and maybe change how others see you, I’d suggest keeping your eyes open for small chances to demonstrate consideration for others. I’ll give two suggestions, as these are both places you’ve mentioned feeling uncomfortable: on the bus (unless your disability makes this unfeasible) look for instances where you might be able to offer your seat to someone who needs it, and in shops, if you’re paying cash (and if the sum is easy to do) try to have exact change ready for the cashier. These are really small things, and you won’t be able to do them every day, but they show consideration for others in ways that are non-threatening, socially appropriate and immediately helpful, and which hopefully might cause someone who’s prejudged you to change that perception.

      I hope that helps, and sorry again if any of these are unhelpful. I wish you all the best 🙂

    • Simeon Morris says:

      Hi Anon, I’m sorry for the situation you’re in. I’d like to say, although I’m rather afraid to say it, in light of the above article, that in fact, it’s not you who is making these people feel uncomfortable.
      It’s their own issues here that cause their feelings of discomfort.

      Although the way we all behave can trigger emotional responses in others, in truth, no one can ‘make’ anyone feel anything, without their willingness to feel it. If someone behaves in a socially unacceptable way, as per the waiter above, then sure, he is guilty of triggering feelings in others that will be uncomfortable. However, in your case, you are NOT behaving in a socially unacceptable way. You are disabled, which is not something you choose to be.

      I guess people may actually pick up on your low self esteem about this, and this may also help them feel uncomfortable.

      I would suggest you stop trying to control others feelings about you, and instead, stand a little bit proud of who you are. Many people will reject you, as they are prejudiced, and narrow minded. Those people are not really worth worrying about. There are however good people out there, who will meet you eye for eye, and treat you with respect.

      Good luck.

      • fozmeadows says:

        “in truth, no one can ‘make’ anyone feel anything, without their willingness to feel it.”

        This is utter bullshit. What, you think bullying victims only feel bad because they’re willing to believe their tormentors? That victims of emotional abuse only feel depressed and helpless because they secretly want to? That victims of rape and assault only feel dirty and worthless and guilty because deep down, they’re WILLING to feel it? Do you even understand how feelings WORK?

        • Simeon Morris says:

          No, I don’t think bully victims only feel bad if they choose to believe their tormentors. This isn’t a black or white issue. I used the word triggered for a reason. If you thought about what I said, rather than reacted emotionally then you would see the truth in what I say. As an example, did my words ‘make’ you feel angry, or did you rather have your anger, that is already there, triggered by them? Not everyone will react the same to my words. Therefore, my words aren’t inherently gong to make everyone feel the same way.

          If someone get’s hurt in an exchange, by a bully, for eg, then, they can choose to feel shame, and blame themselves, or they can allow the pain of the abuse to flow through them, and choose NOT to let that attack define them, or change how they feel about themselves.

          How ever hard it is to hear, no-one is responsible for anyone else’s emotions, or behaviour.

          The door swings both ways.
          A victim of assault is never responsible for the feelings of the abuser, nor responsible for their behaviour. Victims should never be blamed for the abuse they suffer. But they can be helped to see that they can choose how they ultimately deal with the fall out off the attack.

          By saying ‘you made me feel…’ you place responsibility for your feelings in the hands of another, and therefore place yourself at their mercy, solidifying your victim stance and preventing healing and growth.

          Do you believe that the disabled person above is responsible for making people feel uncomfortable? If so, that is all kinds of messed up.

          • fozmeadows says:

            Obviously, victims can choose – often through hard work and self-determination – not to be defined by their abusers. And I understand what a trigger is, along with the fact that people will invariably react differently to the same stimulus.

            But it seems to me that you’re denying the fairly basic fact that people are responsible for the pain they cause others, regardless of whether they always do it intentionally. Note that I very specifically say pain, rather than discomfort; that’s a separate conversation, though a related one. But if you go up to a stranger and start verbally abusing them, you are responsible for their subsequent emotional state, because you have hurt them, just the same as you would be responsible for the physical injuries dealt if you walked up to the same person and started beating them up.

            Your whole approach is a massive denial of the idea that people can and should be held accoutable for their actions, and as much as you say you’re trying to empower victims here, it also seems like you’re falling prey to victim-blaming, too – by saying that if someone continues to be defined by the abuse they’ve suffered, then it’s ultimately their fault, rather than their abuser’s, because the victim is the one who chose to be victimised.

            And how, may I ask, does this system of yours apply to things like racism or sexism? If someone tells me to get back in the kitchen and make them a sandwich, bitch, even if they’ve meant it as a joke, that person has been sexist, and I will be angry as a direct result. But according to you, the sexist hasn’t “made” me feel anything – my anger is all in my head, there’s no point confronting him about it, and I should just let him go unchallenged.

            To borrow a metaphor: if you stand on my foot by accident, you’ve still hurt me, and you need to get off my foot. The pain I feel is the direct result of your actions. If you did it by accident, fine – you apologise, I accept, and we go on our merry way. But if you stand there insisting that I can’t really be hurt because you didn’t mean to hurt me, that the pain is all in my head and I’m only choosing to feel it, then you’re being a selfish asshat. And you STILL need to get off my foot.

            • Simeon Morris says:

              If I understand you correctly, you think that I am underhandedly blaming victims for their abuse.
              Am I correct in thinking that?

              However, I am very clear on that point.

              ‘A victim of assault is never responsible for the feelings of the abuser, nor responsible for their behaviour. Victims should never be blamed for the abuse they suffer. But they can be helped to see that they can choose how they ultimately deal with the fall out of the attack.’

              It seems you have an agenda, and used my post to express it.
              You’re free to do so, but I see above that I was very clear in NOT blaming victims for their abuse.
              So saying that I do is simply inaccurate.

              If you’re interested, go check out Al Turtles website, specifically this page He talks at length about emotions, where they come from and who is responsible for them.


              • Honey says:

                Ugh. Shut up.

                • Simeon Morris says:

                  I see you are also very angry and dismissive.

                  Not the most constructive post ever made really, but I can see that I’m not welcome here, so won’t engage with you anymore.
                  It’s hardly the most adult conversation coming from some of you.
                  Very reactive and dismissive, and to be honest, I doubt you have actually read what I wrote above.

                  You also don’t know me, my experiences, what i’ve been through, etc.

                  Perhaps, rather than acting like a little angry child you might think before posting.

                  Ugh, shut up, is pretty offensive and hurtful.

                  • Kagi says:

                    When you come in being condescending, patronizing and dismissive to begin with, you can hardly complain about the response you receive. Note, if you choose to reply to this, I’m not going to bother, since I have serious doubt that your reply will be constructive.

  3. I found your blog about a week ago when I was looking for a nice feminist critique of the mother/daughter relationship in “Brave.” I enjoyed your analysis and trotted away.

    Then I thought, today, at work, that I would find it again. And you’ve done a post about “The Question” ! That is remarkable. What a small Internet!

    And this actually means a lot to me. When I wrote that comment on Captain Awkward’s blog, I didn’t know that her post was going to explode all over the Internet and people were going to link to “the Question” and discuss it and share it everywhere and attach their opinions on how much my stylized-husband was a secret rapist who needed to die in a fire and how creepy I was for not giving the girl in the story a proper name and how I should probably be sexually attacked for writing it in the first place. I sat down at work a few days after it “went viral” and discovered an inbox full of hate – MRAs had found my blog. (I’M NOT EVEN A PROPER BLOGGER. IT WAS A COMMENT ON SOMEBODY ELSE’S BLOG. I DIDN’T SOLICIT THIS ATTENTION AND I WASN’T PREPARED FOR IT.) I was so bothered by this reaction that I had to completely walk away until the traffic died down, and I had a friend delete all of the messages. I felt like the backlash I had received (for writing a stupid story about a stupid question to make a stranger feel better and I thought maybe five people would see it) had canceled out any possible good it could have done, and I even asked Captain Awkward to delete the damn comment. She said no, because she thought it was helping people. And I didn’t really believe her. I was reeling and gibbering slightly, wild around the eyes, startling at popping corks.

    This is a long way of saying “Thank you,” because when I looked at this post I was clear-eyed and cheerful and not expecting it, and the stories you shared sank little fish-hooks into my gut, and I am so sorry that this happened to you. But thank you, for having made that horrible two weeks rather more worthwhile. Thank you, Foz. This means a lot to me.

    • fozmeadows says:

      A small internet indeed! I’m so, so sorry you had to deal with the dumbass vitriol of immature goons who think that threatening strangers online is a good idea, but I’m glad this piece was able to help a bit with balancing all that out. The anecdote you shared was an important one; thanks for having the courage to do so in the first place 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      I read your comment because it was linked in this post, and I am so sorry that you went through that! I think that your husband acted perfectly reasonably for someone in his position. It is not easy for men to understand what a woman goes through. When my husband questions why I am uncomfortable with something, I explain it carefully from my perspective and he begins to understand. But I don’t think he’s evil for not understanding before that. I am so sorry that people called your husband a secret racist, that is so awful. Thank you for your comment, and this post that it inspired. I think they are so insightful.

  4. Brilliantly put, particularly the part about the double standard!

  5. Nancy Werlin says:

    The unease and discomfort you felt are what Gavin de Becker talks about in THE GIFT OF FEAR, where he advises flatly that when you feel these things, listen to them and get out. You’re picking up on all sorts of subconscious knowledge and puzzle pieces that you will only be able to put together rationally later (maybe much later, as you just did in this post). THE GIFT OF FEAR is an important book to read on this subject.

  6. M says:

    Wow, I had an almost identical experience as you with the boy chasing you except for me it was first or second grade and he would chase after me trying to kiss me. It was terrible but luckily two of my friends helped me in avoiding him but I couldn’t get him to stop, it was only when he himself stopped that it finally ended. Never heard of anyone else experiencing this so it’s nice to hear I wasn’t the only one.

    • S.S. says:

      No, I had that experience too! In year 5 at primary school, this American boy who’d just moved to England sat opposite me in class, kept telling me he loved me and asking me out, trying to kiss me or hold my hand, and I spent every breaktime literally being chased or followed around by him. My only refuge was the girl’s toilets too 😐 Thankfully he left after a few weeks.

  7. Rowan Badger says:

    This whole issue has been circulating around my social grouping and my community for a while, and it wasn’t until I read one of the comments here that I realised something. There is a Creepy Guy I deal with on a regular basis. He touches all the women, is very suggestive, and does not treat us with the same respect the other men in the group do. I think we’ve all been glossing over it because he manages The Edge of Creepy so well and never *pushes*, and because we all occasionally have to work together to accomplish something. No one wants to upset the applecart, so we shrug him off (sometimes literally, as he tends to put a ‘friendly’ hand on a shoulder, especially if you have any exposed skin there).

    But I am sitting here, stunned, remembering a time when he came up and pulled me into him with his arm around me. I am a very touchy-feely person and would usually lean into the hug or put my arm around the person hugging me, but I could not bring myself to unlock my arms, which were crossed across my chest. When he let go, my hands were balled into little fists, and I DID NOT EVEN CONSIDER WHY. Over the last few years he’s just managed to set off enough subconscious alerts without ever crossing a line that he now inspires a mild fight or flight response in me. For me, in this case, The Question is “If another woman told me she felt like this, would I leave her alone in a room with him?”

    You know, I don’t think I would.

    • lily monleone says:

      sometimes I think its a power thing, not so much that the ‘creep’ wants actual sexual contact. The ‘creep’ needs to know he has the power to make us scared, he needs us to be scared. Unfortunately because women cannot usually physically deter a bully, we put up with a lot of this bullying in silence. Once he knows he has us running scared ,he has won. I only wish when I was a child I had had the courage to stand up and just say no to the bullies, but I was sensitive shy and afraid. Now I am older and wiser, and will tolerate the shit no more.

      • yeah, that resonates with me a lot. it’s all so complicated, but lots of typically male-centered cultural themes like this type of unyeilding creepiness, “friend-zoning”, the “But I’m A Nice Guy” bitterness when a woman says no, and flat out sexual assault and rape are not often mostly about the actual sex. of course there are sexual elements, but there’s a WORLD of difference between wanting to have sex with someone if they do too and wanting to have sex with someone regardless. it’s all about power relations. If it was just wanting to have sex, if a woman said no the guy would go ahead and try to find sex elsewhere, or be sad if he was really into her (but if he was honestly into her, he wouldn’t be more excited by her not liking him). There’s an assumption in those interactions of their own power and god-given right to be ‘aggressive’, and a blind eye and smug privilege toward ignoring a woman’s discomfort… or worse, taking it as a challenge. It’s so engrained that I still sometimes have to say it out loud to myself to see how messed up that is. Guys like that will believe in their heart of hearts that most or all women want them, or that they eventually will, and it’s just a matter of strategy, timing, intoxication, whatever, that will lower the woman’s defenses enough. If you put it in terms of children who can’t give consent, it’s horrifying. It’s accepted that there is a NO on trying to have sex with children, why is it that once a girl hits 16 there’s no such thing anymore?

        And yet, you’ll notice that men often don’t brag and boast of their “conquests” to other women- they brag to other men- because at some level, their goal is not merely to have sex or flirt as much as they’re trying to get man-points in relation to other men and prove (to men) that they are strong enough/good enough/manly enough to ‘break down’ the most difficult of challenges.

        if i meet a guy who says ANYTHING about being a bitter nice guy who can’t get dates, i’m out of there as fast as i can. he may be harmless, but honestly, i’d rather be around a harmless guy who doesn’t think he’s entitled to being bitter about someone saying no.

        NO is NO is NO is NO and consent means not only that NO is NO but that everything except for YES is a NO by default. YES is the only YES. Consentual sex is between two adults who say YES with no hesitation—-otherwise, back off, their happiness and safety are more important than your sexual satisfaction or ego.

  8. librarypat says:

    When I was in college, I worked at a small repair store my dad had. While alone a man came in, talked a bit then came behind the counter. He got physical and I was so shocked I really didn’t know what to do. You have to realize this was over 40 years ago and the atmosphere was very different. He finally left. That evening I finally got up the courage to tell my parents what had happened and was scolded and punished, It was my fault, period. Times have changed and even though there is a ways yet to go, women are much better off than they were.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Oh, that’s vile! I’m so sorry – and you’re right, it’s important to remember how far we’ve come, if only because it helps us remember why things need to keep changing.

    • lily monleone says:

      I agree there are more laws against physical/mental violence nowadays, but its the same old story, and the creeps get creative and subtle as a result. How many women have suffered from office bullies who cover their tracks?. Women are even at the mercy from other women, and women can be waaaay more vicious than men. probably the worst damage i have been done is at the hands of a jealous/threatened fellow female. Truly mind boggling stuff. Its not sexual intimidation but its just as creepy. its a sad old world and you have to have courage to not let these people hurt you.

  9. […] another story on the net about The Question, too. You can find that one here. Please click on the link. Here’s the main gist, but this is not the whole thing. I don’t […]

  10. lovefromwoes says:

    I think this is a really great thing to talk about. If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s it. You pick and choose who you associate with so if someone makes you uncomfortable it’s not out of you mind to avoid them. I’ve gotten the “Oh, he’s harmless, he can just be aggressive.” And no judgments on either side, but some girls/guys are more ready to pursue an intimate relationship younger or sooner after meeting someone. If you want to wait then it’s perfectly reasonable to be uncomfortable with someone and someone who wants to wait or take it slow shouldn’t be a “goal” for someone more ready to take a physical relationship – they should find someone who is on the same level as them.

    I also greatly appreciate you touching on the fact that not all aggressors are men. I’ve worked at battered spouses, assault or child abuse centers and women are just as capable as men. I admit I want to punch people if I mention a man who was a battered spouse and they laugh that he got beat up by a girl.

    • hear hear! it’s also important to point out that rapists are humans- they are not born rapists and most often don’t think of themselves as rapists. that’s part of why you get all that bullshit about “don’t report anything, you’ll ruin their lives! they’re just boys!”. you’re right, they are just boys, but good intentions don’t mean anything more than the way you rock yourself to sleep at night. if you punch someone in the face with a smile and apology and “i thought you wanted me to!”, you still just punched them in the face.

      if rape is sex without the consent of someone involved, in every logical and obvious breakdown of it, it is not logically possible for the rapist to determine the consent of someone else. they have absolutely no control over that person’s consent, ever, and if they think they do, it is inherently, literally, not consent. it’s heartbreaking how shocking and contentious that statement is when you say it out loud; it should be so obvious.

  11. […] wants readers to check out this piece, which examines the poisonous double standard in our society that vilifies women if they reject, […]

  12. Annabelle says:

    I’m coming to this “The Question” issue quite late, it seems. I only just found a link into the matter.

    I read this story, the one that prompted it, and a number of comments. Then I was getting ready for my day and something occurred to me that has made me feel unsettled. It is this: What if there is no discernible “The Question”? It’s great that sometimes there is such a thing, because it provides a feedback loop for instinct, and it can very effectively (as in the original story) get another person on the same track of thought.

    I want to be very cautious about making a big thing over The Question, though, because it seems like it has a tremendous amount of power to make someone feel like s/z/he has to *justify* their instinct that tells them someone is creepy and makes them feel unsafe. It forces the person feeling creeped out to have to legitimize their feeling by providing a cogent “The Question” that makes other people say either, “ohhh, I didn’t think of that,” or “EXACTLY what I wanted to know!”

    When I was in university and taking transit back and forth across the city, one night after dark I was standing in an area of the train that had no seats, just bars to hold. There was a man on the other side of that area (maybe 4 feet away) that made me feel deeply uncomfortable. I don’t know why. I have no “The Question”. All I knew is I felt uncomfortable, and I knew that when I got off the train at the last stop I’d have to walk across a large, dark parking lot to get to my car.

    When we did get off, at the last stop, he exited the platform the same direction I did, and walked to the same nearest parking lot (I was in the farthest lot). I was walking very quickly, and was looking over my shoulder. I don’t remember how far he walked, whether he stopped, or anything; that’s where I think it ended.

    This was more than 10 years ago. Ever since then, whenever it comes to mind, I have felt bad because I feel that maybe he could tell how I was feeling. Maybe *I* was making *him* feel uncomfortable! We’d made eye contact a couple of times, probably because I kept glancing at him. And surely it’s quite obvious when someone is nearly running through a parking lot casting glances over her shoulder in the same direction? That was the only direction the parking lots were in anyway, so of course he’d have to go in the same direction! And while we were on the train I was coming up with all sorts of frightening possibilities as to who this guy was and what his motives were, all of which were probably very unfair! These are the ways I have dismissed how I was feeling that night. And I still don’t have a “The Question” to explain how I was feeling, either consciously or subconsciously.

    I don’t know when my thinking changed. It might have been today. I now do not care that I didn’t have “good reason” to feel uncomfortable. I do not care that I don’t have a “The Question” to legitimize how I was feeling. It is not my job to ensure the other people around me feel comfortable or unaccused when I am feeling uncomfortable and scared. My job is to do whatever I can to stop feeling uncomfortable and scared, and I *will* do so without apology, even if I *never* have a way to justify the feeling.

    • fozmeadows says:

      That’s a very important point. The presence of such a question shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all in determining whether or not our instincts are valid; still, I think it has some utility, if only as a framing device to better help us understand the what and why of our reactions in instances where a question can be posed.

    • caroza says:

      I think your last paragraph nails it. You’re feeling creeped out in a world where sexual violence is endemic, you act to protect yourself even if the threat turns out to be imaginary. He may have been a threat or the situation may have been what creeped you out – alone on a train with a strange man after dark. It doesn’t matter. The latter is a vulnerable situation and one we’ve had to learn to become wary of. Good for you. (So maybe the first Question is always: is this an inherently high-risk situation? If the answer is yes then you behave accordingly regardless of whether the guy has done something which could be interpreted as threatening. )

      And it is perfectly reasonable to expect well-intentioned strangers to keep their distance in circumstances like that. I don’t think it’s rude to say very firmly to a strange man: “I’m sure you’re a perfectly a nice person but given the crime statistics, no, I’m afraid I’m not coming over to your car to read your map,” or whatever. If he takes offence, tough. His feelings versus my life? No competition.

    • Andi Grant says:

      I never understood the original anecdote in that framework. The ‘Question’ is not the justification used to validate a feeling of unease, it is the circumstances that – in the case of the original anecdote – demonstrated a blind spot of male privilege. The original poster’s husband’s privilege caused him to be ignorant of the threat posed by a male stalker waiting for his victim in the dark, because he was too willing to forgive the stalker’s countless aggressions as social blunders from a naive young man, and he did not put the stalker’s behavior into its proper context. The question was literally a matter of situational blindness – once the question had been asked, the husband was aware of the reality of the situation as it stood for his female friend and reacted to it with the appropriate seriousness.

      In my understanding the “Question” is more of an insight into the fact that even the most well-meaning allies cannot be, and should not be assumed to be, aware of the intricacies of power-imbalances and the specific forms of threat, aggression and abuse that face disadvantaged or disenfranchised groups, and the outright importance of seeking out viewpoints beside one’s own in order to combat the privilege-blindness inherent in everyone. Communication is critical in achieving this – and it means that people must assume their own ignorance in all aspects of life that they don’t experience, rather than try to inject their own insights and experiences into how they would understand and react to certain situations faced by other groups. It’s like the old line from men, “Well, personally I would appreciate being catcalled on the street”, because to a perspective utterly devoid of the context of how aggressive and threatening that catcalling can be, it seems like a positive. Only by divorcing one’s own perspective from the situation, and looking for other viewpoints, and ACKNOWLEDGING THE VALIDITY of other viewpoints, can fix privilege-blindness. That, to me, is what “The Question” represents.

  13. Reblogged this on The Other Side of the Rainbow… and commented:
    Great article on stalking and the importance of trusting your gut.

  14. Patricia says:

    This reminds me of something that happened when i was a young teenager under 16. I was at a flea market with my mum, grandma and my brothers, I was wearing really baggy clothes, so i looked like a potato. I recall my brother and I were at a particular table looking at some stuff and someone came up behind me, he started to press very close to me, and he was pressing so hard i was squashed inbetween my brother and this strange man behind me. My brother asked me to step back and I said i couldn’t. Then i felt the guy behind me getting hard. I quickly squeezed out of my spot and went to look for my mum and told her what had happened, and said i wanted to go home. She didn’t ask if i was okay or to point out the person to her, and said no we couldn’t go home. So I just went into the toilets there and locked myself in a cubicle for a while. I didn’t know what else to do. So not always can you go to an adult and get help, unfortunately.

  15. […] The Creepiness Question, 27 August 2012: A personal account of an unsettling childhood encounter contextualised by a […]

  16. StillWishToBeAnon says:

    I loved how you have written this blog. Especially, because, on several occasions I have had a similar gut feeling – a feeling of fear and discomfort about someone.

    I remember one incident that I still doubt myself over. I have no idea of knowing if I dreamed of it, or if it really happened. All i know is that I was too young to even know what it was to dream of it. Both my parents worked long hours, and for the longest time, my brother and I were cared for by another lady. I grew so attached to her, that I began to visit her at her house. She had three children who were all grown up at that age. I remember that the youngest one once tried to hold me, and I distinctly remember feeling extremely uncomfortable sitting on his lap as a child. I distinctly remember that there was something poking. I remember though that I cried and made a fuss and never went there afterwards. I have never had the courage or the conviction to call him out for it. But, to this day, it remains as a vague memory. However, of late I wonder if a 5 year old can dream up such an incident at all. I do wish I had called him out on it then, though. Even at the loss of this wonderful lady who took care for so long.

  17. AniJAlex says:

    […] The Creepiness Question « shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows […]

  18. lnsouthgate says:

    Reblogged this on Lara Southgate and commented:
    Read the whole thing. This is spot-on.

  19. Rose says:

    Wow. This is important. I have run into guys like this. And so have some friends. I always take them seriously.

  20. Emily says:

    Hi 🙂

    I am really glad that you wrote about your experience with the waiter, and this is why.

    When I was about eight I was on holiday with my parents. I was used to the fact that in some other countries and cultures, people were much more friendly to children than I was used to at home, and were more relaxed about talking to children and stuff. Even though I was really shy, and so uncomfortable sometimes in that sense, I understood friendliness when I saw it and of course knew about Stranger Danger, and that talking to strangers was only okay if I was with mum or dad.

    One year, we were away and having dinner at our hotel (I think with some other people from the trip, although my memory is fuzzy here) and I needed to go to the toilet. We had been there at least a week so I knew where it was, my mum knew how long it should take me etc… and at eight I felt fully capable of going there alone. So I did.

    When I came out of the cubicle, there was a male cleaning attendant. I think he’d been there when I went in, I don’t remember really. He started talking to me, not in an aggressive way, and so I answered a question or two politely, and made to leave and go back to dinner.

    As I moved away, he grabbed my wrist – quite gently, but firmly – and tried to pull me towards a cubicle. He asked me to stay and talk to him, I think. My clearest recollection is his hand on my wrist, the smile on his face and a sudden overwhelming sense of THIS IS WRONG.

    I don’t know how much eight year olds generally know about the world, but I was very naive in so far as I don’t think I had any concept of what he might have done. It was only many years later when I re-remembered this event that the possibilities truly struck me, but somehow at the time I just knew that what was happening was a Bad Thing.

    Luckily, thankfully, mercifully, I managed to pull my arm away and left. Quickly.

    The most….interesting?…. part of this though for me, and the reason why I appreciate your story so much, is that when I got back to the table I looked at my mum, who I knew would tear down the world to find anyone who laid a finger on me, and said…..nothing. I just couldn’t open my mouth and articulate what had happened, and why I felt so weird about it.

    I really knew I should, and even though I was really shy even about telling my own parents things, I could have told her. I could have said something then, or later back in the room, or the next day in the pool….But in the fifteen years since it happened I have never found the courage to whisper in her ear the words I wanted to say that night. I’ve told her other things, but somehow I still can’t tell her how close to terrible danger that little girl was.

    Reading about how you had the same reaction when you found your mum, it struck me how strange and yet somehow so obvious it is, that telling the person who loves you most should be so hard.

    I’m really sorry for rambling on for so long…I’ve just never really told anyone this before. I think I’ve always felt like I’d be in trouble for not telling mum. And I’ve never wanted to upset her with it.

    Sometimes I get scared that he would have done something really bad, and that he still might have done to someone else after I failed to tell anyone 😦

    • fozmeadows says:

      I completely understand your reticence; as you say, I’ve felt it myself. Don’t feel bad about not speaking up – you were eight years old, and the most important thing is that you were able to stay safe.

  21. […] The Creepiness Question « shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows […]

  22. […] The Creepiness Question (via notemily) […]

  23. Richter_DL says:

    Huh. This reminds me of something I think I have never told to anyone before (save for my friend who was with me then, but we’re not … good at talking about such things, both of us).

    I was … I must have been between 12 and 14, in the local equivalent of Junior High. He and I were walking to sports course, which was held in a gym a good deal away from the school proper. Now, I grew up in a bad part of town, and I have always had a high suituational awareness as a result. Looking into reflexive surfaces to check what’s going on behind me was practically second nature to me, as was (still is, actually) listening for the sounds of people and locating them approximately around me. Which is why I noticed the guy following us pretty soon. He was bad at following unnoticed, because he just walked behind us. Now, living in a city, that’s not out of the ordinary, but he was staring at us. I noticed, and I tensed up. I told my friend, we picked up pace, he did. Now, we talked briefly – we had been in a similar incident before where a couple of slightly older students from another school had tried to shake me up for money and my friend helped me fight them off – so we didn’t really need many words to decide to just stop and see what the guy was up to.

    He was a bald, old-ish (40s to 50s, I guess), slightly unkept man in a grey wind jacket, faded jeans and brown slippers, with an alcoholic’s puffy face and veined nose. His hair, grey, longish, combed sideways to cover his balding skull. Green eyes, bright, that probably would have been piercing had they not been slightly bloodshot and accompanied by beginning tear sac bulges. At least that is how i remember him. His pants hat pinstripes, I think, but I am not sure. It was so long ago.

    He hesistated when we stopped (I observed his reflection in a shop window). But then he picked up, and asked where we were headed. He had this … predatory smile you describe, spot on (many thanks for dragging this gem from my childhood up, btw 😉 ). Now, my parents made very sure I knew about Stranger Danger. We had also had an expert on pedophiles or something in class half a year before, to warn children of dangerous predators. He was, basically, acting like a textbook case, offering us sweets (we refused, semi-politely), and a ride to the gym (we also refused). So corny it even seems funny, but it wasn’t really back then.

    He then offered each of us … 50, I think … Marks for taking a ride with him. To a child from about the worst part of southwest Berlin back then, from a poor family, that was … quite a bunch of cash (my monthly allowance was 7 Marks, for reference). My friend and I looked at each other and decided to walk away, not looking back and leaving him stand there, cash and all.

    My friend and I never told anyone of this. It was too muc the cliché, and in our childish short-sightedness, nothing bad had happened. I never saw the guy again. I wonder what became of him, and whether other kids fell for him. And whether we should have made a difference, one way or another.

    But in the end, we were children.

  24. […] – The Creepiness Question (via notemily) […]

  25. […] –The Creepiness Question […]

  26. Anna K says:

    I also think these problems connect with the denial of genuine female desire and commodification of female chastity. Women were required to protect their virtue as an asset without which they themselves were valueless. My particular interest is in portrayals in art – books, movies etc. Going back as recently as the 80s many romances were couched as a woman’s battle with herself between her naturally assumed desire for the naturally desirable hero (b/c the hero MUST be desirable, no question) and the socially dictated morality norms, between her sinful sexuality and her morally and financially entwined “purity”. Hand in hand with purity went the obscure concept of being “nice”. It has overtones of gentle and quiet to it which explain a lot of the reticence females feel about speaking up, making a fuss and damaging a man’s reputation. A nice woman in denial of her own desire doesn’t get to know and understand it’s nuances. She hesitates – giving creepy guys an opening.

    Again, men’s persistence when enacted by a “hero” was meant to be read as attempting to overcome social objections (including in storytelling where class divided the hero and heroine) but assumed the ultimate desirability of the hero. In fact lack of persistence was portrayed as weakness and lacking faith in the “love” (desire) between the hero and heroine. With the hero being the active subject in pursuit and the heroine a passive gatekeeper – to use your metaphor of the locked door – it was the male’s desire that was powerful, a choice. The female’s desire was always in denial to the point of non-existence. The woman had to desire nothing but purity to be successful, but to be the object of male desire was also the definition of success. In other words, make yourself as attractive as possible so you can catch a husband but never act on attraction until a (male) priest marries you and your (male) father gives you away. Meanwhile, as Charlotte Lucas told Lizzie Bennett, better to pretend more interest than you have so as to give yourself maximum chance of a proposal. Charlotte Lucas was the pragmatist who married the odious Mr Collins. But women then didn’t have much choice, being financially dependent on men. Today … well so much lingers doesn’t it.

    Men think they have a right to persist and women too often want to be seen as nice, to the point where we don’t even get around to saying no or get lost to creepy guys. We just avoid confrontation. We don’t want to be loud.
    Historically the mark of a hero along with his passion was his gallantry. Remember the chivalrous knights – their restraint was as much a virtue as a woman’s purity. But this narrative still placed men in the active role with the power to restrain themselves.
    While for women I would argue that the pendulum has swung. Now women’s sexual accessibility is the commodity of value not their chastity – witness the pop stars in skimpy clothes and sexual poses, models provocatively posed on a range of irrelevant, unconnected products. Sexual assertiveness or aggression is what is valued in women by the patriarchal culture. And is there still a battle between what we want and what we “should” want. Virgins are mocked and young girls say yes more often than they probably really want to, to receive approval from males. Because saying no, isn’t cool. The “popular” girls enact sexual aggressiveness as a salve to men’s confusion. And boy are they confused. They try to be nice guys. They have struggled to make the shift since women burned their bras and started claiming their sexuality and desire launching ourselves into the whore archetype instead of the saintly one. And when women say no, we still try to be nice about it. Now the fathers aren’t around to govern the negotiations, the males end up accidentally being creepy and getting the blame … it’s not fair they complain. And it is STILL male desire that is being talked about and leading the debate.

    A genuine voice for women to identify their own desire and choose their level of sexual engagement remains overshadowed by these powerful patriarchal narratives.

  27. Megan says:

    I have always sort of adopted people and thought of them as family. I adopted this family from out church when I was 9 because we just got along so well. My mom and dad loved them and we still talk to each other 8 years later. But I’ve gotten this weird feeling from my “grandpa” for years. I dont even remember when I started noticing it. All I remember is that my parents have always told me to trust my gut, trust my instinct. If something feelings wrong, it is. No buts. You put a stop to it. I think it may have been when I started filling out, getting curves that being around my grandpa made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t even tell you why. It just did. He wasn’t any more handsy with me then he is with everyone else. He doesn’t leer at me. He just makes me uncomfortable and I’ve always ignored it because it’s my grandpa. You know? There’s that thought that he’d never do anything to me and even if he did, would people believe me? There’s that thought that he’s never really done anything specific to make me uncomfortable but I don’t like spending time with him anymore. I just turned 18 and only got the courage to tell my mom about this last year. She was completely supportive of me and doesn’t leave me alone with him. This is the second time I’ve ever even voiced this concern out loud in 8 years.

    I have another thing to say. Everyone says that if you’re “bad touched” or “sexually assaulted” that it leaves scars but it didn’t for me..?? I was maybe 7, living in Arizona and my best friend’s dad was a coyote (he brought illegal aliens over the border) and let the people stay in his house. I was spending the night one night and one of the men came in to our room. I was 7, I was a friendly kid and didn’t see anything wrong with letting him sit with us and talk. I don’t remember much of what happened but I do remember him touching me and my friend and especially trying to get us to touch him. It didn’t progress much farther because my mom came in and took me and my friend home and needles to say, neither of us were allowed to stay there when they had people over. But I’ve never anything about that incident and I’m just curious if I’m the only one.

  28. Eupraxsophy says:

    Reblogged this on Sarvodaya and commented:
    The main highlight of this article, and one that stood out most in my mind, is the following:

    “There’s a poisonous double standard in our society which says that it’s reverse-sexist and wrong for women to feel threatened by creepy-awkward male behaviour because our fear implies that we hold the negative, stereotypical view that ‘All Men Are Predators’, but that if we’re raped or sexually assaulted by any man with whom we’ve had prior social interaction – and particularly if he’s expressed some sexual or romantic interest in us during that time – it’s reasonable for observers to ask what precautions we took to prevent the assault from happening, or to suggest that we maybe led the guy on by not stating our feelings plainly. The result is a situation where women are punished if we reject, avoid or identify creepy men, and then told it’s our fault if we’re assaulted by someone we plainly ought to have rejected, avoided, identified.”

  29. Stacia says:

    Hi Foz – Another terrific post.

    Just wanted to add as a data point along the lines of what librarypat that it wasn’t all that long ago where adults frequently did NOT treat a child’s discomfort around strangers as a very serious matter. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, and had multiple instances where I or a friend would feel uncomfortable around an adult male and we were told we were just being silly, or making things up because girls are so “high strung,” that kind of thing. By the time I graduated high school in 1990, I had two male teachers sexually harass and abuse me, and witnessed a third male teacher harass another female student, and no one gave a damn.

    That HAS changed. I worked in the school district for a few years in the early 2000s and teachers who back in 1985 wouldn’t have noticed or cared are now vigilant and understanding. It’s a great progress, though one notes that this never should have been a problem in the first place, because why DIDN’T society believe kids?

    I hope it means society can also change in regard to teen and adult female harassment, abuse, assault and worse. The dynamic of pursuit equaling deep romantic affection is a difficult one to overcome, and so easy for creepers to use to their own advantage.

  30. This was an excellent analysis of ‘The Question’. So many of us, faced with similar pasts continue to ask this one, sort through our feelings. The blame game is hard, especially for those who did not have as well defined an escape path. I am glad I was pointed over here by Eupraxsophy.

    Will need to do some more exploring of your blog.

  31. RM says:

    What exactly was “The Question”? I lost it in everything else that was being described in this article. It wasn’t clear to me. Thanks!

    • @RM — “The Question” is not a single specific question, but simply a question, which when asked concerning the situation at hand makes it evident that there was reason for concern and illustrates why someone felt ill at ease in that situation.

      In the case of the first story, the one which was titled “The Question” and is linked to and referenced by this blog ‘the question’ was (paraphrasing):
      “Why was he waiting for her, in the dark, after midnight, at the end of a hallway he knew would be empty except for him and her?”
      There isn’t really a good plausible answer that doesn’t sound sketchy.
      And that’s the point.
      It is “The Question”, because it’s the question that illustrates the point, the issue at hand with the whole situation.

      In the case of this blog “The Question” is:
      “If the waiter learned my name from my lolly bag, how did he match it to my face?”
      With bonus creepiness because it’s likely no one used her name for her, but even if they had, he would have had to be paying pretty keen attention. Keen enough to be setting off alarm-bells.

      The Question illustrates why it’s not simply a passing emotion, and functions essentially rhetorically as an explaination why a situation rang alarms bells.

      Hope that answers your question.

      An asside…
      Someone on the thread brought up that you don’t always need a “the question” since sometimes you just have a gut feeling and don’t have a secondary reasoning.
      I say be cautious of following emotions without logical reasons.
      I say that, as a person with a strong reason for bias, because I have an anxiety disorder, and I know that “normal” people who don’t have anxiety disorders sometimes also feel fear for no reason. (Though those of us with them usually do have reasons for our fears, it’s just they aren’t always rational reasons. But we are more prone to ‘random fear’)
      It does make sense to try and keep yourself feeling safe, but don’t let that box you in. And of course, do your best not to let your fear be the reason anyone else gets hurt. Keeping yourself safe is very important though, so just try to find a balance.

  32. Tyler Babydoll says:

    Reminds me of this guy I hang out with for three months, he was really creepy in an unexplainablr way. Also reminds me of this asshole who kept proposing even though we never talked!

  33. Maria Foss says:

    Excellent, excellent article which should be required reading… somewhere. So glad my daughter shared it with me on Facebook. Thought I would mention that If anyone is interested reading further on the subject of honoring one’s intuition/instincts, I refer you to the book “The Gift of Fear”. by Gavin DeBecker. Mr. DeBecker is a well known security consultant (he has been employed by celebrities and by the White House), but he grew up the child of a single mother with drug and mental health issues living in a bad neighborhood. As such, relying on his instincts to avoid violence and danger was a matter of daily survival rather than an intellectual excercise. The book also delves somwhat deeply into the topic of how learned socialization and rationalization often short circuits or sabotages the instincts all humans are born with; the “fear” which is nature’s gift to us and our birthright. I highly recommend this book, one of several written by this interesting and readible author.

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