Sitting in one of those generic Americana eateries at the bar in LAX, I started to talk to a youngish Persian woman reading something in Farsi. I, of course, am unsure if it is Farsi or Arabic at first, staring at her book and glancing somewhat longingly at her. I had been separated from my former wife and had moved to Asia. I was flying to DC to see my best friend, a woman which I love dearly, and I was ghostly pale from 20 hours on a plane out of China. The budget flights from Seoul redirecting through Guangzhou into a somewhat empty airport left me extremely lonely.
So there is the context: I was unsure if I was hitting on the woman next to me as there was not much of a way consummating that urge. She said a few words, and subtly let me know she was reading. I turned away, ordered a beer, and wondered if I had come off as creepy.
A thousand more words in cheap-ink should be spilled on the concept of “male creepiness” than currently exists. That whiff of desperation, compassion, and entitlement that makes women uncomfortable and attentive, but generally without tripping the “dangerous” man alarm bells. The fact that both privilege and its lack play into tone of “creepy”–the thin line between loneliness and out-and-out misogyny.
If, at that moment, there have been a #YesAllWoman, I would have wanted to avoid being someone’s anecdote about being the man you have to tell that you have a boyfriend. I sincerely hope that in that moment I was just some dude in an airport bar. Not a creeping bro.
Plenty has been written in history from the standpoint of men, although often from the standpoint of increasingly social competition between men. One of the more interesting things to come out of the row around Eliot Rodger’s murderous breakdown is wanting some Geeky virgin men to talk about how their frustration could easily turn into misogyny as well as hate for other men. While I do not know if it is true, I am guessing misandry in men and misogyny are often tied to the same frustration and status competition.
Now I was not one of those men: I lost my virginity in somewhat questionable circumstances as a youngish teen. I have never felt like I was entitled to a woman’s body or that I was a “nice guy” or that being “friendzoned” was the end of the world. I, however, did avoid status competition between men. While I was not an affection-less Geek neither was I some football playing Adonis winking off pansies and objectifying women as par for the course.
In that the two types of Bro emerges: the geek bro and the dude bro. Both can be extremely creepy. I am sure I had moments of creepiness. I was an adolescent boy who enjoyed, and preferred, the company of women as friends, lovers, etc. I am certain that perhaps I doubted a girlfriend’s affection or my best friend’s emotions in a way that reeked of desperation on one or two nights. Sometimes I would be drunk and make-out with female friends–limiting myself to making out–but even with that was probably not being ethically advisable. I know I sometimes lied about my sexual relationships with women.
Our two archetypical bros are easy to write off. I am not that guy. Well, most of us say we are not, and while the archetypical bros are undoubtedly real as characters in the world, the vast majority of us in our moments of creepiness are in the spectrum in-between.
It was in the moments during and after my divorce, when I felt more sexually vulnerable as a man when I deal most profoundly with the creep. Going to bars and trying hook-up culture, sometimes just lingering at the bar until almost no one was left, and yet trying to avoid “taking advantage” of particularly drunk women. It was one night one New Years, when I offered to sleep on a young woman’s floor that I had gone home with, when I realized that I had fallen in the creepiness and was dangerously close to a kind of “soft” misogyny. The morning after, instead of the walk of shame, there was a day long conversation.
The month after I found myself at a bar in LAX, trying not to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
The subtle and implicit violence in creepiness is that it is a form of control based on entitlement. It can be entitlement that is subtle and not even full-blown misogyny. A man may even think he is not acting entitled to a woman’s body, but his body language is different. During those moments after my divorce, I was trying to learn to date like, well, everyone else. I had been in long-term relationships which, while often polyamorous, were between friends and did not involve OKCupid, chatting, and watching women gauge their safety levels with me.
It is easy to blame women for that their guardedness. This, again, is the spectre of the bro. “Of course, I am safe.” “Of course, I am fine.” Women in my life may even KNOW that I am safe but from necessity and habit know how complicated this is. I have seen women situated in domestic violence, women torn on reporting attempted rape, and women who have been beaten by men in their life. I always thought that I was not part of the problem. I had been subject to a lot of the violence as a child most men frankly do not know. I hoped that my sensitivity removed me.
Yet, I, in my vulnerability, was dangerously close to being a dude-bro after my divorce. In learning how to date, I had fallen on PUA related material. All of which made me feel uncomfortable. What was the point of trying to trick a woman into having sex with me? The cynic in me said all relationships where like that, but my relationships with female friends and lovers that were emotionally close. Thus this entire concept made me feel like it was just wrong. Yet, I have to admit, I ended up reading some of that material even if I never consciously set out to. Hence, at some level, complicity.
In the end, I don’t know if I have overcome all creepiness. I doubt it. I doubt it is entirely possible, but I owe it to the women in my life to be aware of it. To understand why a woman may see me as possibly violent, or at the very least, creepy. A threat to her autonomy. In understanding this, I feel like I understand a lot of the miscommunication between men and women, and how that miscommunication can be a mask for manifest violence.