Son of sweeping generalities inside!

Fair warning: Some disturbing observations about creepiness and bullying below.

First things first: Definitions. I've noticed that there's some discussion, especially over on MeFi, where the oldsters are getting confused over what's so deeply offensive about being a "creep". "Creep", I gather, used to mean someone who was not really very slick, not really dating material, maybe asked a few too many times for a kiss. They were someone the cool kids didn't hang out with, but they weren't a threat -- they were more of an irritation, that perhaps you had the football players shut into a locker for the lunch hour. What the youngsters are calling "creepers" are something scarier. They're the ones who prowl the party, uninterested in talking to other men, looking for girls they can corner in a room alone. Often they're convinced that if they could just get their target away from the other distractions, she would be utterly swept off her feet by the romantic gesture, but the target in question is usually too busy looking for a damn door (or window, or closet with a lock) or yelling for one of the nicer boys to come intervene. You might have referred to a guy like that as a "wolf". The imagery is surprisingly consistent cross-culturally, in fact -- "Ben" from letter #323 is, among other things, what is known in Japanese as an okuri-ookami, or a "delivery wolf", a guy who offers to give a girl a lift home and then expects her to put out in payment.

I've run into a fair few guys who can't form words in front of me. Especially lately, for some reason. That's not creepy. It might be annoying, it might be endearing, it might be nothing. The guys who hang at the back of the group because they're not sure when it's their turn in the conversation, who get the jokes a little too slowly, who get tongue-tied whenever anyone talks to them -- they're fine. They think worse of themselves than anyone else does, and they back way the fuck away from any interaction they're not sure of. People maybe feel sorry for you, if you're that terrified of yourself, or if they're especially juvenile they might decide to punish your lack of suave by uninviting you to everything on Earth, but nobody sees you as a threat. They might be right about that, or they might not be, but the relevant behavior here is that people who have Horrible Paralyzing Social Awkwardness Syndrome scrupulously avoid any behavior that they fear might make someone else uncomfortable. If asked to stop doing something, they do their damndest to stop it cold; the more common problem after that is actually getting them to recognize when the unspoken exceptions to the rule occur.

Creepers think that they're entitled to do whatever they damn well please, and that you, their audience owe them for either doing it (because they're so phenomenally cool) or for refraining from doing it (in accordance with your phenomenally uncool wishes). You might be reluctant to tell someone with HPSAS to knock something off because you're afraid he'll take it way too seriously and crawl off forever, too embarrassed to talk to you ever again. But you're reluctant to tell a creeper to knock it off if you haven't got any backup nearby because there's a decent chance he'll complain at you, get irrational in his own defense, belittle your reaction, and then do it more just to prove he can.

Second: Why guys get tagged disproportionately often with the name "creep" or variants thereof. As far as I can figure, it's due to a gendered difference in socialization. And it's goddamn disturbing.

Think back to high school. (You may want to take a couple of shots first. High school sucks for most people.) When boys decided to bully someone, there was usually a physical element. They picked fights, they shoved you into lockers, they tripped you, they held you down and flushed your head. They stole your bag. If you were a girl, maybe they cornered you in a room, stood between you and the door, made it clear they weren't going to let you out unless and until they wanted to. They may have threatened (or committed) sexual assault. Boys learn that the way you prove to someone that you are too the boss of them is to apply brute physical force until the target capitulates, then you make sure everyone else knows you won. The best way to get the most protection from this with the least amount of effort is to pour your energy into physically staying away from the bully. You can do whatever you want as long as you're not within reach of whoever wants to give you a black eye.

When girls set out to hurt someone, they do it socially. They whisper, they spread rumors, they call names, they exclude and make sure everyone else knows that they'll be personae non gratae if they don't do it too. They mock. They make sure you know that whatever you're doing socially, academically, or sartorially is somehow wrong. Girls are equally likely to launch volleys of prurient accusations against boys and girls, accusing the boys of assaults or other ill-behavior and accusing the girls of being promiscuous or complicit in cheating. Girls learn that the way you demonstrate dominance is by taking away all of the victim's social support, and making sure it's publicly known that the victim is not to have any allies ever again. The best way to get the most protection from this with the least amount of effort is to pour your energy into not attracting any attention to yourself. You can be wherever you want as long as you make scrupulously sure not to interact with anyone.

Because the modern sense of "creep" involves the fear that someone's narcissistic entitlement will lead them to ignore all boundaries, including physical ones, at their whim, it's associated much more closely with the male style of interpersonal brutality. Someone can pose a physical threat to you any time they happen to be around you, even without having planned it -- trapping you in a room can be done on the spur of the moment, and requires nothing more than him, you, and an inconvenient door. There can and have been female creeps, but physical predator behavior is much more likely from a man who is trying to force or manipulate his way into getting what he wants than it is from a woman.

The equivalent social behavior from a woman is known as "crazy", in the Loki Laufreyson sense of "brain like a bag of cats". It is equally insidious in many ways -- men who claim a woman is trying to yank strings on their social lives until it all unravels violently are ignored and their experiences minimized in the same fashion as women who complain that a man is sneak-groping them whenever he thinks he can get away with it. A lot of the things "crazy" tends to do require inside information, and they involve a lot more premeditation, e.g., pumping friends for gossip, taking a quick shufty through the medicine cabinet at a party, etc. It's part intellectual and part raw, stinking, intentional assholery, but it's rarely done on the spur of the moment.

There's no real imbalance between the average intelligence of the human sexes like there is in the average size and strength, so in theory it should be equally easy for both males and females to defend themselves against a social attack. In practice, doing so would involve trying to out-crazy a crazy person, which is always a bad idea. See, you have a day job. And possibly a night job, but definitely an array of hobbies, books to read, video games to play, family to visit, pets to tend, and so on and so forth. You have a very limited amount of time and energy you can devote to trying to get into their head well enough to stop whatever they're about to start. Crazy people? Crazy all the time. They spend their lives doing nothing but training to represent their home planets, wherever those are, in the Crazylympic Games. They have sacrificed their friends, their careers, their entire childhood, and countless interpersonal relationships in order to acquire and hone the skills needed to fuck. you. up.

The best way to stop both creeps and crazies from making you want to hit things is to deny them their primary tools of intimidation. If someone is physically threatening you, deny them access to the space around you. If someone is socially threatening you, deny them access to any information about you. They will be extremely unhappy at this, but they don't look very happy right now, do they? No. And it is not your problem, either.

You want me to continue dissecting the minds of people you don't want to be in a room with, right? Right! So head on over and do what you can to keep me from starving and/or dying of internet boredom. On we go!