Changing The Creepy Guy Narrative


A scene from The Cell

How a writer saw an opportunist taking advantage and acted by putting the squeeze on him.

via Readability

How being a writer helped me rewrite a sexist trope…for real.

So a thing happened to me yesterday on the BART as I was coming home from work.  (And no, it wasn’t a Sharknado…mores the pity.)  Maybe I’m just rewriting history or trying to make a story fit in this the context of this blog…maybe, but I really, honestly think that what happened did so (at least in my case) because I am a writer.

You see, as a writer, I am also a reader–a big crazy, prolific-as-shit reader.  I’ve read two or three dozen articles my friends have linked over the years on women’s experience with creepers on public transit–usually with some sort of commentary attached to it by said friend along the lines of “ZOMG THIS!!!!” or “SO FUCKING TRUE!!!!”  I’ve read Schrodinger’s Rapist, Rape Culture 101, Jezebel articles by the dozens (perhaps hundreds), and even my own friends’ tribulations on BARTs and busses.  I even read that article (which I can’t find now) that lays out a well reasoned case that our culture’s entirely fucked up sense of consent and rape culture exist naturally as an extension of the same mindset that cause women to be afraid of being blunt and honest when they get cornered inpublic by someone they’re not interested in.  [ETA- One of the commenters knew the piece I was talking about.  It’s called Another Post About Rape.]

And in reading all these things I’ve come to be aware of a narrative.  An everyday narrative almost as common for women as “the train pulled into the station, and I got on.”  It’s not that no one but a writer could be aware of this narrative it’s just that in a world where tragically few are, that was my gateway.

It is the narrative of how men hit on women in public places.  A tired old story if ever there were one.  A story where consent is not a character we actually ever meet, and where the real antagonist is not a person, but rather the way she has been socialized to be polite, to be civil, to not be “such a bitch”….no matter how much of a Douchasauras Rex HE is being about not picking up the subtle clues. Yes, a human being might fill the role of the immediate obstacle–and in doing so personify the larger issue, but the careful reader of this tropetastic narrative knows the real villain is the culture that discourages her from rebuking him in no uncertain terms lest she be castigated.  (And that’s the best case scenario; the worst is that she angers someone with much greater upper body strength who may become violent.)  The real antagonist is a society where she is actually discouraged from being honest about what she wants…or doesn’t want.  And the society that socialized him that it’s okay for him to corner her…pressure her….be persistent to the point of ignoring the fact that she has said no.

I saw the heroine of our story sitting on the BART.  The train wasn’t busy in the afternoon along the “anti-commute” line, so it was only a few of us spread out far and wide.  She was thin but not skinny and wore one of those wispy skirts that always make me want to send God a fruit basket for inventing summer.  The kind of woman my step-father would have gotten distracted by and then grudgingly called “a real looker.”

But what is much more important that I noticed, because I’m all writerly and observant and shit like that, is that everything about her screamed “leave me alone.”  She had headphones jammed in her ears.  Her nose was down in a book (my hand to God, I think it was Storm of Swords). She was pulled inward with body language that couldn’t have been more clear if she had one of those shields from Dune…activated.

But still….he tried.

He sat right behind her–already a warning sign on such an empty train.

The real antagonist may have been society, but our personification of it was well cast.  He had a sort of Christian Bale look about him, if Christian Bale were playing a role of a douchecanoe.  Revisionist memory is always suspect, but I’m telling this story, and I’m going to stand by the fact that I thought he looked like a creepy guy long before he started acting like one.

He waited until the train was in motion to make his move–a true sign of someone who knows how to make the environment work to their advantage.  Then he leaned forward.  “Hi.”  “How you doing?”  “What are you reading?”  “What’s your name?” “I really like your hair.” “That’s a really nice skirt.”  “You must work out.”

It was painful to watch.  She clearly wanted nothing to do with him, and he clearly wasn’t going to take the hint.  Her rebukes got firmer.  “I’d like to read my book.”  And he pulled out the social pressure.  “Hey, I’m just asking you a question.  You don’t have to be so rude.”  She started to look around for outs.  Her head swiveled from one exit to another.

The thing was, I had already heard this story, many many times.  I knew how it would play out.  I knew all the tropes.  I probably could have quoted the lines before they said them.  I wanted a new narrative.  Time to mix it up.

So I moved seats until I was sitting behind him.  I leaned forward with my head on the back of his seat.

“Hi,” I said with a little smile.

He looked at me like I was a little crazy–which isn’t exactly untrue–and turned back to her.

“How are you doing?”  I asked.

“I’m fine,” he said flatly without ever looking back.

“I really like your hair,” I said.  “It looks soft.”

That’s about when it got…..weird.




  • The Well Dressed Man

    I hope this is a true story! Creepers ruin it for everyone.

    • Calypso_1

      I do things like this in public w/ some regularity. In my 20’s I was told I was a creepy cult leader type. I was rather taken aback as I thought I was just making attempts at being charismatic. So I decided to own it and really develop the ability to say, do & perform at a level where most would find themselves thoroughly abashed.

      • Liam_McGonagle

        I still resent things like that.

        I get women reacting to me as if I were coming on to them all the time, when in fact I’m just TCB and have barely noticed them except as an obstacle to my next destination.

        I know that, despite my individual behavior, there is some statistical basis for their suspicions, as it’s a pretty well established fact that men can’t go more than 1/2 hour without thinking about sex or whatnot.

        But one look at me should be enough to tell anyone with two brain cells in their head that I’ve got one foot in the grave and another on a bannana peel. So rape and plunder are the last things on my mind.

        So much of this sh*t is projection, and I’m sick of it. People need to take some responsibility for their own weird fantasy lives.

        • Calypso_1

          It’s a rare treat to encounter a lady who has mastered charm to such an extent that all parties, to whatever degree their attentions are turned to her, find themselves imparted with a sense of delight & wonder…even if in no uncertain terms she has sent them on their way.
          Something that was once cultured within our society and now an obscure art.

          • Liam_McGonagle

            Or Americans are just becoming more naively cultured? I dunno . . .

            It seems like we’re always going to at least approach the idea of social conventions, even if the level of buy in isn’t as intense or widespread as it used to be in the old days, before we realized there was an alternative.

            The vast majority of people appear to view themselves primarily as machines programed to deliver volume. Could be volume of anything, cloth, carpets, bullsh*t, whatever, but the product must be simple enought to produce in massive volume and in incredible uniformity.

            So those people are going to have a culture, too. It’s just going to be the bluntest, crudest, pig-f*ckingly stupid culture possible. For some people that standard may be far too low to receive the appellation ‘culture’, but it’s surely not entirely spontaneous, either.

  • Ted Heistman

    I think the world just needs more black women.

    • echar

      Maybe more female black belts?

      • Calypso_1

        Belts are OK, but riding crops work much better.

        • echar

          So naughty…

        • The Well Dressed Man

          or perhaps the old Wartenburg wheel/violet wand combo with some predicament rope work…

  • Liam_McGonagle

    This can work both ways.

    I have a good friend that says stuff in pretty outrageously bad taste to women in transparent attempts to “test the waters”. It is a real trial to maintain decorum in these situations.

    It’s not that he’s a malevolent *sshole. Far from it. He’s far more altruistic a character than I am. But he is working at a real deficit in terms of social skills. I try, diplomatically as possible, to make this point, but we’re both headed for ’50 soon, so I don’t suppose there is any realistic prospect for change.

    On the other hand women (or at least MANY women) can generate some pretty strange ideas on their own initiative.

    Just last week I was at the bar of a local restaurant, waiting for a different friend of mine to arrive. He was running late, so I ended up sitting their alone–minding my own business, watching the game on the TV screen–for like 15, 20 minutes when the barmaid, who (like me) had been silent as a ghost until that point launches into some long, boring spiel with a passing server about her boyfriend this, her boyfriend that, her boyfriend yadadadadada, etc., etc. And in a volume and tone that made it altogether clear that her intended audience wasn’t the server standing 3 feet in front of her but the quiet bloke sitting 3 yards away at the other end of the bar (i.e., me).

    So I suppose it’s like anything else. People get sh*t wrong far more often than they get it right, and there are people (like my friend) tha do pull sh*t like this.

    But I still feel a little indignant that some stupid horse gets some bizarre fantasy in her head that I’m trying to pick her up. What, did she see me drive a steam shovel into the room? Seriously, if I’m gonna try to hustle some woman, it’s not gonna be someone who can out bench press me.

    Have some common sense, people!

    • The Well Dressed Man

      Sometimes you’re the bad guy for NOT making conversation too…

    • Calypso_1

      no doubt when your friend arrived it became evident that you are gay

      • Liam_McGonagle

        Yes, there’s that, too. Either you’re a rapist or you’re gay.

        Have they never contemplated the possible existence of a gay rapist?

        • Calypso_1

          You can imagine the comments I received when I owned a van.

    • Guest

      How could you tell her conversation was meant for you AND that she thought you were a threat…and not just that she was an incredibly loud, possibly narcissistic person?

      I mean, it’s not like their aren’t narcissists out there…the fact hardly incriminates women as a whole any more than narcissistic men incriminate men as a whole.