We’re right in the middle of yet another conversation about women and our experience in this world. As we watch another woman lose her life, it has forced us to confront our shared realities and what it’s really like to interact with men across the board. High among these conversations is the presentation of men, and how they can better interact with us without appearing “creepy” or “threatening”. As a man, do you know how you’re appearing to women? Do you know how to be friendly without being a totally intimidating creep?
Check your awareness at the door.
Women have spent countless centuries living in a very separate reality from men. From the time you are a small child, you become hyper aware of your physical body and its appeal / value to those around you. At the same time, you are regularly shamed for that body and taught to treat it as a commodity. Likewise, the men around us learn to do the same. It has resulted in a brutal game of give-and-take in which women have overwhelmingly come up as the losers. Men have become the monster under the bed for many of us, and most of them are still struggling to understand why or how.
Don’t assume your intentions are obvious.
Many of us have been victimized so many times, that we have learned the only way to keep ourselves safe is by assuming that all men are a threat. For those who haven’t been brutalized themselves, they’ve heard enough stories to know where the danger lies. The “nice guys” in your boardrooms and in your favorite bars have been the shadows on the edge of our nightmares. Your best buddies have been our terrorizers. You yourself have made us flee into a bathroom as you poured yourselves over us on a night out. We’ve assumed your intentions before, and we’ve gotten it wrong. So how can we move past this? It starts with men altering their behavior (and the way they talk to one another).
How to be friendly to women without crossing the line.
Do you want to be one of the men who turns the tide? Do you want to be a man who is able to make the women in your environment feel safe? You can be friendly (even to a stranger) without being a creep. To do that, though, you first have to honestly confront your own behaviors and your own hidden intentions too. The nice guy act isn’t always as nice as you think it is. Shift your perspective and see things from the perspective of women.
One of the worst ways that men pull the “creepy friend” card is by groveling. You do this when you put the women around you on a pedestal and beg for their attention for it. Groveling only makes women think that you’re desperate to get them into your possession. What changes after you get what you want? We’ve been with enough “nice guys” to know where the desperation game leads. (It’s right down the rabbit hole into controlling, abusive relationships). Don’t grovel. Be genuine.
Focus on context
Context is everything when it comes to approaching women and being friendly toward them. sSee things from the woman’s perspective and imagine how your behavior could be coming off as predatory to her. Imagine the experiences she’s been through and then imagine how she might see you. Pay attention to body language and eye contact. If they avoid eye contact with you a lot, leave them alone. Pay attention to your own intentions, too. It’s also important to notice when it’s her job to be nice, and when it’s a genuine invitation for friendliness
Act like a normal person
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to be friendly (without being creepy) is to just act like a normal person. Treat the women around you as respectfully and distanced as you would your male friends. Don’t go out of the way to be extra nice and don’t try to be dominant or aggressive either. Be yourself. Present yourself as a natural person, with natural emotions and a natural awareness of others. Don’t force yourself on her and don’t try to play into some archaic power dynamic either.
Look for the humor
Women live in this strange state in which we have to be constantly on our guard. It’s hard to be open or to allow ourselves to be comfortable because of the endless clawing at our physical bodies. When a man tries to befriend us by “appreciating” that body, it puts us back in that place of negative expectation. If you truly want to be friendly and create a more comfortable space for yourself and the women in your life, look for the humor. Be funny, rather than trying to impress or intimidate. But (as always) pay attention to their invitation and reaction — then respond to it respectfully.
Notice your environment
Sometimes, people just don’t want to be approached or talked to; especially women who are just trying to make it through the day with all the stress and pressure they have to deal with. It’s not always appropriate to approach someone or even talk to them. Especially in a climate where women feel more preyed upon than they have in decades. Women don’t owe you conversation or even niceties. Notice the environment that you’re in. Are you in a gym? A train station where people are rushing around? Sometimes, the friendliest thing you can do is leave her alone.
One of the biggest ways your “friendliness” comes off as creepiness is your insistence on touch. You don’t need to touch every woman you see. As a matter of fact, don’t touch her. You don’t need to touch someone to be friendly with them. When you greet your father or brush past him in the hallway — do you grab the small of his back? When you greet your best male buddy — do you rub his shoulders and look up and down his body? Limit your touchiness of women who have not given you an open invitation to touch them. It’s unnecessary and reveals the truth in your intentions.
Watch your proximity
How often do you pay attention to your physical proximity when it comes to the women in your life? When you speak to them or approach them, look at your physical closeness. You don’t need to be right on top of a woman to speak to her. Being too close feels threatening and intimidating to women. When you speak to your best friend, do you stand so close to him that your body brushes against his? Do you lean so close that he can feel your breath on his neck or in his ear every time you say something? It’s creepy, gross, and unnecessary.
Limit your compliments
While compliments might seem like the best way to open the door on a friendly conversation, it’s not. Opening up with a compliment can be intimidating and can confuse intentions — especially if you feel the need to compliment the woman on her appearance. If you feel absolutely compelled, don’t compliment on something they have no control over (ie weight, body, eyes, etc.). Focus on normal things to start a conversation. You can talk about the weather, the book they’re reading, a person both of you know. Give the compliment, then respond to her reaction. If she dismisses you, drops eye contact, gets on phone — leave her alone.
Putting it all together…
We’re living in unprecedented times. Now, more than ever, women are speaking out about their experiences and what it means to exist in a male-oriented world. We’re revealing the best and the worst of our time among men, and we’re beginning to speak openly to of their behaviors and how they impact our day-to-day lives. High among our shared experiences is that of the “nice guy”. Friendliness that turns to creepiness and unwanted attention. Want to be friendly with the women in your life? You need to be aware and responsive to context and non-verbal cues.
Do you want to be friendly without seeming threatening or creepy? Don’t grovel over the women in your life. Treat them like normal human beings with normal needs, feelings, and expectations. Focus on the context. Is she really inviting conversation? Or are you inflating your ego with the same general niceties that mean nothing in a different context? If you feel compelled to approach a woman in public, don’t compliment her on her body or some other physical feature that’s outside of her control. Don’t touch her body and don’t intrude on her personal space. Use humor and focus on topics like the weather or a shared personality, you both know. Pay attention to the environment you’re in too. Is she in a space where she may be busy, focused, or otherwise disinterested in conversation? Leave her alone. It’s all about respect and empathetic awareness. Treat women like normal human beings who want to be left alone. Because ultimately, that’s what we want.
- Manley, A., 2021. 5 Creepy Things Guys Should Stop Doing to Women ASAP. [online] AskMen. Available at: https://uk.askmen.com/dating/dating_advice/ways-men-creep-women-out.html