Skip to main content
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

What Makes a Guy Creepy?

Creepy Man

Creepy Man

College women speak

Owen Huelsbeck


Like campuses across America, Santa Clara University has been caught up in the national conversation about the #MeToo movement.  Because my classmate Chonsa Schmidt and I do a regular podcast about dating and ethics, we thought we really ought to address the issue of sexual assault and harassment. While women are all too familiar with this topic, it was our feeling that there are plenty of guys out there who are not sexual predators, and perhaps even mean well, but are exhibiting behaviors that foster rape culture. 


We interviewed women on campus and asked them what men commonly do that makes them uncomfortable. If you’re a woman, the answers probably won’t surprise you. The top creepy behaviors reported were catcalling, prolonged physical contact, especially from strangers, and persistent advances despite a lack of reciprocation. 


Catcalling simply needs to stop. Not a single woman we interviewed has ever felt like a catcall was a compliment. Think about it. Yelling out of the passenger side of a moving vehicle at a stranger about how she’s dressed is strange. Instead of making the woman feel pretty, it is going to make her feel unsafe and unsure if the guys are going to stop and continue harassing her. Complimenting a woman on her looks is not a bad thing, but save the compliments for women you know and save them for genuine face-to-face interaction. 


Unwanted touch was the most common reported creepy behavior. Especially prevalent at bars, unwanted touching—sometimes multiple times a night—was reported by every woman we interviewed. Many guys feel that physical contact is how one demonstrates interest but fail to pick up on when that behavior is unwanted. Guys – pay attention to body language. If you touch a woman’s arm and she withdraws, she is sending a clear signal that the touch was unwanted, and more physical contact will only make her feel unsafe. Pay attention to whether the contact was reciprocated and make respecting a women’s right to bodily integrity a priority. Anything less is wrong and unethical. 


In general, men need to think differently about persistence in their pursuit of women. We’ve been socialized to believe that if a woman isn’t interested, they just aren’t interested yet, and that will change if the guy exerts a bit more effort. This is simply not true and communicates that the woman really doesn’t have a choice in the matter. This kind of behavior fails to respect her autonomy.


Furthermore, women have been socialized to tolerate these unwanted advances, no matter how deeply uninterested they are, so as not to come off as rude. Women: it’s time we toss this double-standard to the wayside. BE RUDE. A guest on our show and a professor here at SCU put it well, “If you’re calling a person out and there is a large group of people around, they might say that they meant nothing by it, but I believe they will think about it afterwards because they will need to come to terms with what everyone else in the group is thinking about as well.” As our culture shifts towards a more equitable one for women, it is my hope that our communities can step up to support women in this way. 


That being said, women have done all of the physical and emotional work in trying to change our culture. It is time for men to step up and recognize how their behaviors are received and work to better respect women’s bodily integrity and autonomy.




Owen Huelsbeck is a senior at Santa Clara University and the co-host of The Big Q podcast.

Listen to the podcast

Jan 25, 2018