How to Identify Terrifying Men

Sydney Sheneman

I have always jokingly referred to myself as being a “magnet for terrifying men.”
“It’s my pheromones,” I say. “They attract every pervert within a hundred mile radius.”
Each time I make this joke, my mind conjures up the same image: me—simply existing—completely unaware of the miles wide, purple-hued cloud of pheromone fog surrounding me. The scene then begins to pan out, revealing herds of greasy old men wearing should-be-white wife beaters, their noses stuck up in the air as they trudge through my thick pheromone smog. Sometimes, I imagine the fog’s aroma to be similar to that of a grape-flavored candy’s—other times, I imagine it carries a more lavender-like scent. Either way, these greasy old men seem to find the smell so enticing that it all but pulls them towards me.

This vision is strange for several reasons:

  1. They’re usually not old and greasy—the terrifying men, I mean.
  2. Pheromones are invisible to the naked eye, and, therefore, are definitely not clouds of purple-hued vapor.
  3. Even if they were, humans aren’t really into the whole pheromones thing.

It’s easy to list off all the ways in which my brain’s purple pheromone fog scenario is unrealistic; what’s not so easy is compiling a list of all the identifying features shared by said terrifying men. In my twenty-years of experience I have discovered that, sure, some of these terrifying men are old, but some of them are thirteen-year-old boys who think that random girls on the internet
really want to be sent unsolicited pictures of their penises. And, sure, some of these terrifying men are a bit greasier than your average Joe, but some of them look as though they just stepped foot off set after filming a commercial for some flashy, overpriced cologne.

There is one thing, though, that I can add to this list—one trait that I know with complete certainty all these terrifying men share.

They most definitely, 100%, do not see women as living, breathing, human beings.

So then, how do these terrifying men view women? I spent some time—too much time, if I’m being honest—scouring the internet for an answer to this question. To nobody’s surprise, I’m sure, I was met with countless tweets about how women are only good for this and that—the this and that typically being sex and housework. I watched endless videos of men sitting in front of microphones insisting that “women are men’s property,” and I forced myself to scroll through the infinite heaps of blatant misogyny expressed by those who find way too much confidence hiding behind the internet’s shield of anonymity.

Out of curiosity—and an intense desire to rid my mind of the colorful opinions the internet had just shown me—I turned to Urban Dictionary: a notoriously unreliable source of information. Oddly enough, though, it proved to be extremely reliable in terms of the information I was looking for. In the little search bar located at the top of my screen, I typed in one word: woman. The first definition to pop up was short and simple yet, somehow, perfectly answered my question of: “how do terrifying men view women?”


Something me and you have never touched.

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Again, I am well aware of the unreliability and joking nature of the definitions provided by Urban Dictionary—this knowledge, however, doesn’t change the fact that this particular joke is eerily similar to the ones I’ve heard all throughout my life.

When I was sixteen-years-old, I began working at a fast food restaurant which almost exclusively employed teenage boys. After my first training shift, a friend of mine—the same friend who had suggested I work there in the first place—jokingly informed me that my new coworkers had been “calling dibs” on who would get to “fuck” the new girl. He laughed at this joke, and so did I.

When my adult manager, Noah, began crotch-hugging me each time he needed to grab something located in my general vicinity—there seemed to always be something he needed from a shelf directly above me—these same coworkers would jokingly mimic Noah’s overly-touchy behavior. They would grab one-another by the waist, executing the perfect crotch-hug by thrusting their hips forwards and against the other person’s backside, all while loudly exclaiming some variation of: “sorry, I just need to grab something real quick.” They would laugh at these jokes, and so would I.

The biggest joke I heard during my time employed at said fast food restaurant, though, was the pictures my coworkers traded with one another. While I never saw these photos, I knew what they were: high-school-girls posing naked for the camera, and although it was never said explicitly, I was certain that these nude photos weren’t sent to them specifically, yet somehow
always found their ways into their camera rolls. “Brooooo, look at this.”

“Brooooo, is that Rachel?”
“Yeah, brooooo.”

“Brooooo, send that to me.”
“For sure, brooooo.”

These were all jokes, of course, they all just so happened to have the same punchline of women: something me and you have never touched. The lack of originality in these jokes didn’t seem to be an issue, though, considering how each and every one of them was followed by a loud chorus of laughter.

Now that I’m sitting here thinking about it—truly thinking back on each and every time a man has made me into the punchline of one of these jokes—they almost always laugh afterwards.

They almost always laugh immediately after making a woman the punchline of one of their

Each and every time a car full of men has loudly reminded me of my female anatomy—and, more specifically, what they would like to do to my said female anatomy—they laughed. When the man who looked strikingly similar to Fabio—long, flowy hair, and a perfectly chiseled jawline—felt it necessary to tell me how badly he wanted to “get with a blonde” as I scanned his groceries, a snicker followed each of his remarks. Those men who believe that they were put on this earth with the sole purpose of reminding each and every woman they encounter to “smile more” always follow up their lighthearted suggestion with a short chuckle.

Even without the laughter that follows their hilarious jokes, all it takes is one look into a terrifying man’s eyes to know that they are just that: a terrifying man.

They look at you as though you are something they have never touched but really, really want to.

Unfortunately, this means that you have to be close enough to said terrifying man to actually see this look in his eyes—close enough to mean that it’s too late to start speed walking in the other direction, and close enough to mean that you should probably start carrying pepper spray with you everywhere you go.

Being the “magnet for terrifying men” that I am, I have been fortunate enough to have observed this look enough times to be able to identify it in a matter of seconds—I am also fortunate enough to be able to speed walk at what I believe to be a record-breaking pace. There was a time, though, at which I was not yet too familiar with this look—not until I saw it in the eyes of a man who was sprinting full-speed towards me through a near-empty gas station parking lot one night.

I had been driving my then-boyfriend back home when my car suddenly informed me that my tank was getting close to empty. Given that I had only enough gas to last me for about 30 miles—the drive to his house then back to mine was a little over 40—I decided to make a quick stop at the first gas station I saw. Throughout my entire life I had been warned of the dangers of getting gas alone at night, but I figured that the boy sitting in my passenger seat would surely deter any potential opportunists from teaching me why this particular warning exists in the first place.

I learned three things that night:

  1. My (ex) boyfriend was totally cool with hiding from men who were full-blown charging at his (ex) girlfriend.
  2. If you plan on using the boy sitting in your passenger seat as a terrifying-men-repellent, make sure he’s actually visible to said terrifying men.
  3. When a man sprints at you through a gas station parking lot at night, he looks at you as though you’re something he’s never touched but really, really wants to.

It’s the same look I’ve seen in my mother’s eyes as she browses through online catalogs advertising overpriced designer couches. It’s the same look I’ve seen in my cat-loving roommate’s eyes as she shows me kittens listed for adoption on Pet Finder. It’s the same look I saw in Fabio’s eyes as he admired my blonde hair, and it’s the same look I saw in the eyes of the man who asked if I was on the menu as I was taking his order.

That Look

The way middle-aged women look at designer couches they shouldn’t buy but really, really want to; the way terrifying men look at women they have never touched but really, really want to.

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What troubles me most about my list of characteristics shared by terrifying men is that it provides no insight on how to identify a terrifying man before it’s too late. You can’t simply look at a man from across the room and know that he doesn’t see women as living, breathing, human beings, you don’t hear that laugh until after you have already become the punchline of one of their jokes, and if you can see the look in their eyes, you’re already too close. There is no way of knowing a terrifying man is, in fact, a terrifying man until after you have been thrown into an uncomfortable, or, oftentimes dangerous situation with one.

For this reason, I am inclined to describe interacting with men as being similar to playing a game of Russian roulette.

Russian Roulette

A game where a revolver with one bullet is placed and spun. Then you take turns putting the gun to your head and pull the trigger. If it’s empty, you pass it on until someone dies or becomes extremely injured.

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While the “not-all-men” response to women’s fears of men—fears that are commonly developed as a result of repeated experiences with terrifying men—is technically true, it doesn’t change the fact that we are aware of that one bullet in the revolver. The “not-all-men” response is more than just a factual statement—we know that it is not all men. We know that not every man we encounter sees us as less than human—looks at us as though we are something they’ve never touched but really, really want to—but that doesn’t change the fact that it is some men. There is a bullet somewhere in that revolver, and we have no idea which pull of the trigger will send it flying “until someone dies or becomes extremely injured.”

To respond to a woman’s fears of men by saying, “but not all men,” is like arguing that Russian roulette is a perfectly safe game to play. It’s not.

I know that there’s a bullet in the revolver, just as I know that there’s a man walking around who looks strikingly similar to Fabio who really wants to “get with a blonde.” I know that there’s a bullet in the revolver, just as I know that there’s a man who drives past gas stations at night, hoping to stumble upon a seventeen-year-old girl who appears to be alone and vulnerable. I also know that the only way to avoid becoming the unlucky player in a game of Russian roulette is to stay far, far away from the revolver.

How to avoid terrifying men.

  1. Never go anywhere alone.
  2. Always carry pepper spray.
  3. When men yell profanities at you from their cars, ignore them (but in a nice way—you don’t want to make them angry).
  4. When men approach you when you’re out in public, ignore them (but in a nice way—you don’t want to make them angry).

At some point in my life, I discovered that there is a limit to the number of times you can see that look in a man’s eyes or hear that laugh, wondering if this would be the time you’d have to actually use that pink pepper spray you carry with you everywhere you go. With each of my encounters, I made my way through this list on “how to avoid terrifying men,” and when I realized that none of these methods successfully allowed me to avoid the terrifying men who definitely, 100%, did not see me as a living, breathing, human being, I came up with a fifth approach.

5. Don’t leave your house unless it is absolutely necessary.

For an entire year, I kept myself holed up in my dorm, my heart set on avoiding each and every man in the state of Arizona. I would venture out into the real world only when it was absolutely necessary—which was typically when I had gone through every last bit of food I had stored in my room, and needed to make a quick run to the grocery store. I kept these trips short, but terrifying men had no problem with finding ways to fit themselves into my timely schedule; it seemed as though they were just waiting for the opportunity to remind me of their existence.

In the short, three minute walk from my dorm to the parking garage, one terrifying man found the time to shout profanities at me through his rolled-down car window. In the ten minute walk from my dorm to the CVS around the corner, three terrifying men found the time to follow me from a distance—close enough so that they could inform me of how good my ass looked in my jeans, but far enough away so that they had to do so by yelling. When I realized this fifth method was equally as unhelpful as the others, I added a sixth.

6. If leaving your house becomes absolutely necessary, try your hardest to look as unappealing as possible.

I began throwing on the baggiest clothing I could find each time I left my dorm, and when the interactions with terrifying men persisted, I took more extreme measures. After seeing a video of a man talking about how brunettes are “wifey material,” and how blondes “are just for fun,” I dyed my hair brown to take their fun away. When I saw a video of a man talking about how repulsive tattoos are on women, I scheduled an appointment hoping to make them disgusted.

“Men prefer long hair,” I cut mine to my chin. “Tattoos are ugly,” I got four more.

“Women, please stop getting facial piercings,” I scheduled an appointment for later that day.

In doing each of these things, I believed that I was piecing together a bulletproof vest that might protect me from that one bullet in the revolver.


Something me and you have never touched.

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As it turns out, when enough men see you as less than human—as something they have never touched but really, really want to—you begin to adopt their point-of-view. I believed I was crafting a bulletproof vest, but what I was really doing was trying to become something that terrifying men have never touched, but wouldn’t really want to.

They still did, though.

They don’t actually care what you look like, they only care that you’re a woman: something they have never touched but really, really want to.

While a terrifying man might not care about what you look like, how old you are, or—quite frankly—anything else about you, there is one thing he does care about: whether or not you belong to another man.

Example: if a terrifying man were to approach you at, say, a grocery store, there are several things you could say in an attempt to ward him off.

Option #1: “I’m gay.”
Option #2: “I’m 12.”
Option #3: “I have a boyfriend.”

Option #1 would do little to deter him. Remember, he sees you as something he has never touched but really, really wants to, and informing him of your supposed sexuality will not change this fact.

Option #2 wouldn’t work for similar reasons: you are still something he has never touched, but now you’re simply a younger version of this something.

While option #3 will do nothing to change his belief in that you are something, it informs him that you are something that belongs to another man. As stated by those wanna-be-podcasters I mentioned earlier, “women are men’s property,” and to disrespect a man’s property is to disrespect a man.

They only respect a woman’s autonomy when (they believe) she belongs to another man.

Several years ago, my parents began building their dream house, and so for the past few years, they have been meticulously designing and overseeing the construction of their new home. Being that my father typically works most weekdays, my mother took it upon herself to deal with the day-to-day of this extensive project.

Something that women are often warned not to do is develop a routine: if you do the same things at the same places at the same times, someone is bound to notice. Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of routine my mother had formed when she drove her brown Lexus to her new house every day as it was being built. On the days my father was away at work, it was her distinctive car that would be parked on the street in front of the house, but on the days both of my parents would visit their construction-zone of a home, my father would arrive separately and in his white Four Runner.

Brown Lexus = Woman by herself.
White Four Runner + Brown Lexus = Woman with her husband.

My parents decided to switch up this routine one random Sunday when they drove to their new home together in my mother’s brown Lexus which, as always, she parked in the same spot on the street in front of their house. Together, my parents entered their nearly finished home and made their way into their master bedroom; this is where my mother remained as my father went to check out the progress made on their closet, and this is where my mother was standing when a man suddenly appeared at their bedroom’s doorway.

At first, she didn’t recognize him—she assumed he was a contractor she hadn’t yet met until the man began lecturing her about some “trash” that was bothering him. His voice began to raise and his lecturing turned into yelling, which caught my father’s attention.

As soon as my father exited the closet and made his way into the bedroom, the man’s demeanor instantly changed. He took one look at my father then lowered his voice to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize your husband was here.”

Not, “I’m sorry, I was out of line,” or, “I’m sorry for literally breaking into your house,” just, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize your husband was here.”

When my mother told me this story on the phone, my first thought was: what if he wasn’t there? The man—who turned out to be a new neighbor of theirs—had waited until he saw my mother’s car parked in that same spot on the street in front of her house. He waited until my father’s white Four Runner was nowhere to be seen and for the multitude of (male) construction workers and (male) contractors to be absent from the property.

But my mother wasn’t alone; my father was there and she belonged to him. To disrespect a man’s property is to disrespect a man.

There’s this small tug I can feel in my gut urging me to inform whoever is reading this that I know it’s “not all men.” Despite the fact that each and every one of these stories are things that I have experienced—things that have happened to me and have, in many ways, left me scarred—a small part of me still feels a need to apologize for my brashness. Then I remember that I have never received such an apology; not from the terrifying men who have treated me as something—as less than human—and not from the men who have learned of my experiences and could only conjure up the response of “not all men.”

“Not all men” isn’t just a factual statement. We know that it’s “not all men.” We understand that it’s “not all men.” The only meaning behind those three words is, how can I make this about me. The only thing those three, aggravating words accomplish is making the women who muster up the courage to speak out feel guilty about doing just that.

You shouldn’t feel guilty.

This guilt is dangerous—just as dangerous, perhaps, as those terrifying men. This guilt encourages women to lower their guards, to believe that they are safe from the one bullet in the revolver—that, maybe, that one bullet isn’t even actually there.

If it wasn’t for this guilt, maybe I would have fewer stories to share. Maybe I wouldn’t have brushed off the man who watched me for two hours before cornering me in my register. Maybe I would have told someone about my manager’s frequent crotch-hugs. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt the need to laugh along with so many of those jokes, and maybe I wouldn’t have believed the boy who told me “you can trust me,” moments before he dismissed my “no(s)”.

I am not a “magnet for terrifying men,” and I am not “something a man has never touched but really, really wants to.” To say that I am either of these things is to imply that I am, in some way, responsible for the ways in which I have been treated. I’m not.

I am simply a woman—a living, breathing, human being—who is tired of feeling guilty.


About the author

Sydney Sheneman is a junior at Oklahoma State University majoring in Creative Writing. After graduating she hopes to pursue a career in secondary English education and to continue publishing works which bring attention to women’s issues. Currently, she lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma, but hopes to one day return to her home-city Austin, Texas.


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Frontier Mosaic Copyright © 2023 by Sydney Sheneman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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