CREEPY CORNER: On Being a Woman and Talking About the Paranormal

Has anyone ever "mansplained" to you why "all that ghost stuff" is silly?
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Louise Hung
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Has anyone ever "mansplained" to you why "all that ghost stuff" is silly?

I always try to "read the room" before diving into talk about ghosts.

While I've long since abandoned hiding my interest in such things, I admit that I am wary of people who might try to get me to offer a "satisfactory" explanation for my interests. I don't require you to give me a valid explanation for why you enjoy competitive cement mixing, so why do I owe you an explanation for my devotion to Gef the Mongoose and His Creepy Coterie?

Of course, if a person flat-out asks, I'm going to answer. 

"Do you believe in ghosts?"

"Do you think you've seen ghosts?"

"So you believe in the afterlife?"

Yes.

I'm not sure.

Some version of it, yes. But I'm still figuring that out.

It's amazing the different ways those questions can be asked by different people. Some people really are asking the question; others have ulterior motives. I've made it a point to change my answers very little, if at all, no matter who is asking. While I've gotten smirks and attempts to "take me down" or mock me from all sides of the gender spectrum, I invariably get the most condescension from men. 

Because of how I look, carry myself, how I identify, the topic of the paranormal and my opinions on such seem to open the door for many men to "prove" to me how silly I am. I've been called adolescent and been warned that I won't be taken seriously in a professional sense if I continue with "something like Creepy Corner." My standard answer is usually along the lines of, "Oh, well, it's served me well so far, so I guess I'm blazing my own path of 'professionalism.' I'm not about to exorcise the ghosts that feed me." 

I get reactions that range from furrowed-brow concern to exasperation that I won't see sense. SENSE!

One person's sense can be another person's lunacy, in my opinion.

Below are all questions that I've been posed to me by men — friends, family, "fans," acquaintances — when pushed to defend why I believe Creepy Corner and my creepy leanings have value:

"How can you believe in ghosts? Don't you think you're just superstitious? Overreacting? Scared of the dark? Drunk? Reacting to medication? Read too many scary stories? Watched too many horror movies? Do you understand the SCIENCE? Do you think you're just overstimulated? [YES, REALLY, THAT WAS A REAL QUESTION] Don't you think your imagination is getting the best of you? Are you just trying to be weird? Goth? How can you prove it? No, REALLY prove it? Do you wonder about your grasp on reality? What does your husband think of you doing all this creepy stuff?"

That last question, sometimes with an attempt at a commiserating glance thrown over at Mr. Louise (who doesn't do commiserating glances), is what I find most disappointing.

I don't know if it's how culture has depicted women in horror movies as hysterical, evil, mentally unstable, "tricky witches," or "damsels in distress," or if the paranormal is just viewed as a convenient tool in which to portray women as childlike and naive?

ghost story women

By Charles Giroux — Bibliothèque francophone multimédia/Limoges, Public Domain. "A Ghost Story."

Let's not forget all the "ghost bros" TV shows out there that depict men at the helm of paranormal investigations and ghost hunting. Obviously ghosts are not just the "silly business" of women. And, honestly, say what you will about "ghost hunting"–type TV shows (I like some; I have real issues with some), but paranormal TV is one kind of reality television that allows women to be more than just eye candy. The genre is not perfect, of course, but I do like that it allows women to be showcased for their brains (be it paranormal evidence or expert audience manipulation) instead of their boobs.

This is not to say that men who have an interest in the paranormal don't get attacked, but I do think that there is a double whammy of being a woman and a "believer." You open yourself up to people thinking you fulfill some sort of screwed-up, misogynistic idea of women being simple-minded or less rational. It can be scary to challenge the accepted notions of what is "rational" and what is not.

So many people in the Creepy Corner have commented or written to me and told me that they are nervous about talking about the paranormal with their male partners or friends because they get written off or laughed at. I completely understand being careful or reserved when talking about SPOOKY THINGS, as it's one of those topics that stretches the limits of reason and may touch on that scary thing called FAITH.

And, no, we don't all have to believe the same thing. Mr. Louise is far more skeptical than me, but we've found a way to meet each other respectfully in the middle. His skepticism does not endeavor to damage my belief in order to gain ground, and my belief does not take away from his skepticism.

I don't hold us up as "the way to be," but we are one way to be.

The fact that there are so many avowed skeptics in our Creepy Corner speaks loads about how, yes, we humans are capable of respectfully participating in a dialogue without surrendering what we believe. I suppose it's just about checking one's ego.

But some egos are more fragile than others.

I met Sarah (not her real name) when I was home in Dallas a while ago. Hanging out in a bar one night, among friends and friends of friends, we somehow got to chatting about ghosts, our favorite ghost stories, and the baggage that goes along with being a paranormal enthusiast. I'm like a bloodhound for my fellow Creeps.

(I'm going to tread carefully through Sarah's story so as not to potentially reveal Sarah's identity, her former employer, etc. I swore my Creep's Honor. THANK YOU, "Sarah," for letting me share this!)

Having gone to a university in a particularly haunted part of New England, she thought it would be fun to get a job giving haunted walking tours. She enjoyed the history as well as the legend and mystery surrounding supposedly haunted sites. For the most part, she said the people who took the tour were polite and attentive, willing to just enjoy the tour, get in the spirit of things.

However, she was surprised to find that on a fairly regular basis she'd encounter men who seemed to take her tour for the sole reason of trying to disprove her, or get her to "break." 

"And I was basically following a script!" she said. "I had talking points that had been taught to me. The stuff was well researched! I didn't just make it up."

Did women ever bother her?

"Yes, sometimes, but usually it was playing along with their man. I never had a woman alone give me trouble."

She described two main types of guys who gave her trouble: the "Dude" and the "Brainiac."

The Dude would just laugh a little too loudly at her presentation and essentially heckle her throughout the tour.

"You seriously believe this stuff?"

"BOO! Ha! You scared?"

"Oh, come on, really? I've never heard that. Where'd you hear that? Where? Tell me!"

As much as Sarah was annoyed by the Dudes, they were relatively easy to handle. "They were just trying to make me look stupid, so I wouldn't let them," she explained.

The Brainiacs, as she called them, were a trickier bunch.

These were the guys who fancied themselves some kind of "expert" and would often take opportunities to interject "Actually..." when she was talking about a spot on her tour. When walking to the next location, they would sidle up to her and say something along the lines of, "You know, you may want to check your facts because...

...what you're saying doesn't make sense because I HEARD..."

Or

...I think you're being a little bit dramatic. ACTUALLY what happened is..."

OR

...can I give you some free advice? Focus on the history more, instead of the ghosts. That's what people like..."

No good advice ever came after the question "Can I give you some free advice?"

"I could handle the Brainiacs OK," said Sarah. "But sometimes they were committed to 'mansplaining' my tour to death. I was stuck nodding along and saying stuff like, 'I'll take that into consideration,' because I had to be a good host."

Having been on my fair share of haunted tours, I feel like I have seen versions of these guys in action. I asked Sarah if she felt her fellow tour guides who were men ran into the same problems as she did.

"To some extent. It's just kind of the job. But not as often, and usually other guys were more respectful of another guy's opinion. I think the big difference was that the Brainiac guys wanted to talk with my male counterparts about ghosts, instead of just mansplaining to me how I was WRONG or superstitious or whatever. I think the Dudes were by far less aggressive to other guys. I got really tired of guys asking me if I thought I was a 'psychic' or if I was a 'witch.'"

I don't know if Sarah's experience was the norm for haunted tour guides, or if the fact that she worked near a university meant that she had to deal with more bros or drunk dudes out on a lark. Have any of you ever conducted a haunted tour? Did you have a similar experience? I'm very curious!

I know this topic is a little out of the norm for the Creepy Corner (I'll have some spooky stories for you soon! I promise!), but I've been chatting with a number of you via email, and many of you have brought up how women are considered and represented in the realm of paranormal interest.

I don't know if it's because of the new Ghostbusters movie, or if there's just something in the Creepy Corner air, but I'm fascinated by this conversation, and I'm delighted that I get to be a part of it.

So keep on creepin', Creepy Corner Creeps, and thank you for being outspoken and open-minded.