This week’s Feminist Fridays post is another installment of the How Do You Deal series. Because there are certain issues in life and in feminism that are tough to talk about on our own, the HDYD series allows many voices the opportunity to share in these discussions, making it easier for us to talk about our beliefs, opinions, and feelings. Each month I ask contributors how they deal with an issue and we each share our thoughts on the matter. This month we are talking about leering. Here are my feelings on this topic:
I really dislike being stared at, especially by guys my dad’s age. I hate being leered at like I’m not a real person, like I’m not really there, like I don’t matter for my own reasons. I used to let this get me down and make me feel weak, but lately I’ve been speaking up. If I feel like I’m in a safe place, I say “don’t look at me like that” or I simply ask “what?” with both my hands up. If I don’t feel like it’s safe to speak up, I choose inside of myself to detach myself from that person’s issues and decide not to let it bother me.
Now let’s hear what my contributors had to say about depictions of women in the media and feel free to share your thoughts on the matter in the comments.
“I should start by telling you that I’m a shy, quiet person, so my first instinct is never to yell or make a fuss, no matter the situation. So when men stare at me, generally my first reaction is to walk away as quickly as possible. It feels intrusive, so of course I want to get away, but two times now I’ve tried something new. I tried staring right back at the person. It’s scary to make eye contact, but after a few seconds these guys freak out and turn away.”
“It’s awful to feel unsafe, scared and belittled in public places. While it sucks to swallow my pride and feel like I’m letting someone make me feel that way, I operate from a defensive place when dealing with harassment in the city. I’d rather be safe than make a point to the wrong guy. I usually look the person in the eyes (giving no emotion) to make it clear that I’ve seen them and have chosen to ignore them, then I keep walking no matter what they do or say. I don’t engage verbally unless someone is in my personal space or tries to touch me.”
“As an introvert, most of the time I don’t want to draw attention to myself. I avoid the stares of others, especially men, by dressing in a way that is modest and blends in. I wear the standard tech get-up of skinny jeans, a tee, and a black zip-up if it’s chilly. When walking by men on the street, I avoid making eye contact by staring at the ground and pretending to be absorbed in my own world (which is probably true anyway).”
“When I was a young pre-teen, belting “Take Me or Leave Me” from RENT with my girlfriends (“Every single day, I walk down the street / I hear people say ‘Baby, so sweet’ / Ever since puberty, everybody stares at me / Boys, girls, I can’t help it, baby”), the thought of boys looking at me that way was thrilling, and unknown. As I got older, there were a few years when the attention was still exciting, and still felt safe. But somewhere around college, the knowledge that a leering guy was actually an adult man, bigger and stronger than I, kicked in, and being leered at was no longer a safe, secret thrill. It’s amazing how one inappropriate comment or lascivious look can knock down all of your confidence, making you scared and defensive. When guys leer at me, at best I feel small and vulnerable, running through escape scenarios in my head to try to regain a sense of safety.”
“When men leer at me, I am afraid to smile back because they might take it as invitation. I cross the street, find my boyfriend, a friend, or take a bathroom break to avoid him. I avoid eye contact, like a young girl hiding under her sheets when she feels an unwelcomed presence in her room. Avoiding and hiding is just phase 1. Phase 2: stink eye.”
“How do I feel when men stare or leer? Truth be told, their lasciviously-lecherous nature makes me itchy in my own skin. Uncomfortable. Less-than-human, more like parts. I forget who I am, momentarily, and often stumble away with red cheeks and flushed skin pulled tight across my shoulders, muttering humorous retorts under my breath that I hope one day I’ll have the courage to say aloud (at the very least), or that I’ll never have to because (in an ideal world) such behaviour would cease to be.”
“When men leer at me, I feel split between getting militant and keeping myself emotionally and physically safe. The latter usually wins out, but I hate letting myself feel scared and small so that someone else can feel powerful. I’m trying to grow into a tough lady who will shut leering fellas down and teach them a lesson with a few cutting words, but right now that anger mostly burns inside me then gets dealt with when I’m rehashing the situation with a friend later.”
“I’m happy to say that I don’t get too many leers- yay men of Chicago!- but when I do my reaction is usually always knee jerk. My eyebrows knit together and I give the offender a scolding-grossed-out hybrid of a look. One time I asked one of the gentlemen if he thought men looked at his daughter in that way and that seemed to ruin the mood for him. Ha.”
“Honestly, it’s something that continuously stumps me. I’ve tried many tactics over the years–being outgoing and vocal so they realize I’m a strong human being, not just an object; rolling my eyes and flipping them off (don’t recommend this one); or just ignoring them and going on my way. It’s tough, because regardless of my reaction, it continues to happen. But I do think it’s important to remain calm while still portraying yourself as a strong woman–assert your humanity and depending on the situation, divert the attention to something besides your appearance. If it’s someone you actually know, the best thing to do is always speak up—tell them how you feel, how it bothers you, and help them realize what they’re doing wrong.”
“Over the weekend, my mom showed me the diary she kept about me in my first two years of life. In several entries, she recorded that I would growl at strange men in the grocery store. I knew from birth that if I wasn’t on guard, men would take advantage of my kindness, feel entitled to my smiles. At the gas station, in the parking lot, and at the counter of the convenience store, I wear my scowl for the inevitable men looking me up and down. To the men who coo, ‘smile for me baby,’ I growl, ‘This Is Not For You.’ I dress for me, smile when I want, and none of me is meant for anyone else.”
“You know that creepy feeling you get when you’re being stared at? It’s not your imagination – cells in the communication hub of your brain actually respond under someone else’s gaze. I hate that someone can cause that biological response inside my body without my consent. It’s so intrusive, and so uncomfortable. I usually respond with a nasty, invasive look of my own.”
“I experience leering or street harassment so often that I automatically begin to feel uncomfortable whenever I have to approach a group of men. Isn’t that unfortunate? My normal reaction is scowling and crossing my arms – try to look as unapproachable as possible. I wish I just could yell ‘What are you doing?!’ instead.”
“Without even using words, some men have the power to make your skin crawl. I am fortunate in that most of the leering I have experienced has happened in the middle of the day, while I’m walking to and from work, with plenty of people around. While I still feel violated and objectified, I know that, in most cases, as soon as I pass the creep, I will get to make a grossed out face, shake off the situation, and get back to my day. I’m not always this lucky, and sometimes the leering turns into verbal street harassment, or progresses to being cornered in an uncomfortable conversation, but my strategies for those things are another conversation for another day. When it’s just leering involved (and I hate that I’m saying, ‘just leering,’ because it’s still a big problem), I find that the best way for me to feel safe is to remove myself from the situation as quickly and quietly as I can. Once removed, I give myself a moment to acknowledge what happened and feel furious and grossed out, before shaking it off and moving on with my day.”
So now YOU tell us: How do you deal with leering? Do you agree with anyone above?