Summer is finally here!
Samara Ginsberg // 7 May 2008
The sun is out, the birds are singing and London seems a much happier place. For the benefit of our international readers, Britain is currently enjoying a break from the positively crapulent weather we’ve been having lately. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and sleazy men are on the prowl.
It seems as if the sort of men who view women as public property to be harassed at their leisure see the arrival of the summer months as a signal to go absolutely ape-shit. The hotter the weather, the more they exercise their supposed right to treat women’s bodies as commodities for public consumption. I suppose it’s just that they know that because it’s warmer women are more likely to be skimpily dressed, not that that’s any excuse. All I know is that 8am is entirely too early to have some sweaty bloke lean out of his vehicle to leer at you, which is what happened to me on the way to the tube station this morning.
Feminists are quite rightly unafraid of saying that however a woman dresses and wherever she walks, sexual assault is wrong. Most if not all of us agree that shouting lewd things also is wrong. But I go one further: I think staring is wrong. I’m not talking about just looking at an attractive woman, noticing her, appreciating her beauty, eyeing her up in a covert manner or possibly entertaining lustful thoughts. There’s clearly nothing wrong with that. What I’m talking about is the lascivious, aggressive stare of a man who wants you to know that he’s staring at you. He wants you to know that it’s his God-given right to look you up and down like that and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s as much a display of dominance as telling a woman to get her tits out. It can make you feel just as violated as being groped.
It’s also an unbelievably cowardly thing to do. If you grope a woman, you risk her hitting back. If you tell her what a nice arse she has, you risk her saying something cutting that could – shock horror! – undermine your masculinity. If you just stare, it’s damn near impossible for her to fight back because there’s nothing to engage with, and besides, you haven’t technically done anything wrong.
Everybody knows it’s rude to stare. It’s not just quaint British etiquette, it’s a deep-rooted phenomenon – even primates use it as a display of aggression. In some cultures it is considered rude to make eye contact at all. Even a non-aggressive stare can make the victim feel extremely uncomfortable. This is basic manners. Why do manners go out of the window when a sleazy man is faced with an attractive woman? Why is it considered acceptable to stare blatantly at her?
A lot of people seem to think that this is the inevitable consequence of being a red-blooded testosterone-driven heterosexual male. I say this is bollocks. Noticing, appreciating and lusting after attractive women is the inevitable consequence of being a red-blooded testosterone-driven heterosexual male. Staring at them aggressively is NOT. If I see an attractive man I will look at him, but if he catches me looking I will look away quickly, possibly with a friendly smile, firstly because I don’t want the embarrassment of him knowing I was eyeing him up, but secondly because I don’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. I see lots of men displaying this approach too. No man is incapable of manners, however rabidly heterosexual he is.
The most common argument I hear about this is, “But they’re neanderthals! They surely are incapable of not expressing their desire to stick their dick in every young woman that walks past!” Poppycock. I have irrefutable evidence that these red-blooded testosterone-driven heterosexual males can behave when it suits them. I know for a fact that these neanderthals are perfectly capable of curbing their “natural instincts”. I know this because I have never, ever, EVER been so much as glanced at by one of them when I’m in male company. There’s a sort of code of honour amongst these sorts of men, that you don’t harass another man’s bird. How courteous of them.
If you’re with a man you are immune to harassment. The man’s assumed desire for you not to be sleazed on is automatically respected, but any protests you make when you’re alone, whether in the form of fighting back or ignoring them and staring at the floor, fall on deaf ears. Doesn’t that say so much about the inherent misogyny in this?
The way I see it, if they can leave me alone when I’m with a man, then they can bloody well leave me alone when I don’t have “protection”. They need to have some fucking manners and start treating women like human beings, whether their harassment consists of groping, heckling or just staring. My body belongs to nobody but me.