Summer is finally here!

// 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.

Comments From You

Oxymoron // Posted 7 May 2008 at 5:26 pm

Hear Hear!

Anne Onne // Posted 7 May 2008 at 6:09 pm

Exactly! I hate the idea that it’s a compliment to stare at or harass a woman, or that it’s a natrual reaction. No, it’s bloody well not. If I can resist shouting rude remarks at attractive men, you can do the same, thanks. It really all stems from this idea people have that they have no actual control over themselves, when in reality, they don’t want to control their actions.

I had someone once tell me to my face in a discussion that when I was out, it was men’s right to stare, make lewd comments, or even grope! They insisted that the men’s right to make a comment or share their appreciation (!) of my form trumped my right to not be disturbed, and that it was a compliment, really! Screw that. It’s not a compliment. If it’s a compliment, you want to make sure the person in question wants it. And if they don’t, you’d be apologetic for having offended them. But when I make it clear that I don’t want a ‘compliment’, I just get the finger. Call me old-fashioned, but I was always taught that if you want to give a compliment, you have to actually care that it will make the person happy. That’s why you give compliments! But these men don’t care. They don’t want to make you happy, do they? Otherwise they wouldn’t interrrupt someone they don’t know, just to talk to them for no reason. They just want you to know exactly what they think. It’s all about them, not about the person they supposedly want to compliment. Please, as if I want the opinion of some halfwit who I’ve never met, and is nowhere near on my radar!

They also thought that no matter what I was wearing, it was for men’s attention, when I pointed out that it’s not a case of women only being harassed if they dress skimpily, or even fashionably. Apparently, even when women don’t dress in what is considered a remotely sexual manner, they are still after male attention! When I asked him what if I was a lesbian, in a commited relationship, or simply definitely not looking for attention, he didn’t have an answer (surprisingly!) and grudgingly admitted that not all women dressed for attention, but insisted the vast majority did. My favourite rejoinder to this kind fo remark is ‘yes, but who says they are looking for *your* attention in particular? The kind of man most likely to act like this is usually the least likely to be desired by the women they harass, anyway.

And he insisted that I was a huge exception, saying I was really smart and everything, but that most women were just after attention. Come to think of it, he’s a budding MRA, seeing as he’s insistent many women just want to get pregnant for benefits, and insists that you just can’t make men use condoms if they don’t want to get women pregnant, because men just won’t do that. *rolls eyes*

Lauren O // Posted 7 May 2008 at 6:13 pm

So I’m an American who has read this blog regularly for months, and I’ve noticed that y’all spend a lot of time talking about catcalling. I always totally agreed with your assessment of the problems behind catcalling, but I didn’t understand why you devoted so much attention to an issue that I didn’t think really came up that often.

Then I arrived in England, about a month ago, to spend a term studying at Oxford. Catcalls have never really been a problem for me in the parts of America where I’ve lived/visited, but turns out that in England, they fuckin’ are. On a five-minute walk to a kebab van, a friend and I were shouted at and honked at no less than three times, and one car stopped up ahead to wait for us to catch up so he could yell at us some more. I couldn’t believe how entitled these men felt to treat us like public property. Forget “quaint British etiquette”; these British men are the rudest I’ve ever encountered.

Anyway, this is just a comment to say right on. This shit is a problem, and I’m glad there are voices like yours to speak out against it.

Ellie // Posted 7 May 2008 at 6:21 pm

Interesting to see a post on this when I was thinking about it just yesterday. I was going to meet my friends in the park to revise (supposedly anyway!) and the weather was so hot I put on a skirt and vest top. As I was walking through town I was conscious of how much more vulnerable I felt than if I had been wearing jeans and a jumper and I noticed a lot more men staring than usual. But why should I feel like I can’t get my legs out if I want to?

It’s intimidating, harassing and really, stupidly unnecessary for people to act in this way.

julia // Posted 7 May 2008 at 7:58 pm

Brilliant post. As much as I wish summer would come here to Eugene, Oregon (US) it does have a price for women. A price that is all too high.

What I like best about your post is re-iterating that sexism is learned behavior, it is not biology.

Katie // Posted 7 May 2008 at 8:13 pm

As much as I agree that women should own their bodies, I don’t agree that staring at women is always A Bad Thing (skirting around the word wrong; I’ll come to that in a minute).

If one person is consistently staring at them and making them feel uncomfortable then yes: it’s bad and wrong and the perpetrator should stop.

However, what if women /like/ to be appreciated? You can’t say that obviously staring at a woman in an appreciative manner is wrong: it may make you feel uncomfortable but there are almost certainly women who like the idea of being appreciated.

Of course, being leered at from a car window isn’t very pleasant but if you’re walking along the street and somebody obviously turns their head as they go past you to get a better look at you because they liked what they saw out of the corner of their eye… that would make me feel brilliant!

Rude is the right word; wrong is not. You covered what is acceptable and what is not quite well, but you completely missed out the middle part: showing a woman you find her attractive but not putting her in an uncomfortable position: looking at her as you walk past with a nice smile should, theoretically, make her feel good, and I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

Talking about her, looking her up and down as if you own her: yes, rude, nasty, likely to make someone uncomfortable. Appreciating her in a respectful way /but still letting her know/ – not a bad thing to some women.

Cutting to the chase: you can’t put a blanket “this is wrong, this is right” on something when right and wrong differs from woman to woman. It’s this kind of feminism that annoys me: it encourages the idea that feminism is about hating men and it isn’t.

Andie Berryman // Posted 7 May 2008 at 9:19 pm

Ah yes!nothing greater than being surveyed up and down like a piece of meat.Of course with having blonde hair and being a barmaid i get this crap all year round.The brainless creatures who do this think they`re paying you a compliment and you should be damn well appreciate it!!

I know that in an ideal world we shouldn`t have put up with this cave-man behaviour and you shouldn`t retaliate because its just not `lady like`but here are three top tips when being leered at :-

-stare back

-ask them what they are looking at

-walk past them quite closely and just stare right through them.

I know this is verging on the femi-nazi and you have to build up a bit of courage to do it,but if enough women stand up to this visual aggression,who knows the message might get through!

Kimberley // Posted 7 May 2008 at 10:32 pm

I’m glad you brought up the rude staring. I spent a bit of time bitching on my blog about a spate of street harassment last month, but didn’t bring up staring as an example, maybe I should’ve.

One thing though, I really don’t think this summer harassment is down to women wearing less, there’s just more people on the street which automatically means more assholes.

Anne Onne // Posted 7 May 2008 at 10:33 pm

Katie, but how does a man know a woman wants to be stared at? Why should consent be considered the default?

And if a woman wants compliments, she can ask for someone’s opinion, or come up to talk to them.

There is a place and a time for compliments, and that is during a conversation, where the other party is interested and receptive. If I’m in conversation with a guy, enjoying talking to him (and making it known), and he compliments me, it’s not a bad thing. But if I’m minding my own business, and some dolt I haven’t paid the slightest bit of attention to barks some half-brained ‘compliment’, it’s an insult.

Besides, have we any idea why a woman might find it a compliment? Because we’re socialised to seek male approval, and validation of our appearance, perhaps? Perhaps because we’d be cast as having no sense of humour, or be labeled a ‘frigid bitch’ if we don’t take ‘compliments’ nicely? Women’s need to be complimented stems from the conditioning we recieve that our greatest worth is our appearance.

Besides, this article was not about subtle appreciation, but about prolonged STARING. Staring has never been considered accpetable in any context (you wouldn’t stare at other women openly, no matter how much you like their shoes! and men never stare at other men!), so why should it be if you’re a woman?

You can enjoy getting a bit of attention, if you like. You still have the right to dislike being stared at extensively, groped or followed home, and feminists, no matter how man-hating you consider us, are fighting for that right. If you like compliments from total strangers, it’s a personal choice, bit it stems from the patriarchy. Fine, nobody’s telling you to not like it. But should your like of it overrule those of us who are seriously affected by it?

In the end, the rights of those who don’t want something done, should trump those of someone who might. If a rape or stalking survivor gets stared at or leered at by a man, it could cause her serious anxiety. It could cause women who haven’t experienced that a lot of anxiety, too. But a woman who wants to be looked at? What does she lose but a compliment? She isn’t left feeling violated, or annoyed, or vulnerable.

If I think about giving a compliment, and there’s a likely chance that the person might take it the wrong way, or be really affected (much like a joke!), then I err on the side of caution. Because the risk of getting it wrong and harming someone is more serious a consideration than if someone might have liked it.

Since men have no guarantee that the women they are staring at or harassing want it, why should they assume they do?

Props to men who have this how-to-enjoy-without-making-women-unfomfortable down pat. Nobody’s saying men should ignore women if they’re that way inclined (though I wish LGBTQ people could have the right to do this, too!), but that they should be subtle about it, and be aware of the wishes of the woman they are looking at, and how she might feel threatened. But the men we’re talking about aren’t. They have zero awareness and empathy, and are threatening.

Besides, no matter what a feminist writes, they’re going to be cast as a ‘man-hater’. If asking that men don’t grope, hurl abuse at or stare at women is man-hating, I’m not sure I’d care to court whoever holds that opinion.

Rachael // Posted 7 May 2008 at 10:56 pm

Excellent points made by Andie Berryman and they are some of the things I do to tackle staring harrasment. But I only have two little niggling points about her comments “I’s not ladylike” and “feminazi” – since when is doing to others as they are doing to you aggressive or feminazi? And the concept of “ladylike” is just another tiresome sexist collective of submissive behaviours that was invented for women to adopt and adhere to. We are not “ladies” – we are women.

fenris // Posted 8 May 2008 at 12:05 am

reminds me of a time when i was out with a male friend. he was a few metres ahead of me while we were crossing a road. a guy crossing from the other side noticed me and lurched towards my direction, looking like he was about to make some comment. as i was deciding whether to ignore him or give him the finger he seemed to realise that i was with my male friend, and (apparently remembering the manly code of honour) said (to my friend), “oh, is that yours?” and then went on his way paying me no more attention. kind of neatly sums up the possesive attitude some men feel toward female bodies.

one of the things i hate most about this is the limited number of ways you can deal with this behaviour without making things worse for yourself. verbally registering your disapproval can make them aggressive. even if you act flattered this can just encourage more “attention”. keeping your head down and pretending they arent there seems to be the easiest option, although i feel degraded when i do this. sometimes i like to just stare right into their eyes, expressionless, as i or they walk/drive past, so that they know i have heard what they have said and am not embarassed or intimidated (though i may be) yet feel them unworthy of further interaction.

Katie // Posted 8 May 2008 at 12:42 am

Anne Onne; why must it be up to the woman to search for compliments? Why can she not go out, be seen by people, and feel appreciated?

Would you stop someone on the street, who you didn’t know, and ask for a compliment?

Of course, you can’t know if a woman would feel awkward or not initially, but what’s wrong with looking at her in a /respectful/ way, and only continuing if she doesn’t look uncomfortable about it?

In this post, looking at someone covertly so they don’t know about it is covered, and so is the opposite end of the spectrum.

What’s wrong with looking at someone and showing them your appreciation without making them feel used and dirty in the way described? I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, but the line “I think staring is wrong” suggests otherwise.

Take this for example: you’re walking down the street, and another person walking in the opposite direction notices you. They find you attractive, and they turn as you go past them and smile at you (nicely; a smile, not a smirk). They may continue to look, stare if you will, but they don’t look at you aggressively or as if they own you. They’re just appreciating you.

The idea that something (in my opinion) nice like that could happen is completely missed out. Yes, staring aggressively is rude and horrible – but this is a whole new dimension that may make a woman feel appreciated and good about herself. Yet, Samara condemns it because it involves staring (which is defined by Merriam-Webster (sorry, I don’t have an Oxford to hand) as 1: to look fixedly often with wide-open eyes and 2: to show oneself conspicuously).

My point is that staring needn’t be aggressive, but this misses that idea out completely.

Leigh // Posted 8 May 2008 at 9:12 am

I am heterosexual male and, being single and having quite strong sex drive, often find myself tempted to look at women’s cleavage or skin now that it is visible. But I don’t. I look away. It take effort and self awareness and sometimes this make me frown (I am a Leigh of very little brain), but I manage it. Sometimes I feel bad about the frowning but I know I’ve just got to go through it and do my best. This is because I have read ‘Birth of the Clinic’ by Foucault. This was much more difficult and made me frown a lot more, but I managed it. What I learned from doing so was that people who look cast power over the looked at and that if I wanted to defend and enable women’s rights I had to train myself to keep my gaze from dis-empowering them by redefining them, accidentally or not, as sexual objects without their prior and explicit consent.

Men: It IS possible for you not to look, it is even an obligation to catch yourself when looking. When a woman is a low-cut top leans over your desk to sign something look at your computer monitor. Straighten your keyboard, rearrange your pens, staple your copy of whatever it is they are signing. You don’t have to look because they don’t have to cover up.

Josie // Posted 8 May 2008 at 9:26 am

Well said Samara! It’s only been a few days of sunshine and I’m sick of it too! I was in a shop yesterday walking towards the door when a man walked past me, looked openly at my chest then said “Alright?”to me in what I would describe as a sleazy tone. This may not sound like very much to some people but I found it incredibly intimidating. I am utterly sick and tired of being treated as if I exist solely for creeps to comment on. And very well said too about the complete absence of harassment when in male company. These men know EXACTLY what they are doing and what’s more, they enjoy knowing that it makes us uncomfortable. For what it’s worth, in this case I responded by turning around and staring him in the face for a few seconds with a disgusted look on my face – not much, but it was all I could think of to let him know that I heard what he said and found it LESS than appropriate!

shatterboxx // Posted 8 May 2008 at 9:53 am

Ah yes. The ugly sweaty gits who think it’s OK to stare at you just because you’re a woman. And it IS just because you’re a woman, to get that clear. I’m not exactly Keira Knightly and I haven’t worn a skirt or a small top since I was 10 (not for any reason, it’s just not my style). I call it the White Van Syndrome (it’s always the white vans, isn’t it). And it IS cowardly behaviour because it’s not as if there’s any response to it. I sometimes give them the finger or roll my eyes but more often than not, they’re gone before I can do anything.

And Katie I think Samara covered what you’re saying in the post by stating it is ‘staring aggressively’ that she has a problem with. To be honest, I think you’re on the same side…

Sabre // Posted 8 May 2008 at 9:54 am

Interesting points about men not staring when you’re out with another man. I’m asian and my boyfriend is white, and we’ve both noticed on endless occasions that while the rule generally seems to hold true, asian men will still stare at my body if I’m out with my boyfriend. It’s weird and I still don’t really know why they do that. I think it’s because they think that as an asian woman I ‘belong’ to them more than to a white man. It infuriates both of us. My boyfriend and I agree that it’s ok to look at the other sex, but subtly. Obvious leering makes other people uncomfortable.

Does anyone else experience this strange racial-based leering from men? My sister gets it too, as does a Chinese friend of mine (from oriental men). We get it whether alone or with boyfriends, but not when we’re with men of the same racial background!

Vinaigrette girl // Posted 8 May 2008 at 10:23 am

When men stare at me, I look right back at them, right in the eye, and imply – non-verbally – that their staring is mystifyingly weird, and are they slightly, erm, unwell? In my mind, I am looking at a shaggy, inarticulate, creature obout 0.75 metres tall, and saying to it: “Did you utter?”

Some people categorise this as laughing at the devil, because it’s the one thing he can’t stand; others would say it’s simply stunning them into silence by wrong-footing them, reacting in a way they don’t expect and can’t handle. But it definitely works, and it keeps me from getting all het up when I need my energy for other battles.

mia // Posted 8 May 2008 at 10:57 am

I am a South African and I have noticed to aggressive staring too. It used to intimidate me, but recently I have been trying something new. I look them in the eye, and I hold the eye contact. I dont do it in an aggressive way, I keep my face totally relaxed and neutral. No grimacing, no smiling. I look very calmly, until they look away. They always do. Its amazing, its as if, once they know you have ‘seen them’, and you know what they look like, they lose their power. Its like they’ve been caught out.

Sarah // Posted 8 May 2008 at 11:24 am

Katie, I think there’s a difference between looking and staring. There’s nothing wrong with noticing someone (of any gender) and thinking they look nice, nothing wrong with saying hello or smiling etc. But persistently staring or leering at someone is likely to make them feel uncomfortable, and so it is not polite to do it.

Also there is the context – many women will have been subjected to harrassment or worse in the street many times before and will be understandably wary of any behaviour like this. I think that’s something men would do well to understand – that their action, however well-meant, does not happen in isolation but in the context of a culture that objectifies women, and in the context of the bad experiences that particular woman might well have had.

Anne Onne // Posted 8 May 2008 at 12:34 pm

Katie, sure, you don’t go out and ask for compliments, but then what makes you think you are owed them? Nobody’s owed anything from some random stranger they don’t know (or from people they do, as a matter of fact), and that’s what’s causing this mess in the first place. Some men think women they don’t know owe them receptivity to whatever they say or do. Some women are taught that they are owed compliments by everyone in order to feel they are worth anything. Why can we not define ourselves by something other than what men think of us?

If you are engaging the men, smiling, and clearly feeling at ease and reciprocating with them at any level, it’s your business, and nobody’s calling it harassment. Men are smart enough to tell when a woman is smiling back and flirting, and when she is ignoring them, or afraid and runing away, or angry. And if they wanted to compliment a woman, and she didn’t take it, they’d be a real man, apologise and move on. Funnily enough, they tend to call you a ‘frigid bitch’, or tell you you’re ugly and that they’d never shag you if you don’t bend over for them there and then. For many men, it’s not about complimenting women, because they don’t care how the woman will take it.

Samara isn’t arguing against mutual flirting or making eye contact with someone that you like. That’s clearly acceptable, but it’s not what this discussion was even about.

The point here is that many women aren’t engaging, don’t want to be stated at, didn’t make any eye contact with the men, or want any attention, and their wishes don’t matter to the men, who stare because they can.

And why should a man assume that the attention is wanted, and be blatant, until the woman looks freaked out (which they don’t actually look away at, they just jeer even more if you’re uncomfortable!), when he can be a decent human being, and assume that he does not own other people walking down the street? That he doesn’t HAVE to shout lewd remarks, grope women or stare very pointedly at someone because he likes the look of them? That if he does like someone, he can go about it subtly?

We’re mostly on the same side, here. Samara isn’t arguing that subtle looks are wrong, and that noboy should ever make eye contact, but that most men don’t care. If a man was respectful, and smiled and looked away if a woman wasn’t reciprocating, there wouldn’t be a problem. We’re talking about the majority of street harassers, who clearly want the women to know they’re sizing them up, and what they think of them, without any regards for the women, what they think, and if they want attention. And trying to make out that this is about men who are ever so polite and respectful and when the women are flirting back is being disingenuous.

Lisa // Posted 8 May 2008 at 1:43 pm

The comments in the UK do reveal a sleazy, vulgar culture of sex which is not universal (other males only stare but really really stare, others look in an appreciative way but turn away etc). In France the men look briefly and only occasionally comment. When they do, they smile and say ‘You have a beautiful smile’ or ‘It’s a real pleasure to see you’ and the whole incident is very light-hearted and friendly.

In general though their attitude to sex is very different so this is probably why they behave in a different way. I’m not saying it’s better in all ways – in the end it’s probably just as bad but different. In Paris particularly, they like to think of themselves as charming, well-brought-up and sophisticated which has it’s advantages. On the down-side women are expected to be elegant, beautiful and sophisticated too. They still have the old Whore/Good Girl divide though, as there is a male subculture of widely-available pornography (more hardcore and more available than in the UK) and of course prostitution is more openly tolerated with police ignoring street soliciting even though it’s supposed to be illegal and the very French Sex Club for orgies (with a mix of professional and amateur women).

On this particular point though it’s a pleasure to be a female in Paris as opposed to London.

Juliet // Posted 8 May 2008 at 2:18 pm

I was interested to read Lauren O’s post. Last night, waiting for The Apprentice (!), I watched an episode of “Glamour Girls”: one girl who didn’t want to do topless work commented on how not wanting to do that in the US, where she had gone to look for work, was quite okay, in fact posing topless was looked on as porn there, but that in the UK topless pics were heavily in demand. Maybe this could be another reason why many UK men seem to regard women as public property – it’s a logical (to them at least) step from seeing endless topless models on magazine covers in newsagents to catcalling and staring aggressively at women in the street…?!

sian // Posted 8 May 2008 at 2:28 pm

I’ve really noticed the not staring when with a man phenonema. i don’t live in the best area, and used to get hassle all the time, not helped by the fact that i would often walk home late on my own (no excuse for leers but it is worse at night) then – walking a bit ahead of my boyfriend, these two guys leaned over to me and started shouting – within 2 seconds my boyfriend’s arm was round my waist and they apologised…to him. it really annoys me that in order to feel safe from harrassment, i have to be with a man. even male friends – if im out and some guy harasses me, my male friends will stand next to me or between me and the hassle, which is sweet of them, but what about my right to not get crap from men who think it is their right to hassle me?

Catherine Redfern // Posted 8 May 2008 at 4:06 pm

I was sitting on the tube a few weeks ago when a group of about five young men got on. One sat next to me and one of his mates sat opposite me. After a while I noticed that the one sat next to me had his head turned directly facing my head and was staring right at me, from a few centimetres away. I looked forward at his reflection in the opposite window and could see him doing it. His friend was sniggering. I stared forward at his reflection watching him trying to intimidate me by staring. After a while when the tube train pulled into a stop I turned and stared pointedly back at him for a few seconds (at that point he’d looked away) and then got off. I should have said something but was tired and couldn’t be bothered.

A few other things that have happened in the last couple of months:

– A smartly dressed drunken man started to harass me when I was walking home alone in the dark, slurringly asking me if my boyfriend was going to make love to me that night.

– I was walking along a busy street in Whitechapel. A man walking towards me had his coat over his shoulder and his hand on his coat. When we got close he suddenly whipped his coat down and whacked it really violently on the ground right in front of my feet, then walked off!!

That has to have been the weirdest one yet!

I agree with others who said that clothing does not affect it, I have been harassed in summer when I’ve been covered up. I think it is the sunny weather which makes some men feel in a more harassing mood.

I strongly recommend “Back Off!!” by Martha J Langelan for advice on how to counter harassment including street harassment. I think it’s in the F word shop under Activism.

Riddhi Mittal // Posted 24 May 2008 at 6:21 pm


I’m an Indian girl at Stanford University doing some research on Sexual Harassment. Its just funny, I never knew it is such a global phenomenon!

I can definitely agree to all what is being said, since it is worser still in India. Sick uneducated men in buses or the streets will stare and laugh at you, touch you or brush against you intentionally. As for the educated ones, they are as useless. From my initial research, more than half of them told me blatantly in my face that it did not happen at all. Some others told me that it is okay because it is not my right to not be offended !! Yet others told me that if women do not want to get harassed or stared at, they should not show their cleavages and legs and dress decently !

So I guess I am looking for better answers to give them, and would highly appreciate any answers from you all :)

What do I say when they tell me it is not my right to not be offended?

But more importantly, despite my telling them that studies have shown that dress sense does not affect sexual harassment, that it is as likely for a woman even if she were dressed “modestly”, even I (at least for now) think it is true to some extent that she will be more likely to be stared at if she is dressed skimpily. But how do I assert that it is MY body and MY will to dress the way I want to, and I should have the freedom to do that ? There definitely is a point when your freedom can become “harassment” for someone else’s eyes, but where do you draw that line? ( It’s the same as freedom of speech, where deviant opinion should be tolerated but hate speech should not, but how to you define what is hate speech and what is not? – only this issue has a separate layer of gender bias, and ages of a patriarchal society framework skewing the way one judges how a woman should be dressed ! )

So yea, I guess what I am asking is, how do I tell them that they are still wrong for staring at a woman’s chest, when it is the woman who is wearing a low cut top? they tell me the woman is being intrusive to their eyes because if it is her freedom to dress her way, it is their freedom to look where they will, and that if she does not want staring, she should not show herself !!!

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