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It’s not OK to stare

Posted on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 in Kat, Men, Relationships, Self image, Women

It was hard not to notice the new barista. He had shocking blue hair, a few piercings dotting his face — nose, eyebrows, chin — colorful tattoo sleeves, and gigantic Maori-like bone earrings dangling from his overly stretched earlobes.

Now, I’m old enough and live close enough to San Francisco where few things shock me, but I couldn’t help but overhear the yummy mummy in line behind me whispering to her young son something about “not staring.”

It reminded me of that time in my life when my “wheels” were on a wheelchair; kids and adults stared, smiled and generally fussed over me because … well, I’m not sure why, exactly. Because I was “different”?

Yummy mummy is right of course — it isn’t polite to stare. But give that boy about 10 more years and he’ll most likely be staring at the developing breasts of his female schoolmates and no one will be telling him to stop, including Mom (and probably not Dad, who might be staring, too).    

And it’s a behavior that’s likely to last him throughout his adulthood (although no doubt some woman — like a girlfriend or wife  — will eventually, perhaps repeatedly, tell him to stop ogling).

So, let’s get this straight: It’s not OK to stare at the “different” among us — the disfigured, the disabled, the obese (although, they’re more the norm than the oddity nowadays) or the intentionally freakish like Mr. Barista — but it’s OK to stare at women.

How come?

I think I remember some Brit study that said guys spend about 43 minutes ogling women — make that about 10 women —  a day (a number that  obviously does not include porn watching and fantasies), totaling 11 days a year.
This is either an incredible waste of time or not nearly enough, depending on your viewpoint.

But, you have to wonder – are women somehow “different” just because we have breasts (uh, well, some of us!) and curves? (OK, this might be a big “doh.”) Or is it because, well, what do we expect if we wear a tight shirt, a short skirt and some f-me stiletto black boots?

Not to say that I’m not flattered if a man comments on how I look or, yes, gazes at me approvingly. I think most of us are OK with that (including men who appreciate a woman’s glowing glance). And, yes — if the man doing the looking happens to be attractive I’m much more open to it than if he’s not. I know that’s not fair, but I think we all want to be noticed by the people we want to notice us, not every Tom, Dick and Harry.

But, there are times when I really didn’t want to be looked at “that way.” Sometimes staring crosses a line. I’m pretty sure almost every woman has felt the kind of stares that come dangerously close to making us feel threatened, or the kind that say that we were “asking for it,” whatever that “it” is. Being looked at that way never feels good.

How many men —  disfigured, disabled, obese or intentionally freakish — can say the same?

  • Gals, do you like being stared at by men?
  • Do you dress or primp yourself in ways to get stares?
  • What about those uncomfortable stares?
  • Guys, are you blowing 43 minutes (more or less) a day checking out babes?
  • If parents admonish kids that it’s “not polite to stare,” should they also being teaching their sons not to ogle girls?

photo © Maria Iglesias –

Bring on the comments

  1. jim
    Twitter: mobilene

    Staring is creepy. Noticing is normal. I think noticing become staring after about three seconds.

    Gazing is often okay, depending on context. For example, one woman who works for me loves to dress to show her cleavage. Because of the nature of our relationship, I can’t imagine how it would ever be okay to gaze at that. I rather wish she’d put the girls away, truth be told.

  2. Interesting points, my question might include, how would women feel if they were NEVER stared at? Honestly, if she dressed up in her hottest outfit and got NO visual attention whatsoever. As if she wasn’t there. Would she not be scratching her head asking WTF?!?! You’re right there is point where a noticeable glance gets to the point of being just freakin’ creepy. Too bad most men don’t have the experience to know the difference between the two.

    As far as checking out babes, I’m not blind nor am I a light post. Sure I check out beautiful women, the noticeable glance and then move on. Because I never had any ‘game’ whatsoever, I didn’t have the ca hones to look longer for fear of being arrested for ocular loitering.

  3. Kat Wilder says:

    Jim — what if she smiles at you at second 3.01? Yes, cleavage is distracting (even for women!). I’m guessing she knows that.

    PF — Oh, my; I think we’d hate it! I’m curious if men are aware when they’re being stared/glanced at (by women and other men), and if they like it or when they’re annoyed by it. Thoughts?

  4. brian says:

    this is one reason why one of the best investments i have made is a good pair of prescription sunglasses

    you can wear them even in the fall when the sun is out

  5. T
    Twitter: tsquest

    Funny, I rarely stare (or ogle) when I’m in a committed relationship. Occasionally, someone will catch my attention just right, though, and I want to take it all in. Like savoring a perfectly scrumptious meal. Maybe that makes the object of my attention uncomfortable? I try to be as discreet as possible. 🙂

    Interesting thoughts here.

    And I liked the way you pointed out that we only want to be stared at by certain nice looking people. Isn’t that sad? I never even thought about it until you said that.

  6. Janet says:

    When it comes to being stared at, for women I think there’s often a mix of pride, pressure and prejudice. A woman might feel proud to attract attention (particularly once she’s past a certain age in our youth obsessed culture), but also feel pressured to wear a certain look/style (or not wear a certain look either, and woe betide her if she does). And she can experience prejudice when she adopts a look that is interpreted differently by her viewer than herself (your point about the boots, Kat). It’s complicated. Women may wear clothes to please themselves, but someone is always looking. At times, it’s pleasurable, at others, a real drag.

  7. BigLittleWolf
    Twitter: BigLittleWolf

    There’s the complimentary look – which may indeed be lingering – and then there is the stare. Totally different. And I think most of us know when we’re likely to be attracting one versus the other.

    I enjoy an appreciative look-see. More than that? No thanks.

    Actually – I tend to think that men love when women stare at them…

  8. Steve says:

    There’s the complimentary look – which may indeed be lingering – and then there is the stare.

    I agree with BigLittleWolf. I’ve been on both ends. Taking a discrete or complimentary look is cool. Having someone stare, look through you/at you like “you” are not there feels degrading.

  9. William Belle
    Twitter: wqbelle

    An episode of television show Seinfeld has George and Jerry visiting a TV producer to convince him to give them some work. While there, the producer’s daughter, played by Denise Richards shows up. At one point, the daughter leans over a couch fumbling around in her purse. George, of course, notices this and unable to glance away, stares at the woman’s décolleté which is prominently on display. The camera is totally focused on George staring at the daughter when the producer walks into view. He leans over to George and says, “Get a good look, Costanza?”

    The rest of the episode has Jerry dealing with George as this incident may have cost them a job. Jerry explains that looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun: “you get a sense of it then you look away”. [chuckles] Yes, you do not stare or you’ll go blind.

    You attract me. And sometimes you are just so mesmerizing; I forget to look away within the polite allotment of time. [sigh] Gawd, I am just so typical. I offer a blanket apology for my on-going thoughtlessness. 🙂