Thursday, 8 November 2007

It's rude to stare

It's pretty well accepted that however a woman dresses and wherever she walks, sexual assault is wrong. Most people would 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 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, there's nothing she can do because you haven't technically done anything wrong.

When I was a little girl and my mother caught me staring at someone, because they were fat or thin or ugly or beautiful or disabled or disfigured, she told me it was rude to stare. When I was old enough to know better, she scolded me for it. Everybody knows it's rude to stare. It's not just quaint British etiquette, it's a deep-rooted anthropological 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 men doing this too. No man is incapable of manners, however rabidly heterosexual he is.

"But they're neanderthals!" I hear you cry. "They surely are incapable of not expressing their desire to stick their dick in every piece of skirt 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 looked 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.

I don't think it's even to do with physical dominance, from what I've observed. Last summer I had the experience of walking down the street to meet a male friend and receiving six cases of unwanted harrassment within ten minutes (oh yes, I counted). But when we met up and went for a long walk together, nobody even looked at me the whole time. Now, my best friend has lots of wonderful qualities, but brawn most definitely is not one of them. I on the other hand have biceps that could give an East-European weightlifter a run for their money. There's no way any of the men who chose not to harass me when I was with him made that decision because they thought he might defend his lady's honour by beating them to a bloody pulp. They left me alone because they thought that we were a couple, that I was his property, and that you don't steal another man's girl. 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". The next time one of them blatantly eyes me up, I'm just going to say, "Didn't your mother ever teach you it's rude to stare?" I suggest you do the same.