Home > Uncategorized > the odd, unvarnished predatory gaze

the odd, unvarnished predatory gaze

There’s meme going around, asking women to post #MeToo if they’re ever been sexually harassed or assaulted. While it should never be the expectation that women should speak up (because the culture surrounding victims is not a safe one, for too many reasons to list here), this is an attempt to show how pervasive the problem.

 

But the truth is simple: there isn’t a woman who haven’t been touched by this. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what you are wearing, or even if you’re married. This does not come as a surprise to any woman, because this is the life we live. Day in and day out.

 

A few weeks ago, I stopped at the liquor store, dressed in lazy girl chic: yoga pants, sneakers, barely any makeup, and a comfy tank top. I had a light jacket on too. I was certainly not dressed to impress. In fact, I deliberately dressed to be inconspicuous. On the way back to my car, a random guy Hannibal Lector stared at me as he slowly drove by.

 

It is a particular menace that doesn’t lend itself easily to words. It is unsettling a best, a prick of alarm that roils in your stomach. Not an overt threat, but something still obvious, a sly bit of leering that strips you of your humanity. And there’s nothing you can do except stand there and wait for it to pass, what for threat to drive on by.

 

There’s always a moment, a choice, where you can call that person out. Say, what the hell? Challenge them. You can possibly back that person off, but you can also possibly make it worse. See, men fear women will laugh at them. Women fear men will kill them. And it’s true. So, you have a split second to read the situation, assess the other person, decide what to do. Or not do.

 

And given that, most women just ignore it. Because it’s safer, easier. Because we’re constantly told not to cause a fuss, to be quiet. Don’t poke the bear. We’re constantly interrogated about what we did to contribute to someone else’s actions, as if men aren’t to blame for their own choices. As if “moved on her like a bitch” isn’t suddenly a bit of vernacular.

 

It’s not locker room talk. It’s not boys being boys. It’s inexcusable.

 

And it does matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It doesn’t matter if you’re someone’s sister, daughter, or spouse. (Because women are people, not possessions. And I don’t matter because of your relationship to me. I matter, because I’m a person.)

 

  • At a garage sale when I was in my early twenties, a man asked if my friend and I were for sale.
  • Arriving at a meeting with a colleague, another exclaimed, “Gee, I didn’t know I was supposed to bring a date.”
  • At a job, someone said that women should be seen and not heard.
  • Strangers private message me on FB, often inappropriately.
  • Last week at a gas station, a man stared at me so hard that I think he forgot to blink or breathe.
  • I’ve been inappropriately touched or kissed more times than I can count.
  • A boy in college, pissed I wouldn’t date him, told me off by inventing a fake girlfriend. As if his lack of available was supposed to erase his dudebro idiocy.
  • “Who’s the pretty girl? Wow, she’s really pretty” was an OK thing a dude bellowed about—not to—me once.
  • Because there’s always That Guy you avoid like the plague at work, an event, or a party.
  • Because a professor once implied that, because of how I was dressed (a skirt and boots), that I was a stripper. (I know strippers. They’re great people. Keep your bullshit.)
  • Because “you know you want it” and “what’s your favorite sexual position?” felt like good conversation starters to more than one man.
  • Because I had to stop getting coffee in the morning, at a convenience store, because there were always creepers, who were always starring. It was easier not to deal with it. Yes, I chose to not get coffee. Me. The coffee fiend.
  • Because I always know the way out of a room, if I need to leave quickly.

 

The list is endless. That’s a smattering. The truth is that I know more women who have been raped or sexually assaulted than not. If you think that a woman has somehow blazed through this impossible-to-avoid gauntlet unscathed, you’re wrong. If she hasn’t told you, she doesn’t trust you. Or she feels shame, because we’re often handed responsibility for other people’s actions. As girls, we are told not to wear tank tops to school, that yoga pants are a distraction.

 

Boys aren’t told to behave themselves. Girls are told to alter their appearance, because boys. And it’s wrong. Even now, if I wear yoga pants and some random man creeps on me, it has nothing to do with what I’m wearing. It has everything to do with his sense of entitlement, the odd, unvarnished predatory gaze has nothing to do with me. It’s his failing.

 

And here’s the thing: women can speak up. And they are, as they are able, if they can dig themselves out of that whole of embarrassment and shame-grief. Because you never know how a man might retaliate. You never know what the consequence will be—just that it will be something. So, when speaking up, a woman takes an unquantifiable risk, usually either because she’s fed up or trying to protect future possible victims.

 

When women speak, listen. But more than that, gentlemen, use your voices. Not to say #MeToo or give some vague show of Facebook solidarity. As a friend recently observed to me, that’s the online version of “thoughts and prayers.” What you can do is confront your creeper friend who stares inappropriately. Call out the dude at work for saying unacceptable things. Don’t let something slide by “as a joke,” because even if we are laughing, we really aren’t.

 

In fact, there’s a whole list of things you can do, right here. Still with me? Good. Now, go do something constructive.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 18, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Thank you for this. I’ve also felt the hashtag is insufficient and felt compelled to write about it but it all feels so overwhelming. Where to start, when you feel like you first have to justify that YES THIS HAPPENS DUH? Thanks for this. And I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with all of those things.

    • October 18, 2017 at 11:08 am

      I struggled with this post for a day or so. It took me a while to figure out what to say, then I worried about how much to say. I’m sorry that you have had to deal with things like this too, because UGH. ❤

  1. October 20, 2017 at 10:01 am

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