A friend once asked me “Why do you feel so uneasy when men stare at you? I thought you were a feminist. Isn’t it a compliment? I feel great when people stare at my muscles. Girls wear clothes that reveal their cleavage but get so worked-up when men stare at them. I don’t get it!”
I am sure a lot of people feel the same way; I don’t blame him because he has never been ogled at by strangers, by perverts whose violating stares, pierce through and penetrate the depths of his personal space. And it doesn’t matter if the person who is staring is male or female, you feel violated anyway. My friend also thinks that we (girls) judge people at first glance, ascribe random stereotypes and feel violated only when “certain people” stare at us. He thinks that, I am totally fine with students staring at me but feel uneasy when middle-aged, rugged, non-students, engage in ogling. I do not know how he came up with this ridiculous theory, but let me tell you dear dumb-friend-who-loves-to-assume that, staring at someone against their will is inappropriate, no matter who does it. And just because a girl’s legs are not covered does not mean you’ve got permission to ogle. Also, I am not a racist and I think green eyes, blue eyes and grey eyes are going to offend me equally. A low neckline does not mean “You’re welcome to stare at my cleavage” just the way a short skirt does not mean “You’re welcome to rape me.” Sex is an act which both participants should enjoy and when one does not and it’s forced upon them, it’s called “rape”. Similarly, both participants “The starer” and “The stared” should enjoy staring and being stared at respectively and when the person who is being stared at, is offended that’s when the act becomes inappropriate. This is the fundamental concept that people should remember!
I think, staring can be grouped into two categories. One, in which “The starer” does not offend “The stared” and one in which she/he does. Let’s take an imaginary scenario where a man stares at a woman in a public space. “The starer” may glance at “The stared” appreciatively but not continuously and once “The stared” realizes this and looks at him, he could smile and this would make her feel okay if she is confident and thinks she’s grabbing attention. But if she does not, then it’s best to stop staring. “ The second category: “The starer” constantly stares at “The stared” and makes her feel very uncomfortable, he does not look away even though she looks right into his eyes and glares, to let him know that she does not approve of it, “The starer” keeps stealing glances, even though he realizes that “The stared” does not enjoy it. This is the kind of perversion that frustrates me.
You may think that I am contradicting myself because initially I said staring at someone is not okay, but now I’m saying an appreciative gaze is okay after all. It is subjective. So my point is, staring at someone is indeed a violation of personal space but what I find offensive may not offend someone else. It depends on the person you stare at. So let’s stop making assumptions like “She should take it as a complement” or “I enjoy looking. She does not seem to have a problem because it’s not covered so I can look” because staring at someone against their will is not very different from touching them against their will. So when you say “Why is she feeling uneasy? I’m staring at her because I find her attractive, isn’t it a compliment?” it’s like saying “Why is she feeling uneasy? I’m raping her because I find her attractive, isn’t it a compliment?” Compliment can be associated with “being polite” and ogling is not a compliment because it’s done forcibly. How can something that is forced upon someone up to the point of discomfort be a compliment? You don’t need to force things on to people, even if you think it’s a compliment.
And the ‘why’ question (Why don’t you like it?) needs to be addressed from the personal-space point of view: What is personal space? Personal space is the space around a person that is considered psychologically theirs. Allowing another person into our personal space indicates our relationship with that person and encroaching one’s personal space may give them discomfort at varying proportions. Personally, when I find a person staring at me against my will I get the feeling that the person is intruding my personal space. Why is physical contact considered a bigger violation compared to staring or making obscene comments? I feel that, intruding a person’s personal space to forcibly make physical contact, is almost the same as staring at someone against their will. It’s an encroachment of their personal space, because despite how far away the person is, their stare falls within my personal space and it gives me discomfort, which could be the same as how it would make me feel if the person gropes me.