Book store now employing boob greeter

I went to a big national chain bookstore today. As I walked through the front door, I discovered there’s now an information desk (or something) up front, very near the door. It was staffed by a pleasant-looking young man wearing a name tag. As I entered, he bestowed a beaming, cheerful smile… on my boobs.

Man crossing eyes

Actual leerer not pictured.

And there his eyes lingered, and that – that – is where we have a problem, Houston. The lingering. Don’t get me wrong – I found the whole incident more amusing than irritating, but then several other men stared at my chest as I walked through the store.

My boobs are bigger than average anymore. I know people can’t help but notice them, because I notice breasts, too, and I’m not sexually attracted to women. It’s just that breasts are right out there, in a place of visual prominence. I get it. But here’s what you need to realize if you’ve never experienced having (womanly) breasts yourself:

  • I wasn’t dressing to call attention to them. It’s just that the way I’m built, even a man’s suit wouldn’t camouflage them, so I can’t be bothered to try to hide them (and why should I?). My choice not to wear a nun’s habit or get reduction surgery should not be interpreted as an invitation for you to stare at my chest.
  • If I had been dressing to call attention to them, that doesn’t mean you should engage exclusively with my chest. Make some eye contact and acknowledge the whole person that comes with the chest.
  • It’s okay to notice them; just don’t stare. And never, ever talk to me while staring fixedly at my chest – you can’t imagine how creepy that is.

I know, I know; some of you are thinking, “But but but sometimes women like to be ogled, and so do men, and that’s all natural!” First: I’m not talking about ogling, which is defined as “stealing amorous glances.” I’m talking about staring. Staring is aggressive body language. Ogling is a courtship behavior; staring is predatory. And despite everything your culture tells you about sexuality being a predator/prey thing, it is so very much not. Ogling says, “It’s hard to tear my gaze away from you, but I’ll do my best because I couldn’t stand your feeling threatened by me.” Staring says, “I can do whatever I want to you. You get no say in the matter.”

Furthermore, ogling should generally be reserved for a dating/sexual context, which is not, for example, a bookstore at midday. Personally, I’ve never found it anything but flattering to catch someone stealing glances at me – it’s nice to be found admirable by someone who respects my boundaries. But it’s profoundly creepy – even scary – to find I’ve caught the attention of someone who won’t acknowledge my boundaries.

Comments

  1. says

    “Ogling is a courtship behavior; staring is predatory.”

    Nice and concise.

    I remember sitting in the university cafeteria with some student I shared a class with. A woman sat down at the next table who was well endowed. She also wore a brown sweater that extended up to her neck – short of dressing in garbage bags, her clothing called as little attention to her breasts as possible.

    And the student turns to me and says, “Look at her tits! Man, I’d like to get my hands on them.” At least he said it very quietly, so I don’t think she heard him.

    That comment, by the way, sparked a discussion during which said student also said that he had nothing against homosexuals per se, but only how they would “flaunt” their sexuality. You know, by holding hands or kissing in public.

    • Maria says

      One of the ways you can tell that it’s agressive behavior is that when it happens to men from other men, it can cause a fight.

  2. says

    Speaking as a male who tries to be good about this, I find strangers with noticeable boobs to be terribly awkward. I suddenly realize that, crap, my eyes have lingered in one spot for a brief but perceptible period, and I feel like an ass.

    The thought of just standing there staring at someone’s boobs in the situation you described in the post is rather embarrassing to me.

  3. Scarlett says

    I’ve never have big boobs, so I can’t specifically relate, but I used to have bright red, Franka-Potente-in-Run-Lola-Run hair (obviously from a bottle) which I then dresed up with the biggest fake flowers I could find. Which I would say was a FAR more noticable feature that big boobs. And I *liked* that people would notice it. (Woudl totally go back to it from time to time if it wasn’t for the fact that it takes a good two years to grow out to a decent length.)

    Now I’ve got this image in my head of men just staring at my hair like they stare at boobs – not saying anything to me, just staring – and it makes me realise just how offensive it is. Stopping to admire for a few seconds a physical trait that you find attractive – weather that be big boobs or loud hair – yeah, I get that. Staring with no intention of interacting with the person? Nope.

  4. says

    I too am a bit… endowed. And it IS problematic at home, but even more so abroad (I’m currently living in India for the year). Trust me, the oogling at home has NOTHING on the oggling here!

    I think this is a highly sensitive subject, for starters. I also think that while, as women, we have EVERY RIGHT to feel marginalized and invaded when men stare at our boobs, I think we also need to realize that 9 out of 10 times, they just can’t help it. A cop-out? Maybe. But it personally makes life a little easier for me if I recognize (or tell myself?) that its a habit, albeit a nasty one, that is difficult to break. I suspect/attempt to rationalize that some place along the line–I’m guessing during the pre-pubescent/adolescent years, guys start to notice female body parts, become curious (on many levels) about female body parts, and maybe never loose that curiosity. And I think, on some level, it becomes socially acceptable as long as a man isn’t… lingering.

    Next time, do what I do/have done in the past. Ask the dude if he’d like to meet them and shake their hands. See how quickly he/they stop staring then.

  5. says

    This really sums up the difference quite nicely! Now I don’t feel crazy for sometimes being flattered by shy, stolen glances but also TOTALLY ENRAGED by outright staring. I don’t think I really sat down and talked out the difference between them before.

  6. I. Scott says

    I experienced this behaviour to an almost life-threatening level on Monday – I began crossing a quiet road, and a car appeared. I continued crossing, assuming it would slow down, but instead, as it approached, I noticed that the driver had his head pointed at right angles to the road, staring at a pair of women on the other side, and was accelerating. Luckily I escaped unharmed, but it was rather terrifying.

  7. says

    David, if you have feelings of awkwardness, that means you don’t simply feel entitled to stare all you like, as if I’m a billboard rather than a person. That’s the essential thing. However you conduct yourself will then flow from the right attitude instead of the wrong one, and most people will pick up on that.

    Tina, this might just be semantics, but I think men totally CAN help “staring.” Glancing can’t be helped. Very obviously struggling not to stare sometimes can’t be helped. But getting an eyeful as if you’re a magazine spread rather than a person? They can help that.

    I. Scott, that is so terrifying and so ludicrous. That’s the kind of thing I hope the alien archeologists somehow figure out when they dig up the remnants of our self-destroyed society a few hundred years from now.

  8. says

    Ogling says, “It’s hard to tear my gaze away from you, but I’ll do my best because I couldn’t stand your feeling threatened by me.” Staring says, “I can do whatever I want to you. You get no say in the matter.”

    Well put.

  9. sbg says

    I agree with Jenn. Staring can be helped, and saying that men just can’t help it smacks a bit too much of the classic, shoulder-shrugging “guys will be guys” shtick we’re all supposed to be okay with to me.

    “Well, what do you expect? She’s standing right there across the room and not doing anything at all to attract attention. Of COURSE I’m going to stare because: boobs!”

    Uh, no.

  10. Patrick says

    Agreed that there is a world of difference in the thought processes involved between glancing and staring.

  11. Kara says

    Copied from FB: 1) Ogling is defined as “staring lecherously” in my dictionary. Now that that’s out of the way…2)(heterosexual) women don’t necessarily go around staring at men’s crotches. In U.S. society, breasts are both taboo (i.e. breastfeeding) and simultaneously hypersexual (liquor ads). Are we … See Moresupposed to look at them or not? Are we allowed to use them to nourish children or can they only be visible when eliciting (heterosexual) male pleasure? Ultimately, the female body is subjected to the gaze in public and the inherent biological differences that men (who don’t want a trans operation) won’t ever have. Which is why I make sure my cleavage is covered when I teach hormonal 18-year old freshmen.

  12. Kara says

    Jennifer,
    The hard copy of the American Oxford says otherwise.

    Similarly, I’m sorry that the only point you got from the above statement was what I said about my 18-year old freshmen. If you read beforehand, you’d noticed that I said that the female body is subjected to the gaze in public, covered or not. That’s my point. Additionally, Maria and I are friends, my response was to her, she asked me to post. She knows I wouldn’t condescend her.

  13. says

    Ah, awesome. You know you’re on the internet when people are quoting dictionary definitions at each other. :)

    Just to complete things: wiktionary … “To stare at people or things, especially impertinently, flirtatiously, amorously or covetously.”

    Free online dictionary… “To stare in an impertinent, flirtatious, or amorous manner.”

    I think Jennifer pretty much defined what she considered ogling to mean in this post. She needed a different verb than “staring”, and it worked perfectly fine to get the point across: there’s a difference between flirtatious, welcome behaviour and rude, objectifying behaviour.

    if the female body is subjected to the gaze in public, covered or not, why do you make a point of covering up among Freshman? Does it make a difference?

    I must say that I don’t think we have it that bad in Germany as you portray. Breastfeeding is not a problem here; just do it. And I know women who stare at crotches if there’s something to see… and some men, too. ;)

  14. says

    Kara, you started a semantic argument about the word I chose, and gave no indication you were addressing Maria. I asked what your point was because it wasn’t at all clear to me. For example, this sentence from your original comment:

    “Are we … See Moresupposed to look at them or not? ”

    I don’t understand that sentence at all? I suspect it’s just an editing typo, similar to the ones I make probably ten times a day, but I really just wasn’t sure what was meant.

    As for the point that women are subjected to the male gaze under whatever circumstances, yeah, I agree. But I wasn’t sure how you were applying it to my experience, and since your comment didn’t use Maria’s name or a quote from one of her comments, I had to assume it was meant as a response to my article.

    I think we deserve not to be *stared* at even if we leave the cleavage hanging right out, and I think maybe if women breast-fed in public more, it might put breasts back into their proper context as *secondary* sex bits with a primary function related to feeding infants. If that puts oversexed man-boys off boobies, fine by me.

    As for women not looking at men’s crotches the way they look at our breasts – I’m partial to well-shaped male butts and certainly WOULD go around staring lecherously if my society taught me to think of men as defenseless objects for my consumption rather than human beings with dignity and scary upper body strength.

  15. Kara says

    I thought Maria wrote this post. I was mistaken. I can speak with her in a way I wouldn’t speak with a stranger. I will accept that. I copied it from a comment I wrote her on FB. Yes, it’s a typo, but I’m working on my PhD in English so trust that I can articulate myself and I can debate. I prefer to do these things in person.

    As for this forum, I thought it was a venue in which women could express themselves with solidarity. I even plugged it in a recent presentation. However, rest assured that I probably won’t share my feedback with you anymore.

  16. says

    Jennifer: I think that’s the copy / paste playing havoc. It’s a break where you’re supposed to click the (“See more”).

    Are we supposed to look at them or not?

    becomes

    Are we…
    (See More)
    supposed to look at them or not?

  17. says

    Kara, this certainly is a place for people to express woman-friendly viewpoints with solidarity. But solidarity doesn’t mean we never have misunderstandings or disagreements – in fact, we do, quite a lot, because we’re a lively intelligent bunch. I thought we were simply working through a misunderstanding.

    The Other Patrick, right, but what does “See more” refer to? A link? If so, that might have provided a context that shifted my understanding of the entire comment. So I didn’t want to reply on the *assumption* I understood what Kara meant, because one can *always* misunderstand someone on the net, no matter how smart, learned or experienced one is with internet communication.

  18. says

    I understood it so that she copied that comment from facebook, which cuts off comments after a certain number of words, and she simply copied the cutoff with the rest of the message.

  19. Carol says

    As another well endowed woman, yet a woman of a certain age, I am always amused (and annoyed sometimes) by the look of shock on a man’s face when he gets around to looking at my face. And then, of course, I am immediately written off as anyone of value.
    However at my son’s middle school there is one boy I am absolutely certain never made it to my face.

  20. Lxx says

    I know this post is a little old so Idk if my comment will be see, but anyway I know why you mean I’m 18 I have had boobs since I was like 11 or less, when I was at elementary school I was bullied because of them know people stare at them even though I wear hoodies all the time, and one time I caught

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