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.
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.