Thursday, September 24, 2009

A.R.P. POST # 300: what can a woman say to a man when she notices him visually violating her??

[image is from Holla Back NYC's website found here]

This is what they say about themselves and what they do:
Holla Back NYC empowers New Yorkers to Holla Back at street harassers. Whether you're commuting, lunching, partying, dancing, walking, chilling, drinking, or sunning, you have the right to feel safe, confident, and sexy, without being the object of some turd's fantasy. So stop walkin' on and Holla Back: Send us pics of street harassers!
* * *

I got the following question posted as a comment to another thread which can be found here. This is the question:

what can a woman say to a man when she notices him visually violating her??


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This is my answer, slightly modified from the one I posted over at that original post, but I strongly encourage women reading this to respond.

I've looked up some stuff, and found this self-serving male supremacist anecdote; for me, this is a really good example of what NOT to do. To see that, go to the website What the men say there makes me want to puke.

Now, on with my answer which I pray is more appropriate than theirs:

Blogger Julian Real said...

THAT is a GREAT question.

First, I'm sorry you are having to contend with that level of violation from men, and I'm not at all surprised that any woman has to, given the gross ways men treat women all the damn time while thinking they aren't doing anything harmful or wrong, oh, and also while getting SUPPORT and ENCOURAGEMENT from other men to do so!

Second, please visit this website for more support (also linked to below the image): My strongest suggestion would be to contact them and ask for support and advice.

It's such an important question that I'm going to make it into a separate post, but will also offer some answers below.

I'm going with a scenario where you don't know the man at all. I support you handling any situation like this with a clear assessment of you own sense of relative safety. So, for example, if a man is objectifying you and you wish to confront him, do you have a route out/away? Is he blocking your route of escape? He may get hostile. Challenging men's fucked up entitlements often angers men. I would hope he'd just be embarrassed and feel appropriately ashamed. And my support to anyone who challenges men around our violating practices toward women.

Again, I'd visit any of the holla back city websites and seek counsel there.

As you may know all too well, men's practices of ("only") visually violating women fall along quite a spectrum, from being whistled at on a street, to be gawked at, to being stared at and propositioned, to being followed, to being "up-skirted" by a man with a small digital camera or cell phone camera, to being photographed in other ways, without the woman knowing it, to being in a hotel room and being spied on and/or videotaped.

So one question is: "What's the context? Where is this happening?" Because depending on where you are, there might be various resources available to you beyond personally confronting him. (And when I say "confront" I include "simply speaking to him and asking him to stop".

I am also wondering if we're talking about an asshole in a bar kind of situation--where he's likely to have male support for being a prick, a workplace situation (which has its own protocol on what to do), a school context (which also hopefully has its own protocol), or a public space like on a street or in a park or public beach.

I've seen men on beaches with giant telephoto lenses on their cameras, pointed at women lying down resting quite a distance away. I want to kick the camera out of their hands and break it. And if their hand gets broken too, oops!

I stopped going to the beach because I didn't want to deal with the objectification issues, and the likely lawsuits that could follow me doing just that.

Regardless of what you say, if the man is a major jerk, you're likely to get responses like "It's a free world. If you don't want to be looked at, why are you here?" To which I'd say, "It's not a free world for women who wish to be in it without being visually violated by men like you."

I have just come up with a list of possible things to say to a man, and would really like to hear back from you about which feel most doable, which seem like they might work, or, if you try some of them (or anything else) out, to let me know what happened.

I'm concerned about your safety and well-being. Obviously in the situation you're describing, your safety and well-being are already being compromised. But it's not clear how compromised or empowered you are in the abstract.

For example, when I've been objectified by men I feel like my sense of wholeness is being assaulted, and that I am being turned into a thing, which can be scary or creepy or terrifying, depending on what's going on, and how I'm feeling that day. It can be a very triggering experience for me as a sexual assault survivor. (I'm reflecting now on whether I have ever called a man out who was objectifying me... No, but, I have told strangers who ask to touch me not to do so.)

Some people I've spoken with advise against letting a man know you are frightened or uneasy. Some rapist men sadistically "enjoy" knowing they are making a woman uncomfortable or afraid. Obviously this "masking of emotion" is easier said than done. I'm not terribly adept at having a stern or solid demeanor in the face of being visually violated.

And no matter what response you get, know that HIS BEHAVIOR is the issue AND the problem, not you confronting or challenging him to stop it.

So, here's a short list, and I welcome women especially who are reading this to offer their suggestions, or to share stories of successfully getting men to stop violating a woman visually.

"I need to let you know I am not at all comfortable with you staring at me. Please stop it."


"Are you aware you are staring at me? Please stop doing so."

"Excuse me. I didn't come to this place to be visually inspected."

"Sorry to interrupt your objectification session, using my body, but STOP LOOKING AT ME!"

Some non-verbal options:

Just hold up your middle finger.

Turn around, and look back at him in disgust.

Take out your cell phone and, whether or not it has a camera, pretend to, or do, take his photograph, again and again if need be. Send the pic to the appropriate holla back website.

If you're with a female friend, ask her to stare at him angrily with you. Stare him down, with arms crossed in front of you.

Yell at him so everyone around can hear: STOP STARING AT ME, YOU CREEP! (I'd only do this if I were with a friend or three.)

Tell him loudly or sternly, "Keep your fucking eyes to yourself!"



Anonymous said...


As a woman, I'd have to say it's pretty scary to even THINK of saying anything to these animals when they leer at you and eye fuck you. I've had it happen to me, and i never ever know what to say, how to react etc.

I once had a man follow me (was 17 at the time) in his car talking about how he'd LOVE to taste me, screaming on a busy street about how he was hungry and on his way to KFC but didn't need to now "with all them thighs you got damn baby shit." I was walking home with a friend from church... prior to this experience I had prided myself with having a comeback for all types of bullshit, this experience alone taught me my worth, in patriarchy, and showed me how vulnerable I was as a woc in the city. We were raised in predominantly white communities prior to this experience and mom had gotten fed up with the racism so wanted to move closer to our church and "our people."

Anonymous said...

I think that it’s unfortunate but true that woc, especially those of us who live in urban communities, will face this type of harassment and eye fucking as if it is normal. All women are for men (this is THEIR way of thinking) and black women “belong to” black men (also their way of thinking). Since patriarchy teaches and encourages men to think they own us, and it’s “normal” to “compliment” women in this way, nothing we can say or do will stop them. One asshole was staring at my baby sisters ass (the child was fuckin 13!!!!) and I confronted him saying she’s BARELY out of middle school, wanna try not looking at her like lunch meat? The fucker responds saying it’s a free country and his eyes can look at whatever he wants. My response was how would he be looking if I stabbed out both of his eyes and of course I’M CRAZY and something is wrong with me for telling his sick pedo ass NOT TO LOOK AT MY BABY!!!! (yeah she’s my sister, but might as well be my own kid love her as if she is.) They don’t get it and don’t want to. It doesn’t matter what you wear, how you carry yourself, how nicely you ask them, or how aggressively you balk at their piggery THE FUCKERS ARE GOING TO BE PIGS.

I know that’s not very helpful to you, but it is reality. First of all I don’t think women should “Respectfully” ask these fuckers to stop eye fucking us… they’re not respecting us! But even if we did (and I have) and said something like “excuse me, the way you’re looking at me is making me very uncomfortable and it’s unwelcome” you’re bound to be followed and further harassed for rejecting and correcting the animal! Men don’t like to be corrected, and they definitely cannot stand the idea of a woman not wanting them. I mean wtf? Don’t all women dream of some random asshole just grabbing her off the streets and fucking her senselessly? (gag)

Julian Real said...


I am very thankful that you put the comments here that you did.

My visceral response to reading a question from a woman about what to do about men's violating, degrading, misogynistic behavior is to say "go with you gut; trust you own intuitions".

Another immediate response is to not want to suggest anything at all, because what if a woman did something I suggested and was further harmed? I don't want women to be further harmed. And I don't wish to be an agent in any woman being harmed by a man in any way.

The third is to want someone, anyone, to just shoot the fucker, and I don't mean with a camera. I think these violators need some weeding out, some thinning out of our society (thanks to my UK friend for the metaphor of white men as weeds), not that I think that'll stop the rest, and not that I think that'll shift power and values on the structural, systemic, and institutional levels.

I just long for the day when any and every man's violative actions towards any woman or group of women is immediately held to account in ways that prevent him from EVER doing it again. I'm not precluding a man "getting it" by being called out once. That's up to him. But if he doesn't get it... then I hope he "get's it" if ya know what I mean. Right between the predatory, perpetrating eyes.

Julian Real said...

What the woman's question has made me think about since is that, like you say, even when women respond respectfully to gross disrespect including, as you note, by letting them know their behavior is "unwanted and unwelcomed by me" (which, in a workplace, IS important to say, for sexual harassment charges protocol), the prick usually responds the way you said.

And it leads me to realize how deeply men, generally and collectively, as well as individually, don't give a flaming fuck what women welcome or want. Not that this is any great newsflash or lightbulb moment for me.

But it enrages me to continually realise that men just don't give a shit about what women want or welcome, and that the whole of white male supremacist society is set up to fuck women over, body and mind, so that women, generally and collectively, feel obliged to be respectful in the face and harm of men's disrespect.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing you can do to men like this other than beat the heck out of them. Punch them in the nose, bust their heads open, or pick them up and throw them crashing off the subway. I just think if you can be very violent very fast, and are strong, then women, just start bashing these men as much as possible. They are pigs and subhumans, not worth talking to, but it sure is great to see their surprise when a woman beats them up and stomps them now and then. That's what will stop men from doing this to women, the very real threat that women will kill them!

Julian Real said...

Any man who has the will, the desire, the callousnss, the access, and the means to assault a woman deserves to be thrown in front of a train. Preferably BEFORE he assaults her.

Anonymous said...

I just threw them off the trains when they came to a stop at the next station. Even I wouldn't throw them in front of a train, unless they had a gun.

Anonymous said...

I think 'objectification' is one of my biggest pet peeves. I mean in every interaction with every person everyone runs into, I think we go through a subliminal process of "how important is this person to me?" "How much do I care?"

On that train of thought, consider your valuable possessions. They are objects. They are also more important to you than a complete stranger, whom you will never have even a conversation with, whom you don't know of, in a public place. To you, that person is less than an object.

What makes you decide to make that person worth more to you than a sub-object? Or, leave them as utterly worthless?

Julian Real said...

I think we need to call it something more specific than "objectification". I call it "visual violation" or "predatory voyeurism" and Divine Purpose calls it "eye fucking".

Hrashk said...

I like eye-fucking. it captures the feeling. Of course, everyone looks, and different women are affected in varying degrees by diffferent types of stares (different levels of oggling, staring). Of course the basic assumption here is that there is a "gaze" which women feel and it defines their space, their feeling of security. I think all of this boils down to how men express and "feel" sexuality as well as their sense of entitlement in patriarchal society. Conclusion: there are different types of stares. I personally feel uncomfortable with ANY look that lasts over 3-4 seconds, and of course the person's body language and type of stare.. I know a lot of women wear revealing clothes to "play" with the stare and revel in it. I AVOID wearing these clothes for that exact reason.

Julian Real said...

Welcome, Hrashk!

I remember speaking with two young white women, about how they negotiate what they wear each day. They described how they make choices that won't get them the kind of attention women get who reject patriarchally acceptable clothing, and also try not to wear clothes that show off their bodies. And this is just one more form of male privilege: we men don't EVER have to negotiate the world that way, so as to avoid insults and degrading remarks and rape.