“You can’t leer at me”

“That is harmless” I said after Sara complained about her neighbors watching her hula hoop. This precipitated a slightly charged conversation about the harm done by men objectifying women’s bodies. At first I contended that if you cant tell the intention of the observer (because there is no interaction other than their observation) then it was a self created harm. Sara countered that she could energetically feel the intent of these (and other) observers and that she turned her anger inward, feeling betrayed by her body.

We ran around in circles for a little while, just missing each other. She pointed out that it was a privileged position to disconnect from this type of damage done by the objectification of women. After a few examples in which it was clear that there was no attempt by the observers to engage her as a person, we came closer to understanding each other. And ultimately, I had to admit I was wrong and that the effect of these leering neighbors was not harmless.

As activists, we easily agreed that what was important was how to change the culture around these types of interactions. We talked about the things women could say or how they could respond to men who were objectifying them. Recognizing that this still inappropriately puts the responsibility on those ill effected to fix the problem that the leering men were creating. One response would be to say to the man, “Hey! You seem to be seeing me only for my body and that’s making me uncomfortable. Is that your intent?” By using a question instead of just an accusation, you create the opportunity for dialogue and hopefully for some change.

As at the end of any good lover’s quarrel, we ended up naked in bed. And I quipped “i will try not to leer at you”

“you can’t leer at me” she replied with a smile, “because you see me as a whole person.”

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

20 responses to ““You can’t leer at me””

  1. jofrahar says :

    Hi, I’d like to make a few comments.

    If you can’t tell the intention of the observer (because there is no interaction other than their observation) then feeling objectified IS a self created harm. (Unless it comes from conditioning). Sara wasn’t betrayed by her body (how could she be?), but by her mind. Clearly she persuaded you otherwise and you let her, which is fine.

    Feeling someone’s intent with no interaction is paranoia, unless there is something more subtle going on, like unconscious processing of body language. It’s objectification in reverse.

    I’d like to think I could innocently watch someone practicing hula hoop, or juggling, or firebreathing, or dancing without having a sexual motive assumed to be my main motive.

    I guess the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ of the situation depends on whether you consider your garden a ‘private’ space and whether you consider ‘watching’ to be a legitimate activity and whethere there was more to the interaction that you describe.

    In more conservative cultures displaying your body in public if you are female is considered provocative, which is the other side of the coin and possibly worth some discussion some time, some where.

    It occurs to me that you used the word leer a number of times.

    Clearly if there was leering going on then the whole situation is completely different.

    • Sara Tansey says :

      Sara here. I hate having to convince boys that my experiences of sexual aggression are legitimate, that i am not some paranoid, fragile, traumatized girl. It was hard enough with paxus, who i know loves and cares about me. But i couldn’t let this notion of reverse objectification sit uncontested. I am tired of hearing people spew victim blaming bullshit.

      What is true is that for the purposes of blog media, a discussion that took more than 30 minutes was compressed into a few paragraphs and the convincing arguments got left out and my experiences were not fully represented.

      With the men who used to watch us hula hoop it was never an innocent thing. They would come out into their yard for the express purpose of watching us whip that hoop around our hips. Never once did they engage us, did they say friendly words across the fence. They never made any indication that they cared about who we were as people; they just wanted to watch our bodies.

      Though you didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt, i will give it to you. I would imagine that you would not just watch someone practice, but that you would hopefully engage the person youre watching. That you wouldnt repeatedly, purposely sit in your yard to watch three college aged women hula hoop without ever speaking a word to them. Unfortunately, thats what this group of men did to me and my housemates.

      And this is the critical piece for me. It is not just some energetic read on the men watching me or looking at me. It is the lack of engagement for anything other than my physical form. I’ve had men follow me down the street talking about how beautiful i am and asking for my phone number. Never once do they ask me what i do in the world, what my dreams are. They want my number, a date, my address. And its in these moments of being seen only as some curves that i internalize the objectification, grow angry with a body that attracts attention (and i am not saying i am particularly bodacious, but merely that i have a womans body that is used against me) and get bitter.

      So you boys can give up this “self created harm” bullshit. Women live in a culture that constantly reaffirms that they are really only bodies for lusting after. When i have an experience with a man that reinforces that message, i feel it as a violence.

      I’m not saying all men do this. I’ve had experiences of men who follow me down the street to talk, who engage me with questions about myself, who at the end ask for my number but who i can decline without fear of repercussions.

      You have clearly hit on a trigger point for me. For more of my experience of violent objectification, you can read my own blog about it at: http://sweet0tea.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/sometimes-i-wish-i-were-invisible/

      • Angie says :

        Sara- 100% yes on all of this. I’d write more, but I’d get all ragey and rant about how rape culture sucks and how the “oh, this isn’t REALLY a problem, because…” derailing pisses me off to no end. Thx for your detailed, rational explanation.

      • Brian Crouthamel says :

        Thank you, Sara, for explaining the woman’s side of this. It has helped me understand.

        An analogy for men would be walking down a dark inner city street at night while wearing expensive clothes and jewelry and being leered at by a group of dangerous looking youths. You have something they might want and they might take it from you violently. Even if nothing happens it can create a lot of stress. And, if it happens repeatedly, it can turn into anger towards all inner city youths who do this.

        I confess I have difficulty controlling my “leering” at young women in revealing clothing. And, on top of that, I am shy and have difficulty smiling. So, as you can imagine, many women see me as being creepy. In my Twin Oaks rejection letter one respondent said just that. But keep in mind that the brain chemical reward for this behavior in some men is very powerfull making it very hard to resist. But that doesn’t mean that all men like this want to rape you. I am also a very compassionate person and I would never hurt anyone. Having a woman’s respect is much more important to me than having her body. I also have two female friends (ex-girl friends) that know and love me very much and know that I would never hurt them.

        You have every right to be cautious around men that you don’t know and who leer at you. But you shouldn’t be angry at them. Some of them, like me, are harmless and they only leer at you because they have weaknesses. And I think most of them would like to get to know and have a meaningfull friendship with the person they are leering at but can’t overcome their shyness.

        Sara, I look forward to meeting you in person next year when I return to Twin Oaks.

      • Brian Crouthamel says :

        oops. maybe I won’t meet you next year if you are not the same Sara that lives at Twin Oaks.

      • Logan says :

        Sara, I so much want to respond, but worry I may offend. So, keep in mind some of us have the “analytical personality”, which compels us to look at things from as many angels as possible. We’re often mistaken as heretics, disloyal, etc., when in fact, we’re not. So, here goes:

        First, you wrote:

        “They would come out into their yard for the express purpose of watching us whip that hoop around our hips. Never once did they engage us, did they say friendly words across the fence. They never made any indication that they cared about who we were as people; they just wanted to watch our bodies.”

        While you could be correct here, another possibility is that they were shy. Another possibility is that they are from such a traditional and conservative culture, they have never engaged anyone from a counter culture.

        Now, I fully acknowledge their actions made you all uncomfortable. That tisn’t right. Brainstorming: what if you all had broken the ice? Challenging them to try it? Could you have found they weren’t that bad?

        I’m NOT saying your interpretation is wrong, just offering other possibilities.

        Second. Humanity cannot stop teenage boys, nor college men, nor most men, from enjoying looking at women. It’s just the nature of sexual reproduction. Until humans become asexual, it’s gonna happen. And, I’m not sure that’s what we want. Of course, someone once said the most important things in life are matters of degree (I keep trying to remember who said it.) So, the college men whose heads turn at an attractive woman are merely different by degree from the man whose gaze is too intense, or lasts but a second too long.

        Lemme see. One thing I have noticed in life is the following. I hesitate to relate it, but will risk doing so because I think it essential to understanding. It is not meant to be an analyses of you. Here goes:

        Some women are attracted by arrogant, narcissistic men. I’ve met them. I’ve read about them. I’ve heard others comment on this phenomenon. A movie was even made titled, “Nice guys sleep alone.” I once bought a book titled, “Nice guys don’t get laid.” In coffee shops, I’ve seen the narcissistic womanizer win the woman while the shy guy is rejected. In the terms of evolutionary biology, aka sociobiology, these women are mistaking the rotten men for alpha males. They mistake their arrogance for true confidence. They never see that the men are incapable of true love. So! What’s my point?

        Sometimes, I wanna scream, “Take responsibility lady!” Not all men are as you perceive. “You were attracted to the jerk, so own up to it, and stop projecting your bad experience onto all men.” or “Stop equating sexual reproduction with misogyny.” “Acknowledge your complicity in your own oppression.” “You weren’t attracted to the shy guy.”

        I don’t know you from Eve, so herewith know this is not an accusation of you. (And, don’t evade the debate by attributing bad motives to me.) No, ad hominum debate, please. Again, how could I know you would stoop to that? I can’t. 🙂

        In sum, narcissistic men have an edge in the dating game. Not all women are drawn to cold blooded, dominating buffoons. However, some are. Quite a few. I’ve rented from them. I’ve seen them in coffee shops. I’ve seen guys as abrasive as sand paper, and to the point of absurdity, win the hearts of women who should know better.

        Yes, sexism explains part of why some women are drawn to these guys. However, exclusively focusing on sexism would blind us to the way some women need to own up to their complicity in their own oppression. Activism cannot be based solely on ego, and blaming the other.

        Pisses me off when a woman who makes such an error then defames all men. Pisses me off when they attribute evil intent, because they were once drawn to evil.

        Well, I thrive on being politically incorrect. Guess I just did it again.

        (I made “A’s” in my 2 women’s studies cases, when I was young. I once had a subscription to MS. magazine. Can I be all bad?)

  2. Sara Tansey says :

    and read the comments from other women. it might be useful.

  3. Will Forest says :

    I get my Passport by email, and I think it’s fascinating that my email version contains what is probably a photo of Sara, hulahooping in a full back-bend with hands on the ground and leg in the air — a photo at which I could leer, but with which I could not engage as a person. I came to the site to comment on that, and found that the picture here is deliberately the opposite — not leerable at all. Is that the picture that this post started out with, or is it a result of feedback?

  4. Paxus Wombat Calta says :

    Dearest Will:

    This post, as many, is a group effort. Sara was ready to post with the un-leerable picture (that she selected), when is sent her the imageless text. I did not see her draft and posted instead with a picture that is not Sara, but could be, which i just grabbed up from Google images and thought was an interesting pic on the topic. Sara’s shoot, which i prefer, was over posted after we talked about it and agreed her image much better fit the post.

    • Angie says :

      Yeah, I first saw the post with the old image, and my immediate response was “seriously? that’s the picture you went with on a post about objectification?”, so I’m delighted by the new image. Good edit.

  5. jofrahar says :

    I kind of resent the categorisation of me as a victim blaming bullshitter, but I’ll forgive you. There is no ‘blame’ in my comments and there is no ‘victim’ in an innocent observation.

    It’s very important to remember (if you want to engage in debate or share experiences) that readers of this Blog have no context other that what is written.

    Unloading your anger on me because I am not aware of the bigger picture doesn’t really achieve much. Perhaps you should have a chat with Paxus about how your experience was represented rather than dumping on me for commenting on a scenario that apparently didn’t happen in the way it was described.

    No worries.

  6. jofrahar says :

    I didn’t realise this was a game, I didn’t realise this was a rape victim support group. While I find most of the posts by paxus reasonably interesting and really would have like to have engaged more with people on this forum, I don’t like to be misinterpreted and I don’t like to be marginalised either. I don’t need to interact with bitter and angry women who are determined to see me as an aggressor just because I happen to be male.

    Personally I think you’re both hypocrites, you are attempting to victimise me because what I wrote triggered an excessive reaction on your part. You’re not reading what I’ve written because you have your own agenda.

    It’s just not worth the effort. I’ll do us both a favour and make this my last post. You win this game, I don’t want to play.

    Perhaps you can entertain yourselves by finding some pre-prepared links about sour grapes or hissy fits for the amusement of the other readers.

    Bye! 🙂

    • Lina Shah says :

      I enjoyed your post, even if other readers didn’t.

      Lina Shah, Esq.
      Attorney & Counselor at Law

      • paxus says :

        Dearest Lina:

        Thank you for your appreciation, they are always nice to receive. The nature of being a radical is people are going to get pissed off at what i write. I am just happy the pro-nuke crowd has basically given up on me, i find them tiresome in their combination of politeness and blindness and libertarianism.

        i would ask you for another sentence about what you liked about the post, quite old now, because that helps me see what interests my appreciative readers.

        Paxus in Death City
        6 Japan is Nuclear Free 2012

      • Lina Shah says :

        Actually, I was referring to Jofrahar’s posts to your original post…I think he makes some good points and doesn’t back down, despite the women ganging up on him.

        LS, Esq.

  7. Sara Tansey says :


    the title of the post is “you cant leer at me.” clearly there was more going on for me than simple glances from men. please describe for me an observation in which there isn’t also body language to interpret. so i dont know how you can consider your response below anything other than victim blaming.

    “Sara wasn’t betrayed by her body (how could she be?), but by her mind. Clearly she persuaded you otherwise and you let her, which is fine.”

    “And you let her”?? seriously?!? does that mean its impossible to think that i could actually have been experiencing sexual aggression and explaining that to pax? does it mean you assume i bamboozled pax into believing something that couldnt really be true? youre right, multiple times we use the word “leer.” we also use the word objectification. both were meant to indicate that more than just a pass with the eyes was happening.

    i am not victimizing you, jofrahar, you are making that up in your head. like the symmetry? and i am not lashing out at you because you have a male body. in my first response to you i offer alternative experiences that i’ve had with men, i assume you wouldnt leer at a woman practicing hooping or fire spinning, etc. i say i dont think all men objectify women.

    what i am doing is calling you a perpetuator of victim blaming. and really, i dont know how you think youre not doing that. victim blaming is the assumption that the person experiencing violence is making it up or inviting the violence. and you did the former. so, i’m just trying to call it out. because it happens all the fucking time and is super insidious and i am not willing to put up with it.

    and you really only prove my point further by calling me and angie angry women and spitting disdain about this being a rape victim support group. so what if this forum turns into a space to support anger around the many ways women experience violence? clearly the post triggered other women. and i would hope that would be an indication of how real this stuff is, not more opportunity for you or anyone else to call women with legitimate experiences paranoid and angry rape victims.

    so cheers and fuck you.

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