A Simple Guide for Looking at Women on the Street: Glancing Vs. Staring

woman walking

I don’t hold eye contact, I don’t look for more than a second and I don’t let my gaze linger. I do all these things out of respect for one simple fact.

 

I live in New York City where, when I walk down the street, I see literally thousands of women a month walking towards and past me. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes. The range of interactions has some variability, but 95% of the time, it works like this:

If they glance and notice I’m looking at them, they look away very quickly. What I see in that moment is someone being careful. Very very careful.

Many of the women I glance at are intentionally not looking at me. They are avoiding all eye contact, seemingly staring into some specific spot on the street that does not contain a man’s eyes. If they glance and notice I’m looking at them, they look away very quickly. What I see in that moment is someone being careful. Very very careful.

I glance at women. I don’t look at them for more than a second or two. I never stare at them. I glance at them because they are lovely, or interesting, or fashionable, or simply in my path. I glance at them for the same reasons I glance at men: to judge their intention as they approach me, to see if they’re texting or looking, or to insure I don’t get run over.

Because I have a solid sense of who I am and what my intention is, I glance at women without the feeling of guilt or nervousness I carried as a teenager. There is nothing wrong with a glance. But to look longer at a woman you do not know? Or worse, to stare? That is a different thing. For the very same reason I do not make and hold eye contact with men (or for that matter, dogs I don’t know) I do not look overly long at women, because it suggests an intrusion. Something for which I do not have permission.

When I see any women walking down the street, avoiding all eye contact, I feel a deep sense of empathy. Accordingly, I don’t look for more than a second and I don’t let my gaze linger. I do all these things out of respect for a simple fact—women don’t feel safe. No matter how “civilized” we insist western society has become, there is still a high degree of real and present danger for women from aggressive male strangers. And if a woman is from another part of the world, the likelihood that she has faced violent and aggressive male strangers is dramatically higher.

I track men much more carefully than I do women. And for exactly the same set of reasons that women do. Because men like to project power. And some men, a very few, but enough, like to project power by verbally or physically abusing strangers.

Whats more, many males understand how this fear of aggressive men feels.

As a child, I feared and avoided eye contact with bullying teenage boys. Junior high school was an exercise in avoiding being assaulted. My issue has never been with women. My issue is with men, who, to this day, are far more likely to be aggressive with me.  I track men much more carefully than I do women. And for exactly the same set of reasons that women do. Because men like to project power. And some men, a very few, but enough, like to project power by verbally or physically abusing strangers.

And before you take that deep breath and launch into a list of the ways that men are victims of rape and physical violence from their female partners, don’t bother. I have written about that fact numerous times. I’ll write about it again right here. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey | 2010 Summary Report. page 2 states that:

“More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

Yes, men face a range of risks and threats in the world. But as a man, I have never had to live in fear that if I hold eye contact for too long with a women I do not know, she will approach me and start an unwelcome conversation that could lead to abusive behavior. Why? Because on some level, I always felt I could stand my ground physically. If I had to, I could fight a woman and get away.

But being able to fend off an unwelcome advance is not a certainty for many women. The percentage of men who are abusive in their behavior on the street, in bars, at schools, or in other public places may be limited, but there are enough men out there who behave like this that there is a very real corresponding fear for women. Namely, a stranger who won’t take no for an answer. For women, it is as follows: Acknowledge a strange man in even the slightest way, get approached. Say “no thank you” and get shamed, verbally abused, or possibly physically assaulted.

As human beings, we all face a basic challenge. We have to go out into the world and communicate our availability as a potential partner, attract the attention of individuals we view as viable and not attract the attention of individuals we don’t find appealing. Doing this in the world is no easy task. It’s like trying to garden prize orchids in the middle of a rugby match.

As human beings, we all face a basic challenge. We have to go out into the world and communicate our availability as a potential partner, attract the attention of individuals we view as viable and not attract the attention of individuals we don’t find appealing. Doing this in the world is no easy task. It’s like trying to garden prize orchids in the middle of a rugby match. And the more you signal your assets as a potential partner, the more attention you attract from persons who’s attention you are not seeking.

But a women’s effort to appeal to a prospective mate, whether that be through style of dress (yoga pants or otherwise) or public behavior  is not, and should never be, an invitation for unwanted attention. If you are man in the market for a relationship, take note. The signals and the cues are simple. The rules are even simpler. Glance, do not stare. If you get a glance back. Look a bit more. If a women, says “no thanks” in any way, (and yes, that can be as simple as glancing away) move on with courtesy and respect.

The vast percentage of men are decent hearted and would never intentionally harm a soul. But some men (and women) are not. Any man who continues to approach a women who is indicating “no thank you” in stronger and stronger terms, is being abusive. And as long as there is widespread abusive behavior by a limited number of men in the world, the rest of us will all be forced to limit our social interactions with women in order to try and make the world feel a little safer. Which is a shame.

So, thanks to the jerks of the world for that. You’ve made the rest of us men have to prove on a daily basis that we are not you. (Like I wanted to spend my life undoing your abusive work.) But that’s the way it is. And men need to acknowledge that fact, both in their interactions and their political dialogues. Work for change, but acknowledge the ongoing facts of the world.

So, thanks to the jerks of the world for that. You’ve made the rest of us men have to prove on a daily basis that we are not you.

As a person who supports a robust and honest discussion of men’s issues, I acknowledge that men face many cultural inequities and challenges. I believe that we need to insure that men enjoy equal rights in the realms of family law, victim services and other areas. I fully realize that men fall victim to rape and abuse by women. But that does not change the simple math of upper body strength and social conditioning. It is not white knight behavior to advocate for a culture of civility and non-violence toward women. It is simple common decency.

Equally, in the public dance of finding a partner, women may have to become more assertive in indicating interest. Making the first move and communicating clearly when they would like to have a conversation would go a long way to alleviate the concern that man are expected to approach women who give only the slightest nod of interest. This subtle signaling sets men up to face an endless string of rejections, unable to differentiate between the lingering glance that signals interest and the passing glance that does not.

But ultimately, it is the inequity of physical strength that is at the root of our cultures’ relationship challenges. Most men can simply overpower women. And a small percentage of men often do with terrible consequences. It is what drives some women’s anger and fuels the distorted and angry battle between the sexes.  Until all of us men, every single one of us, take responsibility for our public and private behavior, all the inequities we face will remain as secondary issues, held hostage by the men among us who behave like animals instead of human beings.

Remaking-Manhood-small

Available now via iTunes 

Good Men Project Executive Editor Mark Greene’s articles on masculinity and manhood have received over 100,000 FB shares and 10 million page views.

Remaking Manhood, a collection of Mark’s most popular articles on politics, culture, relationships, family and parenting, is a timely and balanced look at the issues at the heart of the modern masculinity movement. Greene interweaves his own deeply personal stories with a salient and powerful deconstruction of manhood in America.

 

♦◊♦

Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?  Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly. Sign up here. 

 

NOW TRENDING ON GMP TV

Gender Studies Class: Man Talk Episode 1
Get the Ball: Man Talk Episode 2
Manhood by Mucking About

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Mark Greene

Good Men Project Executive Editor Mark Greene’s new book, REMAKING MANHOOD is available on Amazon.com's Kindle and on Apple iBooks for iPad and Macintosh. Remaking Manhood, is a collection of Mark's most powerful articles on American culture, relationships, family and parenting. It is a timely and balanced look at the issues at the heart of the modern masculinity movement.

"Mark interweaves his own deeply personal stories with a salient and powerful deconstruction of manhood in America." --Lisa Hickey, CEO, The Good Men Project

Mark's articles on masculinity and manhood have received over 100,000 FB shares and 10 million page views. He writes and talks men's Issues at Salon, Shriver Report, Huffington Post, HLN, and the New York Times. Mark and his wife therapist Saliha Bava live in New York City.

Comments

  1. Priscilla M Koop says:

    I appreciated the thoughtful tone of this column. It showed remarkable insight into the vulnerabilities experienced by women in North American societies. I also found the comments interesting. For me, the bottom line is that non-verbal communication is a huge component of our interactions and that non-verbal communication can be interpreted in many ways. A smile may mean “I like your comment and it makes me feel good”, but it can also mean “If I smile at you, maybe you won’t get upset at me and won’t hurt me”. It can signal appreciation or appeasement – and likely many other responses. Knowing that non-verbal behaviour can be interpreted in multiple ways can help all of us – both men and women – to treat each other with respect and appreciation!

  2. Hi Mark Green

    Thank you for your patience and deep understanding of women.
    I think you know what is going on here……

  3. Does anyone find it creepy to look at others whom do not know you are looking, to study their body language to better teach yourself how humans interact?

  4. The thing I’ve learned about looking at women is that when I reject my sexuality when looking at them, they get creeped out.

    But when I own it fully and appreciate a woman in her fullness from a deeply rooted place, including heart and balls in my attention, women open up like flowers to the morning sun.

    If a man has a lot of experience with women being uncomfortable with his attention, my experience suggests it is a sign he’s not fully owning his sexual attraction to the opposite sex. It’s an awkward place to be culturally when many men have been shamed to think their sexuality is dirty, turning them into men who women get creeped out by.

    It’s a strange paradox that women feel less sexually objectified the more we as men own our sexual attraction.

    Are you comfortable with being sexually attracted to women, Mark? Quite often, I’m not – shaming messages still run inside of me at times – and then I too am cautious with my attention. But when I’m free of that, the world looks nothing like the one you inhabit. The difference, normally, is in feeling tapped into my power and a sense abundance (e.g. I don’t need you, but I sure would enjoy you)

    • :)

    • Barnicals says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head there. Depending on a variety of things, it can be absolutely fine to GAZE at a woman. Stare has such an obviously negative connotation, it’s hard not to conjure the mental image of some drooling predator.
      I personally feel that if I’m in a good mood, feeling attractive, smiling, and happen to be looking at a woman, attractive or not, I’ll normally get a positive reaction. It doesn’t need to be an advance. It doesn’t need to be ogling. The fact that this isn’t normally well received really speaks volumes about the societies that it happens in. Some societies I don’t get positive reactions in include Italy, NZ, England, France, and maybe Germany. Nations I get more positive responses from: Bulgaria, Turkey, The Netherlands, USA (in my experience), and Portugal. Interesting when it’s looked at side by side like that, based on a very cursory knowledge of the cultures.

  5. Sherlock says:
    • “Whatever you do, do not look away and then keep looking back. Do NOT try to look out the side of your eye without being noticed. You will look sleazy and creepy.”

      Are you kidding me? It’s WAY creepier when a guy holds eye contact and stares at me than when he looks at me and looks away. The latter behavior suggests he finds me attractive but doesn’t want to be intrusive. The former behavior implies entitlement to my attention and aggression.

      Some advice: Don’t take advice about what’s creepy or not from a blog that admits to “narcissistic musings.” Listen to women and to thoughtful men like Mark.

  6. Little late to the party here but I only just came across GMP (long overdue) and this article. Mark I wanted to thank you not only for its content but the painstakingly careful way it is phrased. This is what I think I have been hoping to read from a male author for a long time and I just wish more men echoed these sentiments.
    As your average 24 y/o girl with decent dress-sense and quite long hair (the hair’s the giveaway!) I seem to get looked at in the street almost constantly and it really does feel incredibly predatory. Sometimes it’s a harmless glance, sometimes a lingerer or double-take, but quite often it’s accompanied by a verbal appraisal of my ‘assets’ or an attempt to engage in unwanted conversation or otherwise (“why thank you mister van driver, I was totally unaware up until this point that I’m considered ‘orrright’. Yes, please do take me, here and now, in the cab of your truck.” thought no woman ever). Then when you ignore/stare ahead/walk faster/pretend to look at phone, the comments become derogatory (“right so I’m a ‘slut’ for not taking you up on that dusgusting offer?).
    To all the men who think it’s just harmless fun or that freaking a woman out, especially a stranger in the street is a ‘woman’s cross to bear’, you try being the physically-less-overpowering-should-it-come-to-that one in the scenario, who is often also alone and outnumbered and see how it feels. Not that all men would turn agressive, I have enough decent guy pals to know most of you deserve the benefit of the doubt, but what I’m saying is that for many women that possibility is always in the back of your mind. Call it survival instinct.
    Men you can glance and even play a little game of ‘glance ping-pong’ if you really need to be sure she looked back if she does like you and go from there. Any more than that, when you’re not absolutely sure it’s reciprocated, is intrusive and can feel incredibly threatening. Mark, thanks for putting this so eliquently from the male perspective.

    • Barnicals says:

      As a guy… yeah… sorry. Some of us are assholes. Just out of interest, because I like to strike up conversations with people and make eye contact/say hello to people I pass on the street (who, shockingly, are often pretty girls), how do you feel about a guy just saying hello while smiling as he walks past? Does that intimidate you at all?

      • When I walk down the street and a guy smiles and says hi or hello, which is rare, I feel comfortable. It gives me a sense of validation that he sees me and isn’t intimidated by me. I often feel, and this depends on the area, more conservative areas tend to have this more, that when I walk down the street, mostly alone without boyfriend or friends, I see men glance at me and then quickly look away. It makes me feel uncomfortable. This is amplified when I walk towards a couple and notice the women try to distract the man or the man obviously trying to appear for the woman that I didn’t notice me. It’d be nice if I felt flattered by that, but I really dont. I feel like my body, my walk, and natural calm confidence makes people uncomfortable. Then I feel isolated and objectified. I usually feel more objectified by the guys that try to hide their interest. It definitely makes me uncomfortable.

      • I think it depends on where you live. In NYC, where Mark lives, only people who are at least a little crazy in some way say hi to anyone on the sidewalk; however, in Kansas (where I lived before moving to NYC), it was rude *not* to say hi to people you pass on the sidewalk.

        As a rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t ever do or say something to a man on the street, then don’t do/say it to a woman.

        Audrey, where do you live? I think a lot of the disagreements about this article’s advice come from big cultural differences. Yes, in Kansas, I would have felt strange around a shifty person who glanced but did not say hi, but in New York, anyone who says hi to me is sort of a threat.

        At least in New York, the glance-not-stare is really the only way to show admiration of a woman’s beauty while remaining deeply respectful. Mark really hit the nail on the head.

  7. *eloquently (ahh phone typing)

  8. Personally, I like the idea of men becoming “Herbivores” like the phenomenon which is currently giving Japan grief. Herbivores are men who, while they aren’t uninterested in sex or romantic relationships, simply express indifference to the idea. They don’t approach women, or try to stay masculine or “man up” to impress them. They just decided to stay out of that minefield altogether. They don’t do anything to actively seek out sex, but rather develop themselves and remain independent, and if the women want relationships, they have to be the ones to say something, compliment, flirt, approach, whatever.

    You would think there would be a reversal: women trying to approach men. Instead, there is a staggering spike in single women and depression in said women, and the Japanese government declared a state of emergency and has to provide incentives for people to have kids due to the massive decline in birth rates.

    But honestly, it’s the most surefire way for women to feel safe, men to be independent of situations that make us feel like walking-abominations, and to solve overpopulation. Not to mention, it solves a lot of double-standards. Now guys can wear makeup and make themselves pretty if they wish. Or heck, just be themselves: quirks, emotions, being frugal, liking pink OR blue, whatever. If girls or society don’t like it, it’s not like they were out to impress them, anyway. Though last I checked, the Japanese free market is having a ball with this new demographic.

  9. Barry Blust says:

    If you are receiving such negative energy it is because you are sending out negative energy. Might be you are being so ‘careful’ you are creating tension. People read energy all the time. I gaze at women a lot… follow them with a smile and energy that says ‘you are lovely’ and what I receive is a smile and often a smile with a nod. A man used to tip his hat in appreciation.

    Anyone else think this article is about women who need to find peace and one man who has problems?

    • Anonymous says:

      This advice is at odds with material on on the subject of body language that I read that states a man should not be the first to break eye contact wih a woman whom he finds attractive, this conveys submissiveness, which most women do not find attractive.

      • Dude, you’re reading the wrong advice. Really. Body language is important, yes, but most women I know, myself included, find it creepy and/or intimidating if a guy we don’t know doesn’t break eye contact, ie, stares. That is NOT attractive. Personally, if I have seen a guy staring I will glance back, not to see if he’s attracted, but to gauge intention – that is, decide if I will need to dissuade in more concrete methods in the near future, ie, measure threat. Is this someone I should be wary of? It is different if it’s a gentle, communal play, but starting to project non-submissiveness? NO.

    • Anonymous says:

      nailed it!

    • So, you’re essentially saying that women are causing their own harassment by the ‘vibes’ they’re sending out. Bro, take responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, I get the energy thing, but tell me how that works for 13-year old me when a middle-aged guy yells from his car about how he wants to eat me out and I have to ask my friends what that means and NO ONE KNOWS…? He stared for ages first. Really? ‘Creating tension’? When I was 15 and got followed more than once to the point where I ran into random shops and/or houses to dissuade said follower? They stared. Have held keys between fists more times than I can count because of unwanted, uncomfortable stares…because *I* was creating that tension? No. Believe me, I am trying to find peace, but there are many women who have, and STILL get hassled on the street. This is not ‘one man who has problems’ as you would dearly like to believe. This man sees further than most. I really hope when you say ‘I follow them with a smile’ that you mean following the gaze. Really, the maaaaajor majority of women can do quite well without your particular brand of acknowledgement or validation. Believe it or not, we don’t need the, ha, appreciation of the Man On The Street to know that we are worthy human beings, which is what your ‘appreciation’ comes down to.

    • Anonymous and Barry Blust: You are receiving great feedback about what’s really creepy and what’s not. Men tell other men to hold a woman’s gaze and not look away because maybe it gets them a date 1 in 1,000 times; what they’re not willing to acknowledge is that the other 999 women hate you because you made them feel uncomfortable.

      Also, I’d like for you both to spend some time in prison and then come back and talk to me about how women need to “find peace” with the sexual aggression of male strangers. Did you even read the article? You clearly have no idea what it’s like to know that there’s a significant chance of being raped at some point in your life, to have friends raped by people who seemed friendly at first, and then to have men tell you that you’re being paranoid when you’re trying to be careful!

      You can choose to keep reading articles written by other men and live in a spin-vacuum of your own delusions, continuing to act brutish and impolite without being willing to acknowledge it, or you can choose to listen and reflect critically on your behavior.

  10. *Excellent article!* Thanks, Mark!

Trackbacks

  1. […] A Simple Guide for Looking at Women on the Street: Glancing Vs. Staring […]

  2. […] A Simple Guide for Looking at Women on the Street: Glancing Vs. Staring […]

  3. […] A Simple Guide for Looking at Women on the Street: Glancing Vs. Staring […]

  4. […] A Simple Guide for Looking at Women on the Street: Glancing Vs. Staring […]

Speak Your Mind

*