“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.”