Keep your eyes to yourself
September 29, 2010 8:53 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with unwanted staring from men in the workplace?

I am a late 20s woman that recently started working for a large company with a male-dominated environment. I have dealt with overt sexual harassment before, but what I am encountering at this particular company is something different.

I am constantly stared at by men. I mean, really seriously ogled. On the elevator, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, everywhere. I have never gotten an inappropriate comment or even so much as a flirtatious smile, but somehow this company seems to have an unwritten rule that as long as you're not actually saying anything inappropriate, feel free to leer away! It makes me incredibly uncomfortable to say the least.

I'm attractive, but not some sort of superhot head-turner. At least I don't think so. I try to dress conservatively, although I do often wear skirts and have long hair and look "traditionally" feminine. And you know, fuck it - I really don't want to have to change any of that just not be leered at.

This is not the sort of thing I would go to HR about, because it might make me seem crazy or paranoid ("Everybody's looking at you.... right...") plus there is really nothing I can do to prove my claim. So what can I do combat this? Should I verbally confront the starers? Ignore? Shoot deadly glares? Try harder to downplay my looks? (As mentioned, I don't think I should have to but am willing to do it if helps resolve the issue.) Do I just have to get over it and accept it? I'm interested to know how other women have handled this situation, although I am a bit nervous discussing the issue with other women at the company, again because I don't want to come across as paranoid or somehow attention-seeking.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
When men leer at me and I don't want them to leer at me, I give them a really creepy, teeth-baring smile-grimace. It probably depends on your face, but on me, it's extremely unattractive and kind of ghoulish. It makes them look away and probably fear for their lives.
posted by millipede at 9:02 AM on September 29, 2010 [16 favorites]

Ignore with haughty disdain.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:02 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

When you catch them looking, rub your fingers under your nose, and ask in all seriousness, "Do I have snot on my face?"

They won't want to touch it, it doesn't encourage them to stare at your "shirt", and it makes them aware you know they're staring.
posted by headspace at 9:04 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you want to be more assertive about it, it wouldn't be hard to make them very uncomfortable. You could try something like:

You: Can I help you?
Them: Uh, no, why?
You: You were looking right at me. I thought maybe you knew me or something...?

This would be particularly embarrassing for a man if his colleagues were nearby. And at the same time it leaves you looking professional and polite. They won't make the same mistake again.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:06 AM on September 29, 2010 [48 favorites]

This is not the sort of thing I would go to HR about, because it might make me seem crazy or paranoid ("Everybody's looking at you.... right...") plus there is really nothing I can do to prove my claim.

I think you should reconsider this. You need to have a paper trail in case someone tries to screw with you. Also in any conversation you may have, you can get a sense of whether this behavior is something the company actually condones. You don't have to say, "Everyone is staring at me." You can just say that more than once you've noticed people looking at you.

After that you might try saying, "Is there a problem?" when somenone stares, or acting like you think the person is trying to get your attention to discuss something. (The first I have used with success in situations like public transportation; it is a little bit strong and tend to embarrass the person staring. Not sure I would use it in the workplace.)
posted by BibiRose at 9:07 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I raise an eyebrow at them, and keep my shields up - rubber walls and let it bounce off. If it's someone I actually need to interact with, a cool/friendly "hey, up here."
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:07 AM on September 29, 2010

"My eyes are up here."

Alternately, sometimes I just stare back, with narrowed eyes. And stare, and stare, and don't back down until they do. (If you're not good at this, practice on a cat first.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:09 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're not crazy or paranoid. It probably is happening. But a lot of it is probably "new girl" more than "hot girl" - I don't mean that as an insult. But you are, as they say, "fresh meat". You're something new to look at. It's not to say it isn't inappropriate, but part of it will go away over time as they get used to you being there.

I had a friend who once asked me to come with her to buy a minimizer bra because she just couldn't take it any more. She wanted me there so I could help her buy the bra that smushed her boobs the most. She thought it would help. She worked in a heavily male environment where the owner of the company was arrogant and loud and kind of playboy-ish, and so everyone who worked there felt they could be too. She couldn't talk to the other women there, because there weren't many, and she, like you didn't want to rock the boat.

She felt better at work wearing the bra, so in that regard, it helped. Guys still stared, but no one was going to outright come out and say "hey, what happened to your rack? it's a lot smaller." The rumor started going around the office that she had been "on a diet". So it was definitely discussed. Eventually, the company went out of business.

I used to have a problem with working with sales guys who stared at my chest. It was just dumb more than anything. I didn't go as far as nudging my boobs and saying, "Hey, he's talking to you!" (which a friend recommended) but I did start pointedly folding my arms across my chest while having a discussion, which seemed to do the trick in terms of reminding them they shouldn't be doing what they're doing.

If I was you, I would ignore it as much as I could. Don't make eye contact. If you do accidentally, I would just make my gaze be as level and even as I could make it. You can say "I know what you're doing, so stop it," with a level and neutral gaze and it actually will have more impact than an angry one will. In terms of dressing, if you notice that a particular outfit seems to draw more attention, maybe wait to wear it until they get used to you being there and you're not new girl. You shouldn't have to change anything, but you just need to choose whether the change will make you crazier than the looks do. It sucks, I know. I know it does.

Frankly, it all sucks. You should be able to say "what the HELL are you doing" but you can't.
posted by micawber at 9:09 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've worked in a couple male-dominated workplaces, and I get this too (even though I'm heavier and not conventionally attractive). I've usually responded by staring right back, usually with crazy eyes. Or, I'll turn to face the person, and cross my arms in front of me, with kind of a "Ok, what do you want?" exasperated look on my face.
posted by AlisonM at 9:12 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I meet their gaze straight on with what I think is a blank expression on my face, but I've been told I have a pretty expressive face so I'm probably glaring at them without realizing it. Most of the time, getting caught will make men look away quickly. Unfortunately, some men aren't deterred by this but they have been in the minority so far. On those guys I usually just say, "Yes?". I stay away from the "Can I help you" type responses because there is always some wiseguy who will say something like, "Yeah, you can let me take you out for a drink". I try to stonewall as much as possible to make it clear that their staring is really unwelcome.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:13 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

My approach is just to sort of stare back in an equally not-that-cool way but look right into their eyes with no smile on my face at all, sort of replicant-like. If they're staring at your chest, this can be somewhat unnerving [and will be clearer that they're beeing leery instead of something that might be less inappropriate, spacing out, whatever] and will bring their attention back to you-the-person. If it really seems skeevy I'll say "please don't do that" if not, just hold the stare longer than usual and then go about my business. I feel like the big deal is no smile that could seem like encouragement and no just standing there letting it bother you without doing something. Admittedly this isn't something that happens to me as much in smalltown USA but if I'm wearing business clothes in a more urban setting, it's often an issue.

I'd also see if you can talk to other women in the office and get a sense of whether this is something particular to you or if other women notice and have problems with this. Not at all saying you just need to deal with it to fit in, but if you do decide to go to HR because it's getting annoying, knowing that other women consider it problematic will be helpful and other women might have suggestions for how to manage this issue. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:13 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really don't mind it when guys stare at my chest... their distraction can be to my advantage. If they want to waste professional time staring at me, then whatever. I can use that time to think about how to advance. It's really a form of power we hold over them, instead of vice versa.
posted by alternateuniverse at 9:13 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

This company seems to have an unwritten rule that as long as you're not actually saying anything inappropriate, feel free to leer away!
This is not the sort of thing I would go to HR about, because it might make me seem crazy or paranoid ("Everybody's looking at you.... right...") plus there is really nothing I can do to prove my claim.

I'd encourage you to reconsider talking to HR. This isn't about "proving a claim." This is about making HR aware of a problem in their corporate culture. If the HR staff is professional, they will appreciate being given a heads up about this.

They may or may not act on it immediately. But if they hear this complaint from multiple people, it could influence staff trainings and influence the corporate culture for the better.
posted by alms at 9:15 AM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

STARING CONTEST! No really, staring contest. You have to find the style that works for you, but for me personally, I have a bit of a silly streak, so I can get away with announcing "STARING CONTEST!" like a 7-year old while wearing a business suit. 9 times out of 10, they will immediately lose. Then you can be all "Caught you!" and they'll never do it again. IF, they are dumdums and actually engage in a fucking staring contest, you can let them win after as much staring back as you can handle. When they say something to the effect of their winning, you respond, "Uh, actually, no, you didn't." and leave it at that. Or "That's the last staring contest we will ever have, so don't even try it again."

Or, you can say "wut?" and let them come up with something. Or, variations on a theme. This is fun when you have to remind somebody more than once. "What? Spinach in my teeth [big shit-eating grin]?" "What? Bird crap in my hair?" "What? Ink on my arm?" "What? Post-it on my nose?" But make sure you add a bit of disapproval in your tone, because otherwise it'll become a dumb game that only one person thinks is fun.

Or, do the turn-your-head looking behind you thing, where you pretend you think they're looking at something else past you. Whatever is back there, turn back around and say, with lament, or sarcasm, or pity, or disbelief "If that wall clock could speak, it'd probably tell you to stop that/walk on by/you're cold busted/_____!"

Just don't go to HR unless this behavior out of bounds or becomes something you can't handle. But you got this! Be a little silly, or graceful, friendly, or dismissive - whatever the situation requires and whatever works for YOU - and fake it until you make it.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:16 AM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't know how comfortable you'd be with this, but whenever I run into this kind of thing (for different reasons than you as I'm male), I turn towards the person, smile, and say "Hi" with a question mark, or "Yes?" with a nod/headtilt, or stop and make clear eye contact with a neutral smile. The trick is to drop the smile the second it's clear they don't have anything legitimate to say to you when they don't respond. Total neutral expression for a full second or two. Turn all the uncomfortable they're generating back on them, then walk away or carry on with whatever you were doing without any hesitation. This is really only feasible one-on one, but it's helped me when people were sending icky signals.

I agree you might want to let HR know you feel ogled, but that really depends on the HR department. Some are used pretty much exclusively to single out whistle-blowers to higher ups, and the environment could become much more hostile if that's the case.
posted by Phyltre at 9:19 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agreed on the staring back at them. They'll keep doing it unless you call them out, and making prolonged eye contact (with a neutral expression, as mentioned above) is a pretty good way to do that. Never be the first to look away.

Of course, if they refuse to look up at you, "May I help you with something?" can work too. Do it every time. Eventually they'll be uncomfortable enough to leave you alone.
posted by wavetothearctic at 9:22 AM on September 29, 2010

Unnecessary staring is sexual harassment. Tell them firmly: "stop staring at me" when it happens and if they don't, go to HR and file a complaint.
posted by brujita at 9:25 AM on September 29, 2010

I spent the better part of a day last week sitting through a harassment class. The two things that were drilled into my head over the course of this were "if you don't bring it up, it's as good as if it didn't happen" and "if it's outside of the realm of what an average person thinks is okay, it's totally appropriate to mention." I think it's totally appropriate to broach with your female coworkers, and if it continues and continues to make you really uncomfortable, to go have a conversation with HR.
posted by Zophi at 9:25 AM on September 29, 2010

i suppose it depend on what kind of person you are but i've done the following any time i get unwanted stares:
1) really dude? really? you're just gonna stare like it's ok?
2) hey how are ya...soooo why do you feel like it's ok to stare?
3) snap snap wake up're staring
4) uh, either say something or stop staring
posted by UltraD at 9:26 AM on September 29, 2010

[*sigh* folks, please answer the question. OP has said this attention is unwanted and bothering her, please offer constructive suggestions on how to manage it, thank you. MetaTalk is, as always, your option. Everyone else, keep suggestions on topic and don't start some sort of gendered fight here.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:36 AM on September 29, 2010

Err, just to reiterate: if you stare back, use a neutral/negative expression. Preferably as dead-eyed as you can muster. Don't smile, as it may be taken to indicate "interest". Staring back can be a bit risky that way.

I have no opinion on the general efficacy of any strategy listed above, but I have observed a stare-back being misinterpreted, so I thought I'd emphasize the point.
posted by aramaic at 9:43 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

01. Do a google image search of Charles Manson.
02. Observe the extremely disturbing look in his eyes. I like to call this the "Manson Stare".
03. Practice this in front of the mirror until you scare yourself a little bit. Try not to crack up too much while doing it, as this defeats the purpose entirely.
04. Unleash the Manson Stare at the leerers. Hold the Stare until they can no longer meet your eyes. If you are doing it right, you will actually see the little hairs on their arms stand up as they quiver in abject terror.
05. Repeat as needed.

I find it also helps to envision the leerers being torn to pieces by ravenous velociraptors while you Manson Stare at them.
posted by elizardbits at 9:47 AM on September 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

I've worked mostly in male dominated workplaces. The males have oogled and tripped over themselves because some would tell me to my face, they think "I'm hot." They were pretty hot themselves some of them. So, that could have played a factor. This isn't to be boastful, just a truth about what many women face. I've learned to deal with it because most of the time, it's their stupid male hormones kicking in. Especially if you're a nice person, they feel you're approachable not to date but to feel relaxed around you. I often use their comfortability to my advantage for them to cover me when I'm in a rut. For me, I don't feel threatened by their glares and whispers. It all depends on who is doing the staring, though. If I don't admire any of them, their work ethic or who they are, I tone down my dress and look plain jane. If I really like the environment and it's invigorating, I don't mind looking very nice. If you don't like any of the guys, teach them how to treat you. You can ignore or make light of it by making a joke. Men respond better with humor.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:47 AM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I also strongly encourage you to talk to HR. Just as others have mentioned, you don't have to give specifics as to who or when. Just phrase it as something that you've sensed from time to time in the general work environment.

I spoke to HR at a job I once held about a similar issue only to discover that I was not the only one that this was happening to. One person in particular known to behave inappropriately towards female co-workers was reprimanded and later fired for continued bad behavior. He served as an example to some of the other men in the office, most of whom stopped openly ogling.

Personally, I took a lesson from The Office and stare right back at them, except I stare at the middle of their forehead. First, they think something is on their face. When they realize there is not, they either get creeped out, or confused, or embarrassed for being so obviously and absurdly called out. But, it always ends in them walking or turning away.

I've also taken the direct route in the past by saying "Your staring is making me uncomfortable. I know that is not what you mean to do... is it?" All but the most brazen of Casanovas have denied staring, apologized for staring, or walked away. But, you do have to be prepared for the fool that takes this as an "In".
posted by eviltiff at 9:50 AM on September 29, 2010

Are you our new receptionist? Because that poor girl has men who have never sat down next to their own employees suddenly pulling up a chair next to her in reception and hovering around looking for extra-large binder clips.

If it's any consolation, it's noticed by other people and those men are looked down on. I call our own situation "Race to the Lawsuit 2010."

In any case, if they're in more powerful positions I'd advise feigned obliviousness and wearing whatever you want and setting your sights on a future where you don't work surrounded such a bunch of dummies. If these are actually peers, I think you have to wrench them into seeing your being female as a sub-part of what you are but not the entirety, which you do by being in meetings with them and speaking up, and making yourself be heard.

The problem with confrontations in the workplace is that they don't go away. That becomes the thing people know about you and then the fact that they pretend not to notice you at all becomes it's own pain in the ass.

I should note I guess that I'm a pretty non-confrontational person, myself.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:54 AM on September 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Echoing what others have said - I'll make a slightly exaggerated "startled" face, look around (again, in a slightly exaggerated fashion), look back at them, smile (in an "I don't get the joke" way) and say, "What?" (as if I'm waiting to be let in on what's caught their attention).

I've found it to be effective. It's down to your personality and what feels natural. If it happens after that I'll ask (coolly), "Is something wrong?" So far, I haven't had it happen 3 times.

And I don't see any harm in talking to HR about it, there may be precedence, and it's good for them to be aware - particularly, heaven forbid, should anything more than staring should happen.
posted by pammeke at 10:01 AM on September 29, 2010

This is not the sort of thing I would go to HR about

While you may want to try some of the other suggestions first, if it is a large company as you say, they probably already go through Harrassment Free Workplace training or something like that. It's apparently not working and HR should probably know this. If it is a large company, just brining this to HR's attention will make you unfireable for fear of a lawsuit or other negative publicity.
posted by Doohickie at 10:10 AM on September 29, 2010

I would say "Hey, how are you?" and start a simple polite conversation like "Seen any good movies lately?" and throw in mentions of things like "My husband/boyfriend and I really liked X movie" or "Me and my kid went to see Y". Or "Hi, I'm X in Y Dept" so they have to introduce themselves too and then mention something about your family, like "I'm rushing off to meet my husband for lunch, nice meeting you!" Then see if they stare at you the same the next time.

I think many clueless men, especially computer geeks, do not actually mean to stare and will stop doing it if you humanize yourself in a non-flirty way and give them a context to work with.

It sucks that you have to do anything at all, but I would try it before you go to HR.
posted by meepmeow at 10:21 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would really innocently react as if I thought they were trying to legitimately get my attention. Particularly if there are other people around, it'll embarrass them without an actual confrontation.

HIM - *staring*
YOU - *look at him, down at whatever body part he stared at, back at him* then say, innocently, and not at all accusingly, "Sorry, did you say something to me?" or "...Is something wrong?" (as in, "Are you staring because something's stuck on my clothing?")
HIM - "What? No."
YOU - (mildly) "Oh, you were kinda staring at me, I thought maybe you'd said something. Have a nice day!"

Do it as close to the end of interactions as possible- like just before getting off an elevator. That should take the edge off.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:38 AM on September 29, 2010

I think I would start with le morte de bea arthur's suggestion, and then unleash elizardbits' on any repeat offenders.
posted by grapesaresour at 11:24 AM on September 29, 2010

Reach out to other women, both in your office, and in your industry at large. They will be your best allies, your support system, and your cheering section.

It's what I wish I would have done, way back when I was "the girl." Instead of pulling the ripcord and bailing on the high tech industry altogether.

It felt great at the time, and kind of still does. But I'm sometimes sad that I both killed my career, and contributed to the gender inequality by leaving.

Don't let it drive you out, is what I'm saying. It may be hard to work up the guts to challenge the next guy who leers at you. But you have to do it, for your own sake. In most cases, each time will be the last leer you get from that particular guy. And he'll be a lot less likely to leer at other women in the future.

By acting now, you're laying the groundwork for your future, and for that of every other woman who comes into that office after you. Sounds a bit grandiose and over-dramatic, I know, but it's true.
posted by ErikaB at 11:35 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm definitely with the people who say you should respond by letting the culprits know you've noticed them staring. As a bone-ugly male I have to stretch my imaginative and empathic qualities a little to put myself in your position but I'd return their stares in a very level way and, if they persist, I'd raise an eyebrow and say "Yes? Do you want something?" If they are crass enough to respond to this lewdly, you have every right to either make it an HR matter or tell them that you do not appreciate sexual harassment and will make it an HR matter should they repeat that behaviour.

God, I hate my sex sometimes. Sorry you're having to put up with this.
posted by Decani at 11:39 AM on September 29, 2010

What we always used to do back when I was younger is look at them and say,"Take a picture, it'd last longer." Depending on your workplace culture, this might be either useless or pert near perfect.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:42 AM on September 29, 2010

Well, I am going against the grain here. I would advise you to ignore most of these answers. Staring back, saying or doing something crude and disgusting, or saying something rude to them is going to get you labeled as the offensive person. You may think all your coworkers are slimy creeps, and that is fine, but if they ALL think the same about you then you will be on your way out.

My suggestions would be:

1) Make sure this is not all in your head or some spotlight effect, or due to you being the new person like micawber mentioned. Since you are posting the question, I assume you have already done this, but, as a man who has read way too many AskMe posting, I now fret every time I smile at someone (especially a woman) that I am the creepy dude at work.

2) Identify the most egregious offenders and document the problems and report them, or start to avoid those guys. I recommend reporting, especially because if you get a rep as the reporter then the problem will likely stop with everyone else.

3) I did like the comment from meepmeow suggesting saying something innocuous, like "Hello". If the guys are not intentionally staring at you, or unaware that you noticed, a simple gesture like this will probably get them to back off.

4) Instead of trying to downplay your looks, maybe you can dress down a little bit and offset that by highlighting your facial features. There was an article from Newsweek that said men look at women's bodies in search of short term relationships, but look at faces for long term ones. From the article:

“One possibility is that we judge people’s characters from their faces—whether they are honest, kind, and smart,” says Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard

Another side of this phenomenon might be that as your professional relationship with these men lasts longer, the leers may move up from your body to your face. In this regard, I think a friendly "Hello" would go a long way against the leering, since it speeds up your friendship with these colleagues.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:43 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

le morte de bea arthur's suggestion is excellent.

In fact, you can probably take this further, by saying, "Is there something specific you want to say to me? [PAUSE] No? [PAUSE] I ask, because you are looking right at me, and it looks like there's something you want to say."

Then just smile broadly, while looking directly into his eyes and keeping your eyes very, very cold. Stare hard into his eyes until he looks away... and he will, probably faster than you expect.

Especially if you do this with other men around, you'll probably be able to feel this guy withering and shrinking into a tiny, helpless little slug right in front of you.

You might not fully believe this until you let yourself do this, but you might soon look back and find yourself surprised at how quickly this became a fun game for you...

one that makes you feel incredibly empowered.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:31 PM on September 29, 2010

I think there's a HUGE difference between staring and leering.

(Straight) Men are going to look at women, and look longer at women they find attractive and/or are considering the merits of sleeping with. Them's the breaks on planet earth. Many men are going to be clueless about this, not realize they're doing it, or overtaken by hormones and blood rushing to various places. This is where I'd put staring, and even ogling as a socially-awkward extreme. Usually when a man realizes he's doing this or is caught out, he'll look away quickly and shamefacedly.

Leering, however, is that thing when a man wants you to know that he finds you attractive and is thinking about you sexually. He wants you to feel uncomfortable. And when you notice that he's staring, he wants you to get the unspoken message "Oh yeah? What are you gonna do about it?" He feels entitled to look at and make uncomfortable whomever he pleases, and maybe you even like it when he stares. Why else would you dress like that?

I assume that the OP is talking about Leering. If so, you are not the only woman that this is happening to. Because even if you were an unwitting head-turner, you'd be getting stares, not leers.

Pick the friendliest of your female coworkers, and pick the most offensive of the Leerers, and feel the situation out: "Hey [ha ha this is not really a big deal I'm just curious], what's the deal with Leerer? Does he always stare like that? Sometimes I feel like I'm on Mad Men and he's gonna pinch my bottom or something, lol." And see what she says. If she acts uncomfortable and vague, then maybe this is in fact an unspoken rule and is accepted in this company's culture. If she is open to talking about it and agrees, then I think it's something that could be taken to HR. It might just be that as more women have come into the company, and as bottom-pinching has become more unacceptable, no one bothered to alert the men in your office.
posted by thebazilist at 12:49 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Should I verbally confront the starers?

Yes. A simple "What?!" should suffice. The more assertively you present yourself, the less you need to deal with things like this.

But also, as Walrus said, "Make sure this is not all in your head or some spotlight effect." An old workplace of mine had something of an issue with a woman who went to H.R. several times about people staring at her. No one was. My name even came up at one point, and not only was she not someone I would ever -- in a million years -- have given a second glance to, I didn't even recall ever seeing her in my life before that point.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:50 PM on September 29, 2010

My friend worked at the receptionist desk at her company -- invariably half her co-workers would lean over her desk and leer down her shirt. She would reach up and fondle the pendant on the necklace she was wearing and brightly say, "Do you like my necklace?"
posted by MeiraV at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2010

In their minds, they imagine that you secretly enjoy it. You pretend not to notice, but that's because it kind of turns you on a little. At night you go home and think about when he stared at you in the elevator.

These guys have read too many Penthouse Letters or whatever it is they read. You have to interrupt the fantasy with reality.

Turn it into a personal rejection of them, not just of staring guys in general. Glance up at their face, acknowledging that you notice, then mutter "gross." Attempt to get a really disgusted look as if you had looked into a trash can full of maggots.

Not too many men will go back for more ego abuse after a couple of times.
posted by ctmf at 1:19 PM on September 29, 2010

I usually just put them on the spot and say "Whatta YOU lookin' at, HUH?"
posted by WeekendJen at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2010

Our early twenty-something receptionist, who by pretty much every definition is gorgeous, has this incredible withering glare for those who spend a bit to long staring below her shoulders. Appreciation that shes stylish and attractive is one thing, but a moment too long and that gal can shrivel a man's ego is seconds without saying a word. She educated us guys long ago so now we just have fun watching her do it other hapless fools.

So, what everyone else said. Give'm the Evil Eye.
posted by elendil71 at 2:19 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even though they're being rude, you don't have to be, and you don't have to try to freak them out, either. Neither is good for your professional or personal image, and you shouldn't have to ruin your own image/reputation to stop this unwanted behavior. A neutral--not timid, not annoyed, not snotty!--"Can I help you?" or similar will usually embarrass the starer enough to stop staring, and it's not rude and doesn't show interest. One or two bold folks might take this as an opportunity to actually, verbally flirt or express interest, in which case you can politely explain that you don't date co-workers.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like to do the "daintily wipe something from my eye with my middle finger" gesture, without making eye contact. It will only be noticed by someone who is actually staring at you, and done subtly enough, they can't really be sure that you're actually flipping them off. It messes with their heads enough that they go away.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:05 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have always worked in male environments.
But because of behavior (more like a guy - sarcastic, blunt, funny), the men seem to drop any flirting/staring after a little bit.
Sometimes if I feel like I'm really uncomfortable and creeped out by someone - I tend to get sarcastic and short with them. That kills that.

And this is no offense whatsoever - but some other females I have worked with that have complained about guys staring or flirting with them were usually either flirtatious (without knowing it), wore tight clothing or were just paranoid.
One girl admitted to me that she was paranoid about it and I never saw any guys staring at her even when she said, "Did you see that? He looked right at me!" and I replied with, "that's because you were walking towards him!"

I also have some male friends who think that every woman that smiles, says 'hello' or takes their order at McDonalds "wants" them.
posted by KogeLiz at 5:52 PM on September 29, 2010

This is assuming they are just cluelessly thinking you don't notice, that you might like it, or that it's just kind of benign and harmless. (As opposed to being gold-plated creeps who are deliberately trying to humiliate you.)

What has worked with me with people who are just clueless is not to use a psycho expression, but a really unhappy and sad one. Most people feel conscience pangs when they realize they have embarrassed or hurt a person who hasn't done anything to them. When you sense someone is staring, let them see you notice it. And then, let any discomfort and embarrassment you feel show on your face in that moment. If it bums you out, or you are even almost to the point where you want to cry, let that show on your face. A lot of guys get really uncomfortable around a woman who appears to be on the verge of tears, and it is also a turn-off, which will douse the flirty vibe they are feeling. Most people will cut it out at that point. The ones who don't check themselves after seeing that reaction from you are probably closer to the gold-plated creep/sociopath, making you uncomfortable on purpose category, and this won't work on those people. Luckily, those people seem to be really rare. And, you'll know who the really bad apples are. Those are the ones I would specifically name and go after if I were going to go to HR, or talk about it to a sympathetic boss or co-worker, etc; just going after them should make it easier because, at least in my experience, these sorts of people usually also engage in much more "substantial," less subjective bad behavior. I also think that those are the ones who really drive this kind of culture and when the few of them are removed, situations become disproportionately better.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:19 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman who has, until recently, often been the only tech female in a given company or department.

I tend to respond with "Go away, your staring is very distracting and I'm trying to work." But then, I'm very blunt.

More subtle (rarely used) responses include "Is my shirt that interesting today?", "Yes?", and giving them a little wave.
posted by ysabet at 6:29 PM on September 29, 2010

Here's one I thought of today

Ask them if they know what a strip club is. Whatever they say, reply "So, a strip club is a place where it's OK to stare at women's bodies." Pause. "And you know this is not a strip club, right? It's a law firm."
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:03 AM on September 30, 2010

... Supermarket, box factory etc. Hit post too soon. I don't mean you should say it's a law firm if it isn't!
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:07 AM on September 30, 2010

You might want to make a distinction between 'men you work with' and 'men who you will never see again.'

I tend to ignore the men that I will never see again. A confrontation won't help because there will just be another one there to stare at me the next day (and yes, I live and work in an environment where there is an endless supply of men who stare at the few women around). It's gotten to the point, where I have almost stopped noticing.

I expect more from my co-workers. When I experience inappropriate looks from them, I tend to communicate my displeasure with a pointed glance or body language (pulling a sweater tighter, drawing myself back in my chair). I'm not the confrontational type, and most of them have been very good at taking the hint.

If they hadn't, depending on the company, I would have talked to either my manager or HR. HR will frequently tell your manager you report a problem in your department (unless he is the specific object of the complain), so be prepared for that conversation.
posted by oryelle at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2010

I'm a guy. My advice - quickly look at him, roll your eyes, sigh and look away. Kinda like, "ugh yeah right like this guy really has a chance with me."

That, or the even more overt look of disgust like, "oh please like you could even handle me" should be embarrassing enough for the dude to leave you alone forever.

Most guys in the workplace are like, "omigosh she's so purty she smiled at me maybe I have a shot I should look at her to signal my interest maybe she'll like me omigosh" not realizing that they're coming off way creepy. They just need a little hint that they're being obnoxious.
posted by blahtsk at 10:24 AM on September 30, 2010

Some of these ideas are what such a leering person probably deserves (cinematically, at least, circa late 1980's "Working Girl") and are truly hysterical. But only as an anecdote. As many have mentioned, such is no good for your career. More than that, such might paint you in a spot where you have to become this other person that you are not. By that I mean, you're at work doing your job - why must you adopt this personae /1930's moxie to get on with your business? Hey, if you natually have this side to you - go crazy. But I don't think you would have written this question if that were the case.

Bottom line, you will encounter many problems with people in the work place - from men and women. Strategies for this are fun and might work - but are they in keeping with how you actually conduct yourself in the world? I ask because, obviously, I don't know you, and because having to resort to such myself (over the years, to varying degrees of "success") has, in the long term, not made me feel better about life at work - but much, much worse.

A good idea is to come up with something that does no damage to you in the end. You say this is something you wish not to take to HR. So, what will work that will not make you into someone else (like Charles Manson, for example) but end the behavior?

Unforturnately, this question will always come back around to what you can adjust (in your bearing, your dress - boat necks, big scarves, angry stares, "hi, up here") to make this stop. The thing is: none of that will ever make it stop. If it did, you never would have needed to write this question - as women having been employing such tactics in the workplace since WWII.

Besides, they will then just more secretly stare at your butt. If they aren't already.

No. The only thing you can do is realize that these guys are foolish and out of control -- and you aren't. Keep that in mind. You win. In the contest of who's being professionsl (assuming you never stare at people) you win. I say this because these same guys have heard, "hey -up here!" with a point to ones eyes a million times before - and might actually find the fact that they were douchy enough to recieve the ubiquitous snarky comment from the "office female" some kind of (sad) reward.

Either do nothing (by that I don't mean take it. I mean don't react) or take it to HR. That's what HR is for. It wasn't always the case that there were laws in place and recognized standards - and a whole department where one could deal with such matters while also keeping their dignity inctact.
posted by marimeko at 11:17 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a fabulous, "I'm going to cut you, motherfucker" look. Stops the staring pretty quick. I've even had other female staff ask me to use the look to get past some letches in the kitchen or whatever.
posted by ShadePlant at 12:06 PM on October 1, 2010

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