What are the best ways to ask a co-worker to stop looking at my boobs?
July 4, 2015 4:23 AM   Subscribe

Every time we talk he can't help staring at my boobs. It's only a few seconds but it makes me uncomfortable and angry. What should I tell him? I'm sure you have great scripts for this too common situation! (I'm 29, he's 55) Thank you in advance, Mefites
posted by OrangeCat to Human Relations (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the traditional way where I'm from is to click your fingers up near your forehead and snap, "Hey! My eyes are up here!" Or, you know, pointedly stare at his crotch and ask if it makes him as uncomfortable as what he's doing to you! (That's a joke, by the way, don't do it.)
posted by Jubey at 4:35 AM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

Rather than say something directly, try and use body language and gestures to put across your discomfort. As soon as he looks move your outstretched hand over the area, or fiddle with your clothes to indicate that you have been made aware of your body through his looking. Hopefully the shift and general discomfort you perform will waken him to what he is doing and that it has been noticed and is not OK.

If this doesn't make a difference after you have tried it a few times then you will probably have to say something more direct.
posted by 0bvious at 4:43 AM on July 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: "Yes, they're still there. No need to keep checking."

Five gets you twenty he's convinced himself that nobody can see him doing this, and will find being called on it excruciatingly embarrassing.
posted by flabdablet at 4:50 AM on July 4, 2015 [36 favorites]

"Eyes up here, bud." *points to face*
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:05 AM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Next time he does it, cross your arms in front of your chest (taking care not to smoosh your boobs, creating more cleavage, but just to cover them). It may take a few times, but he'll get the message if you keep doing it every time.
posted by amro at 5:25 AM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: A variant on 0bvious' suggestion is to act very slightly startled and look down there yourself whenever he does. Then ask "did I spill something?" but with serious mouth, raised eyebrows, and intense eye contact (think scary mom). This gives him a bit of mercy but also lets him know that's exactly what you're doing.

(I don't think a bit of mercy is misplaced here, either. Lapses in understanding that direction of gaze is public information are a more probable explanation than this guy just being a big creep, although he should fix the behavior either way!)
posted by cogitron at 5:30 AM on July 4, 2015 [35 favorites]

Something like what cogitron said, but no need to even speak. Just pointedly look down at your chest and then look back up at him, right in the eye. If that doesn't work I'd go for a straight up "Don't stare at my boobs, I don't like it." No joy with that and I'd be getting my script from HR.
posted by billiebee at 5:48 AM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

If the guy's 55, he should already know better. People who do this at his age don't need to be coddled, they need to be made aware that you know they're doing it and that it's not acceptable. I like flabdablet's, futureisunwritten's and billiebee's scripts. I would also document when he does it and when you told him to stop in case you want/need backup from your supervisor or HR.
posted by i feel possessed at 5:54 AM on July 4, 2015 [26 favorites]

If you're in an office environment, this guy's had at least 10 years of sexual harassment orientations which is enough to know what he's doing isn't correct. If he's uncomfortable with sustained eye contact (as some are) there are more appropriate places to dart his gaze onto and by now he should have learned that too.

This has worked for me in a casual office environment, where I was amiable with the guy: "This isn't Mad Men, [name}, eyes up here."

Otherwise a crisp, "Please don't stare at my breasts. Thanks!" works too. Think Mary Poppins. Polite and to the point.
posted by kimberussell at 6:20 AM on July 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

The alternate script is talking to someone in HR and describing the problem.

This is sexual harassment and your employer has a legal obligation to provide you with a work environment that is free from it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:24 AM on July 4, 2015 [17 favorites]

Start dramatically clutching at your chest and belly area and frantically say, "OH MY GOD AM I GROWING A KUATO???"

That ouguta snap him out of it.

Remember, this guy is making you uncomfortable by doing something that's absolutely unacceptable, especially in a work environment. It's not your job to protect his feelings or ego.
posted by phunniemee at 6:25 AM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hold his gaze while you are talking; you can do this more powerfully by looking from one of his eyes to the other. When he starts to look down ask, "Is there a problem?"
posted by BibiRose at 6:28 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, you don't have to "just deal with it." That's awful advice.

Let's reframe this. You say: "Every time we talk he can't help staring at my boobs."

Really, here's what's going on: "Every time we talk he chooses to stare at my boobs."

The notion that straight men lose the ability to reason or exercise fine motor control when presented with female breasts is excusing sexual harassment.

They may WANT to look, but in a professional context, they should be keenly aware, in 2015, that they should CHOOSE not to.

His choice to relentlessly stare at yours is a choice to sexually harass you in the workplace.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:46 AM on July 4, 2015 [68 favorites]

Best answer: OK god I wanted to do this anonymously but really, I gotta own this shitty behaviour from my past. So I used to do this exactly, in my mid twenties. It was exactly as flabdablet says: I convinced myself that women couldn't tell where I was looking. I dunno, maybe I thought I had a superpower or something.

What got me to stop was a woman doing two things. She raised one hand in a way that was very clearly designed to cover her cleavage. Nothing natural or casual about it; she was intentionally blocking my view. At the same time she said, "We can see when you do that."

Instant, unrelenting mortification. Saying we rather than I made it even clearer that I had been a lot less sneaky than I thought. For the next while every time I saw a woman wearing clothes that showed cleavage I thought of that interaction and how goddam stupid I must have looked, thinking I was some kind of gaze ninja. My wandering eyes no longer wandered downward. Soon the behaviour was extinguished entirely.

Dunno if it would work in your case but it's probably worth a try. If it doesn't and he gets defensive, then he's an asshole and you need to escalate through official channels. Nobody has the right to ogle your body and make you uncomfortable.

Thank you Freya.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:57 AM on July 4, 2015 [124 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers. I know I don't have to protect his feelings and don't want to. I don't live in the US, the notion of sexual harassment isn't taken very seriously in my country (but thankfully he's the only guy doing this in my male-dominated team), so HR and co won't help (even if I work in what is considered a great company, GPTW etc.).
Thank you for your suggestions, I hope I won't need to use all of them!
posted by OrangeCat at 7:51 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I stop talking and look at my boobs, too. Works every time.
posted by sweetkid at 7:56 AM on July 4, 2015 [21 favorites]

Ah. You're not in the US. That changes things. I'm not in the US either. In fact I'm in a country where almost every man I know (yes, including gay men) checks out women's chests. In professional and other environments. At very high hierarchical levels. (As for the parenthesis: it's so societally accepted here that gay men check it out to make polite comments on your appearance/outfit.) Hell, even women check out women's chests.

That's for background, it is NOT to say you just need to deal with it. There's looking, and there's leering. This dude makes you uncomfortable, and you say it lasts a few seconds: that's leering. Most checking out is done in a flash – you notice it and it's over in a second, and respectful conversation goes on. For leering, definitely take the hand over your chest route. It is a common and oft-practiced tactic. I also do the "oh, is there something on my chest?" look down, which has made more than a few leerers turn beet red and not do that again.
posted by fraula at 8:08 AM on July 4, 2015

Wear one of these shirts?
posted by Arthur Dent at 8:20 AM on July 4, 2015

I can't speak with certainty because I don't know the culture in your country.

Speaking from a US perspective, I'd say that the behavior is deeply ingrained and automatic and not meant to exploit or cause discomfort. HOWEVER, it's clearly non-PC, and it's controllable.

In the US I'd recommend the direct approach mentioned above, i.e., a simple statement like futureisunwritten suggested. It's almost certain to extinguish the behavior if the guy is decent at all.

If it doesn't, and you see this as an employment issue, then escalate to supervision, if that is reasonable in your culture.

The body language and playacting mentioned above are just too precious and subtle to convey this clear simple message.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:25 AM on July 4, 2015

Best answer: Funny as some of the suggestions in this thread are, I would recommend you go with one of the most direct approaches, i.e., a crisp, unsmiling, "My face is up here", or "Stop staring at my breasts. It's inappropriate." Women are socialized to deal with abuse and harassment with all kinds of indirect, tactful approaches, but the problem is men who treat women disrespectfully either don't get subtlety or don't feel obligated to heed it and their victims get stuck in a loop of trying to be heard. Draw a clear line in the sand and stand by it. You'll feel better for having done so and he can't pretend to himself or you that he didn't understand.
posted by orange swan at 9:13 AM on July 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

Start wearing a "My face is up here" and an arrow pointing up T-shirt?

posted by kschang at 9:14 AM on July 4, 2015

I can't remember where I read this, but a woman facing the same problem fixed it by holding a folder up by her chest. When the guy's gaze started drifting toward her chest, she subtly shifted the folder to reveal it actually said something like MY EYES ARE UP HERE.
posted by sutel at 9:26 AM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Getting this kind of shit to stop can be hard, but it helps to remind yourself that you doing or saying something to stop this from happening shouldn't be a cause of embarrassment for you. He is the one who should be embarrassed and ashamed. You haven't done anything wrong. You're simply existing as a human with breasts.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:26 AM on July 4, 2015 [17 favorites]

i feel possessed is right. 55 is much too old to have unpolished perving abilities. He needs to be made aware he's really bad at it. After my dad got trifocals in his late 60's, his former ability to very subtly gaze at passing women was replaced by a disjointed, ostrich-like jerky head cant until the woman's ass fell into the proper diopter. It was painfully obvious and my mother called him on it and told him he looked like a fool. It didn't last long.
posted by MacChimpman at 10:51 AM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Just to be clear, I wasn't trying to be funny. I really recommend looking at your boobs when the man does it. It can be awkward to say things out loud about boobs and where your eyes are etc, and I think it can be dangerous to say something verbally to counter something that was non verbal. It's not fair that women have to deal with things this way sometimes but there it is.
posted by sweetkid at 11:33 AM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Ugh, so sorry.

Dude's 55, he knows he's at work, he knows he's checking out your chest; he knows, and he's relying on women (understandably) sparing his feelings, playing along, or just wanting to get through the interaction without confrontation; he's taking advantage.

"My eyes are up here" or the more commanding "eyes up here!" work if you find yourself uncomfortable in the moment referring to your breasts. (I'm shy and found myself unable to say "breasts" to a man who was checking them out because I knew he would deny it and make me out to be breast-obsessed, such was his level of creepiness. Be prepared for that.)
posted by kapers at 4:27 PM on July 4, 2015

Is he speaking to you just to leer?

Try, "What is your wife's name?" just as he starts to leer. Or buy a fan, a hand fan big enough to cover. Open it when he starts to leer. Or get a folder, label it don't.
posted by Oyéah at 9:51 PM on July 4, 2015

Response by poster: ok, as of today, I DID IT! Took me a long time to muster the courage, but it happened. Coworker was an asshole, my team and manager are with me. Fingers crossed things will get better! Thank you everybody for your input, thank you thank you, it feels so liberating.
posted by OrangeCat at 8:43 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A little more detailed account, because I'm so proud, relieved, happy (somewhat).

All your answers were fantastic and made sense, but I had a really hard time to put them in practice. I started with body language, which didn’t work (but made all my colleagues laugh -in solidarity), and as time was passing I felt worse each time I met problematic-colleague. 

And this morning, I was like WTF, now I’m making elaborate plans to avoid him… So, when his everyday ritual hello-are-your-breasts-still-here happened, I told him straight in the eyes to please stop looking at my tits, it makes me uncomfortable. He denied looking at anything, accused me of making HIM unconfortable by raising the subject and imagining things. He even said that since my cleavage was so small, there was nothing to see… You just said w-what?! I reiterated my demand and told him there were other women who were uncomfortable around him because of the very same reasons… He kept on denying and told me he wouldn’t greet me anymore if that was the problem, that there actually was no obligation to say hello to each other. Wow. 

I went back in my open space, fuming. Fuming but also scared and amazed at what I just did. I was alternating between "ten points for Gryffondor!!" and "what have you done, you'll end up alone for the rest of your life". I was shaking and to the verge of tears. My colleagues asked me what was going on. While I related what just happened my female colleagues started to share their own stories about problematic-colleague. (My company is male dominated, we're only 10% females). It was heartbreaking… My manager (male, 35) heard us, said he was very sorry this was happening and would have a word with him. He couldn’t believe we were enduring this, he was really mortified and thanked me for raising the subject. He even said that if we were in the US, problematic-colleague would have been fired on the spot. You Americans are a reference in term of handling sexual harrassment in the work place...!

Females AND males congratulated me for saying high what everybody was thinking low. It was touching -and sad- too see women unfold and share their feelings about our colleague's behaviour and about the status quo in general around this kind of situations. They told me they wouldn't have dared in their wildest dream adress the issue with problematic-colleague even though they knew it was the thing to do. It is so so sad and infuriating. It so sad that telling a colleague to stop looking at my tits becomes a victory rather than a mere reminder or even that it has to happen…

But I HAD to do it, for me, and for you who took time to respond my post. I owed this to you, guys!

Thank you Mefites for making me want to be a better human and woman. Hm, there's dust in my eye, gotta go. 
posted by OrangeCat at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2015 [8 favorites]

Ten points for Gryffindor!
posted by flabdablet at 6:24 PM on September 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

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