“How to react when you know somebody is staring at you? I am not sure if I should slap him…”

Sharing an email. 

Hey IHM,

I have one very basic doubt –
How to react when you know that somebody is staring at you? And now that person could be anybody (from some mawali on road to maybe your colleague). So if he is a colleague or somebody whom i know I am not sure if I should slap him or go and shout at him. Please advice.

Ya.. if you could share it that would be good.. As I will get to know what others do in these type of situation because I think almost every women must be going through this!!

And I am not sure if I want to ignore something like this in work place. There must be a way of handling a situation like this without being labeled as weird / without being ignored by everyone (as I am the only gal in my dept).
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26 thoughts on ““How to react when you know somebody is staring at you? I am not sure if I should slap him…”

  1. I look into the eyes and stare back of course with a stern look.if still that doesnt work i ask “what “. this reaction is to mavali or colleague .it is same to both.
    Nowadays i have to a lot as I as feed my baby in car or malls.

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  2. In India, people stare for different reasons, presence of a female being a good one. The starer maybe known or unknown to you. If you think someone is staring, then you are right most of the times. Over time, I have figured out the following:

    1. Stealthy starer(Known or unknown): They may just steal a look at you intermittently, but that is enough to make you uncomfortable of course. Stare back sharply for a considerably long time, and they will just look away. Be aware that this needs a little self-confidence and resolve on your part.
    (Funny story, my MIL is a stealthy starer😀 )

    2. Openly staring type (Known): If someone is openly staring and making no pretense to hide it, it means you can go ahead and talk to them/ shout at them/ slap them/approach HR depending upon the amount of irritation that you feel and whether you are a patron of Gandhigiri or a well known pangebaaz.

    3. Openly staring type (unknown): Generally ‘mawali type’. Do not stare back, because that would only encourage them. Such people need a good thrashing, verbal or otherwise, for which you might want to be either self-reliant or can take help from people around you or police.

    4. Curious type: They are a harmless lot and mostly stare because you are looking good /different/funny etc. Mostly women and children fall in this category. The moment their curiosity is over, they will stop staring at you.

    You said:
    ‘And I am not sure if I want to ignore something like this in work place. There must be a way of handling a situation like this without being labeled as weird / without being ignored by everyone’

    You should not ignore this because such things might graduate to the next level of sexual harassment. Not everyone stares. I have realized govt. employees in small towns, especially people in their 40s-50s are not very used to the idea of women at their workplace. They are not sensitized towards it. So they stare with their jaws wide-open. I am sure you must have a couple of friends or friendly people at workplace. Talk to these colleagues you are comfortable with, about this problem. Complaint about it to the HR if need be. You can talk directly to the person staring and ask them politely whether something is out of place.

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  3. One thing I’ve seen is that most people (I’m not saying ‘men’, because many women – especially Indian women – too stare, though maybe not in a sexual way) will go on staring till you look them back straight in the eye. Then they’ll avert their gaze. If someone is staring at me, I (usually) stare right back and I don’t stop staring at them till they look away. Having said that, I’ve probably never been in a potentially dangerous situation, in which case, it’d probably not be a good idea.

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  4. Stare right back and if the person is still staring, ask “Do you have something to say?”.
    Why should you be worried about being labelled weird.? If anybody should be worried, it should be the people who do all the staring, which is certainly weird,as any sane person would say.So its not you who is being weird.Its the Starers who are being weird.
    If people at work are calling you weird / ignoring you for the sole reason that you did not like being stared at, then I would say you are better off without such friends.You have a right to speak up and express yourself as much as the next person, about whatever it is that is making you uncomfortable,so if people do not like it, then it is their problem, not yours.
    Please do not keep quite, it may encourage others.Speaking up and stopping such behaviour will help not only you, but others as well.You may be setting a good precedent.
    When I get stared at,which happens regularly, be it the gas delivery chap,the milk man,the security guard,or a colleague,I stare right back with an annoying expression.That usually works and they avert their gaze.

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  5. You can go and say ‘Mai Aishwarya Rai hoo kyaa? Why are you staring at me?’ I did that once at work. No one dared to stare again😉

    (Only woman in the team too)

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  6. At the workplace –
    You can nod or say hello and move on to the next thing. They are supposed to reciprocate and move on too. If they don’t reciprocate or move on, but continue staring, you can say, “Can I help you with something?”
    On the street –
    I know what you mean.
    This is not the kind that will respond to a polite hello or a nod. They might even misinterpret it. Make eye contact, show awareness that you know you are being stared at, show in your expression that you find it annoying, then move on.
    Sometimes people stare admiringly and when you notice, they either smile or quickly turn away, this is innocent and okay, I think. It’s very irritating when they stare you down because they think they can, you’re a woman, and they have a right to stare.
    I’ve often wondered myself what to do with this type of intense staring in public places – like when going for a jog, waiting for a train, standing in line at a grocery store, etc.

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  7. Don´t beat around the bush and be direct. Don´t take being the only woman in the group as a reason to put up with staring men. Anything that makes you uncomfortable should be tackled head on, and the sooner the better.
    Walk up to the starer and speak to him. Ask him if there´s something he´d like to say. And no matter what he says, underline by making it explicitly clear that he cannot stare at you. If nothing else, it tells him you are not going to just adjust maadi with stares.

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  8. A bit of a sticky situation no doubt. How about saying something like “May I help you?” in an irritated sort of way. Basically send no signals that you’re encouraging him like keeping silent and ignoring it. Or if it continues, walking up and saying “I would appreciate it if you didn’t keep staring at me”. If it’s a colleague and it continues, you can report him to HR since I think most companies would take this kind of unprofessional behavior quite seriously.

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  9. After being abroad for more than a decade DG had forgotten how it feels to be ogled and stared at but bless desi men it will never be obsolete be it anywhere in the world. It was only last week she was waiting for bus when she ran into a male acquaintance and they struck up a conversation. This desi gentle man with his ram like orange beard kept staring at her, he would walk away and then come near her and try to hear what she was talking about with a fixated gaze on her face. This continued for about ten minutes and finally she yelled out loudly, STOP STARING AT ME. Mean while the bus came and they all boarded but it was good enough to shame him and draw everyone’s attention to him.
    This weekend she was camping with a mixed group of strangers and few people did bother her by unwanted attention through stares and striking conversation she was not interested in, she had to excuse herself few time and when it didn’t work she had to loudly say, “I want to be left alone.” Along with her was a young woman of twenty who was wheelchair bound and had speech impairment a forty something male was bothering her she kept saying no but when the person did not heed she gave him a finger and it worked.
    About work situation, if someone is ogling at you look them in eye and say, are you doing ogling now can we go back to work and then report them to HR, it is work place harassment.
    Peace,
    Desi Girl

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  10. I don’t think violence should be the first response. On the street, I’d ignore it, or say “what?’ as someone suggested, and move on. In the workplace, I’d go with: “Can I help you with something?” If it continues, I’d speak to my boss or HR.

    I know how oppressive staring can be. I once found myself in a compartment alone with a starer on a 16-hour train journey. After a couple of hours of being stared at non-stop (staring back did not work, only encouraged him), I asked the TC to change my seat. The starer proceeded to find me and walk up and down the corridor staring.

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  11. Do not scream or shout at him–do not slap him. Look him in the eye, walk up to him, and say, in an assertive voice ‘excuse me, did you want something? I notice that you’ve been looking in my direction.’ Do this in front of everyone.

    If he keeps staring at you after this, take it up with HR.

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  12. As per the new legislation “The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal) Act 2013 it is mandatory for every employer (wherever there are more than 10 employees) to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee-ICC to look into matters related to or connected with sexual harassment.
    Check if your organisation has a ICC. If yes- report the matter to the ICC.
    If no, inform the HR/employer that it is mandatory to constitute an ICC in the workplace.
    Staring in such a manner as to make the other person uncomfortable results in creation of a hostile work environment.
    Hence, i) Awareness training to be conducted; since it is the ‘impact’ and not the ‘intent’ that has to be considered. ii) Verbal/written warning to be issued.
    Hope this helps.

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  13. I think as most commentators have suggested already, a stare back and a ‘what’? usually makes the starer aware that you are not passively going to take it. If he doesn’t stop it, I would ask him, ” can I help you with something? I thought you wanted something?” which will make him more conscious. Most often in India, men are not even aware that their staring is not going to be taken passively and so they do it as a habit!! While a good kick in the **s is a temptation, making them aware that you are not going to be passive usually works. If everything fails, you should talk to the person and state frankly that you do not appreciate being stared at for no reason.

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  14. Another one on similar lines that gets my gripe – especially at workplace.
    The cafeteria is brimming with people and many times, when I enter, I see one head whispering something to the motley group on the table and they would turn around and give me a stare. Some think that they are very discreet when they do it but it is quite evident.
    Many a times, I have given back a cold stare to drive down the message that I have noticed. But many times it doesn’t work.

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  15. Hmm, on the roads, an angry state back works. But don’t stare too long lest they think it is come here to me signal. Everybody stares on the roads so it is pointless & dangerous shouting at them.

    Workplace – I would definitely stare back & ask “could I help you ” & if they still continue, definitely embarrass them & ask” I think you are staring, anything you want & I do not like being stared at”. Be calm & speak in a normal tone. They can easily put you down as a crazy emotional woman or you take things way too seriously/over reacting types (the standard reply for jerks who cannot put you down in any other way). So, do not raise your voice. We don’t need to tell them why we don’t like it.

    If it continues, i would go to HR and definitely still be calm.

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  16. For the workplace situation,

    He is taking advantage of the situation that you don’t seem to have close friends who will hear about this. You are alone. The very fact that you feel you may be taken as weird points in that direction. Be friendly and nice to all. Don’t take the “only girl” thing as a problem. Greet everybody and smile openly. Be confident. He is just enjoying the fact that you look annoyed and scared each time. It may make him feel powerful that he is able to intimidate you with just a stare. Don’t permit yourself to get intimidated. Soon your confidence will show and he will stop his attempts. And soon you will get the confidence to say the “What??” that is being highly recomended here.

    For other situations,

    Something similar will work here too.
    Please give more information. Bus? Gym? Library? Family Friend? Grocer?

    Cheers.

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  17. At work, I’d just say “Do you want to say something?”. At other places different things work depending on who is staring. If an aunty is staring I’d say “Do I know you?”. For others it could be just a “what?” or “it is rude to stare” or something else depending on the scenario. But never would I lower my eyes or look away if the stare is making me uncomfortable. I would also not resort to shouting or slapping for a stare. I’d rather let them know that their staring is not acceptable.

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  18. This reminds me of the scene from Dil Chata Hain wherein Amir boards the train and Preity is alone at the train station and is approached by an old beggar who keeps staring at her and walking towards her. Amir reaches there and realizing that Priety found herself vulnerable because of the beggar decided to hug him and scare away….

    I feel the best way is to ask what they are looking for? To be honest in India, everyone stares like they are invisible to the person they are staring. They best way is to ask which will surprise them cause they will realize their folly and it might not work all the time but slowly when others also do the same, they will be conscious of staring people.

    Then again, sometimes its best to ignore them when one is walking down a lonely road and group of guys are sitting and staring….

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  19. I have experienced this a lot many times and ignoring is a very bad idea especially when u hav a gut feeling that the other person is hitting on u. staring them back with a stern look works most of the time. Or just say ‘what’ ..takes lil experience to perfect ..bt it works!!!
    Of course if they are bunch of random guys better ignore.

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