If you don’t want me looking, then don’t go showing.

Once there was an artist who spent a great deal of effort creating a marvelous 3D work of art. The artist carefully selected paints and fabrics and materials, then spent hours combining it all into a masterpiece that the artist happily brought down to a busy city street.

The artist sat back on a bench to see how the work would be received. Soon someone walked by the structure and paused, squinting her eyes as if jealous. To this reaction, the artist smiled in smug satisfaction.

Others walked by completely ignoring the piece, and to that the artist harrumphed, insulted.

Still others came by and stopped, amazed. Some even got closer and said things such as, “Wow, that’s amazing. How’d you do that?”

The artist evaluated those people before deciding how to react to their admiration. Sometimes the artist explained in great detail, or even showed off a bit more of the work, or—if the artist didn’t deem the observer worth the time—would simply shrug them away and watch for more interesting observers.

Occasionally a particular person walked by, and the artist sat up taller, hoping that the work of art would capture that person’s attention. Indeed, the entire project was intended solely in hooking that someone just like that.

However, another group stopped along that busy street, and stared and gawked at the work, to which the artist shrieked and shouted, “What do you think you’re doing? Get away! Get away! Don’t look!” The group, surprised and thinking that the art was there for everyone, sneered and left, but a few glanced back with sniggers and an unwelcomed comment or two.

By now you’re probably wondering, “What the heck is wrong with that artist?” The piece of art was set out deliberately on display for everyone to see, so why did the artist respond in different ways to different people? And why, especially, the insistence that some people do NOT look?

Now, imagine the artist as a woman instead, and the piece of art she created is herself—dressed up, painted up, sexed up. She’s spent hours putting herself together, and then by walking out in public, she puts herself on display.

This is something I’ve never understood, even though I’ve been a woman for 45 years: women want to be looked at, but only by certain people?

–If other women look at the artist-woman, with envy and even a bit of hatred, the artist-woman feels special, even a bit vindicated because she’s become an object that other women wished to aspire to.

–If the artist-woman feels appreciated by those who look at her, she’ll occasionally tell where she purchased that awesome top, or give away her secrets for those lush eyelashes—but only to those she deems worthy.

–And if the right man notices her—watch out. What will occur then will be a displaying ritual that would put a peacock or a sage grouse to shame. The woman-artist will preen and strut and bend over and giggle and toss her hair—usually within seconds—all in an attempt to be “noticed.”

–However, if they’re the wrong kind of man, someone the artist-woman doesn’t find attractive (overweight, too old, too young, too ugly, too short, etc.) and he bothers to look, to comment, to even suggest dinner that night, suddenly she cries foul and even claims sexual harassment.

In any other situation, this rationale would border on psychosis—a split personality: you can stare at me, but he can’t.

The moment the artist-woman stepped out of her home, she put herself on display. And once she does that, she cannot pick and choose whose gazes she’ll welcome, and whose she won’t. It’s prejudice on the part of the woman to try to get the attention of one kind of man, but not the other, and even more duplicitous to press charges against one man for doing the same thing another did, but happened to be sexy enough to get away with it.

(Click on the photo for a link to the article. Sorry about these half-naked girls. They give me the creeps, too.)

Take, for example, the recent situation at the San Diego ComCon, where a number of women (Geeks for CONsent) were upset that people stared at them (you’re in a crazy costume!), took pictures of them (because you’re in a crazy costume!), and even groped (Ok, THAT’S crossing the line, I agree). (Click here to see some more of those costumes, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

However, if you’ve even been to one of these conventions, you’ll realize that costumes (cosplay) is a big factor of the event, and people take pictures of each other in admiration of the effort that went into the elaborate outfit, or in hope to recreate the same costume some day, or because they’re shocked that someone would go out in public dressed in Princess Leia’s Jabba the Hut gold bikini set. Again, touching is NOT ok, but really—you’re going to throw a fit because you created a piece of art that people follow around to admire and take pictures of? So why did you put that art on display in the first place?

When you put yourself on display, you can’t control who looks at you, or how, or why. You have the freedom to show off, but you don’t have the freedom to control others’ reactions to you.

That’d be me there, on the left, in the shadow where I couldn’t frighten small children.

Believe it or not, all women are not ogled all the time. Being a frumpy, lumpy middle-aged woman, (I’d have to dress up as Jabba’s female counterpart, Gardulla, if I went to Comic Con) I don’t have this problem at all, so the argument can be made that I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

However, I have beautiful daughters, and as a writer I’m also a people watcher (actually, I’m sort of a Dr. Frankenstein: I stalk people and steal from them physical and personality traits that eventually get pieced together to make up my characters).

What I’ve noticed is this: some females believe that they are being watched—all the time. While this is generally a teenaged trait, even some grown women are still narcissistic enough to believe every man is obsessed with her. Even if a hapless male just glances in their direction, perhaps mistaking them for someone else, or trying to find the quickest route through the store, these females automatically label him a “perv,” while unconsciously still trying to get attention. I’ve observed this behavior enough to realize that 99% of the time, no male was actively looking at the female, but that’s not how the female sees it.

People look at each other all the time. Usually, it means nothing more than, “I don’t want to crash into you,” or “You’re blocking my view of the menu.”

But I’ve observed something else that goes back to my rant last week about feeling guilt: if women feel uncomfortable with others “seeing” them, then they’re likely not dressed appropriately.  At some level, they are self-conscious; otherwise, they wouldn’t be so overly sensitive to others seeing them. (Even Carrie Fisher was very uncomfortable in her Princess Leia gold bikini get-up.)

Here’s something to consider: If you feel uncomfortable in how you’re dressed, and if you think others staring at you because of how you’re dressed, maybe you shouldn’t be dressed that way.

As I wrote last week, often we think we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about things; the same thing happens here. The women’s movement from decades ago convinced us that we should be able to dress as skankily as we want and not suffer from any consequences.

Not so.

The women I know who feel uncomfortable and fear they’re being watched do so because—I suspect–deep down they feel inappropriate. Our bodies are gifts—marvelous creations of our Heavenly Father that He wants us to keep as a treasure: sacred and respected. Think about anything you truly love and admire; usually, you keep those things protected and safeguarded. You don’t go running around showing it off everywhere, because that cheapens it, sets it up to be denigrated by those who don’t appreciate it as much as you do, and also leaves it open to be stolen and abused.

The same thing should go for our bodies. No, I’m not a prude; I have nine children, and enjoy the process of getting them. But I don’t have to show off my assets to prove that I have them, nor do I expose parts of me for . . . honestly, I really don’t know why women show off their bodies to the world at large. I don’t understand why they insist on taking something so personal, so private, so potentially marvelous, and turn it into something average, like turning gold into aluminum.

Now, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not blaming women for the abuse they may suffer by men. There is no free card for allowing rape, or groping, or not accepting “No!” as an answer. Men are solely responsible for their actions. But women—we have to admit, as uncomfortable as it may make us—sometimes, we go advertising. So we can’t claim to be surprised when someone answers those ads.

No matter what your cultural/religious/ethnic upbringing, I believe there is something inborn in every female that wants to protect her body and keep it private and sacred, to be shared with only one chosen person in the right ways and at the right times.

But every time we females shove that instinct down, and instead insist that we can—and even should—flaunt that which should be kept precious, we create a conflict within us.

That conflict is the root of our anger, of our frustration, of our guilt, and of our tears. I’ll go so far as to suggest this anger, which we so often throw at others who leer and whistle and even grope inappropriately, is misplaced anger.

Our anger, really, is with ourselves, because we cheapened ourselves first, and gave the world permission to gawk.

If we don’t want people looking, we shouldn’t go showing.

     Sareen, beaming and bouncing, with her tunic still embarrassingly low, kneeled in front of Shem in obeisance.
     Then he had no choice but to look down at Sareen.
     Mahrree considered the angle and winced in empathy for Shem. Sareen had made sure she planted herself right where she could make the most of her exposed—
    “Oh honestly, Sareen!” Mahrree murmured in exasperation. “Where’s your cloak?”
     Despite the chill in the air, Sareen seemed determined to show Shem exactly what she had to offer. Not surprisingly, several soldiers had converged around Shem to share in the view.
      . . . For the moment, Sareen was happy for the attention that, someday, she’d realize she didn’t really want.   ~Book 2, Soldier at the Door

5 thoughts on “If you don’t want me looking, then don’t go showing.

  1. Thank you for writing this! This is exactly what I have thought, and tried to teach my children, but I have never been able to phrase it as well as you did. It is so unreasonable to dress in a way designed to attract sexual attention, and then complain when you get it. I hate it when women act so illogically – it makes the rest of us look bad by association.


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