This isn’t a about how hot I am or about how dumb men are. But I’m tired of predatory stares from men when I’m walking my dog or shopping for fruit salad at Publix. I’m tired of being a feast for someone’s eyes. That’s what it’s like.  They consume you, eyeing you gratuitously, purposefully not looking away. I see you, I want you, and I want you to see me wanting you because I get off on this. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, and I want you to know it. I got you. I just fucked you with my eyes and there’s nothing you can do about it. I just ate your image whole and it tasted good. See how I’m grinning at you? I’m fucking you right now. Right now while you walk your dog. Do you like it? Because I do. I’m enjoying you and there’s nothing you can do about it… This is complete bullshit, and men get away with this all the time. Now this isn’t just any man. There are plenty of gentlemen in this world, and I’m glad to know and be friends with a few. But this kind of man knows there is no retaliation possible and he takes advantage. If I tell him to look somewhere else or to mind his own business or to leave me alone even, he’s winning. I’m the bitch. I’ve just admitted to being vulnerable, bothered by what he’s just done to me and gotten away with. So I stare forward, walk on, and allow them to disappear into my periphery.

I don’t mind being simply and discreetly looked at. We all do that to each other. Men to women, women to men, women to women. But gratuitous stares are not compliments. It’s not the man’s way of telling me I look good. When the stare is predatory, he’s taking something from me. Violating me. I don’t like the idea that because I have a vagina, I must be built for a man’s pleasure or to be consumed by a man. I don’t buy into “boys will be boys” as an excuse for this. Playing the gender card doesn’t buy you an excuse for treating another human being in a derogatory way or getting away with something just because you can.

Unsolicited stares are just that–unsolicited. It doesn’t matter how conservatively I dress or that it’s been a couple days since I’ve showered or that I’m wearing that t-shirt with armpit stains for a quick jaunt to the gas station or grocery store for orange juice. The stares come and there’s nothing I do to ask for it, and nothing I can do to stop it. I’ve even tried a generously large cubic zirconia ring. Failure. Nothing stops men from doing what they know they can get away with if they’re that kind of guy.

The unsolicited comments are worse. And there’s a difference between comments and compliments. It’s been almost twenty years since I’ve hit puberty, and I think I can still count on less than one hand the actual complimentary, non-intrusive things a man has said about the way I look. That’s sad. I was on a plane coming back from Thailand a few years ago, and a male steward on the plane stopped at my seat and said, “Excuse me, miss. I don’t mean to bother you in any way, but I just want to say that you are a very, very beautiful woman.” That was nice. And he was absolutely polite in the way he approached me. And he walked away after he said it. He was true to his word. He didn’t mean to bother me. He didn’t stare. He didn’t grin at me. It was a compliment for a compliment’s sake with no obvious ulterior motive.

I get tired of “Baby, you know you are beautiful.” Or “Good morning!” shouted at thirty feet away because I caught a group of men staring  at me and someone breaks the ice. Or “Damn!” or “GodDAMN!” or any rendition of that. Or “Hola, mommy!” Or “You know you fine.” Or yelling from the porch “Hey what kind of dog is that?!” to have an excuse to interact with me. He doesn’t care about my dog. He just wants to bother me. I had a guy slow his car down beside me while I was walking my dog and roll down his window. “You look really good!” I ignored him, and he got sore with me when I wouldn’t say thank you. I told him I didn’t want to be bothered. “I just wanted to get to know you!” Annoying. Intrusive. I’ve gotten followed out of gas stations, and followed by strange cars. It’s uncalled for.

The men that do these things are a disgrace to the actual gentlemen out there. That’s sad. A timely compliment from a man is golden and never puts a woman on guard. I feel sorry for men who actually want to give a genuine compliment to a woman and fear making her feel uncomfortable. But then again, if the man is concerned about that, he’s probably a gentleman and can’t go wrong. And if it’s genuine, it’s just that: genuine.

If I seem a bit bitter, or up in arms, or overly sensitive, I’ll tell you this: to this day, I’ve had one apology. One. I was sixteen, and a window model in a store on a downtown street with busy foot traffic. I wore evening and cocktail gowns and as a live mannequin, I changed my pose every three to five minutes. I enjoyed moving and not breaking a smile when I surprised on-lookers. It was a fun job. Except for the men. I had men unzip their pants at me. Lick the window. Thrust their pelvises into the window. Yell things at me. Moon me. These weren’t the teenagers. Not the college boys either. Not the old men. It was the middle aged men, often with toddlers and young ones in strollers. It surprised me. Did they think they had carte blanch because of fatherhood? I never reacted negatively. I simply turned with my back to the window and struck a mannequin-esque pose, and waited for the perpetrator to get bored and move on. There was one time. One time when I had my back turned and the man who’d just licked the window came in and approached me where I stood two and a half feet above him, still on the ledge. He made eye contact, shook my hand, and said, “Miss, I just wanted to say I’m sorry for bothering you. I was a total ass.” He was an ass. But I’ll tell you what: he changed from an ass to a gentleman before my very eyes when he did the right thing. All was forgiven, and I obviously never forgot about him.

Will the other gentlemen please stand up?

That’s what I thought.