Is it possible to sexually harass someone simply by looking at them? Or, to be more specific, is it sexual harassment in the workplace if a man stares at a woman’s breasts while he’s talking to her or is that ogling just the price a woman must pay for being born into her gender?

A female “friend” of mine, who shall remain nameless, expressed a concern last night about an “old guy” at work who has the well-earned reputation of ogling breasts mainly because he ogles breasts all day long. None of the women in the office dress provocatively. It doesn’t matter if the mammary glands are bound in a sports bra or hidden behind a blazer or buried beneath a baggy sweater.

The old guy will actively leer until he finds nipples! The old guy is one of several powerful managers in a giant, nameless, colorless, conglomeration of service agencies, so my friend cannot avoid dealing with the old ogler every day. Every time he walks by her desk, he stops to say a “friendly hello” while he grabbing a drooling eyeful.

My friend shudders when he finally leaves. In the past, the old guy has been reported to superiors as a sexual harasser, but the organization’s hands are tied because leering eyes leave no paper trail and no one can serve as an appropriate enough witness to the harassment: “He’s looking at me” doesn’t translate well in sexual harassment investigations and when confronted with the more specific charge of breast-staring, the old guy blames it on his lazy eye.

The system can’t punish someone for the perceived detrimental effects of their disability on others even though everyone in the system knows the disability is being used as a cover for deceit. The old guy has been successfully prowling boobies for decades at his current job and he now has seniority and power and cannot be touched in any substantial manner because he can look without looking when he wants to and he never says an inappropriate word. The old guy is also highly religious and that is another barrel of monkeys unleashed in this circus of inappropriate behavior.

The women in the office have given in to putting up with him because he is untouchable and is supposed to “retire soon” but that rumor is now in its seventh year. One fellow female worker goes to the bitter end of dramatically crossing her arms over her giant breasts every time the old guy is within eyesight. That doesn’t stop him, though: He will still dig into the crevices of her arms with his eyes for any kind of glance to fulfill his boobage thrill. He is immune to dirty looks, cold shoulders and hateful energy.

I advised my friend to cold-shoulder the old pervert anyway and to not be so Midwestern-friendly with him when he so obviously disrespects her. She is willing to try that approach, but she also fears the subtle retribution that is certain to follow and that will make her job, and her work life, even crueler and harder. My friend is not interested in suing or making trouble or calling attention to herself. She just wants her breasts to have some peace and quiet at work.

51 Comments

  1. I can sympathize in that dept although there is no guy here that does that luckily. Although I’ve gotten so used to it since I was about 12 years old that maybe I don’t notice. My boyfriend says all my clothes make my boobs look huge when I go to work but I think it’s just the boobs…unless I wear a mumu or something.
    If I were her I’d give him the cold shoulder or laugh at him when he does it to make myself feel better.

  2. This problem got so bad with me I said I would never date a man who couldn’t tell me what color my eyes are. (then he would have to pass a ‘closed eyes’ test) πŸ™‚
    Men naturally are more tuned in to visuals and I understand this. But some just don’t have the decency to stop with their ‘visualising’ or move away from the object of the visualisation and let her “have some peace,” as you so aptly put it. Hiding behind a facade of being “highly religious” is sickening. “Highly religious” in this manner gives decent people who follow organized religion a bad name. Hitler was “highly religious.”

  3. Robin — I appreciate the difference you mention. It is important! πŸ™‚
    Paula — I love seeing this tough side of you! I agree with you completely. There are, unfortunately, some women who dress to be noticed — but that’s a separate issue. When you have professional women in the workplace and they are meeting the dress code and not dressing for attention, attention must be paid to find a way to cut the old guy off somehow but nothing has worked yet. I like you “eye color” rule a lot!

  4. Well, my hubby would pass the test. He once impressed the pharmacy tech at the drugstore when dropping off a prescription for me because he rattle off my date of birth without even hesitating!
    I know, I’ve got a keeper! πŸ˜€

  5. What an entertaining and provocative comment, Dave, thanks! I agree men love to look but in the workplace it can become a problem if over-used. πŸ™‚ I will have to ask if wears mirrors or if he has a hidden video camera peeping somewhere!

  6. I definitely think there’s something lacking in impulse control and in wanting to follow the norms of social behavior. I also believe it’s a shallowly disguised power trip: I can make you uncomfortable any time I wish so do as I say or I’ll make you even more miserable.

  7. Well said, Dave! I’ll be a little more brunt. As one of my best friends said to the middle-aged man who grinned at us from his convertible sports car while stopped at a red light, “Sorry about your d*ck, dude.”
    πŸ˜†

  8. She could wear a shirt that says,
    “Keep your eyes off”
    No, that wouldn’t work.
    She could just turn around and refuce to face him. She could bring a wooden board and hold it up in front of her shirt when they talk.
    It’s a difficult situation.

  9. She could wear a shirt that says,
    “Keep your eyes off”
    No, that wouldn’t work.
    She could just turn around and refuce to face him. She could bring a wooden board and hold it up in front of her shirt when they talk.
    It’s a difficult situation.

  10. Dave! You know the first rule of power mongering is if you don’t have any, get some!
    Is there a quicker or dirtier way to get a power that controls and pummels than workplace ogling? It’s the perfect dumb-man’s path to wrenching some kind of control into a wretched life.

  11. Dave! You know the first rule of power mongering is if you don’t have any, get some!
    Is there a quicker or dirtier way to get a power that controls and pummels than workplace ogling? It’s the perfect dumb-man’s path to wrenching some kind of control into a wretched life.

  12. Erik’s response to the color of my eyes (paraphrasing):
    Well they are a blueish/greenish and sometimes grey. It depends on the weather or what you’re wearing. I don’t know…I’m colorblind…maybe their red.

  13. Erik’s response to the color of my eyes (paraphrasing):
    Well they are a blueish/greenish and sometimes grey. It depends on the weather or what you’re wearing. I don’t know…I’m colorblind…maybe their red.

  14. Robin — Are we scoring Erik’s answer as a pass or a fail? Just tell me he wasn’t in the same room with you when he gave that non-response. πŸ˜€ I know men can be brutes. I’ve never enjoyed hearing that kind of caterwauling.
    Dave — I have no idea what Carla meant, but it may be time for you to get your ram out again! :mrgreen: I know it’s a silly way to get power but people are stupid. πŸ˜‰ I like your suggestion! I’m going to suggest it! The guy would probably take it as an invitation for more intimacy, though! He’s rather dense.

  15. I say if the guy has a lazy eye they suggest he “take it for a hike.” It probably just needs a little exercise and it will get its life back in no time. Then they can go to HR and let the begger have it.

  16. Maybe you should get the sysadmin to set up the email server to add “Boobie Ogler” after his name on all internal email.
    If *all* the women in the firm picked a set phrase like “stop looking at my breasts” and used it whenever necessary, that also might work.
    Unfortunately in the real world it just can’t happen. Just looking at someone – wherever that may be – is not something that can be criminalised. It’s just another one of those men who has to be labelled as creepy.
    When I lived in Morocco I saw a lot of street behaviour from men who basically don’t know any better, and go a lot further than just staring : verbal abuse dressed up as some kind of chat line. Women have to build up a very thick skin and some good put down lines.
    David, you really have described a situation which has no good response. We all must hope that that particular guy is part of a dying breed.

  17. Paula – I love your rule! You are so fun and funny! πŸ˜€
    fruey — I appreciate your international take on the situation! You have wise thoughts to share and I thank you for providing some excellent insight into a notorious problem.