Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

How to take back the streets from the leering creeps

Special to The Times

I'D never buy a copy of Men's Health magazine, just like I'd never pay for People, Us or even Real Simple.

But that doesn't mean I don't sometimes flip through those magazines, and Men's Health is now diversion No. 1 one when I spy a copy at the gym or doctor's office.

All because of this tidbit from an article titled "Your To-Don't List — 19 things a man should never do":

"Leer ... pervert isn't a label you can just peel off."

The ellipses save you from salacious descriptions that detract from the main message. Photos throughout the magazine of women's bodies, tousled hair but no names likewise undermine the sincerity. Still: As a woman reading an R-rated, straight-man's magazine that according to The New York Times has a circulation of "almost 1.8 million": Thank you.

Now, this is where some of you will say: "Here comes another feminist rant against men's innocent and sometimes physically uncontrollable impulse to appreciate the beauty of the opposite sex."

And here's where I say, "What is the member of the opposite sex supposed to do with those moments when a man visually takes in her whole body, top to bottom — without apology or even embarrassment — as if entitled to something?"

I'm not talking about quick glances. I'm talking about appraising stares that render many, many women of all ages uncomfortable once any shreds of embarrassed flattery run their course.

Maybe because I'm the mother of two young girls I've become an observer of men ogling teenage girls. They do it all the time, no matter what the teenagers are wearing or what they are doing. I find myself superimposing my kid on those teenagers' bodies and I get creeped out.

That'll be my daughter buying the bag of Kettle Korn while some guy with a wedding ring takes her in as if he's behind a one-way mirror looking out. Um, we can all see what you are doing.

A male friend (heterosexual) says that kind of glance is most unfortunate. He wonders if men who leer like that underestimate the speed of light. They think they can stare until the woman notices and then quickly look at the ground. "Simple physics," he says. "You'll get busted every time."

So what do women do when we run into ick? We hunch. Tug the jackets closed. Young women wear sweatshirts and awesomely long men's basketball shorts.

We praise the brethren who don't leer. We praise people who convince their sibling, father, spouse, friend that leering makes them a doofus.

We test-drive advice to give to the girls in our lives:

"If you're going to dress like that, you will get the leers. Can you handle that?"

"Ignore it, sweetie."

"Travel in packs — always. And stare back; make them think they sat in something."

"Be confident and people will leave you alone."

Are any of those the right answers?

Or, you can get radical and blog about offenders on a Web site called

Related only in idea to and similar blogs in other urban areas, the site encourages people harassed in public (especially women) to take digital photos of offenders and post them on the site, or at least blog about experiences in an effort to fight "street harassment from the ground up."

The language on these sites is beyond ripe and the stories are graphic. But the point is clear: Shame the shamers, especially people who do more than ogle.

I don't have the guts to take a photo of someone who is already making me uncomfortable. And I'd never advise my kid to whip out the camera phone for fear of what might transpire on the spot. But the generation between us has the nerve to snap and tell.

Both sites include links to sexual harassment laws. The New York site started in October 2005; Hollaback Seattle apparently came online in May 2006 and has had less-robust traffic. Are men more civilized here? Maybe would-be contributors worry about legal issues from posting someone's photo. Or, maybe women don't know about Hollaback.

My speed-of-light friend says the "male reptilian brain" will always have the impulse to gawk in unsubtle, selfish ways. I say order up cognitive behavioral therapy for half the population.

Women can help by pointing out the ick factor in whatever way feels most safe. I don't know if Hollaback blogs are the right answer. But they are energizing and prove that, yes, ogling is a big problem.

Andrea Otanez, a former Seattle Times editor, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages. She is the journalism instructor at Everett Community College. E-mail her at

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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