my new coworker keeps staring at my breasts

A reader writes:

I am an attractive, large, 50+ woman working in academia. I have large-ish breasts and wear a bra that makes them look appropriate — no hanging, jostling, or nipples. Even though I do hate these restrictive, thick bras. But I found that I had to sacrifice my comfort for peace of mind in this case. I also don’t ever wear clothes that show any cleavage.

For many years, I was fortunate to have male coworkers who did not stare at my breasts. They might briefly stare inadvertently once in a blue moon (like, no more than once a season or so), especially when my shirt happened to be thinner than usual or something like that, but they would always take the gaze right off and not stare again. I am totally fine with that level of staring – we are all human, and it’s not like I have never found myself occasionally briefly staring at attractive parts of other people’s anatomies either.

We have recently hired a middle-aged guy who stares at my breasts for much too long, much too often. Almost every day, when I am talking with him (and I have to do that a lot), he will lock his gaze on my breasts for a full second or so. He does look away after that, but then will do the same thing again in a few minutes.

Now, I am not at all shy, so I am perfectly capable of hitting him with any of the response gems in the gamut of “I’m sure you haven’t noticed but..,” “excuse me? [WTF face],” “please try to control your gaze when you talk to women,” or even the old “my eyes are up here.” I am also perfectly capable of escalating the issue to my boss and the HR, who I am quite sure will act on it immediately.

However, I am pretty sure the guy does not realize that what he is doing is bad. He is from a developing country, although he has worked in the U.S. for at least a decade now. Still, it is possible he never learned this aspect of being polite in the U.S. He is also extremely, almost ridiculously straight-laced, not even a hint of any creepiness other than the gaze issue. On top of that, he is very knowledgeable, smart, and well-adjusted other than this one issue, and a really valuable acquisition for our team.

I really have to do something about this as soon as possible, because I find the staring not harmless at all — it makes my hair stand totally on end every time. My male partner, who is wonderfully understanding and not at all sexist usually, says that I should just grin and bear it. Because this is just how men are, and the poor guy doesn’t know any better, so putting him on the spot would cause eternal animosity between us that would make my life a worse kind of hell.

My partner is, sadly, wrong in asking me to protect the guy’s feelings while mine are being trampled. I am planning to try a response that sort of saves face for him a bit while still possibly putting him on notice: saying “Is there something wrong with my badge? I noticed you keep looking at it…” next time he stares. But I am not sure if that’s the best way. What do you think?

I am pretty sure that it’s impolite to stare at a woman’s breasts in developing countries too … and I am highly skeptical that your coworker wouldn’t have picked up on the fact that it’s not okay here after 10 years. It’s more likely that he thinks you don’t notice or he doesn’t realize how often he’s doing it or … who knows what, it’s too exhausting to second-guess what might be going on in these guys’ minds and ultimately it doesn’t matter. He’s doing it, he needs to stop, the end.

(That said, there’s an interesting conversation to be had with your partner about his beliefs that “this is just how men are” and “the poor guy doesn’t know any better,” although I wouldn’t blame you at all if you are too exhausted to bother having it.)

Anyway, since you want to let the coworker save face while also making it clear the behavior is (a) noticed and (b) not okay, your “is something wrong with my badge, you keep looking at it” idea is worth trying. Similar options are “is something on my shirt?” or “what do you keep looking at?” (The latter is a little more confrontational but prevents you both from the awkwardness of a direct boob-related statement.) I have sometimes pointedly crossed my arms across my chest, which kind of calls out the issue without explicitly calling it out, and usually they get the point. If they’re embarrassed afterward, so be it — sometimes embarrassment is how people learn.

I think a lot of people will tell you that you shouldn’t go that route, and instead should call it out more directly (with the classic “my eyes are up here” or similar). And if you want to do that, you have every right to! But often people feel the way you do — you don’t want to be that confrontational if you can get the outcome you want in a different way, and letting him save a little bit of face can be better for you since you have to keep working with him and you otherwise like him and would prefer a comfortable relationship with him.

But it’s frustrating as hell that women have to do that dance all the time, looking for softer, more socially acceptable ways to push back on unacceptable behavior … generally from men who definitely aren’t stressing about whether they are offending you.

Read an update to this letter

{ 672 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth*

    I hope you will go ahead and have the conversation with your co-worker today – and then I hope you will show your partner this comments section. If he reads half the comments that will be here by the end of the day, you won’t need to have any further conversation with him. (I hope).

    1. Haikucle*

      Wow. I would suggest blocking his line of sight (book, arm whatever) and saying “I need you to treat me professionally, and that means looking at my face when we are talking, not at my chest.”

      No flippant oneliners like “my eyes are up here.” “Is there something on my shirt?” That’s snarky and indirect and not great with some folks who have English as a secondary or teritary language, since some can and will pretend they didn’t understand what you meant.

      Be direct, tell him what you would like him to do instead of that behavior. Record when and how you said this to him (precise wording) and how he reacted, so you can let HR know you took steps to solve the issue.

      You say he’s otherwise smart and straitlaced, etc. so giving him tips on how to interact with you better should do the job. (It’s possible he hates eye contact, in which case he can look at the wall behind you. Anywhere but your chest. )

      1. StellaBella*


        I do not have large boobs but have seen men staring at colleagues’ boobs before. Direct works best in my opinion.

    2. OP*

      Showing Alison’s response and all the comments to my partner is for me an even bigger goal than calling out the coworker. I was really blindsided and saddened by his reaction. Thank you all so much!
      I won’t be able to comment more today as I am super busy at work, so this is a response to all I read so far.
      Point taken about mentioning the developing country – yes I agree I shouldn’t be thinking that way, but as Alison says, I was wracking my brain trying to come up with a more benign explanation than the usual one. No, my partner does not behave like that himself with anyone, while being of the same ethnicity as the coworker. Yes, 10 years should be enough time to learn even if the different-country idea had merit. And yes, it is a very sad dance to be in.
      I have deployed my badge idea on the coworker. He was startled for a split second, then said he was wondering what one of the stickers on my badge was about. I did not start explaining the sticker or anything like that in response, just shrugged and cheerfully went on with the conversation we were having before.
      After that, he got much better, now there are only brief of glances, and not every day. Still quite a bit over my line in the sand, but much much better. I am planning on doing the pointed crossing of arms next time I feel up to working on this, although it will have to be really pointed – I had tried doing that in a moderate way, before the badge thing, and he did not get the hint at all.
      For what it’s worth, I still think he is not doing that out of any intent. I think he’s just not realizing it is that noticeable.

      1. Rose*

        I can relate to this so strongly. My partner is amazing and a great feminist/ally 90% of the time and then those random little incidents sting.

        The attitude here is seriously “he’s never had to learn that what he’s doing is wrong**, and it would be temporarily awkward and uncomfortable for him to do so, so you should just suffer forever so he can behave badly!”

        The degree to which straight/cis men will advocate for other straight/cis men to never have to experience any brief moment of discomfort, at the expense of everyone else around them, even their loved ones, is so disappointing. Obviously it’s very, very deeply ingrained.

        ** I personally doubt the validity of this.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            “He’s never had to learn it’s wrong! But if you tell him it’s wrong, he’ll be upset! So don’t tell him! But he should learn it’s wrong!”

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Yeah, I get really frustrated by the protect-the-pack instinct of most cishet dudes I know – like, okay, he’ll be uncomfortable and unhappy and maybe I’ll make an enemy for life if I bring it up. But *I’m* uncomfortable and unhappy now and giving him the opportunity to not make an enemy for life by fixing one thing SO EASY to fix that literally every other dude I work with has fixed it. Why does he win? Why do I get to suffer every time those are the options?

          1. Rose*

            Yes… like one of us needs to be uncomfortable; how about we pick the one behaving badly instead of the one who had the audacity to have boobs?! And he can feel uncomfortable for two minutes instead of OP having tod real uncomfortable at work until one of them quits, retires, or dies.

          1. The answer is (probably) 42*

            Oh that is a GREAT term, I am adopting it immediately. And looking up Kate Manne.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          Many times when I was young I had to learn what I was doing was wrong. It was awkward and I was upset. I survived. He will too!

          1. Mannequin*


            I would argue that some of my most mortifying moments have directly led to me becoming a better person.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        Thanks for chiming in with a little more background and a mini-update! I’m happy to hear things have already gotten a bit better with your coworker.

        If you haven’t seen it already, I want to direct your attention to Librarian of SHIELD’s allyship and gardening analogy downthread (if you ctrl + f “Librarian of SHIELD*” and click through their comments you’ll find it quickly). I think it will be very valuable for you and your partner to read that.

      3. Salymander*

        I’m really glad that you are going to show the responses to your partner. What he said was completely wrong, sexist and unsupportive. I had a similar conversation with my husband, and was dismayed by what he said. My husband is really great, and had never said anything gross like that before. He is the go-to guy at his work for dealing with sexism, racism, and all the other crap of that type. He is awesome, and has made a tom of improvements that helped make his job a safer, more inclusive place. And yet, he thoughtlessly spewed some enabling-the-poor-sexist stuff at me and I was horrified. I told him exactly what I thought of that, and I was really stern and disapproving. I told him that I was disappointed in him for saying what he said (similar to what your partner said). I am happy to say that my husband has stopped saying those things, and is now much more supportive of me. It is totally worth it to hash this out. I think my partner was just repeating a lot of toxic garbage that used to be even more common, about how we must protect the poor tender feelings of these creepy people. I mean yes, you should be kind to people if you can. That doesn’t give them a free pass to mistreat you.

        And it always irritates me when someone says that men just don’t know any better and can’t be expected to do better. The same sexist system says that men are more competent and intelligent than women and should be in charge of things. So which is it? Competent and intelligent and in control, or helpless and clueless and at the whim of their urges? It is such a lazy, selfish way to be. Infuriating.

        In what way is not telling coworker to stop a kindness? If this man genuinely doesn’t know any better, you will be doing him a great service (and all the women he knows) to tell him to quit staring. Are we all supposed to keep it a secret from people like this that their behavior is wrong? Because they are too sensitive to be corrected? When is it your turn for coworker to be sensitive to your feelings? When does that happen? It would be nice if your partner could show as much care for your feelings as he seems to for this coworker. Ridiculous. I mean, I’m sure your partner is a great guy otherwise. But still just infuriating.

        This coworker can stop staring. He isn’t helpless. I mean, I know the feeling of wanting to protect the working relationship even when the person is being gross. I have dealt with this in the past by saying, “Hey.” Then I cross my arms over my chest pointedly and raise my eyebrow while shaking my head. If coworker wants to maintain a good working relationship, and wants to maintain his (actually somewhat implausible) plausible deniability, he can take the one chance you give him. After that, I would just tell him to knock it off because stating at a woman’s breasts like that is very rude and inappropriate. And can get him in a lot of trouble.

        I just realized that I may be ranting. I recently had to deal with someone committing sexual battery against me, and I’m currently dealing with the aftermath of the police investigation. It is possible that I may be feeling a bit angry furious sad who knows. *shrugs sheepishly*

        I hope you have success with talking to your coworker and your partner, OP. You deserve all the support.

        1. paxfelis*

          You may have been ranting, but you are not wrong.

          I hope you are able to heal well, and never have to have that experience again.

        2. OP*

          I hope you make it through your ordeal soon. Thanks for relating to the partner issue! I do love the garden analogy people have downstream… We all may be great people, but most have a few weeds that can and should be dealt with. Good luck with your garden!

          1. Salymander*

            I hope this goes well for you as well, OP. Even a great partner can need a bit of weeding from time to time, it is true. :)

      4. Ellie*

        I really sympathise OP, as a large breasted woman in IT, I encourage you to keep up the comments. The badge one prompted him to do better, another comment might take care of the issue entirely. And I’m sorry about your partner – I’m married to a very kind man who just does not understand the prevalence of this stuff. He’s great with the big issues, but microaggressions are difficult to explain. I’ve had some success though if I leave it a while – often when he’s had a bit more time to really think it through, he starts to understand.

      5. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        There’s one caveat to consider, maybe: I have a coworker who tends to look at my chest a lot as well. Here’s the twist: I’m a flat-chested (unfortunately not flat-bellied) male in my fifties. The person in question has a hard time looking me, and many other coworkers, in the face for a long time – ingrained cultural norms are really hard to shake off, and there may be something more to it (a person in my immediate family is on the spectrum and exhibits similar peculiarities).
        Do you know if he does it just with you, women in general, or everyone? To be clear, it would be against norms and not okay (as it makes you uncomfortable) in any case but context might still help.

        1. Pennyworth*

          I have a hard time looking directly at people, but I know not to stare at their bodies instead. Somewhere head adjacent, but never below the neck.

  2. NOK*

    Yeah, let’s not with the “he’s from a developing country so he doesn’t know any better” angle. Problematic as hell.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      While I have full sympathy for the OP and she shouldn’t have to put up with this from this guy (or the ridiculous comments from her partner), assuming he doesn’t understand because he’s from a developing country is borderline racist.

    2. Loulou*

      Yeah, my jaw dropped when I read that. It’s really infantilizing, as is “he doesn’t know any better.”

      OP – I applaud you wanting to see the best in people, but if you want to do that in this case, please stick to “he doesn’t realize it’s noticable” or something similar.

    3. High Score!*

      The “he’s from a developing country so he doesn’t know any better” angle sounds like “boys will be boys”. No excuse.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      While I fully agree it’s problematic, I also read that as yet another way that women second-guess themselves on this stuff — does he come from somewhere with different norms? Is it possible he doesn’t mean it? Could I be reading this wrong? Etc.

      In any case, I’m going to ask that we don’t derail on this (because it has the potential to take over the entire comment section otherwise) and focus on advice to the letter-writer. Thank you.

  3. Clorinda*

    This is the time for a little weekend trip to a craft store. Pick up a brooch base and two of the largest googly eyes they have, plus glue. Create two adorable googly eye brooches. Pin them to your clothes right over where the nipples are before your next meeting with this person.
    Eye contact! It’s REAL!
    I might be joking, but only half.

    1. Lab Boss*

      I would absolutely support everyone doing this, just as a general matter of course, including men. There’s no mood so dark that a well-placed googly eye can’t lift it.

            1. SpaceySteph*

              You could wear google-eyed cloth over the N95 maybe? I know healthcare workers were doing that early in the pandemic to keep the N95s clean/longer lasting when there was a shortage.

    2. Emotional Support Care’n*

      From experience, putting googly eyes on your chest, whether you have a larger than average chest or not, will only draw the eyes towards the chest *more*, not less. Any kind of decoration in that area will.

      I have purposely put googly eyes on my extremely large chest because patrons kept looking me in the breasts. Not a single one showed shame towards the googly eyes because they were “silly” and figured they were meant to be a gag (when you’re already a comical character, it’s to be expected, really).

      It would be better to use words and not be cutesy about it.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      I have in fact considered having a tee-shirt made with big eyes over the breasts and words underneath them saying, “in Soviet Russia, boobs stare at YOU.” Not for work, naturally, but…yeah.

      1. KaciHall*

        My kiddo wanted us to ask get Christmas t-shirts last month. The one he picked out for me was from the men’s department and had a large Santa face on it. The eyes would have been directly on my boobs. I didn’t want to upset him but no way was I wearing that.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      Renaissance Faires sell pins about boobs and looking at them. Too bad that’s not an option now, but maybe look on Etsy for something appropriate?

      1. linger*

        If one side already has your name-badge, the other side might well read:
        “…And I’m called What The F Are You Looking At?”

    5. AthenaC*

      A hopefully-entertaining story:

      When I was in high school many years ago, I went on a field trip to a local university where we went from place to place and were addressed as a small group by a variety of different early- to middle-aged men. I noticed that they all kept glancing at my chest very quickly and then looking somewhere else.

      15-year-old me was disturbed until I realized that I was wearing a shirt with a face design on it, and the large googly eyes of the face were sitting – you guessed it! – right on my chest. So their eyes were being instinctively drawn to the eyes on my chest but they were looking away almost immediately after.

      (facepalm) THIS one was completely my fault.

      1. Robin Ellacott*

        When I was young the store I worked in did a SpongeBob promo and we had to wear bright yellow tees with just the features from his face on them. Three guesses about where the giant round eyes ended up. Solidarity!

        1. La Triviata*

          I saw a video from a number of years ago in which a very attractive French actress did an “ad” for a product called “titeez” or some such. They were small plastic breasts you could stick onto your forehead in an attempt to get men to look more in the area of your eyes than right at your chest. It was amusing, in an ironic sort of way.

          1. Ismonie*

            Forehead titties! It was Marion Cotillard. Too bad she’s a 9-11 truther, but it was legit funny.

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              OMG! I got curious and googled that, and yikes!

              Those things are hilarious, but they’re a lot bigger and a LOT more realistic than I expected! LOLOL

      2. Roane*

        I was once given a men’s shirt with Spider-Man on it. I love Spider-man! But the picture was of him crawling up the shirt with forced perspective so one of his hands was the biggest part. I dubbed it my breast cancer awareness Spidey shirt. He was definitely getting a handful.

  4. The Smiling Pug*

    I don’t think staring has anything to do with the fact he’s from a developing country. It has everything to do with how you’re raised, no matter your country-of-origin.

      1. Frankie*

        People from developing countries didn’t need to figure out how not to stare at women’s breasts from the people in the US. I say this as a younger (than the OP) attractive woman with large breasts from a developing country. What a racist take.

    1. Lucy Skywalker*

      While there are countries where women’s breasts aren’t sexualized the way they are in the U.S., and it’s acceptable for women to go topless, men from those countries aren’t likely to stare at breasts. In fact, I read that when women from one of these countries learned about American men’s obsession with breasts, they cracked up laughing and said, “You mean they act like a bunch of babies?”
      So yeah, if they don’t find a body part to be sexy in the first place, they’re not likely to be staring at them.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yeah I’ve lived in Germany and gone to the sauna and spa there where people are usually naked and even in the spa you don’t stare at peoples’ bodies. It would be considered very rude to make people uncomfortable so you look at them above the neck if you have to talk to people.

        1. EmmyNoether*

          To be clear: women’s breasts are very much sexualized in Germany also. We just tend to make less of a fuss about nudity in general. Staring in the sauna is considered very rude, no matter the body part (also penises, which are presumably sexualized everywhere).

      2. DJ Abbott*

        Growing up I read a really great old novel in which one of the women said “ legs are for men. Breasts are for babies.“
        Early-teen me found that very insightful!

        In case anyone is interested, it was called Alas, Babylon. It was written in the 50s and very dated, but still awesome.

        1. Ismonie*

          Ummm, still a little problematic. Body parts are for their owners, not to be ogled in professional settings!

          1. Mannequin*

            Exactly, bodies belong to their owners, and aren’t ‘for’ anybody.

            I also dislike the concept of saying that a man (or woman, or non-binary person etc) ‘should’ be attracted to [this body part] and ‘should not’ be attracted to [that body part] because [arbitrary reasons]. People can find any body part sexy, and being attracted to legs isn’t categorically different than being attracted to boobs or butts or huge pectorals or a well turned ankle or whatever it is that floats people boats.

    2. Barbara Eyiuche*

      ‘Developing country’ is not relevant. But the fact he is from a different country could be. Maybe he is from a country where it is rude to look people in the eye. (China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and others spring to mind.) One’s gaze is therefore directed elsewhere. Still, tell him not to stare at women’s breasts.

      1. Ancient Taiwan Secret*

        I have several North American female friends who worked in Taiwan and said that men would stare at their chests all the time. Another friend, a Chinese-American female who genetically happened to have larger than average breasts, actually had a couple female colleagues jokingly grab them.

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          This happened to me in South Korea. Two old women came up to me on the street, one grabbed my breasts, then shook my hand. I think they were debating whether they were real.

      2. Mameshiba*

        Maybe eye contact is less intense/for shorter periods than in the west (idk maybe some research has been done) but fundamentally in business settings eye contact is fine in those countries, it is not considered rude or a negative thing.

      3. Frankie*

        Taiwanese people do not randomly stare at women’s breasts. They also do have eye contact with other people. I don’t know where you’re getting this but I lived in Taiwan for a year and they are one of the most polite, kindest group of people I’ve met.

  5. Librarian of SHIELD*

    I think starting with the softer scripts is a good idea. If he’s the kind of person who picks up on social cues, he’ll realize that his staring is more visible than he thought and he’ll do whatever he needs to do to limit it. If you’ve tried the “is there something on my shirt?” approach more than a couple of times and it’s still happening, you can always escalate to more forceful language, but it doesn’t hurt to try the softer approach first.

    1. RJ*

      I’d just politely rip the bandaid off. “Please stop looking at my chest. It makes me uncomfortable.”

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        That’s also a really good line that’s easy to remember and fits with the OP’s wish not to start out confrontational.

      2. Jaybee*

        Agreed. This is how I would approach it. I’d do it specifically when I catch him doing so and fold my arms over my chest as well to drive the point home.

    2. Anonymous4*

      I think he’s staring because he hasn’t been no-kidding instructed to cut it out by a coworker — or manager. There are plenty of social cues, including yearly sexual harassment training, that he should have picked up on in the last decade.

      “Don’t stare at my chest” is a good phrase to use to start with, and then immediately segue into something work-related. “Don’t stare at my chest, Coworker,” and then hand him a paper. “I was wondering if you’re familiar with this particular situation, with Client X — ”

      If he continues staring, that’s when OP needs to escalate the situation to her manager and very probably to an EEO complaint. This is not a small quirk of his and it needs to stop immediately.

    3. Felix*

      Interesting that you mention picking up on social cues. If this only happens during conversations with OP (as opposed to anytime they are just around each other), I wonder if the real problem is that he has issues maintaining eye contact, and her breasts are where they end up. Not that that gives him license to be a creep, but if he isn’t a creep in any other way, it may be manifestation of a different issue. Something to keep in mind.

        1. Aquawoman*

          Whoa, please educate yourself on the difficulties of eye contact for ND folks. It’s so common that John Robeson’s memoir about his autism is called “Look Me in The Eye.” Eye contact is so distracting to me that I if I am making eye contact, I’m not hearing a word the other person is saying. I have learned to look at people’s foreheads or over their shoulder, but it has taken effort for me to know where to look.

          1. Wisteria*

            There are more than two options, you know. It’s not eyes or breasts. It’s eyes or literally hundreds of options that are not breasts. Don’t make staring at breasts about ND. That’s just as ablist as making it about nationality is racist, and that’s the case even though you are ND yourself.

            1. Aquawoman*

              Yes, I do know, that’s why I said I “look at people’s foreheads or over their shoulder.” Dismissing the difficulty of making eye contact as “shyness” is ableist. I can recognize that breast staring is bad AND that eye contact is difficult for people. Those are completely harmonizable concepts in my mind. I have gotten plenty of flak from NT people for that, but it is just reasonable.

              1. Yorick*

                I see now that “shyness” was the wrong word choice and I didn’t mean that about eye contact generally. I mean it’s that silly to speculate that this person is ogling OP because of an issue with eye contact.

            2. Jayn*

              Eh, I’ve caught myself doing this when I’m not thinking about it—for whatever reason my eyes drift down. I’m aware enough to choose to look elsewhere if I notice I’m doing it. It doesn’t change the advice—tell him clearly to knock it off—but it really can be innocent.

              1. Mannequin*

                Absolutely same.
                My eyes will drift to WHATEVER is most visually arresting about that person, whether that’s hair or a necklace or big boobs or a large mole or hair coming out of their nostrils or whatever, for way too long before I even NOTICED what I was doing.
                I’m in my 50s and still have to be aware of this because with both ADHD & autism, it won’t ever completely go away.

                I’m not a man (or AMAB) and not sexually attracted to women, and I’m definitely not trying to sneak an ogle in there.

          2. Lucy Skywalker*

            Look at people’s noses! They won’t be able to tell the difference, and it won’t be as distracting.

          3. Aquawoman*

            Alison, can you remove this string (including my post of course)? It is causing me distress because I feel like people are misconstruing my point, and not being kind. (I never said it’s ok to stare at breasts, only that difficulty in eye contact should not be dismissed as shyness.)

          4. Arctic tern*

            I second this. I have ADHD and have hard times maintaining eye contact – I can’t focus on the conversation while looking the person in the eye. So when I am trying to focus on the conversation and don’t have a mental capacity to control where I look, I tend to look at some random spot in front of me, and sometimes it happens to be a person’s chest. Especially if there is something eye-catching, like knitwear pattern or unusual collar shape. And I am a straight cis woman.

            1. Mannequin*

              Or a necklace! Or printed t shirt. Or sometimes noticing the boobs just because they are THERE, not because you want an ogle.

          5. OP*

            I just want to respond here to all people thinking my coworker may be neurodivergent, it pops up several times in the comments. He doesn’t seem to be neurodivergent at all, he is perfectly capable of looking all men in the eye all of the time, and most of teh women. He only has this issue with the more-generously-endowed women as far as I can tell.
            I on the other hand, while not diagnosed with any related disorders, do have a huge problem with maintaining eye contact, and also do get frequently fascinated by attractive human parts. I often catch my gaze just about to travel south. But the thing is, I do catch it before I make the other person uncomfortable, 99.9% of the time, even if that’s not easy. My coworker doesn’t catch it until it is much too late.

        2. klye*

          People attracted to women — even awkward people — are not doomed to stare helplessly at breasts.

          I am a lesbian who is occasionally shy and awkward. When I don’t want to make eye contact, sometimes my eyes do land inadvertently on someone’s breasts — and then a nanosecond later I move them.

          1. Kaittydid*

            Same here. I’m a neurodivergent lesbian and I don’t stare at women’s bodies when I can’t maintain eye contact. Not maintaining eye contact is not the same as chest-staring. There’s a whole world of things to look at, notes that you’ll never read to take, etc.

        3. Anon for this*

          I present androgynous female. I’ve been accused of “wrong gaze” for looking in the general direction of chins, foreheads, shoulder / over shoulder, hands. But also if I eye‐gaze.

          Not at all saying it’s going on here. Pointing out that anyone who thinks it’s easy or socially accepted or guaranteed non- creepy to look some other place than eyes may not have had much experience learning to do so.

          “I could tell she was trying hard not to look at my body and it was weird” is also a thing.

          Given that my erotic interests do not include tits–or young women–the whole process seemed particularly futile.

          I eventually learned to always have paper and a pen, so I could “chalk talk” or make notes, and be looking there. Intense gaze directed at paper is just nerdy, not creepy‐nerdy.

      1. pancakes*

        I don’t think the slight possibility of this changes the advice, or should. The point of saying something isn’t to figure out why he stares but for the letter writer to let him know that his staring is making her uncomfortable and has to stop. His reasons for doing it are beside the point.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Yes! This is exactly right. Even if he’s only looking at her chest because he’s avoiding eye contact (which I HIGHLY doubt, but for the sake of the hypothetical), he needs to know that his eye contact workaround makes people uncomfortable so he can figure out a new one. The eye contact excuse isn’t a reason not to address it.

      2. a tester, not a developer*

        In my youth I mentioned to a couple of co-workers (an older woman and a man) that so-and-so is such a shy guy; he’s too nervous to make eye contact when we’re speaking.

        They both told me that so-and-so had no issues making eye contact with them. Apparently I was the only person on the team that never got looked at from the shoulders up.

      3. ecnaseener*

        The advice is the same — point it out so that he can correct the behavior. If it’s a total accident, he will be mortified to have accidentally made the LW uncomfortable, and he will have to devote more of his mental energy to staring at her nose or ears instead of her chest, and as Allison said that is a fine outcome.

      4. zillah*

        Anything is possible, I guess? but that seems incredibly unlikely in comparison with a man staring at a woman’s breasts because he’s staring at her breasts, and it’s harmful to play into a cultural narrative that puts pressure on women to contort ourselves to try to find an innocent explanation for a problematic behavior that’s incredibly common – including from men who aren’t creepy in other ways. That kind of objectification and disrespect doesn’t belong solely or even mostly to men who will take it to its worst possible conclusion – that’s part of what makes it so insidious and common.

        1. Yorick*

          Totally agreed. A person who struggles to make eye contact doesn’t have to make eye contact, but they also can’t ogle women.

      5. ---*

        Can we not with bending over backwards finding excuses for bad behavior, especially crass male behavior? It’s belittling to women’s concerns, and this OP is already doing enough of that to herself.
        Plus, what does “not a creep in any other way” mean? He’s a creep in THIS way, hence, he’s a creep. That’s it, that’s the math.

        1. Nesprin*

          Indeed- schrodinger’s autist gets trotted out so frequently.

          Either he doesn’t know (somehow) not to stare at secondary sexual characteristics, and needs to be told to stop, or he does/thinks he can get away with it/is a creep in this one narrow way, and needs to be told to stop.

          1. Salymander*

            Right. Even if he does have some kind of issue with eye contact, he is still not supposed to stare at someone’s breasts. Assuming that he has some kind of disability of other type of issue as a way of excusing his behavior is just enabling sexism. Treating people who do creepy things like they are too infantile to be responsible for themselves is helpful to no one. People who have genuine issues with eye contact are usually trying very hard to avoid making others uncomfortable. Let’s not make things harder for people who are not neurotypical by lumping them together with folks like the creepy coworker.

          2. Elizabeth*

            What is extra annoying is that is almost never a ND person doing it! In my experience autistic people do not want people to feel uncomfortable and would be mortified to have all these excuses made. They would just want to know so they could change the behavior.

            I am around a lot of ND people and it angers me how people use that communities brain difference as a way to explain away a ton of bad behavior by non-ND people. Don’t do this. One characteristic does not make someone ND. And if they were, they are not allowed to make people uncomfortable. Everyone can learn to not stare at breasts.

        2. CoveredinBees*

          Yup. I can imagine that by 50, she’s gotten so many responses brushing her off )”I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way….” “Are you sure that’s really what happened? There much be more to it.” “Why were you encouraging this…?” ) that she might have internalized them.

      6. Salymander*

        This is nonsense. If he is uncomfortable with eye contact, he can look a million other places. I think that asking the OP to try to analyze this person to see if he has some kind of issue that makes his behavior ok is just too much. And if he does have issues, he can say so when OP tells him to stop staring. This is the same sort of nonsense that OP’s husband was saying. Stop enabling sexist behavior by trying to explain it away like it is some kind of disability rather than what it actually is. The coworker can stop staring. He doesn’t get a free pass. Most people that do have issues with eye contact would be mortified if they were making someone uncomfortable. It is not the same thing at all. This is all so wrong.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    I’m still trying to reconcile the various stereotypes:

    1) Women are overly emotional, only interested in money, and just want a man to take care of them but also supposed to be the less-sexual and better-behaved half of society?

    2) Men are rational and intellectual but also “just like that” and can’t stop themselves from staring at our boobs, harassing us, etc.

    . . . right.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Like, history treats women as sex objects and then chides them for being shallow? Sorry, y’all are the ones who didn’t let us do anything but be ornamental–what did you think the outcome of that would be?

      1. Mannequin*


        Or my favorite: society insists that women be as attractive as possible, but also always hate our bodies and how we look. If you are an attractive woman who dares have the confidence to acknowledge it, you are shallow, vain, self-centered etc.

        I ain’t got time for that nonsense.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I wish I could recall where I read this but I can’t find it any more: I saw it pointed out somewhere that images of (often naked) women, when they’re admiring themselves, are often titled something to do with vanity, but when they’re presented as passive objects of (mostly male) admiration, they’re art.

          Let that harsh your art museum mellow.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Also: The fantasy of the beautiful woman “hidden” behind glasses or baggy clothes, or who doesn’t know she’s beautiful. All of the visual stimulus plus the deliciousness of exclusive ownership. Yikes.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yeah, you will just give yourself a headache if you try to reconcile it. My favorite is how men are stronger and less emotional, but “just cannot help themselves” if they are turned on … ummm, sounds pretty weak and irrational to me! I am inclined to think that men are neither more nor less rational and emotionally strong than women by nature and therefore are just as capable of controlling their behavior. I know, I am full of crazy ideas!!!!

      1. Alexis Rosay*

        I’m always shocked by how many of my friends will say about their male partners ‘that’s just the way men are…they just can’t remember to do the dishes because they aren’t detail oriented’…frequently the man in question has a super detail-oriented job, like programming. I try to point out that based on this man’s job, he is probably intelligent enough to figure out how to do the dishes. I know, I am full of crazy ideas too.

        1. Anonymous4*

          What grinds my gears is, “If you wanted me to do the dishes, all you had to do was ASK,” especially when combined with, “Would you quit nagging me about the housework?”

          1. Dust Bunny*


            Never mind that we just ate. Food was consumed. I should not have to point out to you that there are dishes to be washed.

            1. The Crowening*

              RIGHT. Why do you need me to tell you what needs to be done? You see it. I see it. You don’t need my permission or my advice.

              What gets me, in my household, is my spouse is just as good at the household chores as I am – I can’t think of a time I’ve ever had to tell him to do something different/better, or had to follow him around and redo it. And he’s always willing to help if I ask. WHY DO I HAVE TO ASK, THO?

              1. Emotional Support Care’n*

                Oh, but the TWO genders (because of course there’s only two, immutable genders in this scenario) have different ideas of what “dirty” is, and women are the managers/keepers of the home, whereas men are the “big thinkers” and the ones who support the house financially and shouldn’t be constrained by the minutiae of wiping down the backs of sinks.

                1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                  Though I find that this remains the dynamic when the woman is the sole or primary breadwinner of the house … curious!

                2. Alexis Rosay*

                  But when men are asked to follow strict code style guidelines in their programming jobs, that’s GOOD minutiae they will absolutely pay attention to.

                3. Mannequin*

                  I’ve never understood why *I* was supposed to be the one constrained by the minutiae of wiping down the backs of sinks simply because I have a certain kind of genitalia, so I haven’t.

                  The men that didn’t believe “I’m a slob, I don’t like to clean or cook so do NOT expect me to” all acted like I sprung a nasty surprise on them. Dude, you’ve dated me for [X time period], you’ve seen how I live, what makes you think I’ll suddenly turn into Susie Homemaker the second our relationship gets serious?

                4. Despachito*

                  It IS possible indeed to have different ideas what “dirty” is, but it is broader than “women are the managers/keepers of the home”.

                  I have NEVER felt as THE manager or a keeper of my home, and my standards of cleaning/tidying up are pretty low. I do not mind things lying around for some time and I would damn mind if this was a problem for my partner, because I would be not willing to put aside other things I consider more important just to clean (but on the other hand I would not consider it completely fair to say “if you don’t like it, it’s up to you to do the cleaning.”

                  I basically think that I would not be compatible with a person with much greater needs of cleanliness and order. I would never want to sacrifice my time to live up to their standards, and they would be either unhappy or have to do all the work themselves.

              2. Despachito*

                But is there such a thing to “do something better”?

                I mean, there is no norm how a chore should be done, if at all, and it depends on the specific couple. I would not dare to say that my way of doing things is BETTER, and I do not support well if someone tells ME THEIR way is better.

                It never crossed my mind that I should be the one to tell my spouse to do something different or better because I was the main person responsible for the household, because I have never seen myself as such. I did tell him sometimes that I’d prefer something done differently but I was aware that I am not telling this from the position of a “household boss” but from that of an equal.

            2. Artemesia*

              Going on 50 years here and I am so glad that when my husband and I moved in together in grad school that we sat down and formally worked out how we would manage the household. Some little rules like the bed gets made by the last person up (he cares I don’t), the person who doesn’t cook does dishes and everyone does their own laundry have held fast for 50 years. Other things got adapted with kids, job loss, retirement etc etc but the principle that both are full members of the household never changed. And rules like kitchen cleanup work because we are both are considerate; people with partners who dirty every dish and don’t clean as they go need a different rule. But firm norms and rule take so much misery out of life. My first husband was the sort who expected a marching band if he occasionally did a chore, while I was teaching days, going to school nights and supporting him through law school. Screw that.

          2. TWB*

            This type of thing grinds me as well. Other sample conversations from my house:

            Me: I appreciate when you cook. And I’m happy to do the cleanup in return. All I ask is that you please don’t stack pots and pans in the sink because then I have to dismantle the pile to actually wash them. Please just leave them on the stove:

            Husband: (Continues to pile pots and pans in the sink and then has shocked Pikachu face when I get annoyed.)

            Me: I don’t see YOU ever going out to do the grocery shopping or doing laundry.

            Husband: All you have to do is ask.
            (Why should I have to ask???? It’s obvious what needs to be done around the house!)
            Me: I see you cleaned up the kitchen, thank you. What’s with the stuff (plates, glasses etc…not pots and pans for a change) still in the sink?

            Husband: The dishwasher is full

            Me: (massages temples, because it never is – he just tosses things into the first open space he sees rather than use the clearly defined templates of the two racks)

            I once asked his ex how she withstood 30 years of this without smothering him one night with a pillow.
            Her: It wasn’t worth the jail time….

            1. Dust Bunny*

              “. . . jail time . . . ”

              I have also used this when asked why I didn’t kill certain people.

          3. Lucy Skywalker*

            The answer to, “I don’t like it when you nag,” is always, “I don’t like nagging you any more than you like being nagged. If you would simply do the thing that I asked you to do the first time, or else give me an acceptable reason why you can’t, then I wouldn’t nag.”

            Then there was the time early in our marriage when there were dishes to be done, and my husband kept putting it off and saying “I’ll do them later.” After he said this several times, I finally realized what he was doing, and said, “If you think that not doing the dishes is going to make me give in and do them myself, think again.” He sighed, turned off the TV, got up off the couch, and did the dishes; and never tried that again!


            1. Anonymous4*

              There was a dirty skillet on the stove for over three weeks. I didn’t get it dirty. I wasn’t going to wash it. I was willing for it to rust through. It was not my problem and I was not going to take ownership of it.

              We had an agreement in which A cooks and B cleans, and then the roles would swap, and there were quite a few times when I’d go to the couch in front of the TV and announce, “I can’t make dinner because all the pots and pans are dirty,” and sit down.

              Not my job; not my problem.

              1. AnonBeret*

                My parents (a mom and dad) have alternated weeks of one cooking/grocery shopping and the other washing the dishes for going on…35 years now? Only taking a break when my mom was too pregnant? There’s never any questions or debates about it, and the absolute golden rule is neither gets to complain about what the other one cooks.

                Granted, my dad is not great at other household tasks when compared to how my mom wants them done, so that part is less than ideal (and he falls into the trap of “if you care so much about how it’s done, do it yourself” – which isn’t fair) BUT the cooking and dish cleaning is truly the healthiest thing I’ve known and I will request to do the same in whatever relationship I end up in.

                1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                  I agree it is not fair to not do something and say the other person is too particular. This is frequently weaponized incompetence, and used as a way to avoid doing things. However my dad has OCD (as in a legitimate diagnosis) and my mom will refuse to do certain things because he genuinely cannot be ok with how anyone else does certain things. So that is a case where I stand by my mom’s position (and honestly, it is less stressful for my dad for him to just do it – these are only a few particular tasks).

                2. Bagpuss*

                  My parents (also a M/F couple) didn’t and don’t alternate weeks but they share the work
                  Whee were growing up, they cooked and we, the children, did the washing up (there was a rota, and all of us, including my brother, were on it. When we all left home they bought a dishwasher!)
                  Before they retired, my dad used to cook breakfast and my mum, supper, as she is not a morning person, but she got home earlier. At weekends my dad would normally do more.
                  Now they are retired my dad does more cooking and my mum does most of the laundry.

                3. Anon Supervisor*

                  Yeah, quite a few people fall into the ol’ “my way’s the only right way” but then act like giant martyrs for “having” to do all the housework because their spouse just doesn’t do it right. Listen, if you can’t have a civil conversations about what you need from your partner, you either have a disturbing desire to have something to lord over or you just don’t respect your partner as an adult. I decided a while ago when I got married that I wasn’t going to follow after my husband when he would clean something because, hey, he’s cleaning. Doesn’t matter how he does it as long as the outcome is the same (he has OCD, so he usually does a way better job than me, anyway).

                4. Mannequin*

                  @Anon Supervisor
                  “ Yeah, quite a few people fall into the ol’ “my way’s the only right way” but then act like giant martyrs for “having” to do all the housework because their spouse just doesn’t do it right.”

                  Yeah, unfortunately this is happens a LOT, where the supposed incompetence on the part of hubs (or kids) is actually just “doing it in a different way than they would” or “did an adequate job instead of aiming for perfection”. I can remember being a kid and having my normally pretty reasonable mother griped at me for holding the mixing bowl “wrong” while I was pouring cake batter into the pan. I’m very clumsy (dyspraxic, but not diagnosed at the time) and holding the bowl in a way that was comfortable, non-messy, and with little risk of DROPPING it, none of which would have been the case if I’d held it the way she told me to, LOL.

                  My parents met in their late 30s & as a bachelor, my dad knew how to cook, clean, do laundry, vacuum, & everything else, and had zero issues doing it. My mom rarely let him, not because he was bad at it, but because she wanted it all done HER way.

                  @ commonsensesometimesmakessense*
                  “I agree it is not fair to not do something and say the other person is too particular.”

                  It’s also not fair to complain that someone’s good enough job isn’t “right” because it wasn’t done the way you would have, or to your more exacting standards.

                  If it’s essential that something be done *your way*, do it yourself. If it’s essential that it simply *gets done*, you may have to be content with “good enough” or did an adequate job” instead of insisting on perfection.

              2. Michelle*

                My husband bought something off of Amazon that wasn’t exactly what he needed. He bought a different one, and put the original aside. I know he expects me to return the first one, but since he hasn’t asked me to do it, I haven’t. I know it’s passive aggressive, but saying anything about it would defeat the whole point. He relies on me to think for him, and I’m not going to do it.

                I also refuse to nag him about tasks. He’d love for me to not just ask him to do a thing, but write it down for him, figure out when he should do it, remind him, check it got done, remind him again… I refuse. I’ve told him outright that when he says he will take care of something, I want to be able to put it out of my mind and not worry about it anymore. It’s taken years to get to a point that I can actually hope to do that, but we’re getting there.

                1. Lucy Skywalker*

                  Tell him that if he needs to have it written down, he should be the one to write it down himself. I have ADHD, and I ALWAYS forget to do things unless I have them written down. However, I always write them down myself. It never once occurred to me that my husband ought to be the one writing them down (except for that one time when I wasn’t home and he was and I told him to leave me a note).

                2. Michelle*

                  Lucy Skywalker, he also has ADHD, and if he doesn’t write it down immediately he will forget. I still consider it his responsibility but it’s a point of contention. He always says I ask him to do things while he’s driving or otherwise unable to make a note then and there, which is absurd because he has Android Auto and can simply say, “Ok Google, remind me…” Plus I hate the phone, and almost exclusively ask him to do things via text. It’s an excuse. He has frequently commented that he can’t remember things like I do, and I point out that this is also nonsense because I have a notoriously awful memory; I just write everything down.

                  I don’t want to sound like he’s all bad, though. He’s forgetful and doesn’t put enough effort into dealing with that himself, but he’s also the guy who happily volunteers to drive across town in a storm in the middle of the night to satisfy pregnancy cravings.

                3. Mannequin*

                  @Michelle Respectfully, as a woman with ADHD (not a man trying to get my wife to do everything for me), I was…kinda stunned, by this, really. It sounds like you don’t really understand how ADHD works, and are expecting him to Adult like a neurotypical simply because you want him to.

                  “He always says I ask him to do things while he’s driving or otherwise unable to make a note then and there”

                  He’s using his words and telling you what he needs as a person with a disability. Why aren’t you listening?

                  “which is absurd because he has Android Auto and can simply say, “Ok Google, remind me…”” easy for a neurotypical person to say. We who lack executive function can’t switch our brains over fast enough.

                  “ Plus I hate the phone, and almost exclusively ask him to do things via text.”
                  I don’t remember anything that’s in text, if it’s “in my phone” it’s out of sight, out of mind, and for all intents & purposes, doesn’t exist.

                  Also…you don’t have to communicate in a way that you hate, but you expect him to do so…why?

                  “It’s an excuse.”
                  No, it’s ADHD

                  “He has frequently commented that he can’t remember things like I do,”
                  You should listen. He is correct. Our brains complete lack a bunch of important functions that yours has, and when we forget stuff, it really IS different than when NT people are a little absent minded.

                  My best friend with ADHD & I used to joke about having to write ourselves notes to read our notes that we wrote to remind us of important stuff. It’s not that far off from the truth. Before GPS, this friend kept a spiral notebook in her car with driving directions to EVERYWHERE, even places she went all the time. I was with her when she turned the wrong way on *her own street*. It is absolutely not the same.

                  I’m not arguing that your husband needs to learn better coping methods- far from it! Meds, therapists, ADHD coaches, they can all help. But even so, you have to realize that you are married to someone with a disability, who is going to need accommodations to do the things that YOU do without a second thought. It means you will have to work TOGETHER to figure out what works best for *both* of you. It is no different when someone is helping their partner live with any other disability.

                  The absolute cruelest thing you can do is keep expecting him to act like neurotypical you. I can’t even begin to explain how damaging it is to hear “excuses, irresponsible, careless, thoughtless, selfish, grow up” and all the other terrible things people hurl our way because they refuse to believe there could be anything but negligence or malice behind it, and NONE of it makes our ADHD one iota better.

              3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                This works great for my sister, because she honestly does not care. Her husband learned early on that if he does not want it to be a pigsty, then he has to contribute just as much to cleaning (she will jump in and help and get things done when he does … she just genuinely is not any more aggravated than he is about mess. It is fun to watch!)

                1. Despachito*

                  This is actually a default setting for me.

                  I think it may have something in common with the fact it was never hammered into me that the household should be my responsibility because I am a woman, and I never felt that way.

                  I do recognize some things should be done for our own comfort though, but I generally do not sweat it, and I am able to let things sit where they are until I feel like doing something about them, or until someone else does. It does not irritate me, and me and hubs are both like that (so each of us occasionally does things).

                  I am grateful that I do not have internalized the “household is a woman’s responsibility” BS, it makes my life so much easier. And I had it pretty clear pretty soon that anyone with this opinion would be totally uncompatible with me as a partner.

              4. Artemesia*

                if the rule is ‘one cooks other cleans’ then the other part of that rule needs to be ‘cleaning is done immediately after dinner’.

                And no household should run on ‘he only doe stuff if asked.’ Sit down and work out who does what and be clear no one is going to be Mommy

            2. Dasein9*

              I went on housework strike. Took him 18 months to say or do anything.
              Obviously, that marriage did not last.

            3. Dust Bunny*

              My brother and I used to trade off washing dishes. One night there was a 9 x 13 pan that had had chicken baked in it (so extra greasy and in need of scrubbing). He left it to soak . . . for 24 hours until it was my turn.

              It didn’t work. Dad made it very clear that I was not to touch the chicken pan.

        2. londonedit*

          Yep, I’ve been shocked before when friends of mine have said ‘Oh, Daddy’s babysitting this weekend! It’s going to be carnage! I have to write him a list or he’ll never remember to brush their teeth and they’ll be up until midnight! Goodness knows what they’ll be wearing…!’ That is their adult male partner they’re talking about, and what he is doing is not ‘babysitting’ but parenting his own damn children. If he can’t do that without a list of instructions then either he is a useless human being or he’s never been allowed to do any real parenting and has therefore settled back into a ‘well, she’ll tell me I’m doing it wrong anyway’ approach where he never bothers learning anything because he never has to. Apparently I’m also full of crazy ideas.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            it also sometimes indicates that he prioritizes things differently from how his partner would perfer they be prioritized – the “what they’ll be wearing” comment sets off that alarm bell for me. When I’ve helped out with caring for toddlers and young children, I’m just happy that they are wearing clothes – I’ll get downright peevish with others who complain about (mis-)matched colors and outfits. They’re children, they’re happy, they’re healthy, and they’re moderately hygenic. Do I find the color choices platable? Is a tutu appropriate wear for going to the grocery store? Who cares, as long as neither thing actively endangers the child.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              My mom just let us wear whatever we would put on with the least fuss and, yes, that included Halloween costumes as daily wear. As long as our nakedness was covered and it was generally appropriate for the weather, we were fine. We dressed up for special occasions out of respect for others (and because sometimes it’s fun to haul out your pretty dress) but every day? Anything goes.

            2. londonedit*

              Definitely. And that feeds into the blokes being less inclined to do stuff, too – if his partner is going to chastise him for dressing the child in stripes with spots or for letting them go to the supermarket in a tutu then that’s another reason for him to think ‘what’s the point, I’ll let her do it’. Those friends I mentioned above have absolutely done the whole ‘OMG can you believe he sent her to nursery in a PYJAMA TOP, so mortifying’ when most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a child’s pyjama top and a child’s long-sleeved t-shirt (and what does it really matter anyway as long as it’s clean).

              1. Anymouse*

                Must go anonymous for this. My husband has said I criticize him for not doing chores my way. I don’t. I just don’t like it when he doesn’t do chores without waiting 3 days. And criticizes our daughter for the same thing. Hm.

              2. La Triviata*

                For what it’s worth, I’ve seen people – mostly older teens – out in public during the day wearing pajamas, bedroom slippers and so on. They’re dressed, they’re covered and it’s really none of my business.

              1. SpaceySteph*

                Same here, my 4yo is really into pretty dresses and wears them like regular clothes. He’s always like “you’re letting her wear that?” Yup, sure am. Sometimes I’ll try to gently tell her that the weather is incompatible with her choice but if she insists, well, I warned her. (We live in the southern US so our winters can be chilly but very rarely dangerous and in the summer, well, you’ll be hot no matter what you wear…)

            3. DJ*

              With the exception of Sunday church, my rule is quite similar: it has to be clean and (sometimes) weather appropriate. Even the weather stuff: sometimes I use that as a object lesson. I always tell them they might regret their choice and why, but sometimes it isn’t worth the fight.

              For church, we wear “church clothes.” But if my daughter picks a polka dot purple dress with orange striped leggings…all I ask is: did you change your underwear?

            4. KateM*

              Hah. My toddlers choose their clothes themselves. Why should I bother fighting over what they wear when I can just tell a 3yo who poured a drink on themselves/got a nosebleed/peed their pants after cleaning them that “now go and get yourself new clothing while I take care of the dirty clothes”? They know where each type of their everyday clothing is, and I put into those places only approved-by-me clothing anyway.

          2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            yeah, sorry dads out there! You are just as much the parent as your spouse. You do not babysit your own kids … you parent them!

            1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              Also, I agree on not worrying about what the kids are wearing as long as they are clothed, happy, healthy, and not wearing something with glitter falling off of it all over the house! I don’t care what gender you and your partner(s) are! You must be a united front against glitter!!!!

              1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

                Glitter is the bane of everything. The person who invented it is on my shortlist of “people who need a talking to after I invent a time machine”.

                Right after whoever invented heels for women, and just before the person who came up with the smart toilet.

              2. Nina*

                I freely admit to being an adult who wears things with glitter falling off them all over the house. I like glitter. Everyone I live with (miraculously) likes glitter. It’s not unhygienic and if I can’t vacuum it all up, who cares?

      2. Lucy Skywalker*

        “Men cannot help themselves if they are turned on” is malarkey. When gay men go to the gym, they see lots of attractive muscular men in various states of undress in the men’s locker room, and yet they manage not to jump them.

      3. Robin Ellacott*

        Yes the natural response to “men can’t control their impulses” is “so I guess they shouldn’t be allowed to run companies, let along whole countries.”

        Honestly, this type of narrative is so insulting to both men and women!

      4. La Triviata*

        Some time ago I came across this quote and have saved it: “… men are assumed to have the erotic self-control of a gibbon with a sweetie jar of Viagra, creatures who ought to be applauded for not flinging turds everywhere rather than encouraged to apply critical thinking.”

      5. Software Dev*

        As a woman who comes off as a little brusque and less “emotional”*, the number of men I have known who are /vastly/ more emotional than I am is staggering. Our office manager, who is a great and hilarious guy, one of the funniest people I have ever met, is prone to go white hot angry over—nothing. The man has felt more anger over someone putting things in the wrong fridge than I have ever felt in my life. An old manager of mine, also, used to force me to sit through one on ones that were mostly about feelings (his) while I waited patiently to see if there was any functional information to be had. Men and women have wildly variable levels of emotion that are dependent on them as individuals. Never let anyone say that emotionality is the domain of women.

        * I am plenty emotional, just generally not very expressive, especially at work

        1. Palliser*

          I work in a male majority industry and manage client relationships. The amount of emotional babysitting I have done for men as they expect me to sit there and help them process their feelings was literally giving me high blood pressure. My New Year’s resolution is simply not to do that. The other day I told a client we should hang up because the conversation could no longer be productive. It was so empowering! I still had to walk it off, but it prevented me from feeling trapped and belittled.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      After 40+ years of life I’d hoped we’d as a society moved beyond ‘well, men can’t help themselves if a woman looks attractive!’

      Odds on the next 40 years being better? Anyone?

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        There will always be atavisms who don’t get the memo that we’re trying to improve as a species, unfortunately.

      2. A Penguin!*

        Maybe I’m an optimist, but I’d put reasonable odds on ‘better’. I do think society is very slowly improving on this.

        But I do put long odds on ‘good enough’.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I am going to say based on my (nearly 13-year-old) son and his friends… yeah, reasonable odds on “better.” Not “fixed” by a long shot, but he and his friends take these issues SO much more seriously than even the most enlightened of my friends did at that age.

          1. Salymander*

            Yeah, my 16 year old and their friends are quick to notice and correct sexist behavior. When a boy at school was being sexist, the whole rest of the class called him out and laughed at him in a “you are being ridiculous and terrible and you kinda suck,” sort of way. The positive peer pressure was remarkably effective. The boy apologized and my kid says he is much better now. It gives me hope.

          2. OP*

            I agree on the odds being better. My son is an adult now, and he and his friends do take this kind of stuff EXTREMELY seriously. Almost to the point where they tend to throw the baby away along with the bathwater… But I am still so, so glad, because the sexism issues like mine run so very deep. The kids will be able to figure out the bathwater part in their time.

      3. Purple Jello*

        After over 40 years in the US workforce, I have to say that it’s definitely better than it was. Not fixed, but improving.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely better than it was I think. My mother faced a lot of overt sexism and some majorly creepy behaviour in the workplace which she was expected to tolerate as well as regularly being paid less than the men. My workplace is a lot better and there are more controls in place so if someone is creepy I can do something about it.

          Things are not perfect but I have hope. I was coaching a junior member of staff preparing for a promotion interview yesterday and listening to her I was delighted to hear that there are some awesome people coming up behind me who will continue to make the workplace better.

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            My mother has told me just terrible stories from when she worked in the steno pool at an insurance company in the early 70’s. She was (and still is) a gorgeous brunette and had that long straight 70’s hair. One of her duties was to wipe off her boss’s desk…while he sat at it so he could watch the secretaries bend over him. She was literally chased around the boss’s desk (ala Dabney Coleman and Dolly Parton) when she started worked there. She also had to wear nylons and heels when she was pregnant with me (luckily it was just after it was made illegal to fire women who were pregnant).

    4. socks*

      Honestly, no one has a lower opinion of men than misogynists do. They’ll tell you with a straight face that men need to be pandered to at all times, they can’t be expected to have self-control, and you can NEVER give the impression that you (or any woman) may be better than them at something. Then if you say “actually I think men can behave like adults” they’ll turn around and say that you’re the man-hater.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        But only when it’s about work or responsibilities of course.
        When it comes to power, money, and other benefits then suddenly men become the naturally superior and more deserving gender.

        (And there are only those two genders that everyone neatly falls into, because reasons.

    5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      1) Women are emotionally fragile. Anything you say can set them off. Be careful how you talk to him.

      2) Don’t tell him that he is making you uncomfortable. You will embarrass him. You will make him feel awkward. You will make him feel like he’s doing something wrong.

      Oh. I love hate this game.

      1) Women! Don’t be coy, give mixed signals. Tell men what you feel/think.

      2) Telling him how you feel is “putting him on the spot (and) would cause eternal animosity between us that would make my life a worse kind of hell.”

    6. EmmyNoether*

      The one I particularly like (=hate) is
      – men just can’t express feelings
      – there are historically more men artists/poets/playwrights/songwriters, so men must be better at it

      …sounds logical.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        And let’s swiftly move past the question of who wrote history or decided which people should be remembered.

  7. LibraryLady*

    I totally get your gist OP, but I think it’s really sad to consider oneself “fortunate” to not be ogled by others. It shouldn’t be “fortunate” to not be harassed, that’s a basic expectation of human behavior.

    I totally agree with Alison, it doesn’t matter from what country he hails, that is a basic part of decency to not do that. Retaining your cultural norms is fine when it comes to food preferences or holidays, things that don’t bother other people. Not when it comes to something that is actively harmful to someone else.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Not even fortunate to not be ogled, but merely to be ogled only once a season! This is still one time too many.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yeah, that’s not a fault of the OP, sadly that’s society. There’s even been letters here in the past from women being harassed where they’ve been accused of ‘bragging about being attractive enough to harrass’.

      It’s a really endemic issue.

      1. The Smiling Pug*

        That accusation is just as disgusting as “If you wear a short skirt, you’re asking for it” when some guy comes after you.

      2. londonedit*

        And just look at the fact that the OP felt she needed to spend half the first part of her letter explaining that her breasts ‘look appropriate’ and that she wears a thick and restrictive bra lest anyone think her breasts don’t fall into the category of ‘appropriate’. Because we’re still taught that if we wear this or do that or go there or say that then we can’t blame a guy for staring/harassing/attacking us.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Oh boy yes. I used to spend a LOT of time dressing to make sure 100% of my chest was covered and that no bits of its shape were visible (lots of loose clothing).

          Then I hit 40 and got my ‘don’t care about people’s hang ups about my appearance’ card.

          1. Storm in a teacup*

            The amount of time I spent wearing polo necks at work in my 20s – which I hated – just to get over this. Once had a man tell me looking at me gave him vertigo *eyeroll* which apparently was fine to say as he was gay and therefore it wasn’t sexual. Just ugh
            I still have a whole drawer full of vest tops to wear under normal tops to be workplace cleavage appropriate

          2. Drool worthy*

            Isn’t it so freeing?? I save thousands of dollars a year now because I embrace my parti-color Grey and brown hair. :) My wardrobe is 90% yoga pants with POCKETS and assorted v-neck tees. My makeup bag is smaller than a paperback novel now. IDGAF about impressing people with appearance and wardrobe, etc. It feels so FREE!!

      3. x*

        Not only that, but why is it on the OP to deal with this? If anyone else in office noticed this behavior, they should tell/ask the guy to stop, and escalate to HR if he doesn’t. You can’t blatantly sexually ogle people at work, and the workplace (particularly management and HR) have a responsibility to stop it.

        1. x*

          Oh, I just read further. The following is BS and in my organization would result in a reprimand for the partner for pushing for this situation to continue:

          “My male partner, who is wonderfully understanding and not at all sexist usually, says that I should just grin and bear it.”

    3. Lacey*

      Yes, this is so sad.

      Also, I’m in my 30s, have pretty large breasts, am not as contentious about not showing any cleavage (though in other respects, I’m a fairly conservative dresser) and I’ve never caught a guy staring at my breasts in a work setting.

      And while I haven’t worked with people from many cultures, I’ve worked with people from an interesting mix of cultures.

      1. Aka*

        Yeah this describes me at my current job. It’s all men. I have a really aggressively hourglass figure. Do people stare? They absolutely do not. They are professional. I think I have a pretty gentle persona at work too.

      2. Solana*

        Same here. The only time at work I’ve caught someone staring at my chest was a customer who was trying to give me a Chick tract to come to his church. (Rolls eyes.)

    4. RagingADHD*

      I doubt the LW considers it fortunate, but used the phrase as a hedge against the type of people who sneer that they have it so much worse, and that someone “privileged” to “only” be ogled occasionally has no right to complain.

      The “if that’s your only problem…” type comment. It happens both in real life and online, about all sorts of problems. This type of bashing is incredibly damaging because it invalidates people’s right to speak up, makes them less likely to do so, and undermines the kind of solidarity we need to make effective social change at all levels.

      1. Lucy Skywalker*

        It’s sort of like when people say that being able to walk down the street without being stopped by the police is White privilege. No, that’s not a privilege, that’s a basic human right. The fact that Black people aren’t guaranteed that basic right shows that something is wrong with our culture.

        1. AnonBeret*

          I…think you’re misinterpreting what white privilege means? Because calling that white privilege is saying exactly what you seem to agree with – that Black people are not guaranteed the same basic rights as white people and in that way, white people are privileged in many areas of life. Aka white people have white privilege. White privilege is not a good thing, it’s acknowledging a reality that needs to change.

            1. ceiswyn*

              It should, but are you really going to die on the hill of what term we use to describe white male abled people’s ability to walk obliviously through this world without noticing everyone else’s troubles?

        2. Cheap Ass Rolex*

          Agree, a “privilege” is e.g. a celebrity getting out of a drunk driving ticket – no one should be allowed that. Walking down the street free of fear isn’t being privileged, it’s the baseline everyone should be entitled to. We tend to use the term privilege for both situations, but they’re not really the same thing and sometimes it’s not helpful to elide the difference.

  8. Stella70*

    Tangentially related… of my favorite Erma Bombeck quotes. She arrived at a conference, and someone slapped a “Hi, I’m Erma” name tag on her left breast (rather, on her sweater covering her left breast). She smiled and said, “Wonderful! What shall we name the other one?”.

      1. Not a cat*

        In a freshmen year creative writing course, the (cis, het, white, male) TA once commented on an essay, “Your work reads like student-level Erma Bombeck and YOU are not funny.”

    1. Despachito*

      I am perhaps in the minority but I do not think this is work-appropriate, though I do think it is funny.

      I understand that we want a public/work world free of any sexualized behaviour / allusions, and this joke just crosses the line for me.

  9. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    I am a very big fan of pointed arm crossing as an opening move, sometimes paired with “Is something on my shirt or something?” I have no problem with moving on to “Hey, let’s keep our eyes up here” and pointedly holding, like, a folder in front of my chest if the behavior continues, though. And I would talk to someone in authority with a quickness if it continued after that.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Same. If he’s rude enough to stare at my anatomy then the Good Ship Polite Response has already left the harbor.

    2. Essentially Cheesy*

      Completely agree. Start with mild signals, such as the arm crossing and loud obvious sigh but very soon, escalate from there, even within one day.

    3. Despachito*

      Why not be matter-of-fact and just say “you keep looking at my breasts and this makes me very uncomfortable, please stop doing it.”

      It is not rude, it is direct and understandable, and I assume that if he is a decent person he will not have a problem to comply.

      I think wild speculations about why is he doing it are counter-productive, and so are speculations about “how to convey the message without having to say it clearly”.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Well, because I am sharing what works for me and what I have done with success in the workplace, and am answering the OP’s specific question. I also don’t think I’m offering any wild speculations about Boob Watcher, so I’m a little confused here tbh.

        1. Despachito*

          It was meant as a more general comment but I placed it as a reply to you, sorry for the confusion! It is also true you did not make any wild speculations, and sorry for that too!

          My intention was not to question what you did, and I am glad that it worked for you. But I personally find the indirect communication often confusing, and I was just thinking – why should a woman be forced to do the mental gymnastics of “how to convey the idea I do not like something without actually saying it”, when the clearest way to convey the message is just to say it as it is?

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            Oh, I totally get that! I think it’s sometimes a good first step in general, but especially when you’re at work. You do it knowing that it might not work, and are prepared to move to more direct statements if you have to. In the OP’s case, she said that she had no problem being direct, but she has circumstances that make her want to try a less direct path at first because she has pressing work needs and babysitting the dude’s potential hurt fee fees would be detrimental to getting work stuff done. As for me, I start with something less direct because it works a good chunk of the time and then I don’t have to deal with people castigating me for “being full of myself” or “uptight” or “jumping to conclusions.” If the behavior continues I move on to addressing it directly and neutrally (at least at first), but if I don’t lay down that original groundwork I potentially have to deal with people declaring that I’m overreacting and how dare I besmirch Boob Lookers character and blah blah blah. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens often enough. And it’s exhausting. So I start with body language that indicates that I’m uncomfortable (and cuts off the view) and say something that indicates “Your eyes are on my chest, I have noticed, and I am wondering why they are there.”

            1. Despachito*

              I think I get what you mean, but I think this is (hopefully) a transitory stage.

              Because the “being full of myself” or “uptight” or “jumping to conclusions” stuff is most often utter BS, and I wish that it was possible to have enough strength and support to be able to call these out immediately, not to have to work around them to not have your working world reduced to misery.

              And I think force is in the multitude in this. If anyone tried to pull this one on this forum, they would be immediately told it is inappropriate, and so people refrain from it here. The reason why people get away with it is because it is widely tolerated, and I think there is place for everyone of us who is in the position to do it (which might, sadly, not always be the case) to call it out and be firm about “this is NOT OK.”

  10. I should really pick a name*

    Let’s assume he doesn’t know any better or doesn’t know he’s doing it (which I don’t actually believe).
    He’s not going to learn unless someone tells him. So I don’t see how saying nothing helps the situation.

    1. Lab Boss*

      More and more questions on this site are making me realize the wisdom of this. If someone’s acting out of genuine ignorance or lack of awareness, it’s a kindness to make them aware so they can fix a behavior they OF COURSE are mortified to be doing. If they’re feigning ignorance or trying to be sneaky, politely but firmly calling them out makes it so they can’t pretend not to know. You don’t have to be a mind reader, the fix is the fix either way.

      1. sacados*

        Exactly. And even further than that, it ties back into the “impact vs intent” thing.

        At the end of the day, it doesn’t MATTER that the intention of your words/actions was ABC rather than XYZ. The POINT is that those words/actions need to change for Specific Reasons Which Do Not Change .

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          My ex was a master at arguing that because his *intent* wasn’t to hurt me [by doing the thing he swore he would never do again and choosing to just lie to me about it instead of, ya know, not doing it] therefore my hurt feelings and mistrust were invalid and wrong.

          I always responded with: “So you think that parents whose children are killed by drunk drivers don’t have the right to feel the pain of grief because the driver didn’t get drunk and get behind the wheel with the intent to kill the children? OK.”

          1. Salymander*

            My ex used to tell me that he wasn’t trying to hurt me. Like that made it ok. What I finally said was, “Maybe you didn’t try to hurt me, but so what? You need to try to Not Hurt Me.”

            And then I dumped him. Because that was a terrible excuse for bad behavior, and I would rather be alone forever than in a relationship with That Guy.

            (I wasn’t alone forever. There are lots of people who are not jerks out there.)

      2. AnonEMoose*

        Yes! This is another aspect of the “socially awkward is NOT an excuse for creepy behavior” discussion/dance that happens in fandom circles that basically consists of women (usually) saying that a guy is creeping them out. Inevitably, someone will pipe up with the “he’s just socially awkward, don’t be mean to him” idea. And, as Dr. Nerdlove has pointed out more than once, people who are genuinely social awkward mostly want to do better and are mortified and apologetic if/when something is pointed out. Someone who is a creep will use the “socially awkward” as a shield/defense to keep doing exactly what they’re doing…not universally true, but a useful guideline.

        I’d start with the “is there something on my shirt” sort of script, but his reaction is his to manage. If he gets angry/embarrassed, that’s on him, and hopefully he won’t do it anymore, but if OP needs to escalate to get it to stop, then please do so, OP, and try not to feel bad about it. He is the one being inappropriate, not you.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Very much – and notice it’s almost always a man being excused for being socially awkward. Not a woman.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Absolutely agreed! There are women who are creepers, too, but it’s far less common, and they don’t get excused the same way the men do.

          2. quill*

            Yep. And the really awkward ones usually know that they mess up sometimes and will apologize / quit the behavior / whatever.

            1. Lucy Skywalker*

              No, actually, we usually don’t know that we’ve messed up unless someone tells us; after which we will apologize and not do it again. So yes, please tell us!

              1. quill*

                Oh, I meant “know in general that they mess up sometimes” not “knows when or how they messed up.”

          3. Lucy Skywalker*

            See my comment below about NVLD. I’ve NEVER gotten excused for being socially awkward. With me, it was always “she should have known better” or even “she does know better, she’s just being a B-word.”
            So once again, it’s putting the blame on the woman rather than instructing her to do better.

          4. Nikki*

            Yes! This is my biggest pet peeve. I work in tech and I call out people who excuse “socially awkward” men for being rude or inappropriate. I was socially awkward, too, but I learned how to be better at roughly age 13 because it isn’t tolerated in women. Now I get told to have pity on grown-ass men because “that’s just how engineers are.” Yeah, right!

        2. Lucy Skywalker*

          I’m somewhat of a “socially awkward” woman due to my nonverbal learning disability. Because I have difficulty understanding nonverbal communication, I’ve made many faux pas, possibly even offending people, without even realizing it over the years. Like many people with NVLD, I have exceptionally strong verbal skills, and so I present as someone who’s intelligent enough to read nonverbal communication (and I am intelligent in the IQ sense) and so no one ever bothered to teach me the social skills that a typical person with my IQ automatically knows without anyone telling them.
          It’s only in the past four years that I’ve finally begun to understand my disability, how to advocate for myself, and how better to read nonverbal language. I am grateful to finally be learning these appropriate social skills and I wish that someone had told me them when I was much younger. I now feel terrible knowing that I offended people or made them uncomfortable over the years. I wish I could go back and apologize to them.

          1. Despachito*

            Hello sister :)
            This is exactly how I felt quite a lot of years. I think I have adapted better now but there are still situations I am not quite sure about.

            But I remembered that when I was younger, I was sometimes mortified that someone snapped at me and I did not understand what did I do wrong. And it is not that I did not want to do the right thing, I was just clueless. If someone told me “when you do X, I feel Y and it is not pleasant, please stop” I’d consider it to be a kindness (because it would make me understand what is wrong). This does absolutely not mean that the person would tolerate such behaviour, just that s/he makes it clear what s/he wants from me.

      3. RagingADHD*

        Indeed. Just like the best response when you aren’t sure if someone is being sarcastic or passive aggressive, is to respond sincerely.

        If they are trying to mess with you, it foils and frustrates them. If they aren’t, it gives clarity and lets everyone move forward.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      Right? If this poor, sad, confused little ADULT genuinely doesn’t know better, the solution is to… make him know better. If this guy is honestly just clueless it’s kind of awful to be like “aw, let the little buddy keep creeping people out! It’s better to let him destroy his own reputation and make women uncomfortable forever than deal with the brief discomfort of realizing he was being rude.”

      1. UKDancer*

        Yeah if someone is doing something that’s creepy / weird inadvertently then it’s much better to tell them so they can stop rather than assuming they’re unable to change. I had an uber boss who was very tall at one point (let’s call him Saruman). He used to come and stand over people to talk to them which was intimidating and made a lot of the women in the office worry he could see down their tops. Even though we thought he probably wasn’t looking, it was just unsettling.

        I asked Saruman if he would mind sitting down when he came over because his significant height made me feel like a child in front of the teacher. He had not actually realised this was a problem and took on board the suggestion. The result was everyone in the office feeling a lot happier. I mean you have to start by telling people that something is an issue so they can fix it.

        If they won’t fix it then you know it’s deliberate and not accidental.

    3. Office Lobster DJ*


      “He doesn’t know any better!”
      “Okay, well, I’m going to tell him better.”
      “No! You can’t! The poor man doesn’t know and you mustn’t let him know!”

      Someone “not knowing better” is a guide for where to start when you address a problem, not a reason to shrug and put up with it.

      1. Anonymous4*

        We have training on Thou Shalt Not Sexually Harass Other People Or Else, every year. It’s not perfect, and it’s no guarantee, but it makes sure that creeps can’t say, “Well, gee, I mean, I didn’t KNOW I couldn’t make remarks about a female coworker’s _____, why didn’t anyone TELL me??”

        I know that nothing is universal, but is my organization really an outlier?

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Not in my experience. The organization I’m with does ethics training every year, which includes a segment on harassment. The science fiction convention I volunteer for also has a policy about harassment, and a process for dealing with it.

    4. Omnivalent*

      That is because you are trying to remedy the problem in a way that is both sensible and kind.

      People who wring their hands about social awkwardness or autism as an excuse to say nothing are not really interested in helping the creeper stop creeping. They are anxious about a social disruption, and want to make it go away by the easier path of getting the target of the social misbehavior to shut up. That these targets are often perceived as lower in social status or personal worth is not a coincidence.

    5. OP*

      You are absolutely right. But I was never planning to say nothing, just looking for ways to not cause too much animosity when I do. And I have used my pre-planned comeback (details ways upstream in the comments). I am also fully planning to do and say more if the guy doesn’t stop the residual thing he still does after what I did say.
      If you are talking about my partner recommending doing nothing, then yes, that is a big problem.

      1. Anon Supervisor*

        OP – if it causes animosity (and it might), that’s not on you. He can feel however he wants about being called out, as long as he knocks it off and treats you professionally. It’s good to try and be gentle at first to try and spare someone embarrassment (or give them a plausible out in order to save face), but if that doesn’t work, short and direct is the way to go.

        1. OP*

          Right, I agree with all of that wholeheartedly. But I also really, really desperately need this guy to work out, to be useful, and this is for myself, not for any nebulous company needs. So I do have to balance what to work on with what intensity.

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            I understand that you need to preserve this relationship, but just know that if he treats you any other way than professionally, he’s retaliating against you for a good faith effort to get him to stop harassing you with his eyes. That is illegal and something for your HR team to deal with (assuming they’re not a whole sack of bees). I would document everything and loop in your boss so that they’re aware of your conversation should he start treating you differently or avoiding you. You want to get in front of this just in case it goes south (and hopefully it won’t) so that he doesn’t have the opportunity to spin the situation in his favor.

          2. Salymander*

            Hi OP. I think if you are really matter of fact with him in an I Am Being Helpful sort of way, like Of Course he doesn’t want to stare and make you uncomfortable, and then you are totally normal with him after that, it will work out ok. If not, you can escalate to HR or to getting really aggressive, knowing that you very kindly gave him a chance and he didn’t take it. If he gets nasty, he would probably have gotten nasty in some way eventually. At least this way it is at a time of your choosing, when you are prepared for it rather than when you are not on your guard.

            I really feel for you with this. I am a 50 year old woman and reasonably attractive, and for some reason I got really busty after I had a child at 34. I was super flat chested before that, so I was unaccustomed to the staring. It took a lot of getting used to, and I am a lot more outspoken about it than I used to be. I think the fact that it went from generalized staring at most of me to focused staring at my breasts just ticked all the Is This Creepy boxes. It was just so much more obvious. You are trying to be really patient and kind, and I think you can feel confident that you are right to speak up. Really, if it is unintentional on his part, you are doing him a kindness. And your feelings and comfort matter too. I hope it goes well when you talk to coworker (and your partner), and I would love to read an update.

    6. Despachito*


      It does not matter, and is not worth speculating, WHY is he doing it.

      What matters is that it is making OP uncomfortable, and the easiest way to convey this information, is to TELL HIM.

      When I was younger I assume I was clueless a few times, and the most efficient way to correct me was to tell me firmly (so as to see the person is serious about it), politely (otherwise I would spend too much energy on feeling mortified and there would be not enough left for an efficient solution of the problem) and clearly (because I have a problem to obey “just because” you say so but if I understand why you have a problem with it it makes it much easier for me to cut a behaviour I so far did not perceive as wrong).

      And on the few occasions I was knowingly trying to be mean it would very likely stop me too (with the “firm” part possibly escalating if I pushed back).

      So I think a matter-of-fact kind directness is likely to work in both cases (and if it does not, there is room for escalating).

  11. Aarti*

    They don’t get the point, even after you fold your arms pointedly. This drove me away from a Doctor Who meetup. I could have confronted it, but why? It’s not worth it.
    These kind of men ruin it for everyone.

    1. Rainy*

      As with so many things, men who do this to women never do it to other men. So they get the point, they just don’t think it applies to women.

      1. anonymath*

        I literally once had a guy say to me “no one looks at *my* chest!” non-ironically. I looked down, slowly, then at his chest, slowly, and I do believe I made my point with no more words.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Ugh. See also the guys who insist “I’d love it if women hit on me! Stop being so dramatic!” When the situations are not equivalent.

          Really? Would you love it if someone you are not attracted to, who was physically larger than you (on average) was hitting on you, touching you without consent, trampling your boundaries, and not taking “no thank you” for an answer? Empathy, people. It’s a thing.

          1. Sarah M*

            Just ask them if they’d appreciate that behavior if it were coming from other inmates on their first day in prison.

            Please note that I’m not making light of prison rape. The imminent threat of grevious bodily harm (rape) inherent in agressive sexual harassment of men towards women just isn’t there when the gender roles are reversed. A large, unattractive female is still highly unlikely to have the strength to overpower a man, and then hurt him physically by raping him. So, however weird the idea might be for them, the fear just isn’t there. I’ve had better results when I put it into terms that they can “get” immediately – and viscerally.

          2. OP*

            Oh my god yes, thank you! I have heard this one way, way too many times. My partner didn’t quite say it, but i could hear it in between his lines, “Why can’t you just feel flattered?” Well dear, I can’t because I had more than a handful of documented sexual assaults in my personal life experience with men, the first one being at 7 years old. Which you know all about. And most of my female acquaintances had one or more of those. Which you also know much about. And only about 1% of my male acquaintances were ever sexually harassed, much less assaulted, which you also know very well. Any objectification, such as the staring, brings back the collective memories of the assaults and harassment that women endure on a completely incomparable to males scale. THAT is why I cannot be flattered.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              I’m sure he wouldn’t feel very flattered if Bob from Logistics or Mary from Accounts was staring at his crotch on the regular.

            2. Salymander*

              Any time a group of women discuss something like this, you start hearing the stories. You know the stories. All those incidents, close calls, traumas, and all the times it was minimized or explained away by people who should know better. It used to be only whispered about, but we are getting more and more comfortable with speaking out and that really freaks some people out. But all of that speaking out and acting to support each other is making a difference and changing things for the better.

              OP I am sorry you have had to deal with this. It is wrong. It is just all so wrong. You have every right to not be stared at like that. Every right.

              1. Anon Supervisor*

                Amen. I am so damn tired of explaining to men why this crap is intolerable. I’m so damn tired of having to deal with the very real personal and professional consequences for women asking for the same amount of respect and empathy that they give to others. I’m just so tired. Keep telling the stories because maybe one day we won’t have to tell them anymore.

                1. Salymander*

                  And now that there are starting to be some consequences sometimes for some of these men, we have to hear all the complaining about it. You know the complaining I am talking about? They complain about how it is so scary for them to talk to women now because they are soooo afraid of being accused of sexual harassment through absolutely no fault of their own. Like they ask their coworker for the stapler, and suddenly they are being dragged off to HR by the Witchfinder General. I just had one of these conversations with a man a few weeks ago, and he was seriously whining to me about how tough he has it and how these theoretical women are theoretically out to get him. In theory.

                  Meanwhile, I have to be hypervigilant at all times in case the man who groped me recently decides to follow me home. And this whiny guy was saying that I am too paranoid that an actual man who actually sexually assaulted me might decide to do it again.

                  I don’t even know how to deal with that level of ridiculousness.

    2. Nesprin*

      When I was much younger, there was a guy who would stare at any female chest he was presented with. I got together with a group of friends and pointedly stared at his crotch for the rest of the day.

      Would not recommend in a professional setting, but boy did it weird him out.

      1. Emotional Support Care’n*

        I love squinting back at the crotches of those types. I have a craft magnifying glass on a chain that I wear. It makes a wonderful prop for times like that. Really adds to the effect.

  12. londonedit*

    Ugh. I understand not wanting to cause ructions at work, but I’m so sick of the whole ‘women have to put up with problematic behaviour from men because we don’t want to make a fuss or make it awkward’ thing. And I’m not hugely thrilled with the OP’s partner’s response here. I’d just quite like to live in a world where women’s bodies being routinely objectified while they’re trying to work/go out in public/generally live their lives a) wasn’t a thing and b) wasn’t dismissed as ‘just how men are’. It’s not just how men are. It’s how men have been socialised to believe they can behave without consequences. Even if there are countries in the world where it’s totally fine for men to stare at women’s breasts, this chap does not live in one of those countries and there’s no way that he hasn’t discovered over the course of a decade that he really shouldn’t be doing it. I’d go with ‘Excuse me; would you mind not staring at my chest?’ – it’s polite but it’s also clear and doesn’t dance around the issue. He’s the one making things awkward by staring at your boobs, you’re not making things awkward by asking him not to.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Well, look at how many women get killed or fired or god knows what because of a guy encroaching on her or getting mad at her. Frankly, THAT is what I’d be afraid of rather than “making a fuss.” I don’t want to get fired because a guy is a boob-ogler and my place of work is unreasonable about it. (Not that mine would be since we’re like 80% women anyway.) Men can and do behave without consequences and most of the time, they get away with it because they have the power.

  13. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    There’s really no excuse for staring at a woman’s norks for prolonged periods of time. Well, I guess if you’re a doctor who specialises in that area then maybe.

    Everything else, ‘but he has an attention disorder’, ‘he’s not from this country’, ‘men can’t help but stare at norks, it’s in their biology!’, ‘what do you expect wearing a top that doesn’t 100% hide visibility of large system attributes?’ is all complete BS.

    “Scuze me, stop staring at my chest”

    (Very large chested woman here and ye gods the number of times I’ve had to do that ‘eyes up here!’ thing…one was even a HR rep who claimed I was at fault for wearing a V neck top!)

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Honestly…this makes it kind of tempting to start a business hiring myself out to show up in a corset, showing cleavage by the acre. And every time I caught a guy staring, I would whip out the squirt bottle (just water, nothing smelly or stinging or that would leave stains). If I charged by the hour, I wonder how much money I could make…

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I own a LOT of corsets. Don’t give me ideas :p

        (Seriously they’re so much better at supporting the chest area while not pulling on my spinal injury. Sadly they’re not work appropriate)

        1. AnonEMoose*

          They’re so great for lower back support, too – being on my feet for longer periods of time without my lower back having a fit is amazing. (I have a bunch of corsets, too.) But no, definitely not work appropriate!

        2. ceiswyn*

          I am willing to join any campaign for making corsets acceptable workwear.

          Because I like corsets.

          (And because I have friends who also have disability-related reasons to find them much better than bras, and women should be able to support their norks in whatever way causes least discomfort, dammit!

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Depends on what you wear over them. Had an SCA friend who said she’d worn her corset* under office clothes when recovering from a back injury.
          *Can’t say time period, I wore an earlier style.

      2. Emotional Support Care’n*

        I’d be happy to start this with you. I have a closet full of corsets and plenty of water pistols.

    2. Orora*

      ‘but he has an attention disorder’,

      This part right here was used when I, as the HR Director, and 2 other women came forward that a speaker at a meeting made us all very uncomfortable by staring at us. The (male) executive who asked him to speak said, “Oh, he’s on the autism spectrum. He probably wasn’t looking at you. He was just staring.” But apparently he only stares at women, not men, not the ceiling, not the floor…

      If I’m expected to learn to be quiet when people say stupid stuff at work, then men can be expected to not stare at women.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Heck, I’m on the spectrum too and nobody’s ever said ‘oh that’s just Keymaster, she can’t help it’. It’s also annoying as all hell when te only times these conditions are brought up are to excuse bad behaviour – it gives the idea that mental disorders automatically equal behaving badly.

        1. Salymander*

          I know, right? People act like they are being nice, or understanding, or they are seeing both sides. Lots of folks like to be armchair mental health professionals, trying to optimize other people and their response to being sexually harassed. Really, these people making excuses are just being ableist. Being on the spectrum is not the same as being a creep. One of these things is not like the other.

          I am ND. I do not stare at people inappropriately, and my occasional weirdness is very much not given a pass. I have had to work very hard to learn how to be. I look at shoes, or the sky, or the wall when I just can’t do eye contact. I tell people, so they know I’m not trying to be rude. It seems like a lot of creepy people, mostly men, get a pass for their misdeeds by being miscast as autistic. Why do these people get a pass for bad behavior because they are supposedly autistic? None of the actually autistic people I know get a total pass for any of their very minor differences in behavior, let alone anything that is actually objectively terrible like sexual harassment.

    1. Rainy*

      Yup. I would also like an update on what the s/o says when he sees these comments. It better be “I’m so sorry, I was a pig, I will fix myself immediately”.

  14. Not sexist*

    Your not sexist partner is telling you extremely sexist things. Since he is not sexist, he will probably be very thankful if you remind him that saying a group of people are inherently a certain way because of their gender is the definition of sexist.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*


      Being an ally to a marginalized group is like gardening. You don’t just pull the weeds one time and declare yourself a master gardener. You have to keep checking for more weeds and pests to appear so you can clear them out and keep your garden healthy.

      OP, you have just found a weed in your partner’s garden that he didn’t know was still there. Now that you’ve pointed it out, he’s going to have to deal with it if he’s going to continue to be a good partner and ally to you.

      1. Miranda*

        This is such a lovely metaphor that I’m going to keep in my toolbox going forward! I wanted you to know someone really appreciated the time you took to share this today. :)

      2. Purple Cat*

        I love this “weeds in a garden” metaphor.
        My partner is overall great, but definitely has some weeds, that I especially don’t want my boys to pick up on. I think if I can have a more general (but direct) conversation about some of the things he does, and use this as an analogy it will help.

      3. OP*

        Thank you for this! I really love this analogy, and will probably now carry it with me for life. I hope my partner will see that this opinion of his is a weed in his garden, very soon.
        I guess I am also trying to see my coworker as just another garden, and hoping to help him get the weeds out rather than spray herbicide over the whole thing. God knows I myself am a garden that could be better described as a ravine filled with mostly brambles, and yet I hope people don’t try to just exterminate everything. That last part is not about you, Librarian of SHIELD – that’s to the many other comments calling for very drastic measures.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I really, really love your addition here, and it answers a lot of the “why don’t you just tell this guy off” questions you’re getting here. When we see a person we’re having trouble with as a garden with some weeds in it as opposed to a condemned structure, we start to look for ways to help them cultivate their garden as opposed to burning down something that can’t be fixed. Good luck to you, your partner, and your coworker, OP!

      4. Anon Supervisor*

        Men are raised in the patriarchy and benefit from it in lots of ways. It’s a long journey to unlearn ideas and behaviors that are deeply ingrained and often subconscious. A good ally is always open to feedback and I certainly don’t think men should be 100% perfect. Thinking of those ideas as weeds is a great analogy.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Especially if the way they “just are” victimizes another group of people for simply existing.

    3. Dark Macadamia*

      Yep. I’m really sad that LW is spending so much time worrying about the feelings of both Partner AND Boob Guy when she’s the one being ogled at work every day. No one is considering or valuing how she feels!

      The anti-sexist option here is to give Boob Guy the opportunity to learn and do better, even if it makes him feel awkward for awhile. It is actively sexist to expect a woman to quietly accept being treated like this forever when a single conversation could fix it (assuming this guy genuinely doesn’t means well and doesn’t know better yet).

      1. tinybutfierce*

        Yeah, I’m pretty bummed out for the OP that her partner is fine with her being sexually harassed at work on the regular because “that’s just how guys are”. Bummed out for any woman who has to be coworkers with him, to be honest, because he’s clearly not an ally at work.

    4. *daha**

      Would he get full points for saying “That bastard! Lure him down to the park lot so I can disembowel him with an entrenching tool”?

  15. Almost Empty Nester*

    I’m firmly in the camp of “I understand that you may not realize you’re staring, but it makes me pretty uncomfortable when you do. Could you please not do that?” He’ll just have to get over the awkwardness…that’s a him problem and not a you problem.

    1. Purple cat*

      Yeah, I agree that this is the best approach.
      It gives him (the undeserved) benefit of the doubt that he might not know exactly what he’s doing. Because really – who knew that eyes were autonomous body parts that weren’t controlled by the brain and also directly communicated back to the brain what they were seeing.

      1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        My eyes absolutely do settle autonomously on random stuff when I’m thinking or talking, and I (generally perceived female in daily life) have been called out for staring at something inappropriate because of it – but since I genuinely don’t realize I’m doing it, being told is a kindness.

      2. Jaybee*

        I mean, they are. If I’m actually listening to someone speak, I don’t know or see what my eyes are looking at. Surely that’s an issue most people have?

        I’m not saying that’s the case here, since it sounds like his eyes consistently go to LW’s chest and never anywhere else in the room which certainly doesn’t sound like an accident, but that seems like a strange thing to say.

    2. Ye Olde New Englander*

      “…that’s a him problem and not a you problem.” Absolutely! Why should you make more then the most basic efforts to spare his feelings when your feelings are being assailed every day!

    3. LizWings*

      It makes me sad that everyone’s suggestions have the word “please” in them. Do we really have to be extra polite when someone is being rude and sexual towards us? Can’t we drop the word “please” by now, in 20 fricking22, when pointing out that sexual harassment is occuring and requesting that it stop? (Please?)

      1. ThatGirl*

        Well, women are often conditioned to soften things, and it really doesn’t hurt anything for her to be polite the first time. I agree that we don’t and shouldn’t NEED to say it, but it can feel better/easier to do it that way.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I think it might help to think about “please” as a word that has multiple uses. Sometimes it’s a convenient social lubricant that helps you get the thing you want without adding contention to your relationship with the other person. If the initial request doesn’t work, or if you feel like it doesn’t matter to you if things get tense, then by all means drop the please. But if adding the word “please” makes some people feel more comfortable standing up for themselves, I don’t see why we should insist on making them stop.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          Yeah, I use “please” not to soften the message but to signal that I have no desire to make things contentious, even though the other person is clearly in the wrong. It indicates: “Stop the offensive behavior and we can still work / socialize together just fine.”

          And, also, I use it sometimes to show that I am on higher ground than they are. Like, the person knows (or will know shortly) that they can get into a lot of trouble for what they’re doing and I’m offering them a way to avoid harsh punishment.

          “Please” doesn’t always mean the person is coming from a place of subservience or is more concerned with the offender’s feelings than their own. “Please” can be a precision weapon, if wielded correctly.

        2. Salymander*

          Yeah, and please can be used in a lot of different ways. I have what we in my family call the Mom Please. As in, I say, “Please do this,” but what I mean is, “Do It Now.” It is definitely not a case of me asking. I am telling. So, when I recently told a man, “Please do not ever touch me or come anywhere near me again,” he was in no way confused about what I meant. In fact, he backed away with his hands up in front of him. It was not a request. It was polite language used assertively, maybe even aggressively, without sacrificing the moral high ground of being polite.

  16. Mitsuko*

    Hi, I have a different angle on ‘developing country’ – I hope I am not breaking the rules Alison. But since this person is not creepy in other ways, has the OP ruled out the possibility that he simply has difficulty making eye-contact? I am from East Asia (not a developing country, but many Asian countries are like this) and this is a very difficult habit to get out of. It’s rude in my culture to stare at people’s eyes, especially if they are above you in hierarchy. I had this problem for a long time but being a young woman, I don’t think anybody thought I was starting it breasts (I hope? ). I also didn’t really notice I was doing this until a mentor told me.
    But it would have been so embarrassing to be called out like “are you staring at my breasts” that I don’t think I could ever face that person again normally. So I think trying to preserve the relationship, given that the person isn’t a creep otherwise, makes sense?

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I think this is a situation where you need to learn to live with some embarrassment.
      If it looks like you’re staring at someone’s breasts, they are well within their rights to ask you to stop.

      1. Mitsuko*

        Yes I know you SHOULD learn to live with embarrassment, but I think there is a real possibility this person will be so mortified they will avoid the OP whenever possible, and overall this could be detrimental to the relationship. If the employee is stellar in other ways embarrassing them so much could be problematic. OP clearly knows this, hence the question.

        1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

          Problematic for who? The person whose breasts are being looked at? It isn’t OP’s responsibility to manage a grown man’s emotions for him.

        2. Anonymous4*

          I understand that meeting the direct gaze of someone above you in a hierarchy is not allowed in certain cultures. Can he can not learn to look further up her body than her breasts? He can look at her chin or her nose or her forehead or her ear or past her shoulder — anything but her breasts. Looking at those, in THIS culture, is forbidden.

        3. I should really pick a name*

          Staring at someone’s breasts is detrimental to the relationship.

          The reasoning does not make the behaviour acceptable. If someone doesn’t want to meet someone’s eyes, they have many options other than the breasts.

        4. Dust Bunny*

          He could stare at her forehead, over her shoulder, etc. His potential embarrassment does not outweigh her actual embarrassment.

          Also, he’s had ten years to learn to manage this.

        5. I'm just here for the cats*

          I understand what you are saying but I think the OP should still say something. If this is the case she may need to do what your mentor did for you, alert him that its a problem. She can be kind about it by saying something like “you might not know this but you keep staring at my chest. Please stop it makes me uncomfortable.”

    2. Lab Boss*

      That’s where “gentle but firm” as a first step is so valuable. If he’s somehow unaware he NEEDS to be made aware, any temporary embarrassment is a small price to pay to get him off the path of continuing to make coworkers uncomfortable while building a reputation for himself as a creep.

    3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      So, this did cross my mind, because I do not like looking at people’s eyes personally – But there are a lot of other focal points one can find that are not a person’s breasts. Nose, mouth, to either side of the jaw, above the head or towards the ear, hands, feet, and a thousand other choices.

      There are lot of ways to indicate you are paying attention to someone which aren’t staring them in the eyes, but also aren’t staring at their breasts.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        But there are a lot of other focal points one can find that are not a person’s breasts.


      2. Mitsuko*

        Sure, but if the person is really NOT creepy, maybe they don’t even notice they are staring at breasts? I have occasionally glanced at women’s breasts (maybe they are wearing a nice necklace etc) BECAUSE I’m not sexually attracted so didn’t immediately register that it might be seen as rude? I used to watch or talk to children who are not mine (before I had kids) because they are so cute or needed a bit of help and I was told never to do this in America because people will think I’m a pedophile. It’s true some of these norms are different here. People are super sensitive?

        1. I should really pick a name*

          If they don’t know they’re doing that, making them aware of that fact is helpful.

        2. Observer*

          People are super sensitive?

          NO! People are NOT super sensitive.

          Looking at people’s breasts is NOT just something that is specific to American culture, so your comparison does not fly. In addition, this supposedly smart guy has been working in the US for “at least a decade” which is MORE than enough time to know that not only is it rude, but it’s no longer acceptable for men to be rude in this particular fashion.

          Please do not try act as though the expectation of basic politeness into is some mark of preciousness of hyper-sensitivity.

          Also, a functioning adult doesn’t need to be “attracted” to understand that looking at someone’s breasts is rude. Would you say the same thing if someone kept looking at a guys crotch?

        3. Dark Macadamia*

          I mean, that’s not really a norm. Yes people might be concerned if you lurk around a playground alone all the time (especially if you’re a man or POC) but it’s not at all common for reasonable people to think you’re creepy for interacting appropriately with children in public places.

          “Avoiding eye contact” as a norm isn’t the same as “staring at breasts” as a norm. Saying SOME people are sensitive about SOME things does not mean anyone being sensitive about ANYTHING is wrong.

          1. Mitsuko*

            Hmm. Maybe I was warned by a hyper-worried person about the child thing, but I definitely see people here assume bad intent more quickly than in my home country (which is 10x safer, so maybe that is the reason?). Could we assume good intent at first and act accordingly, until proven otherwise? I am careful about saying this to other women – I have experienced sexism many times, I’m not naive about that at all. I’m not victim blaming. But I also think it’s important to give some benefit of doubt (the same grace I would like other people to give me), and in this situation I think there is room for that. I think giving benefit of doubt is very different from giving aggressors a pass.

            1. Anonymous4*

              One doesn’t assume good intent when someone is constantly staring at one’s breasts. One assumes that the guy is a creeper. I’m sorry, but the guy needs to find something else to look at. There’s a whole lot of places he can look besides her chest, and he needs to start keeping his gaze away from that part of her body.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              What acceptable benefit of doubt exists for allowing a guy to continue staring at a woman’s breasts? Serious question.

            3. Emotional Support Care’n*

              One need not openly salivate, lick their lips, eye-bulge, or wolf-whistle while giving those long, lingering glances (clocked at roughly a minute apiece) in order to be considered “bad intention”. This isn’t a cartoon. Real life is generally more subtle, and even subtly, anything over 15 seconds is less than subtle. That is straight up ogling and memorizing details.

              Unfortunately, I think a lot of us have subtly learned to deflect potential “misunderstandings” over the years. We don’t wear things that draw attention to our cleavage. We don’t wear accessories that draw attention to our chests. We don’t wear necklaces of certain lengths (must be super low or close to the throat). We avoid patterns on our tops so we don’t have any accidental patterns on our breasts. Many of us wear oversized cardigans to hide our figures and to wrap our chests “just in case”.
              Yet… we’re still labeled “sensitive” when we’re the ones being eyed like a rib-eye at a butcher’s shop?

              1. Awkwardnotcreepy*

                I dont disagree with you in the slightest, but I would like to point out that the OP said that he stares at her chest for ‘a second’ before glancing away and looking back.

                This isn’t a fixed stare, I can see where Mitsuko is coming from TBH – I have real trouble with eye contact and this is the sort of awkward flickering glances I do when I know I should meet someone’s eyes but I cant face it.

                1. Anonymous4*

                  It’s not 30 seconds by the clock, but he stares and looks away. Then a few minutes later he stares again, and looks away. A few minutes later he stares again, and looks away. A few minutes later he stares again, and looks away. Rinse and repeat, over and over, every – single – day.

                  It’s not an issue of not making eye contact. It’s an issue of boob-staring. There are a LOT of places to look besides someone’s breasts.

            4. Robin Ellacott*

              I think it helps not to worry about the intent too much, either way. It’s just a matter of fact “don’t do that thing” without either “you probably didn’t know but…” or “so you are a sexist pig”… it’s up to the person doing it to parse out why it happened.

              But all too often the possibility of a hypothetical innocent reason is used to imply that means we can’t ethically complain about their behaviour. (I know that’s not what you’re doing here, but it happens a lot).

            5. Dr Sarah*

              Mitsuko, I think it’s excellent policy to assume good intent. But that often gets mistaken for ‘do nothing about it’, which is not at all the same thing. If this man genuinely does not know that staring at women’s breasts is considered weird, then the best and kindest thing the OP can do is to let him know that *immediately*, before he gets into serious trouble for doing it.

              I don’t think anyone here is advising that she should go straight to ‘STOP OGLING MY BREASTS, YOU CREEPY CREEPER!’ But it is totally appropriate for her to say, in polite and firm tones ‘Don’t stare at my breasts like that, it’s not OK.’ If he genuinely didn’t know, then he now has the information he needs to avoid making others uncomfortable and getting into much worse trouble. If he did know, then he’s been called out and no longer has plausible deniability.

        4. ThatGirl*

          On top of your other comments, I want to say that talking to kids in public is not considered creepy, unless you’re BEING creepy – I make faces at babies, say hi to small kids, etc all the time.

          1. bee*

            This is definitely not true for everyone though — I’m a small white woman and people never mind if I make faces at a baby or hand them something they dropped. People of different races/genders/classes can get a VERY different reaction to the exact same things

            1. quill*

              Yeah. My mom instantly shifts to teacher mode every time a child bumps into her in a museum, nobody bats an eyelid.

              When my brother, who is amazing with kids, asks a six year old on a hiking trail if they want to see a lizard we have to explain that he studies reptiles, no matter how good of an impression of Steve Irwin he’s doing at the time.

            2. ThatGirl*

              Well, that’s true – and I think context matters, too. But I wouldn’t say it’s an automatic red flag!

        5. Salymander*

          People are super sensitive? No. OP is not being sensitive, she is tired of being stared at. And coworker needs to be a lot more sensitive to other people. If he is offended when OP tells him to stop, that is just too bad. This man is staring at OP’s breasts and it is not ok. That isn’t a matter of OP being sensitive. It is the coworker doing the staring that is the problem. If he is so fragile that just being asked politely to stop staring at OP’s breasts is going to permanently damage him, that is not OP’s job to fix. He is a grown man. He has been in the OP’s country for 10 years. He doesn’t stare at men in this way. This is his problem to fix. OP is justified in not wanting to be stared at, and it is perfectly acceptable to tell him to stop. Being overly worried about his emotional fragility or going through some kind of exhausting fact finding mission to determine his true intentions just in case he is actually just misunderstood is too much to ask. It is ridiculous to expect the OP, a woman, to do this, when Coworker, a man, is not expected to do a similar amount of emotional labor. This is unkind to the OP, unhelpful, and just feels very, very wrong. It reminds me of someone I used to know, who enabled sexism and abuse while smugly behaving as if they were just trying to be nice and to see things from both sides. This leads to the enabling and protecting of the perpetrator, the silencing of the person being mistreated, and a terrible inaction toward any of the problems. It seems very unkind and unhelpful.

      3. Observer*

        But there are a lot of other focal points one can find that are not a person’s breasts.

        Whoda Think! /sarc

        It makes me a bit crazy when people claim that staring at someone’s breast is the more reasonable or likely way that people avoid making eye contact… Because, like you say, there are SOOO many other options!

        1. Tin Cormorant*

          I usually stare at people’s mouths, because that’s at least on their face and it makes it a little easier to follow what they’re saying and obvious that I’m listening.

          A person’s chest is so far away from their face that I might as well be staring at a computer screen off in the distance behind them. I’m clearly not paying attention to them if I’m looking so far away.

    4. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      The thing is, if OP says that they are looking at her breasts I believe her. And because looking at someone’s breasts is very much not okay he needs to be corrected even if he somehow is only giving the APPEARANCE of looking at her breast–which, honestly, I do not believe is the case here. Men know where the breasts are. They know that there are non-breast focal points if they are uncomfortable making eye contact.

    5. Observer*

      Well, he’s been in the US for long enough to have learned US norms. Also, typically people who can’t make eye contact don’t look at people’s chests, they tend to look DOWN. Especially when it’s linked to a cultural marker of respect.

      Also, the idea that he doesn’t know it’s happening doesn’t really fly – he looks and then looks away. That means he knows where he is looking.

      1. Mitsuko*

        I’m just saying, I think there is a reason the OP mentioned the ‘developing country’ thing. I don’t think it’s because she thinks developing country people are rude. I think it’s because the OP has some reason to think the employee might not really be a creep, and is considering the possibility of cultural differences. So I’m just saying, this seems not impossible for someone from Asia. 10 years is not that much, there are plenty of habits I haven’t been able to correct and I’ve been here longer than that. The OP says this person stares for “one second”. Is that… really so much? Glancing and looking down is normal, if I do that it’s not because I think it’s ‘wrong’. I usually glance all around the person’s face, so it could be the breast sometimes I guess? Maybe the OP notices because stared at around the breasts, and doesn’t notice the other part as much because it doesn’t bother her?
        I do know this is a bit of a stretch. But… In my experience, creeps who stare at me rudely also do other things that makes it really clear they are not ‘innocent’. If the eyes landing on breasts for 1 second is all that’s happening, I personally wouldn’t assume the worst, because I’m also socially awkward / clueless but don’t want to be rude.

        1. londonedit*

          The OP clearly said this isn’t a case of ‘eyes landing on the breasts for one second’. She mentions that that’s happened before and it’s fine – everyone’s eyes momentarily land somewhere they shouldn’t every now and then, and you quickly avert your gaze, no problem. That is not what this guy is doing. He’s staring at her breasts and it’s making her uncomfortable. Let’s not tie ourselves in knots trying to excuse that.

        2. Observer*

          I don’t think it’s be

          Oh, yes there is! And it’s not that it means that someone is actually trying to avoid eye contact. It’s because women are trained to find every and all excises for why a man misbehaves – and when anyone tries to push back the get this kind of nonsense that you are trying to peddle here.

          I do know this is a bit of a stretch.</I.

          Not just a BIT. It's Olympic level stretching. So unlikely that it's, AT BEST, unhelpful to offer it as something the OP should actually take under consideration. Especially since your description of what is happening does not match what the OP is actually saying.

          And, to be honest, I find it rather offensive that you explicitly negate what the OP is saying. She says that it's not just the occasional "glance" or happenstance that she's noticing "too much".

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            Pretty much how I feel about it, too. As a woman with ample tracts of land, the only thing worse than dealing with guys who think I don’t notice them staring at my chest is listening to all of justifications and what ifs and what abouts from people who feel the need to defend them when I complain about it. 9 times out of 10 they don’t even know the guy. And it’s a million times more hurtful to me when it’s a woman that does it.

            1. Salymander*

              I know, right? Why is some random dude’s tender feelings more important than the upset person standing in front of them trying to talk about a real problem?

              I think people protect the status quo in this case because it is easier. Also, many of them get all worried about that random dude’s feelings because they like feeling like they are a nice person, and nice people would try to look for reasons why someone does something awful. And if there is a reason they can explain away, then the world makes sense again instead of sometimes being really sucky. In the end, I think it is not a very good instinct to have. I had a few friends like this. They were more concerned with appearing to be nice than they were with actually being kind. It was a very selfish, self righteous impulse. They weren’t terrible people, they just really had a certain idea of themselves and were ok with stepping all over other people so long as it allowed them to pretend. One or two of them eventually figured it out, but the rest are not people I spend time with anymore because I got tired of hearing this kind of thing.

        3. Dark Macadamia*

          I mean, “it’s a cultural difference” only works if staring at breasts is considered POLITE or PROFESSIONAL somewhere. I’m sure different cultures frown upon it more/less than others but like other people have said, if it’s an eye contact thing there are a whole lot of places to rest your eyes that aren’t your coworker’s chest.

        4. zillah*

          I think it’s really important to look at the context for the rest of the letter. The OP spends awhile talking about all the ways she hides her body at work and specifically references a bunch of situations where she talks about some glances being okay. If there was an explanation other than the guy staring at her breasts on purpose, she’d have suggested it. Let’a not contort ourselves – usually, staring is staring, and it’s actively harmful to put pressure on people to take on significant emotional labor on the off-chance that this is the once in a blue moon time that the still-harmful action is inadvertent rather than conscious.

          And for the record, as someone who is also not great at eye contact, breasts are not an inevitable place for one’s eyes to end up.

        5. Salymander*

          If OP doesn’t tell this man to stop, he will keep staring. He will do that to other people, too. He will be That Creepy Guy. Forever. It doesn’t help him to keep it a secret. If he is so sensitive that he can’t deal with that, it still doesn’t help him because eventually someone else will tell him and then he will feel even more embarrassed. There is nothing kind about this.

          He is a grown man. He can deal with a bit of momentary discomfort if it means that he doesn’t make the OP feel uncomfortable every day indefinitely.

          Please stop bending over backwards to cater to the poor tender feelings of people who do creepy things. They aren’t being
          at all careful with anyone else’s feelings, so why should they expect to be treated like they are such fragile and precious little babies? Please stop enabling sexism. It may make people feel like they are being nice to do this, but they aren’t being nice. They are preserving the status quo at the expense of the ones being treated badly.

      2. londonedit*

        Also, ‘let’s not objectify women’ isn’t some sort of odd American quirk that he could be forgiven for not knowing about.

      3. High Score!*

        True. I have a hard time with eye contact. I look at eye brows now but before that I’d stare at the floor until someone pointed out that I’d seem more confident if I looked at eyebrows. I didn’t stare at boobs or crotches.
        I didn’t have confidence issues just don’t care for eye contact.

    6. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I think this is a reasonable point; as someone who has trouble making eye contact, I can see where someone who has a habit of averting his eyes downward would end up staring at something much more inappropriate than eyes (that’s why I tend to look up or to the side). I assume OP knows if the guy is only doing this with her, but if not, I’d suggest watching when he talks to other people. Does he look down when talking to others, or is it just her? If it’s everyone, the solution may be different than if it’s just her.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        How would it be different?

        “You are doing this thing. Please stop”
        Creep, clueless, whatever, this is an appropriate response.

        1. Mitsuko*

          Agree – it would be helpful for OP to see if they are doing this with other people -especially younger women who might feel more ‘trapped’ than OP in not being able to say anything.
          My advice is very different if the OP is clearly only doing this with women. If so, I think this should be a very serious conversation / escalate to HR. In this case, this has nothing to do with cultural differences.

          But if they are doing it with everybody the comment can be more in the form of ‘helpful feedback’ about eye contact and doesn’t have to be embarrassing. A very simple, matter-of-fact “I don’t think you intend it this way but it feels awkward for me when your eyes seem to be at my chest area so please stop” should be ok too.
          I’m just defending OP’s point of view at not wanting to make it unnecessarily humiliating or confrontational. I don’t think, in this situation, it’s about giving creepy men a pass. It’s simple office diplomacy, never make a situation confrontational if it does not need to be. I think there is not enough evidence that the employee is a creep or a misogynist. If they are, it will become clear soon enough and that can be addressed.

          1. zillah*

            Why do we need “evidence”? Nobody is trying this guy in court or accusing him of being the creepiest creep to ever creep. The OP is just looking for a way to tell him to stop staring at her breasts.

            I would also argue that “confrontational” can be used to describe a very broad range of behaviors, many of which come down to personal style rather than inherent right and wrong. Leaving aside this specific issue, some people may be more uncomfortable with more direct communication in general. That’s a valid preference, but it’s not the only valid preference, and it isn’t inherently superior to all other communication styles.

          2. Anonymous4*

            Why should she announce that she doesn’t think he intends to stare at her breasts? He does intend to stare at her breasts. And he apparently does it a lot.

            He’s not new to this culture. It is not acceptable in this culture for men to stare at women’s breasts. He is staring at her breasts. It doesn’t matter if he does it to just her or to every woman in the place — one is one too many.

            She should tell him to stop, very clearly and without hedging, and if he does not, she needs to escalate it. Manager and EEO complaint.

            There is no reason for her to endure being ogled by ANYONE. It needs to stop NOW.

          3. I should really pick a name*

            I’m not sure why your focusing so much on whether or not the person is being creepy.

            Asking someone not to look at your breasts is a reasonable thing to do, regardless of the reason it’s happening.

        2. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

          Yeah, ultimately I don’t think it matters much. Sure, we don’t have to make an official ruling that the guy is definitely a deliberate, unrepentant perv. We can allow that there might be other possibilities, if we want. But it doesn’t really matter. Either he’s looking at OP’s breasts because he wants to and thinks he can get away with it, or he’s doing it for some other reason. Either way, he needs to be made aware that it’s noticeable, it’s not acceptable, and he needs to stop doing it.

          1. Robin Ellacott*

            That’s my take too. Address the behaviour in a matter of fact way, solve the part of the problem that you can address, and let them worry about parsing out their own motivations if they want to.

      2. Observer*

        I can see where someone who has a habit of averting his eyes downward would end up staring at something much more inappropriate than eyes

        That’s actually highly unlikely. If you are aiming for the floor or your feet, you are HIGHLY unlikely to hit someone’s breast. Would you be saying this if someone regularly “locked” their eyes on someone’s crotch?

      3. Salymander*

        No no no. You don’t need to look for evidence. If he isn’t actually trying to be creepy, he can just apologize for making OP uncomfortable and then Stop Staring at OP’s breasts. This isn’t a court of law, for goodness sake. And even if it were, you wouldn’t prove a crime before ever speaking with the accused! You don’t have to prove his guilt before you even speak to him about it! Ridiculous.

    7. Boof*

      I guess the question would be if he also gazes at men’s chests too.
      Regardless, I think LW’s strategy of starting with a face saving comment since LW says they are not creepy in any other way is fine if LW prefers. Definitely escalate until the brehavior stops.

    8. LilPinkSock*

      So you look at someone’s chin or forehead or ear, not what my nieces call “swimsuit areas”. I work with many people who find it challenging to make eye contact, for a variety of reasons. None of them stare at my chest. This dude’s behavior is unacceptable, and it’s just too bad if he feels embarrassed when he gets called out for it.

    9. x*

      ” has the OP ruled out the possibility that he simply has difficulty making eye-contact?”

      Very interesting.

      1. Anonymous4*

        A guy does not repeatedly stare at a woman’s breasts because he has trouble making eye contact. He ogles her because he wants to. And it’s making her very uncomfortable.

        In his home culture, looking someone in the eye may not be allowed by customs that establish social hierarchy. In THIS culture, staring at a woman’s breasts is not allowed by laws and regulations that prevent sexual harassment.

    10. GrooveBat*

      With all due respect, it might be embarrassing to called out for staring but it is WAY more embarrassing to be the one who is stared at.

    11. Stevie*

      I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, and going off your username, my mother was an immigrant to the U.S. from that same country, so I do understand what you mean.

      I think, though, that this is all being too considerate of the coworker at the expense of OP. At the moment, OP is being made to feel very uncomfortable and I’m sure that if the coworker is truly innocent, he would not have wished to cause her such discomfort. OP is already being quite kind in trying to give her coworker the benefit of the doubt, but there’s really no way to make this behavior end immediately in a way where the coworker can save face 100%, nor is OP really responsible to soften her message to such a degree.

    12. Olivia Oil*

      This is a reach. I’ve traditionally been someone who has had issues with eye contact and am pretty sure that I’ve never consistently angled my eyes at someone’s boobs/chest. Averting eye context also includes looking sideways, up, or straight ahead if you aren’t directly facing the person.

    13. OP*

      Mitsuko, I do appreciate your angle. The guy I am dealing with is not having an issue with making a proper eye-contact with men, so it is definitely about breasts and women and all that. But I do have a very strong personal investment in not making this guy feel too alienated after I call him on this problem. I wish I could make him feel the full brunt of my anger in theory. But I really, really need him to be a non-hampered-by-anything collaborator as soon as possible, so I have to be gentle.

      1. Salymander*

        If he really is not trying to stare, telling him that it makes you uncomfortable is a kindness. If he is unintentionally creeping women out, he might feel really bad about it, but how much worse would he feel if this continued for even longer and he found out that he had creeped out multiple women over many years? Why would keeping it a secret or doing some kind of investigation into his intentions or emotional state be at all helpful to anyone? He isn’t a child. He can deal with a bit of discomfort. The OP has been dealing with discomfort, and no one has suggested investigating her emotional state or wrapping her up in cotton to protect her from anything. Actions have consequences. The consequence of staring at people inappropriately is that those people will be uncomfortable with you and may tell you to stop.

        OP, if you are matter of fact, and you act like telling him is totally normal, and Of Course he doesn’t want to make you uncomfortable, there is a good chance that he will take this for the gift that it is.

    14. Japan HR*

      I feel obligated to inform you Mitsuko that if you have/had taken any human rights training in your basic HR onboarding process in Japan, or participated in any training or conversation on sexual harassment, you would know that staring at women’s chest is a textbook example of sexism. It is not acceptable in East Asia either.

    1. Mitsuko*

      Not exactly rude. But if a guy came up to me and said “stop staring at my crotch” – I would not be able to interact with that person normally any more. Because I think I’m totally innocent of that! I’d think “need to watch out this person is a bit funny and thinks I’m interested in them sexually, I am so not!”. So… Saying this could have some negative effect for the future relationship IF the person is innocent?

      1. Anonymous4*

        It would be difficult to stare at someone’s crotch and not be aware of it. In a similar fashion, it would be difficult to stare at someone’s breasts and not be aware of it. Especially since OP states that he stares, averts his gaze, and then stares again.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        based on that account though, you were not actually staring at his crotch. Plus women don’t often stare at men’s crotches. More likely to check out biceps (though that still is not cool in professional settings or when the person is not receptive or is uncomfortable). In this case, the guy is actually looking at her boobs, and being obvious. So, the issue is not OP saying something; it’s him doing it in the first place, making her really uncomfortable, and making it necessary for her to have to say anything at all (which, perversely, has to add more to her discomfort, even though he was the one in the wrong).

      3. Jaybeetee*

        I was sympathetic with your above comments (because I’ve accidentally stared at a few chests myself as a straight, ND woman), but this is a bit far.

        If someone points out you’re doing something that’s making them uncomfortable, performative mortification and “this person is funny/sensitive and I can’t ever be normal around them”… actually comes across as pretty manipulative. I don’t know if that’s what you’re shooting for here, but you come across like you’re saying that people *have* to let you stare, or they’re the ones “making it weird” by having a problem.

      4. Dark Macadamia*

        I’m sorry but that would be a kind of weird reaction. “Don’t stare at my (body part)” makes NO assumptions about the person’s sexual attraction or reason for staring. It doesn’t even suggest they’re doing it on purpose – just clearly naming the behavior that needs to end. Breasts and crotches are not inherently sexual. If someone told you “stop staring at my ear” or “please don’t stare at my elbow” would you think they were accusing you of sexual attraction? If you weren’t doing it intentionally you should think “oh I didn’t realize,” not “how dare they!”

        The staring is having a negative effect on the relationship right now, but only one person knows it. Having both people know might be awkward but it’s the only way to repair the future relationship.

      5. Observer*

        But if a guy came up to me and said “stop staring at my crotch” – I would not be able to interact with that person normally any more.

        If you are actually staring at someone’s crotch and they call you on it, you frankly deserve all the humiliation you feel.

        Because I think I’m totally innocent of that!

        As a supposedly competent adult, that’s not good enough. You should KNOW where your eyes are landing. If your eyes ARE landing there, then that’s your problem. If your eyes are NOT landing there, then you are right to never be able to interact with him normally, because something is very much the matter if he said that to you when it’s not happening.

        need to watch out this person is a bit funny and thinks I’m interested in them sexually, I am so not!

        Which is utterly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if he’s staring at the OP because he’s sexually interested in her, he finds big boobs “fascinating” or any other reason. It’s not credible that he doesn’t know he’s doing it, and he needs to stop. Trying to excuse it because “It’s (maybe) not sexual” is not acceptable.

      6. A Feast of Fools*

        Oh good gravy.

        If I’m talking to a guy and not making eye contact and he says, “I, uh, find it uncomfortable when you stare at my crotch,” I have been given the opportunity to check where my gaze had just been and then either apologize for my behavior or to point out that I was looking at his shoes, pocket watch, belt buckle, wall behind him, whatever. And I can also note how awkward and uncomfortable it would be for both of us is I *had* been staring at his crotch, and let him know that I’ll be more mindful going forward of where my gaze is or appears to be landing.

        Period. The end.

      7. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        I guess I just don’t understand why a person performing Socially Unacceptable Action A shouldn’t be told by the person he is performing Socially Unacceptable Action A on–who does not like or consent to Socially Unacceptable Action A–shouldn’t be addressed in the moment by the person being affected. I don’t understand why the chance that they might have an outsized and abnormal emotional reaction is the person on the receiving end of Socially Unacceptable Action A’s problem. Why is this woman responsible for managing this man’s emotions? I genuinely don’t understand why it is on her to adjust her comfort in order to prioritize this adult man’s feelings.

      8. Dr Sarah*

        So… Saying this could have some negative effect for the future relationship IF the person is innocent?

        The current situation of ‘person stares at OP’s breasts and she feels unable to say anything about it’ is having plenty of negative effect on the *present* relationship, so, if we want to deal with negative effects in relationships here, let’s start with the one that’s actually happening.

        And, yes, any time you let a person know that they need to stop doing something there is always the potential possibility that they will be upset so much by this that it will affect the relationship. You know what? That’s actually on them to deal with. If this guy genuinely hasn’t realised that staring at breasts is wrong, and genuinely becomes so freaked out by being told that something he’s doing is wrong that he feels unable to interact with the person who told him, then it sounds as though he has some issues around any form of constructive criticism that he really needs to deal with, and, while I wish him luck with that if it is the case, it’s not something that the OP can solve for him.

        1. Salymander*

          Plus, he isn’t innocent. He actually is staring at her breasts. It doesn’t matter why. And if he doesn’t like being called out for it, then he should not do it. This is totally on him and not OP’s job to manage his feelings.

      9. dude, where's my cheese*

        That’s weird – I would say “Oh! I’m so sorry, I was zoning out / staring into space and didn’t notice I was doing that. Sorry to have made you uncomfortable” and then I would take pains to never do that accidentally again.

      10. Dr Sarah*

        And also, Mitsuko, the fact that you honestly think you’re innocent of staring at people’s crotches probably means you *are* innocent of staring at people’s crotches. It’s the kind of thing people tend to realise they’re doing. So you’re probably *not* going to have someone saying “Stop staring at my crotch!” to you, and I understand why it would feel weird to think about having someone say that to you if it is genuinely a thing you’re not doing.

        But this guy? He *might* just possibly not know that staring at someone’s chest is rude; I’m doubtful, but, OK, let’s go with that. That’s not the same as not even *knowing* that he’s staring at someone’s chest. Either he knows where he’s staring (even if, according to your hypothesis, he doesn’t realise it’s a problem), or he’s so zoned out he doesn’t realise where he’s staring, in which case his reaction is going to be ‘oh, shit, I totally didn’t realise’, not ‘what the hell, how strange I wasn’t staring there at all’.

        So, no, even if we picture a best-case scenario where he genuinely does not realise staring at breasts is wrong and genuinely does not mean any harm by it… telling him not to do it would *not* be a case of randomly accusing him of something he isn’t actually doing, and so the kind of ‘wait, no, I wasn’t doing that, how weird that person is for accusing me’ reaction that you’re projecting onto him wouldn’t actually apply.

  17. Dr. Rebecca*

    On a separate note, if you hate the thick restrictive bras, feel free to stop wearing them, LW, people are looking anyway, your body might as well be comfortable.

    1. Anonymous4*

      OP states that she’s generously endowed, and in that situation, it’s often much more comfortable to wear a good, well-fitting bra than to not wear one at all. I have lavishly endowed friends who wear sleeping brassieres to bed because they’re more comfortable that way.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        She chose to note the fact that she hates what she’s currently wearing. I am MASSIVE. Not generously endowed, not lavishly endowed, but MASSIVE. So I’m not speaking out of my hat–she said she hates what she’s currently wearing, and I think she should wear what she wants.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Double H here and yes oh boy did I wish there was a professional alternative to the iron suspension bridges I’m required to wear. They hurt, but I know I’d get a LOT of comments at work if I went without them.

        2. Anonymous4*

          I bow to your personal knowledge of the situation. I understand that when one gets past a certain dimension, things get Really Difficult, Really Fast, and I hope it’s not impertinent for me to offer some sympathy.

        3. Storm in a teacup*

          Same and totally agree
          Going remote in the pandemic has been a godsend – can wear comfy unwired Bras / bralettes (sugar candy brand goes up beyond a G cup I think). No more red marks, painful sides, sensitive ribs….
          And actually they’re fine under most of my tops and dresses so when I’ve started going in occasionally (pre omnicron) I started wearing these. No one seemed to notice or care

    2. Jennifer*

      My impression from the letter was that she would be uncomfortable with the attention she would get if she didn’t wear an uncomfortable bra, so she chose the lesser of two evils. I totally get it.

    3. OP*

      I appreciate the sentiment, and I applaud all of you who can do that with everything that matters intact. In practice though, when I did try that (and I did! for several months! not too long ago!), I was *intensely* stared at by way too many people, both female and male, the entire day between leaving and getting back to my home, and I was habitually whistled at as I passed any type of construction crews and such. That kind and amount of attention exhausts me really fast, that’s really that. I feel exhausted by it much more than I am exhausted by wearing an annoying bra.

  18. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    My partner is, sadly, wrong in asking me to protect the guy’s feelings while mine are being trampled. I am planning to try a response that sort of saves face for him a bit while still possibly putting him on notice: saying “Is there something wrong with my badge? I noticed you keep looking at it…” next time he stares. But I am not sure if that’s the best way. What do you think?

    If it comes to choosing to value his feelings or value yours, remember that you don’t have to look him in the mirror every day. Be direct, be blunt, be firm, and stand your ground; he’ll be just fine.

  19. Observer*

    However, I am pretty sure the guy does not realize that what he is doing is bad. He is from a developing country, although he has worked in the U.S. for at least a decade now. Still, it is possible he never learned this aspect of being polite in the U.S. He is also extremely, almost ridiculously straight-laced, not even a hint of any creepiness other than the gaze issue. On top of that, he is very knowledgeable, smart, and well-adjusted other than this one issue, and a really valuable acquisition for our team.

    PFT. He knows EXACTLY what he is doing. This stuff is classic. He’s counting on three things here – and all of them are straight out of the standard Creeper Playbook.

    1. Pretending to be ignorant of mores because “it’s ok where I come from.” Baloney. It’s not ok anywhere, and if he’s as smart and competent as you say, by this time he should be VERY well aware of US norms. Unless he’s ONLY good about work and has been living under a rock since he’s come to the US *and* he’s worked for companies who did no training and allowed all sorts of sexist behavior to slide.

    2. Trading on hos reputation of being “straitlaced.” Your gut is yelling at you, yet you are questioning yourself because he’s supposedly so “straight” and “non-creepy”. That is what he is counting on! And that if you DO happen to push past that to pay attention to what is ACTUALLY happening, OTHER people will insist that you must be wrong because “Mr. Straitlaced” could NEVER be doing something like that. But he is!

    3. The company will prioritize his other assets over the safety of the women on the team. It’s a common issues.

    As for your partner. . . Has he really not been paying attention to news the last 5 years? Does HE ogle other women? (Maybe he’s smart enough not to do it in front of you?) Look, I come from a community where one of the reasons women are expected to dress a certain way is to lower temptation for men. And even in my community, this behavior would NOT fly! It’s not relevant if my community SHOULD have these mores or not. The point is that even communities that think that this stuff presents a significant issue for men recognize that adults CAN control their behavior by and large! Claiming that a guy “can’t help himself” because “that’s how guys are” does NOT fly.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Agreed. It doesn’t matter if it’s creepy or inattentive or whatever – there’s no excuse for it and it needs to stop.

      (Can I just add the ‘think of his feelings!’ thing is making me grind my teeth?)

    2. Batgirl*

      Yeah I’m a little bit concerned about no 2, that apparently we can only scold full time perverts, sex criminals and stereotypical frat boys. Look, a great deal of sexual harrassment and outright criminal behavior has been done by Responsible Guy/National Treasure/Political Leader/Religious figure. It’s okay to accept people’s sometimes actions as evidence, they don’t need to be constantly drooling of lust between dawn and dusk to be a bonafide creep.

      1. Salymander*

        Right. Most sexual harassment is not perpetrated by drooling zombie-like weirdos. Those obvious creepers get caught fairly easily. It is often otherwise personable and competent people that sexually harass repeatedly. Those are the ones who get away with it because they know how to manipulate and they often deliberately are otherwise really friendly, respectable and hardworking. They are until and unless they decide to target you. That way, plausible deniability, sexism in our culture, and the desire to believe that bad things only happen to bad people make it easier for them to do what they like because people don’t want to believe it is true.

    3. Minerva*

      All I will add is that it’s acceptable enough nobody gets in trouble in some places, and in far more places not that long ago. Talk to the little old ladies in your life who had or tried to have careers and they will tell you. And I have colleagues from specific countries who have stories (men, mostly, who give this environment for part of why they moved to raise kids). OPs colleague knows it is rude, but it is possible it wasn’t something women were allowed to complain about in their country.

      It’s no excuse, but pretending open sexual harassment doesn’t happen without repurcussion in some locals (combination of country, profession, etc) doesn’t help. 3rd world country is probably more to hide specific details of a locale where there is known to be more overt ogling accepted.

      And in a developed country, a friend had a comment about modelling bikinis at a business lunch and butt groping not that many years ago. The difference here is the perpetrators hide things in deniability and joking, really.

  20. AbsolutelyYesOfCourse*

    I like to look down at my boobs self-consciously and brush something non-existent off them while frowning as though I am worried. That usually seems to do the trick. I prefer it to actually saying “is there something on my shirt”.

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      I’ve been known to catch and hold the gaze with a Death Glare. Works, but only in very specific circumstances, when you are confident your furrowed eyebrows will be correctly read as “Do I need to actually say this out loud?” Can’t recommend as a general strategy.

      1. Alex*

        I did this at my old job (where I fled, for this and related reasons) and while it’s very uncomfortable, it’s effective. For the truly shameless, I also stood up if I was seated behind the desk. No one expects me to be 6 feet tall in heels, looking them directly and unblinkingly in the eye.

        Having to do this is a sign that a job is bad news, not something to be done for lower intensity problems, but it did work until I could get out of there.

      2. Anon Supervisor*

        I do this too, although my gaze is very, almost a creepy level, bland. And I say nothing until the awkwardness is acknowledged. It’s happened in a social setting and one they realized I knew what they were looking at I said, “Didja get a good look?” The sputtering was glorious.

      1. quill*

        I mean, having a server rack in your cleavage is probably more professional than accidentally having pretzels from lunch in there!

    2. GrooveBat*

      Another tactic is to simply stop talking until he is forced to look up to see what’s what.

      Lather, rinse, repeat as often as necessary.

    3. Frankie*

      I ask “is there something in my shirt” while brushing off imaginary crumbs while looking at the other person pointedly until he meets my eye. Works fine for me. No need for goggly eyes or casual displays of racism

  21. HR Exec Popping In*

    I personally like glancing down at your shirt in a very pointed way and then back at him so that he notices that you are trying to determine what he is looking at. Crossing your arms over your breasts is also good as is asking about your badge. You want him to notice that you notice his gaze.

    And it is sad that women still have to deal with this and that we are grateful when we are not objectivized.

  22. Purple cat*

    Well looks like I get to recycle my comment from the dress-code post the other day.

    Coworker sucks.

  23. not in academia*

    Yeah if he is a great guy then he’ll want to know so he can stop immediately. If he’s not then it’s not your problem. If somehow you make an enemy out of this… that’s not on you. Someone who antagonizes someone because they ask them to stop staring at their breasts is not reasonable to begin with

  24. animaniactoo*

    Me, Looking at partner: “Yeah, because we don’t do a good enough job of training them NOT to be that way. I really hope you’re not excusing this behavior in yourself and doing it to other women.”

    Me, to guy [waving hand in front of face]: “You seem distracted”.

    If that doesn’t get the point across after one or two of those, you can also go with “You seem to be staring at my breasts a lot. Please reign that in or figure out where to look so it doesn’t look like you’re doing that if it’s a lot of unlucky co-incidence.”

  25. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    Also, let’s consider that letter writer may not be the only person that this man is doing this to. Use your naturally ability to call him out AND alert HR so there is a paper trail.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, please alert HR. Even if you talk to the guy and he stops. Because this is HIGHLY likely to be a pattern.

      When you talk to HR, you could tell them that you don’t need them to do anything (assuming he stops when you call him out), but you want it on the record in case any other woman comes to them.

  26. drivesmenuts*

    I have worked with several people from other countries where is it not normal to make eye contact when speaking with people. They will stare at other places than my eyes while I am talking with them. At first I thought it was me and they were staring at something on purpose. After I worked with several different people, I realized it is a cultural thing. Perhaps making eye contact is not part of this person’s culture?

    1. londonedit*

      Still doesn’t excuse staring at a woman’s breasts when there are literally a hundred other things he could choose to point his eyes towards.

      1. Beth*

        The classics are the other person’s ear or a spot just above their head. Breasts are not located in any of these places.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. I’m not hugely comfortable with lots of eye contact. So I look at the bridge of the nose (when I remember) or the floor (when I forget). Most people in non-eye-contact cultures don’t spend their time looking at someone’s breasts because it’s rude and creepy in any culture.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          For places where looking at the face of someone above you in an office hierarchy is a no go, I found people either look at your shoulder, hand, feet, or other place that isn’t sexualized. I guarantee that staring at a woman’s breasts would not go over any better in those cultures than here.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yup. I really, really don’t like making eye contact. If you talk to me I’ll probably be looking at the wall just above your left ear. So far the wall hasn’t complained :)

    2. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      Um. Okay. I know there are cultures where making eye contact can be rude. But can you please tell me which specific cultures include “staring at a woman’s breasts instead of making eye contact” as a cultural norm? Please be specific.

          1. Observer*

            Ideally you are right. But let’s remember that Hollywood is the work culture that brought us the “casting couch”.

            Anyone who has been out of that field for 10+ years also knows that this is Hollywood craziness.

          2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            I wasn’t saying it was acceptable. Just that it is very much like that. It is pretty disgusting actually!

      1. Salymander*

        Exactly. Name the culture where this is acceptable.

        Or maybe we can all be a lot more respectful of OP’s right to not have her breasts stared at, rather than this coworker’s Theoretical Breast Staring Culture. Same goes for all the folks giving him a pass for his Theoretical Breast Staring Disorder, and the ones who think he does this because of Theoretical Trauma.

        Can’t we focus on the actual problem this actual OP is actually writing about? Please.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      There are other places to look if you’re avoiding eye contact, though. You can look at their hair or their ear or a spot just over their head or something.

    4. Observer*

      They will stare at other places than my eyes while I am talking with them.</I.

      Are those "other places" always your breasts? As has already been noted, there are a bajilion other places to look.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      My husband who’s autistic will wander his vision from your ear to the wall nearby. There’s not being able to make eye contact and then there’s being inappropriate.

      1. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

        Right, I’m autistic and if I’m looking you in the eye I straight-up can’t process what you’re saying. So I look at another part of your face, or just sort of glance vaguely around your general head area. The boobs are…not the obvious alternative focus!

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          I am not autistic, though I have ADHD, but honestly, I feel the same about too much direct eye contact. I think most people do not want to be staring into each other’s eyes that much, and it actually can come across as rather fixated on the other person. So, you are not alone there!

      2. Anon for this*

        Had a professor in college who recommended looking people in the nose. It looks like you are looking them in the eyes, without the awkward.

    6. LilPinkSock*

      Is there a culture where it is acceptable in mainstream workplaces to stare at a colleague’s breasts? No. This guy is inappropriate and it’s not ok to chalk it up to “duh, immigrant, doesn’t know better”.

    7. Policy Wonk*

      I said the same thing elsewhere, sorry for the repeat, but in my experience working with people from countries where eye contact is considered rude they tend to look at their shoes. (Sometimes they will be bold and look at your shoes.) Or if they have a handful of papers, they will look at them.

    8. A Feast of Fools*

      The last company I worked at, my department of a couple hundred people was probably 80% foreign nationals, most of which came from countries where making prolonged eye contact was considered rude.

      No one — not a man or a woman — opted to stare at my chest when speaking to me.

      So I would also like to ask if everyone who wants to give the guy a pass because he’s a foreigner has experienced a foreign-national *WOMAN* staring at their boobs?

      No? Just the guys?

      Yeah, it’s not about having a problem with eye contact.

  27. El l*

    I’d favor directly speaking with him. I think the most important thing is that he hears this bluntly, regardless of whether it’s from you or someone else.

    So if you can’t be blunt, do you have a trusted male colleague who could speak with him?

    Someone who could say, in about this level of bluntness, perhaps after a staff meeting: “You may not realize that you’re doing this, but I noticed you staring at her boobs during the meeting. Don’t do that. You’re going to make her uncomfortable.” If he pushes back, he can even say, “She’s noticed too.”

    Better that than a message that could be misinterpreted.

  28. Nanani*

    I hope LW was being sarcastic in saying their partner is not at all sexist, because “just deal with it”, no matter how nicely phrased, is sexist AF.

    1. Jacey*

      Except she didn’t say “he’s not sexist, ever” She said he’s “usually” not sexist. She was pointing out that this is a unique blind spot of his, not part of a greater pattern of casual or more aggressive sexism.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      What they mean is “I don’t want to think he’s sexist because I love him.”

      I’m absolutely NOT saying he’s a monster or like, a Super-On-Purpose 24/7 Sexist, just that it’s impossible for any of us to fully avoid being influenced by sexism and generally men have to do more work to truly SEE and combat it than women because they don’t experience it the same way. LW’s partner probably IS a genuinely good guy who is often supportive and understanding, but has come across an area he needs to work on. How actively or passively sexist he is depends on how he reacts (which was…. not great, based on the letter)

    3. Lucy Skywalker*

      Sometimes, people who aren’t sexist will do or say sexist things, just like sometimes smart people do foolish things.

  29. H.Regalis*

    LW, if you’re comfortable calling it out to him, then just do it. Even if he were from a place where it’s culturally appropriate for men to stare at women’s chests (don’t know where that is), he’s not there now, he’s making you uncomfortable, and he needs to stop doing it. Hurt feeling be damned; no one ever died from being told to knock something off.

  30. Jules the 3rd*

    OP, if you use a gesture make it a Very Obvious one. He needs to know the behavior has been noticed and it is not ok, and so make him perceive ‘mildly annoyed’. Sometimes guys get off on making women feel uncomfortable, so you want the ‘annoyed,’ not ‘nervous’.

    For crossing your arms: Catch his eye when he’s done looking, raise your brows a little WITHOUT SMILING, cross your arms. Think ‘annoyed teacher’ look.

    For checking to see if there’s something on your shirt: Lower and tilt your head to catch his eyes while he’s still looking, raise brows, ask “Is there something on my shirt?” I wouldn’t even check your shirt, because you know and he knows there’s nothing there. The question is just a face saver.

    For gestures, do not soften them further. He may be all that and a bag of chips, but SO ARE YOU. Gestures rather than a direct “quit staring at my breasts, that’s creepy” already soften the message as much as it needs to be softened.

    And no, not all men are like that. The starer is a creep.

  31. Beth*

    Removed. Please don’t comment like this about someone else’s relationship about which we have almost no info. – Alison

  32. I edit everything*

    It’s not like “staring at a woman’s chest is creepy and bad” is privileged knowledge or anything, a secret that must be protected, a shibboleth or code that cannot be shared for fear of another man learning to behave well. Sheesh. Supposedly non-sexist partner is sexist.

  33. NewCEO*

    I’m an executive working in tech. I’m also platinum blonde with a G cup so I get this a lot. For strangers, “Do I have something on my shirt/blazer/dress?” paired with a concerned look has worked well. For those I’m more familiar with, I’m brazen: “My eyes are up here.”

  34. Talley Lach*

    I’m exhausted on the LW’s behalf for how much time, thought, and emotional labor she’s had to put into this issue over the years! It sucks!

  35. CleverGirl*

    Not trying to armchair diagnose but I personally have a very difficult time making eye contact for extended conversations and often find myself looking down during conversations. I realized once when talking to a female coworker (I am also a woman) that I was definitely, albeit accidentally, looking at her breasts for much too long. I felt bad and awkward and in future conversations made a conscious effort not to let my gaze drift in that direction again. If, on the off chance it’s something like this with him, I think addressing it quickly would help. It’s possible that it’s not deliberate.

    1. Aquawoman*

      +1. I don’t really register what I’m looking at because that’s the point for me, to look at something so neutral it doesn’t distract my brain.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I, too, was wondering if the straight-laced academic is simply staring off into space. Saying this as someone who has probably “stared” at a lot of people during my lifetime without even realizing that the person was there. Kind of unlikely if he’s talking to her and is only doing it for a second (wouldn’t it be longer if he were zoned out?), but I’d start with “do you realize that you look like you are staring at my chest?” Odds are high he’ll be mortified and stop.

    3. Observer*

      Letting your eyes drift ONCE is one thing. Doing this every day, every few minutes?! No, that’s NOT just a matter of being uncomfortable making eye contact. It’s just not not credible that he does not realize he’s doing this.

      Let’s please stop trying to find any and all POSSIBLE reasons why people do things they shouldn’t no matter how improbable.

      1. CleverGirl*

        First of all, I said “if on the off chance it’s something like this” so I wasn’t saying this was the reason her coworker was doing this, but just that it MIGHT be. None of us have any way of knowing what the real reason it. Yes, we can assume it’s the most common reason, which is “creepy guy being creepy”, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with suggesting to the OP that maybe addressing it one time would be enough to fix it and she’s not stuck working with a creepy guy for the rest of her time at that job.

        Also, in my case it was definitely more than “letting my eyes drift ONCE”. I’m 100% sure I did it a LOT before I finally realized what was happening and made an effort to stop. I don’t think it’s “not credible” that he doesn’t realize, because I didn’t realize until I did. So it is possible, although yes, probably unlikely. Once again, not saying it’s the same situation here, but just saying it could be (which is why I said “it’s possible”). I don’t see what’s wrong with suggesting to the OP that maybe things aren’t as bad as the worst-case scenario, and maybe it will be easier to fix than she thinks.

        1. Observer*

          but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with suggesting to the OP that maybe addressing it one time would be enough to fix it and she’s not stuck working with a creepy guy for the rest of her time at that job. </I.

          Except that we can make that suggestion without actually making excuses for the guy. Because even if the guy is creepy there is a good chance that when it's called out, he'll stop. All this excuse making simply has the effect of negating what the OP is experiencing and placing an extra burden on her to "be gentle" or worry about his feelings.

          I don’t see what’s wrong with suggesting to the OP that maybe things aren’t as bad as the worst-case scenario

          Because it also implies that the behavior is not as bad as it seems. And it negates the OP’s sense that he knows where his eyes are.

          1. SnappinTerrapin*

            As I commented below, EVEN IF there is an innocent explanation, such as was mentioned above, the advice to LW is still the same: Speak up. He needs to be made aware, and he needs to start paying attention to where his eyes are at work.

          2. CleverGirl*

            You have a lot more faith in creepy guys than I do if you think that “there is a good chance that when it’s called out, he’ll stop.” This has not been my experience.

        2. Dr Sarah*

          I don’t see what’s wrong with suggesting to the OP that maybe things aren’t as bad as the worst-case scenario, and maybe it will be easier to fix than she thinks.

          The actual concern the OP is expressing isn’t ‘how can I deal with the thought of a man having been deliberately staring at my breasts’, but ‘how can I deal with this Schroedinger’s situation of not knowing whether he’s doing it deliberately or not, thus meaning I don’t know how to say anything without potentially accusing a well-meaning innocent man’. So, putting yet more emphasis on the possibility of this being an innocent thing isn’t alleviating the main concern she’s expressed, it’s adding to it.

    4. zillah*

      Sure – but that’s a different letter and a different situation than what’s described here. This isn’t a one time oops, it’s a pattern of behavior.

      1. CleverGirl*

        I don’t think mine was a one-time thing, either. I’m sure I did it a ton before I suddenly realized and made a conscious effort not to anymore. I’m not trying to make excuses for the guy, just telling the OP that it might be easier to solve than she thinks. Calling out a creep on his creepy behavior isn’t going to automatically make him not a creep, but if it’s some other reason, pointing it out one time might be enough to fix it.

  36. Delta Delta*

    Since OP indicated she’s comfortable being direct about this, it would be just fine for her to say, “stop staring at my chest.” Ideally, it would be great if she could do this at a time another coworker is present so there’s a witness to the interaction.

  37. WomensRea*

    I had a similar experience years ago working in legal aid. I had a client who kept on calling me “baby” and “sweetie” when I was trying to talk to him about his case – it was horrible and it made me feel very uncomfortable (especially because I met with him one-on-one, alone, in my office). I talked to my (male, older) manager (who I actually liked) about it and he said something like “men of a certain age and background just don’t know how to interact with women another way” and that “it’s up to you how you’d like to respond” (suggesting I could just roll with it). Really not an ideal response for several reasons – but the next time the client “baby”ed me I said “I’m not your baby, I’m your lawyer.” And that stopped the behavior.

    Anyway, I’m very sorry this is happening to you and I think Alison’s advice is right. Your response really depends on your comfort level being direct (and I think honestly, for me, it depends on an assessment of my safety). And it sucks that you have to be in that position in the first place.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      If anybody else is in a similar situation and wants a script to pull out when necessary, I’ve had success with “I’m not your partner or your daughter, and it’s inappropriate for you to speak to me like that.”

      (caveat: I’m in customer service, and I only pull that line out when endearments are used condescendingly. If a kindly grandparently person calls me “sweetie” in a grateful way after I’ve helped them with something, that’s fine. If a man is weaponizing endearments to make me feel lesser, he gets the script in as cold a tone as I can muster.)

    2. Delta Delta*

      I’ve had to do that with older male legal clients, as well. One kept doing it during a consultation and finally I just told him that I wouldn’t represent him because of how he was talking to me and too bad so sad for him. He sort of got off the phone in a huff, but I don’t care – nobody needs to tolerate that.

  38. Jenna Webster*

    I had a friend who had a similar problem and every time it happened, she stopped talking and crossed her arms over her chest. She was planning to have “the conversation,” but this made it apparent that she noticed and things got better.

    1. Laney Boggs*

      I think this works best as a “soft” approach, especially if there’s a cultural gap/neurodivergence that wouldn’t make the arm-cross alone quite as clear .

  39. Papillon Celeste*

    My male partner, who is wonderfully understanding and not at all sexist usually, says that I should just grin and bear it.

    One of these things is NOT like the others….

  40. This gives me fever*

    You know, my dad said something similar to my sister about just having to suck it up and move past behavior like this, and now they are completely estranged.

    Honestly, when I see guys doing this in the workplace I snap my fingers in their face and ask them what they’re looking at with a huge maniacal grin on my face. No advice, just sympathy.

  41. FormerGeologist*

    I know this isn’t at all what the letter writer wants (and fair enough, it is exhausting to deal with this nonsense all the time and I’ve gone with a lower-conflict approach before as well) but the most satisfying way I’ve ever dealt with this issue was this: me and a few of my colleagues were at a conference, standing around talking, when I noticed one guy was staring at my chest. In a moment of non-thought-out short-temperedness, I snapped my fingers in front of his face (not like right in front, I was still a couple of feet away, but my hand was directly in his…. sightline) and when he gave me a startled look, I snapped “Can I ****ing help you, Dave?” He turned beet red and the other men present all started laughing at him and ribbing him. The fact that they all teased him really lessened the feeling of it being a “me” issue.

    He wasn’t a particularely creepy guy, but I was a lot more dressed up than normal and I think he kind of zoned out for a minute.

    1. Salymander*

      Awesome. This is just great to read. I think the way you were just really matter of fact and told him in the mo.ent and without apologizing for being annoyed is really really great.

  42. C*

    It’s not rude to tell someone they’re being rude. You can simply say “it’s rude to to stare.” That is a true statement.
    That way you don’t have to be passive-aggressive, or aggressive-aggressive. Just matter-of-fact.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I still want the t-shirt that has the two door knockers from “Labyrinth” – right where you’d think they’d be – and says “Don’t ask us, we’re just the knockers!”

  43. Lucious*

    Point one: there are no exemptions to hostile work environment statutes based on the perpetrators nationality or country of origin.

    Point two: this is harassment. It Does.Not.Matter.How.Talented.Someone.Is. Work capability is also not an exemption to established workplace harassment statutes.

    Point three: the OPs organization can either direct the harassing employee to cease and desist in this behavior at once, or they can take the unwise path of ignoring the OPs abuse. My viewpoint- it’s time to have that conversation. No subtleties , social hints or beating around the topic.

  44. SwampWitch85*

    I worked for a Christian halfway house and I’m a DD. I would get spoken to about my attire when the male manager noticed my male clients staring at my chest. I was wearing shirts 3x too big for me to start with to keep my chest hidden, bulky sweaters, scarves, anything. HR brought me in to talk about my chest size. Super fun. I bought several very expensive binders and gave HR the receipt along with updating my FMLA paperwork. I have AK and fibromyalgia and the binders exacerbated my chronic pain. Because it was a religious entity, I also provided an academic summary of Matthew 5:27-30 (If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away ie: stop being a pervy creep). My manager and HR called me in to explain it an I said “you told me to find a solution. I did. I can wear minimizers which cause pain that might impact my performance and cause absences or you can, you know, gouge your eyes out.”

    I don’t work there anymore. Odd.

    1. anonymous73*

      Wow. Kind of like schools that force their girls to cover up so the boys can control themselves, instead of teaching the boys some damn respect. This crap makes me rage-y.

    2. Generic Name*

      WTH were they expecting you to do about the size of a specific body part? It’s not like you could lose weight just in your boobs, and you were already doing more than enough by wearing ill-fitting clothing. Were they expecting you to get breast reduction surgery?? Just ugh.

    3. Salymander*

      I grew up in a family that was part of a church like this. It was a nightmare to grow up with, especially as a girl. I love the way you handled this and I think you are awesome.

  45. DopamineDeficient*

    Surprised at this answer from Allison, who is usually so good at telling what is actually clear communication! I agree that starting with ‘softer’ options is a good idea, but “my eyes are up here” is not actually clear direct communication about the problem, especially to someone from a different culture and possibly from a different language background. It provides only the literal location of your eyes, not what behavior is problematic or what change you want him to make – all of that is implied, and implications are easy to miss in your non-native language or an unfamiliar culture. If the culture he comes from is one where direct eye contact is seen as disrespectful or aggressive, for instance, the implication that you would prefer he make eye contact might be difficult for him to accept without it being stated directly.

    “Please stop staring at my breasts” on the other hand is clear and direct, and is not actually a rude thing to say. Probably a casual matter-of-fact attitude ( not a ‘we need to have a Serious Conversation and you need to Listen and feel Appropriately Ashamed’ approach) will be sufficient, as it’s already going to be embarassing for him to be called out about it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If I’m reading the letter correctly, the LW says she’s perfectly comfortable being direct about this and has in the past with other men, but in this case is specifically looking for a softer approach; that’s the whole crux of her question.

      1. Loulou*

        I think she was looking for a softer way to say this *specifically because* this guy is from a developing country and she assumes he does not know what he’s doing is wrong, though.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          And also because this one behavior is very different from his other behavior. She’s assuming the one behavior is an anomaly (and is filling in the reason), not a red flag.

          I think she should check for other red flags, especially in subordinates / partnering projects.

  46. anonymous73*

    Your partner is wrong and please stop making excuses for this guy. You need to be direct if it makes you uncomfortable, and I gather from your letter that it does. It doesn’t matter where he’s from, how old he is, what he does, or any other reason you can think of…it’s rude and disrespectful and it’s needs to stop. And by constantly staring at your breasts, he’s given up any rights for you to help him save face and not be embarrassed.

    And please revisit your first paragraph and change your thinking on this issue. If you are wearing things that make you super uncomfortable to keep men from staring, that’s not cool. This way of thinking is similar to dress codes for girls in school – instead of teaching the boys to respect the girls, they tell the girls they can’t bare their shoulders because the boys can’t control themselves. I personally wear padded bras so my nipples aren’t on display, but that’s because it makes ME uncomfortable, not to keep others from staring.

  47. Aquawoman*

    Note: this guy should not be staring at LW’s chest and should be told to stop.

    Also, I find this society’s emphasis on eye contact to be one of the most exhaustingly ableist things in my ND life. I am fortunate to have low support needs, but I hate feeling like I cannot possibly be socially acceptable over something that’s so difficult for me and has no actual impact other than the impact that’s created by everyone being told that eye contact is the be all end all of social engagement. I especially hate the “show you’re listening by making eye contact,” because if I’m making eye contact, I am not listening, because I cannot do both. So, I think “my eyes are up here” is ableist in a way that “please stop staring at my chest” isn’t.

    1. Lucy Skywalker*

      If you can’t look at their eyes, then look at their nose when they’re talking to you. They’ll never know the difference.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Or ears. Most people I know who have trouble with eyes look at ears.

        If I understand correctly from reading and from my autistic family members, much of the difficulty looking at eyes is that there is a ton of information being exchanged in our facial movements, especially eyes, and it’s overwhelming. That same torrent of information is exactly why allistic people want eye contact, it helps them assess the situation.

    2. Banana Pancakes*

      I can make eye contact not at all, way too much, or at a predetermined interval (e.g. every 15s), but I can only process auditory information at “not at all”. Everyone said I’d grow out of it, but you don’t grow out of neurodivergency. It’s still just as hard, with much higher stakes.

      That said, I’ve never chosen someone’s chest as an alternate focal point. Just eyebrows, ceilings, points slightly to the right of the person speaking, etc.

    3. Purple Cat*

      I think this is a really valid point. Especially because the complaint *isn’t* about not making eye contact, while it is very much about where the coworker IS looking.

  48. Betty (the other betty)*

    Is there a possibility that he is looking “not at your eyes” and he happens to do that by looking down, which ends up being looking at your chest?

    If that is the case, it would be a kindness for someone to tell him that a) staring at someone’s chest is not acceptable and b) he can try looking between people’s eyes or at their forehead or their chin to avoid direct eye contact while still meeting the US norm of looking people in the face.

    Or if he is just being a jerk, then someone needs to tell him that too.

    1. Policy Wonk*

      In my experience, those who don’t want to look at people’s eyes look at their shoes, not their chest.

    2. Observer*

      I can see where someone who has a habit of averting his eyes downward would end up staring at something much more inappropriate than eyes

      Highly unlikely. HIGHLY.

      Nevertheless, I agree that your conclusion that he needs to be called out on it is completely correct.

      1. Loolooloo*

        I dunno…I lived for many years in such a culture where it’s a sign of respect to look down, often at the chest, but somewhat vacantly. Not saying we can make a value judgement one way or the other in this case.

        1. Observer*

          Really? In what culture, other than perhaps Hollywood (the home of the casting couch) is it considered a sign of respect to look at a woman’s CHEST?

            1. Observer*

              Which is?

              If you are going to claim that someone is following some cultural norms, you really REALLY need to be able to name that culture rather than claiming that it exists but you know nothing about except that it must be miles better than the culture we live in.

          1. Awkwardnotcreepy*

            It’s wonderful that you have the OPs back, but all through this comment section you’ve aggressively shot down anyone who has dared to suggest that this guy may not be the most awful human being alive.

            I agree that OP is knows him and her circumstances best, but it prevents proper discussion when any dissenting views are so viciously shot down I think?

            1. Observer*

              That’s not true. What I’ve been shooting down are the ideas that he doesn’t know what he’s doing and that it’s likely that he doesn’t understand that this behavior is problematic or that it’s unintentional.

              I’m not the one being vicious. Nor have I claimed that he’s the most awful human alive. What I maintain is that the explanations offered for his behavior don’t hold up. Which makes him either not a competent person or someone who is sexist, creepy or both.

              1. Awkwardnotcreepy*

                I didn’t mean you personally were being vicious, its a turn of phrase – I can tell you’re passionate about this (and rightly so); I just think that because you feel so strongly you (and other commenters) are perhaps being a bit more forceful in your comments than you would be otherwise?

                The vast majority of comments agree with you in full, the few that offer a slightly different perspective all have responses that remind me of a reddit comment section – and not in a good way. Mitsuko offered an opinion in a polite way, was open to discussion, and was pretty aggressively ganged up on it felt to me.

                Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive but it didn’t seem like the sort of atmosphere I’m used to here.

        2. Salymander*

          But if you come from a culture like that and you are making people feel uncomfortable, wouldn’t you want for someone to tell you?

          He has been here for 10 years. If it really was a cultural misunderstanding, that is a really long time to go without anyone calling him out at all.

          His possible culture that may or may not ok looking at breasts rather than eyes isn’t really the issue, though. He needs to be told, and he needs to stop the staring. Why bend over backwards to excuse and explain away his behavior? That isn’t helpful or supportive at all. OP just needs to tell him to stop, and needs her partner to stop making sexist-enabling comments that are very similar to some of the comments here.

        3. Frankie*

          Where exactly? Maybe you misunderstood, especially if you haven’t lived there for at least 10 years.

    3. Betty (the other betty)*

      A quick search on the subject turned up a lot. Of particular interest to me regarding this discussion is this paper:

      which states

      “In fact, in Japanese culture, people are taught not to maintain eye contact with others because too much eye contact is often considered disrespectful. For example, Japanese children are taught to look at others’ necks because this way, the others’ eyes still fall into their peripheral vision.”

      I would probably perceive someone looking at my neck as looking at my chest. Without knowing more, we can’t know if this guy is being culturally inappropriate (because his culture taught him to look down) or an outright jerk.

      1. Salymander*

        But either way, he needs to be told. OP wasn’t going to scream at him and try to get him fired. We don’t have to look for evidence that he is ready just misunderstood and actually totally justified in his boob staring. OP can just tell him to stop.

      2. Anonymous4*

        I wouldn’t perceive someone looking at my neck as staring at my breasts. Entirely different angle. And OP is very clear: He stares at her breasts. He needs to stop. She wants to tell him to stop, gently.

        I think that if she does it casually, and segues immediately into a work discussion, that any embarrassment he might feel at being called out on that unpleasant hobby of his would be subsumed by the work-related conversation.

      3. Japan HR*

        I feel obligated to go all the way down this post and share that it is also rude in Japan, and in East Asia in general, to stare at women’s breasts. Like, taught in HR onboarding as part of human rights training, covered in trainings on sexual harassment, basic social norm that people are aware of.

        Nobody’s breasts are at their actual neck. This dude has lived in the US for a decade. He does not stare at men’s chests. There is no fanfic to write or secret to uncover here.

        1. Frankie*

          Thank you. People keep excusing op’s casual racism with Japanese culture when Japan isn’t even a developing country, and it’s also rude to stare at women’s breasts in Japan. People are defending both racism and sexual harassment in one sentence.

  49. JaneLoe*

    I agree this is frustrating, and the “cultural norms” that have been mentioned (NOT specific to another country, but the norms highlighted within our own culture – “this is just how men are” *ICK*) are upsetting. I am twenty years this LW’s junior and my approach would be a bit different. I think you should tell your boss/superior and just say “I wanted to save face and mention it to the guy discreetly, but I have decided it should be dealt with by someone who is our superior.” Flagging the behavior now can help you in the event that the behavior doesn’t cease right away. Also, it’s not your battle to fight and the message may get across more clearly if presented by someone else.

  50. Avalon Angel*

    I also have larger breasts and have come across this issue many times. Like Allison, I find crossing my arms paired with a more serious glare whilst continuing to talk normally gets the point across to most (but sadly not all) Chronic Starers. I particularly used it with customers, as I naturally didn’t feel I could call them out on it given the nature of my work (food and beverage manager at an international airport). As the face of our city/country, we were frequently reminded that we were expected to be “welcoming and helpful,” and be aware that we were representatives of our area. And customers who had maybe a few too many tiny bottles of alcohol on the plane were not always on their best behavior, so it was depressingly to be expected. As I dealt with people from all over the world in that job, I tend to agree with Allison that this type of behavior is not more common amongst any particular country of origin over others. You get Chronic Starers from all over, unfortunately.

    But it’s a different story when you’re talking about co-workers with whom you must work on a regular basis and don’t have to be quite so “welcoming and helpful” towards. I’d try the arm-crossing technique once, and if he doesn’t stop, I have found clearing my throat to be a good way to get the point across that you do indeed notice and it is not acceptable. Do it every time, and most will eventually take the hint. And for those who don’t? Well, then you move on to the is-something-wrong-with-whatever statements. And sadly, even that doesn’t deter all the truly Chronic Starers, so that’s your cue to go to HR. Please don’t feel embarrassed to do so…you’re not the one who ought to be embarrassed here.

  51. Policy Wonk*

    Please, please speak with him directly. I tend to agree with those who think this behavior is intentional, but even if it is not, if he is doing it to you he is doing this to other women as well. Shut it down. This will help you as well as other women he works with. And document that you did it. Memo to file, or better an e-mail to self so that there is a time/date attached. If, after you have told him to cut it out, he does not, take the issue to HR. I don’t care how good of an employee he is *aside from this* – if it continues he will cost you female employees, particularly younger ones who don’t feel empowered to speak up.

  52. YRH*

    I previously worked in a country where breasts aren’t sexualized at all (hips are), so there could be a cultural issue (though not because of the development status of his native county).

    1. zillah*

      if he’s been there for ten years, though, I cannot imagine that he’d manage to go this long without noticing that breasts are sexualized here. Can we not contort ourselves to excuse this shit?

    2. Lucy Skywalker*

      If he’s from a country where breasts aren’t sexy, then why does he feel the desire to stare at them?

    3. Salymander*

      They OP would be doing him a huge favor by letting him know that it isn’t ok. Because he has been there for 10 years, and has presumably been creeping people out for at least that long.

      Giving him a pass because he doesn’t know any better is not helpful to him. And it definitely isn’t helpful to OP.

  53. I edit everything*

    I think very few people actually make direct eye contact while in conversation. We look at someone’s face, generally, often, or over their shoulder, or someplace else, but actual eye contact is rare. Try it. You’ll see what I mean. It’s weird. Especially with a work colleague.

    This doesn’t help the LW any, of course. Just an observation.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I think a lot of ND people assume that NTs are just making continuous eye contact with each other, but even for NT people, that comes across as pretty intense. I finally asked an online forum once how much eye contact is “normal” (culturally speaking), and the answers were along the lines of making eye contact for a few seconds say, once every 30 seconds. One person suggested making eye contact at the beginning and end of every sentence. That kind of thing. Once you get used to the rhythm, it’s like checking your mirrors while driving.

      Sidenote, I’ve had a number of interracial relationships in my life, and recently realized that a component of those relationships was probably that they weren’t “eye contact” people either. So they didn’t find me weird and I didn’t find them weird as we all looked all over the place while talking lol.

      1. Aquawoman*

        This is a real YMMV thing. I could do that in a light conversation but it would still be too distracting if it was something that needed a lot of concentration. Also, I like a lot of ND people, find that having to do a lot of masking takes energy.

      2. Generic Name*

        I agree. The amount of eye contact also varies by the level of intimacy of the relationship. So I’d make eye contact maybe once or twice with the cashier at the grocery store as they’re ringing my stuff up, more frequent eye contact with a colleague, and the most intense eye contact with my husband. It would be super weird and uncomfortable to stare into the cashier’s eyes the way I do with my husband. :)

      3. Stevie*

        As a socially anxious person, I once tried just basically doing an assert dominance eye stare in an attempt to seem more confident, since I normally have difficulty holding eye contact. Well, I won! That’s how I learned that it’s normal to look away occasionally…

  54. Budgie Buddy*

    In a way it’s more depressing, but I wonder if it’s not even a sexual attraction thing so much as staring at a body part that (he considers) outside the norm. Similar to the way people might be drawn to fixate on a visible scar or limb difference.

    Addressing this in the sense that it’s rude to fixate on any any body part, whether it’s deemed sexual or not, might remove some awkwardness for OP. This is particularly grating for her, but it’s a universal issue of politeness and not making other people self conscious in their own bodies. The coworker fixing this harmful tendency will help both himself and other people.

    I am a very flat chested woman so my body type is in some ways closer to “male” than to that of very curvy women. My thinking when I come across very different female body types isn’t “wow so jealous” but “omg I cannot begin to image how heavy and cumbersome those must be…” this doesn’t change the fact it’s rude to stare.

    1. Workerbee*

      And it doesn’t change the fact that he apparently needs to keep staring each time he sees her.

  55. Jaybeetee*

    I am another one who struggles with eye contact, and I have a littttttle potential sympathy based on that – in my early 20s there were definitely times when my eyes landed “on the wrong place”, and I’m a straight woman (with a larger chest myself, so it’s not a particular novelty for me either). No one ever specifically called me out, but there were a couple times I caught myself and was mortified. It was something I had to make a conscious effort to change. I generally defaulted to looking at people’s mouths pre-pandemic. Now with masks, I do try to be better about eye contact, but also often default to looking at someone’s “third eye” (the centre of their forehead).

    But with that said, creeper or not, it’s not something OP should have to live with. If it’s something like cluelessness, pointedly crossing your arms or fiddling with your shirt or badge should be enough to snap him out of it. If it continues, feel free to get more blunt. Awkward people correct themselves when called out. Rude and creepy people don’t care.

  56. Heffalump*

    In her book Hardball for Women Pat Heim wrote that she once dealt with this by saying, “Please speak up, the left one is hard of hearing.”

  57. bopper*

    re: staring
    Say “Is there something on my shirt? (look at your shirt)” then the next time “Is there something on my shirt? No? Then why do you keep staring there?”

  58. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Yeah, that’s super uncomfortable and OP should def shut it down.

    The “developing country” part makes me wonder if he’s from a culture where eye contact is considered to be too direct andlooking down is considered more respectful? That’s pretty common where I’m from. I myself struggle with eye contact as well, not sure if it’s cultural for me or something else.

    But working here for 10+ years now he should know better. I’m only saying this because if he’s not creepy or weird in any other way aside from this.

    1. Observer*

      The issue here is not that he’s not making eye contact. The issue is that he has a LOT of other places to look if he’s not going to make eye contact. Typically in cultures where eye contact is considered too direct or disrespectful, people look at the floor or their feet.

  59. IndyDem*

    I want to preface my comments with the fact that I have stared at women’s breasts. It’s happened, I’m not proud of it. For me it’s totally unconscious, my eyes are drawn to them. As soon as I consciously recognize it happening, I drag my eyes away, because that’s what EVERYONE should do if they find themselves staring at someone’s breasts. It’s gotten less frequent and it’s only glances now because I’m aware that it’s an issue and that it’s my issue. To stress the last part, I would be horrified to know that it was noticed and made them feel uncomfortable. (note: I’m sure it’s been noticed, but it’s never been brought up to me, and that alone makes me feel queasy).

    With that said, I second what some of the commenters have said – that crossing of the arms or “is there something on me” as a first response in case it’s unconscious, but that’s a one time deal, all bets are off if he can’t control it, you should not have to feel any discomfort for his sake (no matter what your partner said).

    1. Windchime*

      “….if he can’t control it”–really? Are there people who literally cannot control whether or not they stare at a woman’s breasts? I’m so tired of the narrative that some men just can’t control their sexist behavior. Gimme a break.

      1. IndyDem*

        sorry, in my head I was thinking won’t not can’t. I did not mean to imply that he doesn’t have responsibility for his actions.

      2. Batgirl*

        The way that’s phrased makes me think Indydem actually means “if he doesn’t control it” because it’s followed by “all bets are off”, not by excusing him.

  60. Aunt Piddy*

    My tried and true response is to slowly sink at the knees until my eyes meet theirs with a slightly annoyed look on my face. I am always met with a chagrined look when they realize what’s going on.

  61. Observer*

    I have to say that I find one aspect of the responses here depressing and depressingly predictable.

    That is the number of people trying to “explain” this as a matter of cultural norms and / or neurodiversity and / or simply having trouble with eye contact. And, of course, it comes with a side helping from some of those commenters that the OP may be “over sensitive” or “noticing” it in a way over-emphasizes what’s happening.

    It makes me tired.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I’ve seen your other comments on the thread, and I hope I can add a little nuance here.

      I see very, very few comments suggesting that OP is being “too sensitive”, or shouldn’t be upset, or shouldn’t do anything about it. I am seeing a number of comments suggesting neurodiversity or cultural differences as possible explanations for his behaviour.

      At least in my case, my intention was never to suggest that it’s “not a problem” or to make excuses for a guy I don’t know. My intention is to provide some possible comfort or reassurance to OP that maybe she won’t have to go through the stress and hardship of dealing with a creep at work, and a relatively gentle correction can get the job done.

      I’ve seen threads like these before, where it seems like people are looking for excuses for a dude’s creepy behaviour. But when coupled with a “you still shouldn’t be living with this, here’s what you can do…”, the intention isn’t to be a pick-me, but to try to reassure the OP that it might not be the worst-case scenario.

      1. CleverGirl*

        Yeah, I also posted a “trouble with eye contact” one and my point wasn’t to make excuses for the guy as much as to say to the OP that it might be easier to solve than she thinks. A creep will still be a creep even if called out. If it’s something else, like he’s just not realizing it, pointing it out to him might be all it takes to fix it.

        1. Anonymous4*

          Are you trying to say he doesn’t realize that he’s constantly staring at OP’s breasts? That he doesn’t know where he regularly directs his gaze?

      2. Dark Macadamia*

        This is why those comments are so exhausting, though:

        LW: I don’t think he means to be creepy and it might be a cultural difference, but I want him to stop.
        Commenters: But he might not mean to be creepy! Have you considered it might be a cultural difference?

        You are not saying anything the LW hasn’t already considered. It doesn’t change the fact that he needs to stop. So what does it accomplish, other than reinforcing the idea that this background info is somehow relevant to whether or not LW is allowed to set a boundary?

        1. Jaybeetee*

          It accomplishes hopefully reassuring OP that she might not be dealing with a creep. I said nothing about whether she’s allowed to set a boundary (quite the contrary), so I resent that particular implication.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Agree. There was a step missing in the summary above. What I’m seeing is:

            LW: I don’t think he means to be creepy and it might be a cultural difference, but I want him to stop.
            90% of commenters: Oh he’s definitely doing it on purpose. He comes into work every day looking forward to staring at coworkers’ breasts! Call HR. Get it on file. How about a sex offender registry?
            The other 10% Commenters: But he might not mean to be creepy! Have you considered it might be a cultural difference?

            LW is not sure he knows he’s doing it. I don’t think he knows he’s doing it. I certainly believe LW that it gets her hair to stand on end each time, and believe that he needs to be told that *this is how he comes across*. I guarantee he does not want to come across like that, and will stop. The proposed alternative seems to be him coming into work one morning to find out that he’s now on HR file as a sexual harasser, even though he has no idea why. I don’t really like that option. TELL HIM.

            1. Observer*

              90% of commenters: Oh he’s definitely doing it on purpose. He comes into work every day looking forward to staring at coworkers’ breasts! Call HR. Get it on file. How about a sex offender registry?

              That’s EXACTLY what I am talking about. That is NOT what people are saying, but that’s what people are being accused of. How is it different than “You’re too sensitive”?

              What most of us are saying is that the alternative explanations offered range from not likely to requiring us to believe that the OP does not know what actually happening. In some cases, the implied or stated additional piece is an expectation that the OP spend extra effort on sparing the guy’s feelings or even needing to find “evidence” that he’s targeting women.

              LW is not sure he knows he’s doing it.

              That is NOT what she says. What she DOES say is that she thinks that possible he “does not realize that what he is doing is bad”. That’s a very different thing.

              I don’t think he knows he’s doing it

              It’s just not likely that a competent adult whose been in the workforce for this long really doesn’t know he’s doing this. But if he is THAT un-aware of his own behavior, then the OP needs to NOT be “gentle”. Because “gentle” tends to be less direct, and someone like this needs crystal clear directness.

              I guarantee he does not want to come across like that,

              This is offensive. Worse, it’s simply dangerous. That is NOT even the most LIKELY scenario, much less something you can guarantee! Yet, it implies that the OP *IS* over-reacting. You are clearly stating that “No, he IS NOT being creepy, the OP just THINKS he is being creepy”.

              The proposed alternative seems to be him coming into work one morning to find out that he’s now on HR file as a sexual harasser, even though he has no idea why

              That’s not how any of this works, nor is this what people have been suggesting. No one is suggesting starting a secret file on him and branding him forever more. HR SHOULD be made aware of is inappropriate behavior so that if there is a pattern, they will be able to see it. If there is no pattern, then he won’t “branded” as anything. On the other hand, if there is a pattern or HR believes that there is an issue it’s highly unlikely that he will only know that he is considered a harasser without being told what behavior triggered the charge.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                That’s EXACTLY what I am talking about. That is NOT what people are saying, but that’s what people are being accused of.

                It’s just not likely that a competent adult whose been in the workforce for this long really doesn’t know he’s doing this.

                So, people are being accused of saying he’s doing it on purpose, but instead they are in fact saying that… he’s doing it on purpose?

                I and others are saying he does not realize what he’s doing and needs to be told. Everyone else seems to be saying that he already knows and needs to have consequences rained upon him. If he was creepy in other ways, I’d agree. Going by the combination of “academia” and “straight-laced in all other ways”, I’m assuming socially clueless + ND. As long as we all agree that he needs to be told, I’m good, but I am seeing a lot of “he knows what he’s doing” and I am absolutely not fine with that.

                FTR, I am a woman, in my 50s, probably not as attractive as OP, but I’ve been called that on occasion. I wear a G cup, and have been dealing with creeps, both at work and outside of it, for my entire adult life. I am not seeing a deliberate creep from OP’s description. Trust me, I know one when I see one.

                1. Salymander*

                  But you aren’t actually seeing one.

                  OP considered all of these possibilities, trying to understand this coworker. OP was trying to explain it, and to deal with it, and is still finding that having coworker staring at her breasts is really uncomfortable and unpleasant. And then OP wrote in to ask for advice and support. Unfortunately, a whole lot of people hear about possibly creepy behavior and react by getting defensive in case the person doing the sexual harassing is ND. Let’s not minimize and invalidate what OP is saying. That is unhelpful. It also seems unkind. Similarly, saying that “everyone” is saying that the coworker definitely knows what he is doing is wrong and needs to have consequences rained down on him is simply inaccurate. The vast majority of commenters say that OP should just tell coworker that the staring is not ok and makes her uncomfortable. And being told to stop doing something because it is offensive Is A Consequence in itself. The consequence of doing something inappropriate is that he will be told to stop. If he is purposely staring for some nefarious reason, he will be told to stop. If he is staring accidentally, he will be told to stop. Either way, he is told to stop. What he chooses to do after that will tell the OP, who knows him and has observed his behavior, what kind of person he is.

                  Why is it that whenever someone writes in about sexual harassment, there are a number of commenters who say that the harasser is probably ND? This is harmful to the OP, because it minimizes and invalidates her experience. It is also harmful to ND people, as it throws them in the same basket as creeps and harassers. That is incredibly harmful. The ones who benefit from this are the people who want to stop talking about sexual harassment. Oh, and creeps benefit from this. They benefit most of all because they know that, if they choose to sexually harass someone, there will be a whole chorus of people sounding off about how maybe the harassed just misunderstood and maybe the harasser is ND. It gives people who sexually harass (and worse) cover so they can continue to make people miserable.

                  And the overwhelming consensus among the commenters is simply that OP should tell him to stop. And that would be true regardless of why coworker is staring at OP’s breasts. It is better to tell the coworker, and his behavior after that will let the OP observe what kind of person he is and maybe what his intent was.

                2. Elsajeni*

                  Do you think there’s a meaningful difference between “He’s doing it on purpose; don’t be too concerned about his feelings when you tell him to knock it off” and the way you actually characterized other people’s comments, which was “He’s doing it on purpose; call HR, and maybe the sex offender registry”? Could that difference, perhaps, have anything to do with why your comment was read as “everyone is overreacting and too sensitive”?

          2. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            That sort of thing has never been reassuring to me, though. It has only exhausted me. Or irritated me. Or made me want to scream, into the abyss or otherwise.

            I live with this stuff and deal with it daily. I don’t need reassurance, I need what I actually asked for. That’s why people get agitated by those sorts of comments, even though they may be very well intentioned.

            1. Dark Macadamia*

              It doesn’t matter if she’s dealing with a creep. She’s dealing with a person who makes her uncomfortable, at work, on a daily basis, about the body she can’t help existing in and already spends time, money, and brainpower attempting to cover specifically to avoid this kind of behavior.

              If someone makes me feel uncomfortable, and someone else tells me that person maybe isn’t TRYING to make me uncomfortable, the only thing that changes is now I’m mad at two people.

            2. Jaybeetee*

              You’re certainly not obligated to answer, but I would like to know – why does someone offering reassurance make you angry?

              I see your comment about “I don’t need reassurance, I need what I asked for”, but I don’t see how that’s not happening here? There have been plenty of scripts and suggestions for how OP can handle the issue, included in the “and maybe he’s just clueless and only needs to get told once” comments.

              Ofc you’re not required to educate here, but if I’m genuinely upsetting people I’d like to know, and in this case I’m confused on just what’s upsetting about it? I feel like my comments are being conflated with… idk, minimizing the issue, or suggesting that OP shouldn’t do anything, or invalidating her somehow. Which isn’t my intent at all. I’m more in the range of “this headache may be dehydration and not a tumour.” She still has a headache, and she still needs to deal with it, but it’s not necessarily the worst possible scenario – I would think that would be comforting.

              Does that make any sense?

              1. Dark Macadamia*

                Minimizing and invalidating is exactly right. It feels awful to express an issue and the response is a semi-related tangent that broadcasts how the person doesn’t actually understand your problem but still feels qualified to fix it (“it” being an imaginary version they’ve decided you have, not the one you actually expressed).

                LW’s problem is “how do I stop this guy from staring while letting him save face,” and you are offering reassurance that maybe his reason for staring isn’t creepy. It’s a nice thought (I guess???) but it ignores what she asked for. In this case, there’s a specific dynamic that’s part of a larger pattern of dismissing the victim and excusing the behavior, so your “reassurance” on an individual level is being interpreted within a larger context that makes it come across as dismissive and harmful.

                With your simpler example, if someone says “I have a headache” they are probably looking for sympathy or Advil, or explaining why they need the music turned down or whatever. They’re not asking for a diagnosis or assuming it’s a tumor. That’s just a completely irrelevant “reassurance” unless they’re actively worrying it’s a tumor, and it doesn’t make them feel heard or make the headache go away.

                1. Salymander*

                  Exactly. Explaining it away and minimizing it is not helpful to the OP. It is, however, enormously helpful to people who do creepy things. That is how creeps continue to operate, because the creeped-on folks are surrounded by people who want to explain and minimize and excuse. Even if they are really lovely, well meaning people who are just trying to make things less uncomfortable.

              2. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

                Dark Macadamia already did a stellar job of explaining things to you, but also… you asked me why “someone offering me reassurance makes me angry” and what I actually said was that those kind of responses generally exhaust me, irritate me, or frustrate me to the point of wanting to scream. And yes, you probably are upsetting some people in your day to day life if you aren’t listening when they tell you what they need and instead are making statements that come across as extraneous, minimizing, or invalidating. Much like with Boob Watching, impact 100% trumps intent here.

              3. Observer*

                why does someone offering reassurance make you angry?

                It doesn’t sound like reassurance at all. Some of the comments are worse than others. Like “have you considered” sounds like the OP hasn’t given enough thought to why this person is misbehaving the way he is. Which, even if the possible explanations were likely would STILL not be something she needs to take on. And that’s among the less problematic issues.

                One person says that she should look for more evidence before deciding on next steps. And several of the comments were definitely of the “you’re over-reacting” sort. Like the commenter who said that she can “guarantee” that he does not want to “come off” as creepy.

                I’m not sure how any of this can be seen as “reassuring”.

      3. Observer*

        I see very, very few comments suggesting that OP is being “too sensitive”,

        One commenter actually used that phrase, and a lot of the others did imply it.

        I am seeing a number of comments suggesting neurodiversity or cultural differences as possible explanations for his behaviour.

        And those explanations range from very unlikely to explicitly negating what the OP is saying.

    2. Jaybeetee*

      I typed a reply to this awhile ago that seems to be caught in moderator-Purgatory for some reason, so I’ll just briefly reiterate the point O tried to make there:

      People discussing ND or cultural differences aren’t necessarily trying to defend a guy they’ve never met, and very few people seem to be suggesting that OP is oversensitive or wrong to be upset.

      It’s just… dealing with creeps at work sucks. It’s stressful. I can at least speak for my own intent that sometimes searching for non-creepy explanations is meant to be reassuring to OP (you might be able to stop this easily without having to escalate). If it turns out he’s a creep, she might have to move onto dealing-with-a-creep tactics.

      1. Quack Quack No*

        “searching for non creepy explanations” is setting up a referendum on whether or not OP has a right to feel creeped out. People do this to women any time we talk about sexual harassment or assault and it is exhausting both in the moment and as another example in a long pattern of reactions many of us have endured for years and years and years.

        1. Salymander*

          Exactly. Instead of the chorus of folks trying to explain the issue to the person Who Is Actually Experiencing The Issue, maybe just don’t explain? Telling a woman that she might not need to be fearful or worried when she is trying to deal with sexual harassment is a really horrible thing to do. And when a person is told to stop explaining it and minimizing it and they Keep Doing It, they are officially Part Of The Problem. They are one of the many reasons that sexual harassment and sexual assault are so difficult to deal with and put a stop to. This type of minimizing and invalidating behavior is one of the things that perpetuates sexism and rape culture. Yes, even if these people have all the good intentions in the world. Intentions aren’t magic, and they don’t prevent anyone from being harmed. People Need To Stop.

  62. LMB*

    So exhausting to read. This person has to spend all this mental energy planning her outfits to cover her breasts, spend money on bras that make her uncomfortable, etc all because women’s bodies—most especially larger women’s bodies—the bodies we live in as humans every day—are considered “inappropriate.” Now it’s also her responsibility to take on the mental and emotional load of putting this guy in his place and couch it in such a way that doesn’t make *him* too uncomfortable. It’s all just exhausting. What could women accomplish if we didn’t have to spend so much of out lives worrying about our bodies and our clothes and then trying to manage men’s reactions to them while someone not calling attention to them. Just exhausting.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Yep. Whether she speaks up or not she’s the one carrying the weight of the situation, and she’s not even causing it.

  63. Loolooloo*

    Can’t tell if this has been mentioned earlier in the thread or not…but many cultures avoid eye contact as a sign of deference and respect, particularly to someone who may hold a supervisory position in the workplace. I’ve lived in one such culture and my husband is from such a culture.

      1. Curious*

        OP didn’t say anything like “exclusively stare at chests.” She said “he will lock his gaze on my breasts *for a full second or so* … look away … then will do the same thing again in a few minutes” which is 120 seconds.

        So, he is, according to OP, doing this less than 1 percent of the time.

        Writing up this offense in a manner such that his future compliance can objectively be measured seems like it will be a challenge.

        1. dude, where's my cheese*

          It doesn’t really matter how often he’s looking, just that he clearly is and it’s making her feel uncomfortable in her workplace. See the comment by GreenDoor* below. It’s enough of a problem that she wrote a letter asking for advice about it – I don’t think it is useful to litigate how many seconds are too many seconds and how many seconds are ‘not a big deal’

          Not a manager, but I imagine any type of sexual harassment is not going to be addressed with a write-up that uses objective metrics? “stare at your colleague’s chest 94% less of the time” ?

          1. tech services staff*

            I agree 100% with your comment and don’t mean to detract from it in any way, but I just wanted to say that given the subject of the conversation, I absolutely read that as “titigate,” and I hope that fact brings someone else some amusement, too.

          2. Salymander*

            Right. And creeps get away with creeping because they don’t do anything creepy to every single person in every single interaction. I am sure he doesn’t just follow OP around 100% of the time with eyes fixated on OP’s breasts. That would have gotten him fired, ostracized, and such a long time ago.

            Too much of the “but what if he has trouble with eye contact,” and “but what about his culture?!?!?” Too much of this stuff. It is not helpful, and OP has already thought of that And Is Uncomfortable Despite That.

          3. Curious*

            We agree that staring is sexual harassment, and thus entirely unacceptable. The question is whether looking in the direction of OP’s breasts for *one second* every few minutes (which is OP’s account) constitutes staring.

            15 seconds (like Emotional Support Care’n mentioned) or “prolonged periods” (Keymaster), sure. But, I’m sorry, one second doesn’t seem like a reasonable standard. And, yes, disciplinary action requires reasonable standards.

            1. Quack Quack No*

              Who mentioned invoking disciplinary action besides you, though? Is it disciplinary action for OP to ask her coworker not to do this?

              This is done SO MANY TIMES in discussions about these topics, where any pushback from the victim is equated with calling in the authorities, formal punishment, and generally “destroying his life”. It’s an exhausting tactic in an exhausting discussion.

            2. Observer*

              The question is whether looking in the direction of OP’s breasts for *one second* every few minutes (which is OP’s account) constitutes staring.

              It keeps on happening – every few minutes. That is NOT normal or typical behavior of the “we all occasionally wind up giving a look we where we shouldn’t variety.” Even one second, when it is this often!

              Equally important is the fact that the OP is *extremely* uncomfortable with this. To the point that it makes her hair stand on end (that’s HER language, not my interpretation.) He’s doing something every few minutes that is making the OP very uncomfortable, yet according to you, it’s not “reasonable” for the OP to push back because it’s not severe enough.

              I’ll point out that the courts don’t essentially agree with you. Behavior needs to be EITHER “severe” OR “pervasive”. “Locking eyes” on someones breasts for a second may not be “severe” (although the fact that it sets the OP so on edge indicates that it actually could be), but doing it EVERY FEW MINUTES, EVERY DAY, certainly meets the criteria of “pervasive”.

            3. Salymander*

              Who mentioned disciplinary action? We just want OP to tell him to stop. OP has the right to not be stared at inappropriately, no matter what reason coworker may have for staring.

              And since when does someone investigating a person’s inappropriate actions need to get a bunch of evidence before they can just talk to the person and tell them to stop? That is just not reasonable.

          4. Anonymous4*

            The question is whether looking in the direction of OP’s breasts for *one second* every few minutes (which is OP’s account) constitutes staring.

            Yes. It does. Staring constitutes staring. If I stare at your crotch for *one second* every few minutes, then stare again, and then stare again, and then stare again, and then stare again, every time I’m within eyeshot of you, every single day — do you think that would constitute staring?

            Do you think you might start feeling uneasy? Would you start to think I was kind of creepy? Would you perhaps feel a little persecuted? Just because I’m “looking in the direction of” your crotch for *one second* every few minutes — every chance I get?

        2. Observer*

          So, he is, according to OP, doing this less than 1 percent of the time.

          Well, it should be .0001% of the time or less.

          Writing up this offense in a manner such that his future compliance can objectively be measured seems like it will be a challenge.

          No. Because there is no number of times where this is OK. The metric here is “stop doing this.” Not “reduce this”. But full on STOP. I think that that is pretty measurable.

    1. Observer*

      It’s been mentioned multiple times.

      And every time it’s been pointed out that you don’t need to look at people’s chests to avoid eye contact.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Even if that is the case here, the correct response is to draw his attention to the fact that he’s doing something that makes the OP uncomfortable.

  64. Sarra N. Dipity*

    Reading through the letter and comments, I realized that there’s another benefit to WFH that I hadn’t thought of – nobody looks at my boobs except my spouse. Can’t see that far down on Zoom.

  65. GreenDoor*

    Neurodivergence…cultural differences…shyness….I think Hershele Ostropoler Explains It All For You provides a great analogy in his comment on sexual harassment:
    “If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.
    If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.
    If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.
    If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.
    If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot.
    If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.
    If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.
    See, that’s why I don’t get the focus on classifying harassers and figuring out their motives. The victims are just as harassed either way”.

    1. Quack Quack No*

      Well said. There are many people in this thread who should really read this before they launch their next round of litigating OP’s situation, but I wouldn’t bet any of them will.

  66. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    I agree with other commenters about the problematic “developing country” part of the letter, but I do think it’s possible that there is something cultural going on here, and I also wonder about the power dynamics. In some places direct eye contact is seen as a sign of confrontation or disrespect, especially with someone above you in the heirarchy, and people are enculturated to let their gaze lie elsewhere. On someone’s breasts is not a good “elsewhere” for sure, but the habit of avoiding eye contact if it is culturally engrained can be hard to break. No idea if that’s playing into the situation here, but it’s worth considering. That said, I think it does need to be called out in some way even if this is the case so that the person looks at OP’s chin or left ear or something, rather than her breasts.

    1. Windchime*

      This has literally been mentioned dozens of times in this thread. A culture of avoiding eye contact does not give someone the right to stare at a woman’s breasts.

      1. Meep*

        Agreed, but if you loop in a developmental disability or trauma, it could be that he just doesn’t know where else to look. I used to have a hard time looking people directly in the eye (or in the face at all) because of my traumatic upbringing. I looked at my hands or feet instead, of course. And by looked I mean, turned my phase and unfocused my eyes. But it is still possible it is even more innocent and he is just an overall all-around socially awkward turtle who needs it pointed out to him to look over someone’s shoulder instead.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I really, really don’t get why there are so many ‘maybe he’s got a disorder’ or ‘maybe it’s cultural’ comments on this post when not a single one changes the advice. He has to stop doing it.

          Why he’s doing it is fruitless speculation. In all events telling him to stop making people uncomfortable is the answer.

        2. Salymander*

          Why is it when a man is seen to be behaving in a creepy way toward someone, he gets so much of this type of Oh The Poor Dear Can’t Help It sort of thing from commenters? OP already was thinking stuff like this, and despite that is uncomfortable enough with this man’s actions to be writing this letter. These comments are enabling to creepy, sexist behavior. The OP is not required to put up with being stared at inappropriately just because this coworker might have trauma or might not be neurotypical or whatever.

          Prioritizing the coworker’s theoretical issues and using them to excuse his actual behavior that is harming an actual person is just not ok. It makes it so much more difficult to help people and makes the most terrible parts of our culture much slower to change.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Okay, but if that’s the case, then it’s even more important to tell him that staring at women’s chests will make them uncomfortable. This doesn’t excuse the behavior or mean OP can’t address it, so I don’t know why people keep bringing it up.

        4. Batgirl*

          Okay, but you probably didn’t make a point of regularly and pointedly checking someone’s hands.

      2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        I 100% agree, which I think was clear in my comment. I didn’t have time to read every comment before chiming in.

  67. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I just read that breasts are only sexualized in 20% of countries.
    Not sure if that hurts or helps with the idea that this is cultural.

  68. RJ*

    This is wrong. Plain wrong regardless of where it happens. OP, I’m so sorry you’ve been spending so much mental and emotional energy on camouflaging yourself because of this jerk. Blunt and direct would me how I’d handle this – and sadly, I have at a past job.

    “Stop. Stop looking right NOW.”

  69. CommanderBanana*

    At my previous job, we had a staffer who would stand WAY next to you when you spoke to him and grab your upper arm/push the back of his hand against the side of your breast. I went to HR and was told that it might be a “cultural difference” because he’s from another country (he also had lived in the US for over a decade).

    I told HR that if he practiced his cultural difference one more time, I’d practice my cultural difference and sue them. They spoke to him and it stopped.

  70. Ana Gram*

    Even if there’s a cultural difference at play (I’m skeptical but I guess it’s possible) you can still say something. In fact, it would be a kindness to do so.

    I often deal with very recent immigrants to the US as a police officer and have informed them of many unwritten rules and it’s always been taken well. I think tone is key. I’m never accusatory; just informative. Examples include “in the US, people stand about this far apart- you’re standing very close to me and that will be a problem for some people because they’ll think you’re being aggressive”, “Americans are offended by constantly being interrupted so that’s something to think about”, or “don’t try to bribe American cops- it’s illegal here and actually kind of offensive”.

    You could easily say “Bill, it’s inappropriate to stare at my chest. You need to stop”. Works for cultural differences and generalized creepers.

  71. Amethystmoon*

    I once had a much younger make coworker from another country blatantly stand up and stare down at me for several minutes at a time. I am not an attractive woman and I was 20+ years older than him. When I asked him to please stop doing it as it made me uncomfortable, he got angry with me for daring to ask him to stop, in his words. I had to go to the boss to get him to stop.

    Be aware that directly confronting your coworker may not work. Document all instances in case you do need to escalate the misbehavior.

  72. Meep*

    I had a very hard time looking people directly in the eye for a while. It took me a long time to feel comfortable doing such (and even longer to figure out WHY I did it – yay trauma~). I still often look at my hands when I think hard while speaking, but I am better at holding conversations. Is it possible he just has some sort of tick where he cannot physically look you in the eyes? Or does he have no problem looking other men in the eyes?

    1. dude, where's my cheese*

      Surely you don’t stare directly at your coworkers’ breasts instead, though? I imagine you would look at your hands, the floor, something in the background or off to the side, or (my preference because it can read as eye contact) a sort of middle spot on their forehead – but not noticeably, repeatedly looking at your coworkers’ breasts for an uncomfortable period of time

    2. Observer*

      Is it possible he just has some sort of tick where he cannot physically look you in the eyes? Or does he have no problem looking other men in the eyes?

      Why does it matter?

      Also, this behavior makes her hair stand on end. I think that it’s unreasonable to assume that she’s probably over-reacting. And I’d also question why someone who has a hard time looking people in the eye would choose to keep on going to the chest rather than the bazillion other options available?

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Not being able to look people in the eye is fine. Heck, I can’t do it.

      Deciding to stare at a part of the body that should be under clothing in public is not. There’s literally thousands of other places to look at. Ears, nearby walls, noses, your own hands that are not going to land one in trouble with HR for harassment.

  73. Jessica Fletcher*

    Ask your partner how often he stares at his workers’ bodies, since he thinks all men do that!

  74. Essa*

    I feel like this is a good opportunity to provide a list of “scripts” that can be used in situations like these. I have a similar situation at the moment (wandering eyes in the workplace) and there is so little practical advice online regarding how to approach it in a way that extinguishes it without having to report it to HR. Everyone always says “report to HR”, and, yes, this behaviour often should be, but sometimes there are situations where people don’t want to exhaust their social capital or they don’t want to give themselves some enormous headaches just because someone else has made them uncomfortable. I’m a fan of speaking in the moment but lewd (whether intentional or not) behaviour often takes us by surprise and it’s difficult to find the words in the moment or it’s difficult to find the words that are appropriate for the situation. For example, addressing a coworker if there happens to be an audience, if there’s a power imbalance, if you’re unsure whether they’re unconsciously looking, or if you’re so totally fed up that you’re about to snap at them and don’t want to get yourself into trouble. Alison, maybe this is worth a dedicated “guide”?

    1. Ginger Baker*

      I can tell you that my experience is having some stock phrases practiced (out loud!) helps a lot, as well as speaking up in smaller situations (asking a stranger to move their bag so you can sit, etc.) [builds practice so this becomes easier in the moment] and working to examine if you have any lingering societal programming that might have you thinking “this is not that bad” somewhere in the bottom of your subconscious (for example, feeling like it’s “not that big a deal” because “he’s not intending to be harassing” – but a) it is a big deal if you are harassed REGARDLESS of intent and b) if it’s “not a big deal” than it equally should be “not a big deal” to ask someone to stop – these kinds of self-minimizing/excusing thoughts can be hard to realize you have and of course the more you are minimizing your own [justified] reaction, the harder it is to speak up when your boundaries are violated).

      Some phrases I keep handy:
      “Please stop that.”
      “That’s a rude thing to say.”
      “Don’t touch me.”
      “This is not a topic I am willing to discuss with you.”
      “Absolutely not.”
      “I cannot help you with that.”
      “I am not willing to be yelled at. [exit]”
      Bonus for parents of nonbinary or trans kids: “Is there a medical reason you need to know the details of my child’s genitalia?” VERY COLD STARE

  75. Delphine*

    My choice would be, in a straightforward/matter-of-fact tone, “You seem to be staring at my chest.” If he is doing it absently and if he is indeed straight-laced, then I expect his response will be embarrassment, which you can respond to with a light-hearted, “Don’t worry about, but don’t let it happen again.”

  76. I edit everything*

    Who here has seen the Steve Martin movie “Roxanne”? Martin’s character has a, let’s say generously proportioned nose, and a new colleague is about to meet him. He’s warned about it and warned not to stare, and there are all the phases of staring/not staring/being obvious about not staring. I imagine this guy stuck in that cycle.

    1. Jen*

      This made me laugh out loud. I’ve seen that movie… it has been a while, but I know the scene you are referring to.

      Now I am picturing the OP’s co-worker “don’t look at the boobies… oh crap I am looking again.. look away look away… can’t stop looking!”

    2. Anon Supervisor*

      “It’s hypnotic, isn’t it?”
      “It must be nice to wake up and smell the coffee…in Brazil.”
      “Whoo, I’d hate to see the grindstone.”

      I love that movie.

  77. Jen*

    When I was just starting out I had a boss who did this to me constantly. It was soooo obvious and didn’t matter what I was wearing. I started calling him out using the “is something on my shit” or “did I lose a button?” or “this floral pattern is rather loud and distracting! hunh”. Whatever I could say to knock him out of his trance. So creepy and gross.

  78. Jaybeetee*

    I keep coming back to this one today. I think I’m working out something in my own mind about a pattern often seen in comment threads.

    Namely, usually “Schroedinger’s Austist” and “maybe he’s from another culture” explanations do annoy me, for the reasons they annoy many people: they seem to excuse poor behaviour, they reinforce unpleasant and often-untrue stereotypes about ND people, they’re low-key racist, and they seem to put more emotional labour on someone who is already having something done *to* them.

    But on this one… I’m noticing a lot of the “possibly awkward not creepy” comments appear to be coming from ND people themselves – not making eye contact, and not realizing for a moment that you’re staring inappropriately in some way (whether catching yourself looking at someone’s chest or making a weird face or whatever else), seems widely relatable to a group of people who sincerely *don’t* want to be creepy.

    And I suppose in this context, it’s easier to suggest because it *doesn’t* change the bottom line of the advice – that OP, through words or gestures, should tell him to stop. It’s not about expecting her to do anything different or extra – just information that might let her feel better about it all and possibly salvage a functioning working relationship with the guy.

    Anyway, I feel like I’ve spammed all over this thread and I feel a little guilty about that – I just find this interesting in a meta way, and wanted to unpick my own “why do I find the Schroedinger’s Autist explanation acceptable here?” thoughts.

    1. Mameshiba*

      Personally (as someone who is neurotypical) I find it really offensive to bring up “but maybe he just sucks at eye contact” in the context of staring at a woman’s breasts. Struggling with direct eye contact does not mean one must look at their breasts. We also know that this guy doesn’t stare at men’s chests. So jumping to “maybe he’s got a reason for staring at your chest!” seems irrelevant at worst (like people just wanted an excuse to talk about their pet topic) and dismissive at best.

      OP has already done plenty of speculation on his possible reasons and whether she is justified in being upset about this. Her partner who loves her even dismissed her concerns. At a certain point, commenters who want to speculate on all the possible reasons someone acts why they do should just go write fanfiction somewhere else, and save this space for actual advice for the letter writer. Especially when “maybe he’s ND” or “maybe he’s foreign” are so tropey I got bingo reading this thread.

    2. Quack Quack No*

      Since you’re very into metaphors you might want to check out the one Green Door laid out, about standing on someone’s foot.

  79. fort hiss*

    As a recovering neuroatypical boob-looker, I just find it agonizing to look people in the eyes the amount that you’re supposed to, so sometimes I space out and start looking at a fairly high up body part instead (one of which is boobs). That doesn’t make it okay, but for a long time I did’t even have a concept that people can see what my eyes are doing? I had to be taught “hey, you’re looking at the wrong place” explicitly before I could start correcting it. Sometimes people are genuinely confused and a bit weird. Give the guy ONE chance to shape up. I still appreciate the person who gently told me to work on my eye contact. (Didn’t do that though. Just got better at focusing on ears or the point behind heads)

  80. AngryOwl*

    The gymnastics here to give this guy an out are, as other commenters have said, exhausting.

    It doesn’t matter why he’s doing it. That’s irrelevant. The fact is it’s wrong, she’s totally validated in feeling creeped out/uncomfortable, and he needs to stop. That’s all that matters.

  81. CanRelate*

    Me and my sister have opposite body types, and this is often a huge problem for her and never for me, with my relatively flat chest. The less feminine I dress, the less gaze I receive, as I can turn invisible to these dudes and not even have to worry about it.

    This dude is not staring at his male coworkers chests to avoid eye contact, and probably isn’t even staring at other women who are more like me and he doesn’t find “distracting”. Its base level, simple objectification.

    Honestly, the sad part about this to me that OP has to make so many more choices about her outfits just to make sure that when this situation happens, She’s already in the right, and she’s still questioning herself. She should be choosing to wear iron clad bras because she prefers that level of support, or not showing cleavage because its just not her style. Its evidence enough, to me, that I can wear a V-neck and no one bats an eye because its basically the same profile as a man wearing a V neck, but so many women would need to second guess the choice.

    And just adding to the chorus, I also dont make eye contact with people very often, but I’m much more likely to look at the ground or my hands if I’m feeling nervous or shy. OPs husband, if you get this far, please have more sympathy for your wife being objectified than this one dudes lack of consideration. She’s planned her entire wardrobe to accommodate shitty society, and owes this guy absolutely nothing.

  82. Anon Supervisor*

    The majority of men do know better, they just don’t care or have never been called out on it.

  83. Jennifer*

    I feel your pain, OP. I’ve never spoken up about it. Just worn larger clothes and did things to make myself more invisible, going back to when I was a kid. It’s a real problem and it sucks that people downplay it either by giving men an out or women saying it never happens to them so it must not be a problem. It does happen. A lot. If it doesn’t happen at your workplace consider yourself lucky.

  84. SnappinTerrapin*

    Before I say my piece about wandering eyes, let me say up front that I understand why LW is uncomfortable, regardless of her coworker’s state of mind. I absolutely get it. I also agree that she has the right to speak up to protect herself from the actions that are making her uncomfortable.

    That applies EVEN IF coworker is totally innocent and has no intention of making her uncomfortable.

    Yes, it will embarrass him, even if he has no ill intent. He’ll get over it. I have.

    The situation I’m describing is unlikely to apply in this situation, since LW and CW are actively conversing, but I’ve had issues for decades about letting my mind wander and being oblivious to who or what might be in my “line of sight.” Sometimes that leads to embarrassment, but that’s part of life. I’d rather be embarrassed over accidentally offending someone than for her to be afraid to speak up so I can apologize and look elsewhere.

    I’m recalling an embarrassing situation from high school, nearly 50 years back. I was in the lunch line and “zoned out.” If you’d thrown a bag over my head and gotten my attention, I probably couldn’t have told you who was in front of me. I don’t know whether my mind was on chess, history, math, literature, TV or sports, but my mind had left the campus, leaving my body in the lunch line, staring straight ahead.

    I was jolted back to reality when a guy demanded to know why I was staring at his girlfriend.

    I blinked, shook my head, (probably blushed) and stammered an apology.

    I probably would’ve been even more embarrassed if she had said something.

    The takeaway, though, is that even though I wasn’t really looking at (or aware of) her, she was uncomfortable, and it was reasonable for her to be uncomfortable. I was embarrassed to (even inadvertently) putting her in that situation, and my apology was sincere. Speaking up is the right thing for LW to do, and apologizing and correcting is the right thing for CW to do.

  85. mountainshadows299*

    I’m with you in solidarity, OP. I’m also generously proportioned, in my 30s, and I’ve basically experienced at least one guy at almost every place I’ve worked who could NOT keep his eyes to himself. I’ve never called it out before and I’m surprised by the amount of people here telling you to do that, because it can be damaging to your own reputation if the person you are calling out is well-liked where you work (and you dare to be a woman who is fat or old or “not pretty enough” etc). I’m fat, so I pretty much always face skepticism if I say that someone is being sexually harassing to me, especially in minor ways. Everyone seems to want to make excuses for the guy. Though the above might not be your reason for not calling him out, I understand why you might be hesitant to call him out in a work setting.

  86. Quack Quack No*

    Discussions such as this can be so depressing. I suppose I should tell myself that it’s progress that they’re about equal amounts sympathy & encouragement and “what about THIS reason or THAT reason or the THIRD reason his actions are TOTALLY JUSTIFIED and you’re just TOO SENSITIVE” — the proportions used to be even worse. But every comment of the latter kind reminds me of how many people report sexual harassment every day only to be told, not least by those commenters and other well meaning but deeply incorrect people such as LW’s SO, that what they are enduring is excuseable and doesn’t matter and should just be silently endured.

    OP,. I send you strength.

  87. Beth*

    I’m late to this, but as a person in academia, I’d like to encourage you to be significantly more pointed than these suggestions. As on, take him aside and tell him something like, “I’ve noticed you looking at my breasts frequently. It’s not okay to do that in the workplace, and it’s making me very uncomfortable. Please keep your eyes on my face from now on.” Any of your other direct responses are also good. If he genuinely is clueless, cool, he might be embarrassed but he’ll learn important information. If he’s doing it on purpose, or thinking he’s getting away with being sneaky, he needs to know that this won’t fly.

    The reason I think this needs such direct action is that if he’s doing this to you, he’s almost definitely doing it to others as well. You sound like you’re well established in your workplace, and it sounds like you also have your boss’s support; if you want to push back against this, you have both the means and the knowledge to do that without much risk to yourself. Not everyone has that. I’m especially thinking about students here–I’m not sure what role he’s in, exactly, but even if he’s not in a teaching role, if you’re in academia, I’m willing to bet he comes into contact with students in some way or another. It’s way better for you to put a stop to this behavior than for him to think it’s okay for him to look like this at any large-chested woman who happens to have the misfortune to interact with him.

    1. happybat*

      I was a bit worried about students, too. I don’t think that OP is responsible for this person’s behaviour, but as an academic she has at least some responsibility for the welfare of students. And she now knows that this person is sometimes inappropriate around at least one woman. Even a non-teaching member of staff may encounter students (universities are full of them) and this is a much more difficult problem for a comparatively powerless person to have to solve. I think this is worth considering when deciding how firm, how explicit and how formal a response to make.

  88. CS*

    Maybe he thinks that you didn’t notice? Not that it matters.

    I, a straight and masculine presenting man, once gazed half a second too long at a younger female coworker’s chest for half a second too long as I was talking with her about work, and I noticed she noticed. Later during the day, I went to speak with her privately and apologized for “staring.” She immediately understood what I was referring to, accepted the apology, and we both never spoke about that again. I never stared at her like that again, and our work relationship did not become awkward or strained.

    That said, your scenario is that you’re on the receiving end, so I would suggest you just talk to him in private, and not interrupt him in the middle of conversation, to tell him that his eyes wander when speaking with you, and it is very distracting and disrespectful to you, although you know he means no disrespect. I suspect that’ll be enough for him to get the hint, but if it persists afterward, you might need to call that out, and interrupt a conversation if necessary, or involve a manager in that conversation.

    And yeah, I am from a “developing country” and I’ve worked in the US for years, so from a cultural and communication standpoint, I wouldn’t be offended if I were confronted like that, and neither should he.

    On a separate but related note, I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of staring at my crouch (yes, I am well endowed) by a female subordinate and a female boss. But that’s another story.

      1. Seriously?*

        Way un-f***ing-necessary. It happens. Has happened to me. Repeatedly. By the same person. And it’s exactly this type of response that makes it difficult to seek guidance.

        1. Anonymous4*

          It happens that you repeatedly post remarks boasting about your package? And you’re complaining that Rainy’s comment makes it difficult to seek guidance? Okay, let me help you:

          Don’t post about your genitalia — NOBODY’S INTERESTED, okay? We don’t want to know about your privates, and we sure did not want to know about C’s privates.
          Although C sure did want to tell us . . . which is creepy.

  89. raida7*

    Because this is just how men are, and the poor guy doesn’t know any better, so putting him on the spot would cause eternal animosity between us that would make my life a worse kind of hell.

    How does he know that? Hmmmm?

    Personally I would be more likely to conclude, without every having met the man, that the guy doesn’t mean to and his gaze is longer than most guys’ which would be almost a bounce of the eyes like talking-talking-talking-boobs-talking-talking-talking.
    The fact that he is more directly looking means in your position I’d wave my hand in front of my boobs when he does it. He’ll realise, if he doesn’t know already, that you *do* see him looking.
    A lot of guys think – genuinely – that nobody sees them look.

    Also it’ll be a clear “hey” signal, plus it’s interfering with the view, and a flat hand is a blocking symbol. All this combined, I think, would be clearly showing him you can see his eyeline, you are ruining the view, you are snapping him out of it, and you are actively doing so.
    And the other guys will notice too and should confirm for you that they do not take a solid second to do a short stare at your boobs.

  90. Gnome*

    I would be tempted to say, “You know in all the years I’ve had them, they’ve never fallen off, so you don’t need to keep checking that they’re still there.”

  91. Biscuits*

    Ugh, this is so frustrating. Men from every part of the globe should be aware that this is not ok! I’m amazed at how many men excuse themselves and others with “This is just how men are” and other nonsense. I would raise the issue are matter-of-factly as possible by saying: “I enjoy working with you, but it would make communication easier when you me in the eyes when we talk and not at the rest of my body. It is giving the wrong impression and I’m sure that is not your intention.” Op, I hope you stand up for yourself (Also to your partner! He may be wonderful but honestly what century did his ideas about men and women arrive from?). All the best to you, OP!

Comments are closed.