Yes, You Can Look

toddler-655541_1920Lately I’ve had numerous male friends—guys I didn’t think had an issue with sexual harassment and assault, or even frankly with discrimination, guys who for years had truly seemed to “get it”—whine and say something to the effect of: now I can’t even LOOK at women. Everyone looks! I know you do too—don’t try to deny it—but it’s not safe for me to do that any more. Much hand-wringing and self-pity followed along with a hefty dose of complaining.

The first time it happened, I thought my friend was joking. When I realized he wasn’t, I did my best not to roll my eyes and say, boo hoo, at least you get paid more to do the same job as that woman at whom you can no longer leer. What I did say, after noting that something lay buried beneath the hand-wringing and whining, was this: do we really need to have this conversation?

I mean, really, is this necessary? For you, of all men?

And instantly I realized that we did, because that buried thing, that unformed, unintelligible, and unasked question, needed to be answered. These men weren’t the major offenders, or even the minor ones, and yet, they were still struggling with where to draw the line in this new post-Harvey Weinstein world we now find ourselves in.

In essence, they were asking for clarification, and I, as a woman they trusted, needed to provide it.


In the moment, I simply went with my gut. I said, yes, you can look. Women like you to look—or at least many of us do. Look and make a compliment if you want, but keep it professional. If you wouldn’t say it to your mother or your sister, don’t go there. And don’t expect anything in return other than a simple thank you. You know, the way your mom would respond if you said you liked her new haircut. Or outfit. Or shoes.

If you are looking in a way that makes a woman uncomfortable, however, that’s definitely not okay. Anything you would call checking her out, leering, or plain old staring is off limits. As is stalking, standing too close, kissing, or grabbing. Any body part, even an arm. But especially not in the so-called “private zones,” our president’s comments notwithstanding. Treat her as an equal, a human being worthy of your respect and you’ll be fine.

And absolutely no display of your junk at work for any reason. They all said, well duh, and looked at me like I was crazy. Which made me inordinately happy because we now all know you can’t take it for granted that a male coworker won’t just whip it out at a moments notice.

I explained that penile display was far, far worse than any type of looking, so I felt obligated to make that point crystal clear. Just in case they, umm, ever felt the urge to share.

Oh, and do me a favor, please, I said. When you see another guy do anything unacceptable, don’t laugh it off, call it “locker room talk.” Don’t look the other way. Don’t make excuses. Tell him to stop. Call him out on his poor behavior. Because that’s the only way this boy’s club mentality is going to end.

You have to do that for me because I can’t as a woman, and yes, it will be uncomfortable at first. Just like it was uncomfortable at times for me as the only female attorney at my first law firm. But things will get easier for all of us if you do. Does that make sense?

One friend asked if I was sure he could still look. I said I was pretty certain no one would gouge his eyes out for taking in his surroundings. He just needed to be, well, discrete. He smiled as if this was the best news he’d had all month. Perhaps it was. My other male friends simply nodded and we switched to other subjects.

I don’t know if my mini tutorial will make a difference, but wouldn’t it be glorious if it did?


Feel free to share this post with the men in your life. It can’t hurt, and if nothing else, you won’t have to listen to any annoying whining about losing the right to look.

Until next time,

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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