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Need Your #Opinion on ‘Male Gaze’! #amwriting #thoughts

The protagonist of my story is an Indian American woman, who has moved to New Delhi at the age of 27.

Having lived in New Delhi myself, and having spoken to others who have lived there, I’ve found that the threat of the male gaze is very disconcerting to women on Delhi’s streets. This video addresses this very real problem women face in India.

Now, in my novel, the protagonist faces it too, as does her friend who is Indian.
(I’ve witnessed it to an extent in Malaysia, and in Singapore, I’ve seen this from Indian and Arab men.)

In no way do I mean to generalize this situation. I know that the majority of men would not stare at a woman so she begins to feel uncomfortable– but having experienced it firsthand (despite rigorous efforts at ‘covering up’), I can’t deny that there are some men who would. I also know of women to whom this gaze is welcome, and they specifically dress up for it, and imho that’s their business, and perfectly fine with me.

The reason I’m asking your opinion: I need my protagonist to dwell on this situation– as it is related to the core conflict in this work, and if possible, to compare her experiences in the US where she has grown up (Florida, to be precise) to that in India.

Also, I’d like to know if social class plays into this– I have seen Indian men from an underprivileged background staring at women from a more privileged class–annoying the latter no end. Again I’m not discussing what’s fair, just need an input on what is.

I’ve never been to the US, so I’m not sure how the two situations would compare.

Since a lot of the audience of this blog is from the States, UK and Europe  I’d like to ask you– in your opinion,
does this phenomenon of what is commonly known as ‘leching’ in India, exist in the West? I would further like opinions from Indian women living in the West, and from men anywhere, because I also have a male protagonist, whose voice is equally important in the book.

Please drop a line in the comments– and thanks in advance for any light you can throw on the subject. If you’d rather give your opinion in private, please feel free to mail me at atozstories at gmail dot com, and thanks again for your time should you choose to do so.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Liz says:

    I'd like to add one more type of gaze to this discussion that may or may not be useful for your consideration of 'leching'. It's the unspoken dialogue between a man and a woman who don't know each other, that occurs in the presence of others. I liken it to the secret code of hankerchiefs (and their different colours) in the gay scene. There is no change in expression, the face remains serious, but eye contact is made and held for a noticeable few seconds. Then after a break in the gaze it occurs again with both parties intentionally participating. Then one party finds an excuse to approach the other. This is the unspoken "hook up" conversation that some people (sex addicts) cannot NOT have with any willing party, and that a lot more people have done in younger more promiscuous days. It's not leching, as I define it, because there isn't that starting at body parts, but it is purely sexual. I know, from experience, that only a few men do this in any crowd, and many men are oblivious to it. I would imagine that more women are equally oblivious. But, reading your post, I do wonder whether that gaze makes some women uncomfortable. I know that if I get a look like that, I know exactly what it means, and most of the time if I look away and don't look back in short order, than the gazer moves on. If I initiate the look, I also know instinctively if the other party knows what I'm doing or not. In other words, if both people understand the gaze (code), they know how to respond based on their intentions, but if one party doesn't understand the gaze (code), it could lead to confusion.

  • suyogketkar says:

    Kindly add a disclaimer to the comment: I do not intend to demean anyone/anything. Also, as a reader, I am providing a summarized objective opinion covering both ends of the story. Kindly use the comments, for only the sake of covering all perspectives so that the story becomes/looks complete.

  • suyogketkar says:

    Thank you, Damyanti, for bringing a socially active, and personally annoying topic. From what I have noticed, most men in my surrounding have an opinion, which is largely based on the dressing style of women. And, there are enough examples around that show that many women liked being leered. So, both opinions are correct. But I strongly believe that if something needs to be taught, it must be taught to both the ends of the string. Where men (as boys) need to be taught to be “men”, women (some of them) too need to be taught to define (and confine) their grace. What matters is, we must know how to draw the thin line that separates men from wolves, and women from "something else"!

  • carfour says:

    Your problem interests me immensely because I am writing a novel where a Canadian woman goes to India with her Indian boyfriend to visit his parents. Now, my protagonist is in her 40's so to be stared at is going to be for her very flattering because she feels that now that she is getting older no man seems to notice her. She'll love India for that. I think it might be interesting to have the "boyfriend" is she has one maybe jealous at the stares. I also think it would be interesting for you to address why "staring" is not seen as a compliment.

  • gaia mama says:

    yes I've experienced in this India. I am what others would consider white (though i'm middle eastern) and was raised in the US but also lived in Lebanon for two years. It's most extreme in India. we don't have this in the west very much, it's very rude. there's a tiny bit of it in the ghettos but it's blatant and more exaggerated, a sort of way of cat-calling (hey grrrlll) with the eyes, or used with it. this was a great video. bless

  • Laura W. says:

    Gah I had a long comment that got deleted. 🙁 Here goes again:

    My experience in America has been that men stare. I wouldn't call it unusual at all. However, the frequency and aggression of street harassment, stares, and catcalls is worse in an urban area. Even in my relatively small college city, it's worse than it was in my sub-rural hometown. Even there, it's not at all uncommon to see the male waiter/teacher/acquaintance/student/cashier/what-have-you staring at your chest, butt, legs, or even crotch while talking to you instead of looking at your face. Once you say something to them, they are usually embarrassed enough to stop. The problem with street harassment which makes it worse is that the guys you pass don't know you and can expect never to see you again, so they are protected by relative anonymity. You're also just another body on the street, which makes it easier to objectify you. They aren't trying to have a conversation or establish a working relationship even for the time it might take to bag your groceries. It's not happening in a home, work, school, or otherwise regulated environment. In America, once those restrictions are off the harassment and the stares get noticeably worse. In a bus or walking down the street, they act worse and their stares are more aggressive since they know they can just get off (pun intended) at the next stop without any consequences.

    If a woman is accompanied by a man, the catcalls and stares mysteriously disappear. Being with a group of women deflects some attention but not all. Walking alone has brought the most stares for me personally, although since I'm short many people peg me as a lot younger than I am, so it's not as bad as some of my friends have it. Weirdly, people have tended to stare at my hair more than any other part of my body. It's very bright blonde. Men have touched it as they walked quickly past, either ruffling the top of my head or running their fingers through my hair from behind.

    The culture in the South is also different, depending on where you go. Generally, it tends to be more conservative towards standards of women's dress and how people behave towards women in public. Some waiters will hand the man the bill expecting that he will pay it without the woman seeing it, or ask the woman if she would like to see the bill as well before her husband pays for it. They're also more likely to hold doors open for women, carry bags, and stuff like that. I've experienced different things in different states, though I'll confess I've never been to Florida. I've also mostly been with family members down there, so I've never had the opportunity to travel alone in a city and see whether the harassment is better, worse, or comparable.

    Here's a thought: your character may have experienced staring on a Florida beach, but shrugged it off because she figures it's normal since everyone is in bikinis and such. She may be shocked and offended to meet the same level of staring while wearing her normal clothes.

  • sonsothunder says:

    I am appalled! No self respecting southern-American man would ever be caught staring at a beautiful woman on the streets, or anywhere else for that matter. I …um , er, ah, .. um .. oh,, sorry.. guess I was a little mesmerized─staring @ your profile photograph.. .. just kidding..
    sort-of.. anyway, God Bless
    and as we say here in the states
    this time of year… Merry Christmas

  • Indians do not always stare because they are leering. Especially in rural India, people stare because they are interested and because they do not consider staring to be rude. However they will seldom smile at strangers and say Hello. So we will need to bring that perspective too.

  • David Matine says:

    This is good, you're bringing up a subject that most people would not even think to think about. That's what the arts are all about.
    My personal feeling on this is that staring is a part of the Indian culture, I say that because I find myself often catching people in the US who are clearly from India because of the traditional Indian dress and facial features, etc, staring at me as I walk down the street. I am a man and can assure you am not as attractive as most child-bearing-age women. So they're not staring because they want to have sex with me, then what are they staring at me for? I don't know but they do it.
    I will add that Latinos do the same thing – to be fair. And again, I don't know why they do it either, but I find it hard to believe they stare at me because they like my ass.

  • Very Interesting subject Damayanthi. The stare in the video is really irritating or more than that. This is a common sight in India. If you are looking at the Western Culture, they too have similar stare. after all they are male too. However, the stare sometime may be awe, liking beauty, or even surprise.
    It is nothing to do with the way female is dressed or anything like that, just the male nature.
    I have seen more disturbing glares in Cananda and Dubail. These guys just feel that irritating is their birth right.

    How about singapore.

  • This is something which is being discussed since the Columbus sailed. Men and Women, are the two wheels, bound to run together. Males (and females) feast their eyes on each other. Not intentionally, but naturally.
    No offence, can you tell me why the figure of female body is full of curves and elevations? No male has made it.
    Nature made it, to make the males' head turn. To attract one or several males at the same time.

    Now, your question abt East or West. I am in a business which requires travel and I have been in South and North American. Europe, Australia. Men, living among thousands of similar females, and men if not sexually starved, will stare at female for a while, that it. If a different female, with different scent, outfits comes males are gonna be forced by nature to look at. And it is applied on the males of Planet Earth.
    Indian society does not permit to be involved with any woman, males here supress their natural calls, but as soon as it finds an escape it eruptes.
    Matter is Hunger. Most Indian are, and most westerners aren't…
    It is society. Western society permits Men and Women do their acts to satisfied the hunger.
    Indian and Islamic culture do not permit it, thats make the men starved, and a starved man will look at what it satisfies.
    Its reality, bitter indeed.

  • Mark Murata says:

    I agree with Li's comments on what happens in America. The prolonged stare is unusual, and if caught, the man tends to stop.

    A study showed that when walking along a street, American men of all income levels (we don't have "classes") tend to look at women just as frequently. The well-dressed businessmen just dart their eyes briefly. The construction workers will take a long leer. But the frequency of looks is the same.

    There is also a racial component to the social differences. Young black men raised in the inner cities will tend to stare as long as they can at women they find attractive, until caught. This is not curiosity; it is definitely a lustful stare. People around them tend not to rebuke them for it, probably out of a sense of guilt over how black people have been treated in the past in this country.

    Women who wear head scarves tend to be stared at out of curiosity by other women, who are usually surreptitious enough to not get caught staring. People from small towns of either sexes may openly stare at people wearing head scarves, turbans,etc., because they are gawking at something so "foreign."

  • Joy says:

    I am an Indian, born and brought up in India, and I've lived in big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and smaller ones like Cochin, Gurgaon, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Chandigarh. As some have commented here, Indians don't consider staring as something "rude." In Rajasthan, I experienced open staring, from men and women alike. It's curiosity basically. But, of course there are the lewd gazers too!
    However, I have encountered more lecherous ogling in places like Delhi, Gurgaon etc. I hope I don't sound classist, but I have found that most of the 'leching' came from a particular class of people, and in certain areas of the city.
    But again this is not confined to one group or class.
    I live abroad now in South America. I have not found this kind of leching. Staring is considered rude and if one does look a little longer it is only because they're wondering where you come from…pure interest of another kind.
    Perhaps the culture difference and difference of social etiquette makes staring acceptable or unacceptable as the case may be. But, I can safely say I have found it more rampant in India than in some of the other countries like the US.

  • Not sure how useful my input will be, not being Indian myself, but I have been to India, lived for two months in Bangalore, and did experience this "leching" you speak of. Now, I'm not American, I'm Mexican, and in Mexico, as in most Latin American countries, men ogling women, catcalling, and all sorts of vulgar passive-aggressive offenses are too common. We learn to ignore it, look the other way; we're taught that responding to it only encourages the offender, and in my experience this is often true–although it hasn't stopped me from lashing back every now and then, just because in 40 years of life and in spite of my parents' strict upbringing, I haven't learned to keep my mouth shut. So getting ogled in Bangalore wasn't a shock, just a surprise–because I didn't expect it, and also because it's somewhat different than what I've experienced in other parts of the world. Someone mentioned above that in the West we're taught that staring is rude, and that's true for Mexico as well. Here "ogling" rarely involves eye contact; men will look at your body but tend to avoid your face (which makes it all the more annoying, but that's a subject for another discussion). In India, I found the eye contact disconcerting. Aggressive. Insulting in a way that the worst Western ogling never made me feel. The Indian style made me feel judged, put on display and found lacking. My own insecurities rearing their ugly heads, no doubt, but there you have it. I imagine that if your protag grew up in FL, she'll probably be familiar with the Latin-style ogling, because of the huge Latin population there. And yes, in Latin America it's definitely a class-related phenomenon. Higher-class men wouldn't dream of objectifying a woman that way. Lower classes, perhaps in a subconscious venting of social injustice, tend to be more prone to "lowering" others to feel superior. Hope some of this helps!

  • i am presuming that though you are of Indian origin, you have not been brought up in India – my take is as follows – staring is uncomfortable but not 'rude' in india – everyone stares here – when I a senior walk in the park, dressed as someone who has been to the west, in attire that is western, youth stare at me – naturally, not being a teenage girl, I need not blush or take offence ( haha) – it is simply because they wish to see what is different in me from them which they can learn from – it is attraction but naturally not of the sexual kind – SO staring in India does not necessarily mean desire and rudeness but simple curiosity – no one ever told them not to stare because it is rude – stare means taking in everything about the person you are looking at so you have a full picture – but occasionally a stare can turn nasty with desire too as there is no restriction against it in our culture at the basic level – hope that makes the position a little clearer.

  • Li says:

    In America, we are brought up from childhood that "staring is rude". So most people, male or female, don't do it openly. And I think that since we are raised amid ads, TV, movies etc. which expose us to nudity and provocative dress, it has ceased to be "provocative" and usually doesn't cause much of a stir, (unless you show up to work dressed inappropriately or something). Guys will occasionally stare, especially if they think you're attractive; but if you catch them, they will do one of two things. Either turn away in embarrassment, especially if you scowl or deliberately look away, or smile and come over to you to say "hi" or start a conversation.
    What has always been more uncomfortable for me are men who are vocal and whistle or shout rude things at women. I find that far more annoying and sometimes even intimidating. Usually it's groups of guys, and I suppose they are competing or trying to impress each other.
    Last, having worked among US teenagers the last few years, I find that many girls will handle being stared at or whistled at with rude gestures or comments of their own. Equality… 🙂

  • Its a most common experience in India Damayanti..and being born and brought up in Kolkata (Calcutta) I've observed that males here like to ogle at their female counterparts…no matter how you dress up. Males in cities like Mumbai,Ahmedabad ( have resided in these two also) somehow lack this ''quality''.In Boston I've observed male eyes don't actually pierce you..the look is just casual ( and sometimes inquisitive when I put on a saree ).

  • Damyanti, I think it exists every where. I am based in the Middle East, and quite often see this on the road, in the Metro. As you rightly put it, you have two kinds of people, one who like it and dress up for the moment, and the others, no matter what, get people who stare at them…. A bulk of the lechers, have seen are the worker class, who do not interact with women, so any woman is an object for them, irrespective of how they are dressed. Some leech, probably because they are surprised to see a woman dressed the way she is (I am not promoting this, but at times, am too stunned when you see a lady in the manner in which she dresses).. But there is an equal if not less, who "look" at a lady, simply because she looks classy and chic. Those are the people who admire beauty, and it may have nothing to do with looks. It could be simply some one who is dressed wonderfully, and looks absolutely Royal or classy…. Sorry for the long one 🙂

  • Damyanti says:

    DG– thankyou for your comment. When you talk about cultural differences, do you mean folks from different cultures look at women differently?

  • D.G. Hudson says:

    I think it's rude to stare no matter what the culture or class. Each of us is entitled to our privacy. Sometimes the beauty of a person amazes us and it's hard not to look. But leching (sounds more like leering) isn't admiration, it's viewing another as an object, not as a person. Women and men in the west do stare if they like what they see, but they try to be more circumspect about it. . .most of the time.

    When I moved to Canada, I noticed the cultural differences more in regard to women, as we have many cultures here in Vancouver. Good luck with your writing and Happy Holidays.

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