Public Practices of “Staring”

13 Mar
EXHIBIT A:  "The typical American guy staring at a woman."

EXHIBIT A: “The typical American guy staring at a woman.”

What do I mean by “public practices of staring?”

Ok, obviously there are oodles of cultural differences between western culture (i.e., U.S. culture) and Middle Eastern culture (i.e., Jordan).  Since I do not have sufficient experience in western cultures other than in the U.S. nor in Middle Eastern cultures other than in Jordan, I am now posting Disclaimer #1 — [The thoughts and feelings posted here are my own based on my own experiences.  If you have lived in both of these places AS A WESTERN WOMAN, then I invite you to get your own blog and write.  They’re free at]

The one difference I’d like to focus on in this post is “staring.”  Now, in both the U.S. and in Jordan we have huge numbers of men who are interested in women and vice versa.  Sexual interest is a normal, very natural part of life.  From a primitive stand point, in order to get a mate, you do have to search the crowd and pick one out.  Most people have eyes; and most of those eyes can see, so it is natural to look around and observe one’s environment.  Safety is also part of why people stare/look around.

However, public practices of staring in the U.S. generally operate within a set of unspoken/unwritten rules.  Even the most testosterone-pent-up males in the U.S. when in public know and follow those rules.  Jordan’s rules are different than those in the U.S.

What “unwritten” rules regarding public practices of staring exist in the U.S.?

I think that the following practices go for men and women:

  1. Don’t stare at people you don’t know.  Period.
  2. Don’t stare at people you do know — unless there is some sort of mutually acknowledged communication going on between you (i.e., joking or checking to see if your friend has mustard stuck in his beard).
  3. Don’t stare at people especially if they see you looking at them.
  4. If you are staring at someone and he/she notices that you’re doing so, quickly look away and pretend like you were just looking around.
  5. If you are staring at someone, he/she will assume:  (a) that you are creepy, (b) that you have severe social problems, or (c) that you are high.
  6. This last rule is goes for women in the U.S. (and I’m not talking about women who have gone to night clubs to seek out attention from men that they don’t know):  If a woman who is alone in public sees a man staring at her for long periods of time and tries to make it clear that she does not want the attention (i.e., by leaving, turning around, acting annoyed, etc.) but the man continues to stare, she is likely to:  (a) call her husband/boyfriend and report the gawker, (b) contact the police if she is sufficiently frightened, and/or (c) mace the guy.

These are the “unwritten” rules regarding public practices of staring that I gather from my experience in Jordan.  Disclaimer #2 — [Less than 33% of the male population in Jordan practices the habits of staring below, but it’s that third of the population that has the power to drive me out of my mind sometimes!]

  1. For men & women:  it’s ok to stare to stare at people in the car next to you in traffic because you’ll both drive off from each other in a few minutes and probably never see them again.
  2. For men, it’s ok to stare at a woman who is sitting at the table next to him in a restaurant — even if the woman is sitting with her husband/male companion.  (A couple of weeks ago, we had a falling out in a restaurant with a shab (young Arab guy) who was gawking at my American friend from a distance of 18 inches away.  She was sitting with me, Phillip, and one of our English students who is a respected shiekh.  The shiekh said to the young guy, “What?  You don’t have any sisters?”  And someone finally escorted the little testosterone-pent-up idiot out of the restaurant.)
  3. For men, it’s ok to blatantly stare at a woman (i.e., turning his head 180 degrees in order to follow the woman as she walks and even directing his male companions to do the same.)  See goat picture below.
EXHIBIT B:  "The typical Arab guy(s) staring at a woman -- and this is usually while she's facing them, not while she's walking away with her back turned."(Note:  I know these are Saudi guys, but I couldn't find a photo of Jordanian guys on Google; I opted not to try to go out and take my own photo although it would've been more authentic.)

EXHIBIT B: “The typical Arab guy(s) staring at a woman — and this is usually while she’s facing them, not while she’s walking away with her back turned.”
(Note: I know these are Saudi guys, but I couldn’t find a photo of Jordanian guys on Google; I opted not to try to go out and take my own photo although it would’ve been more authentic.)

EXHIBIT C:  "What I think about when I see Exhibits A and B."

EXHIBIT C: “What I think about when I see Exhibits A and B.”

Let’s talk about women’s clothing — specifically what I wear from day to day. 

(I’ll do another post just on clothing sometime.)

I’ve always been a pretty conservative dresser, even for American standards.  Before I came to Jordan, I went shopping for even more conservative clothes, knowing that I wouldn’t want to wear skirts above the knee here or sleeveless shirts.  I have to say that I ended up not wearing many of the clothes that I originally bought for Jordan though.  Why?  Because I got here and realized that most women whether they wear hijab (the headscarf for Muslim women which usually goes along with shirts that cover down to the wrists, pants/skirts that go down to the ankles, and a longer shirt/coat that further conceals the hips and bottom) or not tend to cover more and wear loser clothes than American women.

The longer I’ve been here, the more I tend to dress modestly by Jordanian standards.  My job as the director of an English program puts me in front of people (men and women) all day long.  I want to give a good impression on my company as well as myself, so I have become more conscious of these things as them months have passed.

  • Nothing low-cut.
  • Long, lose pants.
  • Skirts to the floor or leggings with skirts that come up to mid-calf.
  • Wearing my tanktops/cammys backwards because the backline is higher than the neckline.
  • Even tying or pinning a large scarf around my neck to drape over my front if I feel that my shirt/sweater is “tighter” than it should be.

Even with these efforts to dress more culturally appropriately, I still receive unwanted public attention — especially if I’m out by myself walking around.  A construction worker will whistle at me.  Guys will do the 180-degree neck turn and “follow” with their eyes as I pass by.  I try to avoid groups of men by crossing to the other side of the street when possible, but let’s face it.  Jordan just ain’t that big and there are 2.5 million folks here — about half of which are males.

How do I deal with it?

haha!  Some days I do a better job than others.  Of course, I don’t want this type of attention — not from American men or from men anywhere else.  I am married and very happy with the attention my husband gives me.  If I were younger and single, this might be a slightly different story, but the overt and obtrusive staring from strangers (especially the old ones, eww!) is not the way to win a western girl’s heart.

I have my game gear & my game face.  When I go places alone, I wear my huge dark shades that cover 40% of my face.  I put in my earphones, whether I’m listening to music or not.  I walk briskly and determinedly.  And I try to look like I’m pissed off at the world when I pass by a group of guys.  One American girl I know referred to this technique as “throwing up the ice wall.”  I like that.  It definitely communicates that I’m not interested.  I’ve seen this from plenty of Jordanian women (young & old), too.

I also vent to my husband or other friends.

For the most part, the public practices of staring that I experience here do not impede daily life.  They’re just one of those cultural differences that one expects, but can still be frustrating.  I hear that places like Egypt are much, much more severe for western women.  So, I’m thankful that we chose Jordan for our 2-year Middle Eastern stint.  From what I hear and read (overly western-saturated places like the Gulf notwithstanding), Amman is one of the easier places for western women to adapt to.  I still highly recommend Jordan to all my American friends interested in visiting the Middle East.


One Response to “Public Practices of “Staring””

  1. Jeremy March 14, 2013 at 11:45 am #

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