Why do we stare?
Humans are, by nature, curious creatures. We like to look at novel things. Anything in our environment that is out of the ordinary is eye-catching. This is why people like going to cinemas and circuses- to see strange and unusual stuff.
“Trust me. The movie is one of a kind. You haven’t seen anything like it.”
Hearing that fills us with excitement and anticipation. We can’t wait to see it.
Novelty and beauty go hand in hand. What’s novel is usually what’s beautiful, although there is more to beauty than novelty. Beauty is pleasing to the eyes. So, our eyes are easily drawn to what’s beautiful.
Also, beauty is rare, which makes it valuable. And people like looking at valuable things. This is why when people go to a showroom to check out a vehicle they want to purchase, they can’t take their eyes off more expensive and beautiful vehicles that are out of their budget.
Beautiful women are bound to get attention
I mean, it’s common sense. It’s part of the whole mating game. Beautiful women signal health, youthfulness, and good genes, which make them valuable potential mates for men. So, men are wired to notice them.
Not just men, women notice beautiful women too. Not just because they’re drawn to beauty, but also for competitive reasons.
If there’s a sports car on the road, both men and women will turn their heads to look at it.
When you notice a sports car, you check its doors, windshield, exhaust pipe, tires, and interiors. In Psychology, what you’re doing is called local processing. Local processing is when we break down something into its parts and look at the parts.1
The same thing happens with women. When men and women stare at women, they engage in local processing. They’ll look at her face, hair, legs, and curves. This is how the woman getting stared at is ‘objectified’.2
The woman being stared at feels like an object. She feels like a sports car you’re checking out. In her mind, this dehumanizes her. She feels uncomfortable and disrespected. She wants to be seen as a human. She wants to be seen as something more than a collection of body parts.
Men are objectified too
Men are also objectified but don’t seem to take it negatively. For example, a man may notice a muscular man and say, “Look at the arms on that guy!”. If the muscular man overhears it, he’ll take it as a compliment and feel good.
Why do women take objectification more seriously and negatively than men?
It’s because there’s a lot of pressure on women to be beautiful. The bulk of a woman’s value as a potential partner lies in being beautiful. So, when you’re judging a woman’s beauty, it makes her self-conscious. Behind accusations of objectification, there’s a fear of judgment.
Men, in contrast, can get away with not being physically attractive. Their value as potential mates is more diversified. A man with a great personality or one who’s successful can be a better mate than a muscular man lacking these qualities.
Staring at women makes men look bad
Part of having good social skills is not making other people uncomfortable. If being stared at makes women uncomfortable, than decent human beings should avoid doing it.
Staring not only has adverse effects on women, but it also harms the image of the man doing it.
Women are masters of non-verbal communication and can easily figure out intent from a stare. So, when you give her that ‘dirty look’, she knows exactly what’s on your mind.
If you’re a man, staring at women makes you come across as a low-value man.
Think about it: Who’s going to look more at a sports car?
The sports car owner or people who can’t afford a sports car?
When, as a man, you keep staring at a woman, you give the impression that you’re looking at something that is out of your reach. You’re like:
“I can’t have this woman. Let me just satiate myself by looking at her as much as I can.”
Who hangs posters of celebrities in their room and drools over them? The fans. Not other celebrities. Because other celebrities know they’re just as valuable.
Keep social context in mind
Sometimes staring can be okay and can be used to indicate interest in a potential partner. But it all depends on the social context. Where are you? Is it a party? Is it a professional setting? Who are you staring at?
If you want to communicate interest via staring, you must do it in the appropriate social context and in a non-obvious manner. Most importantly, you have to look at her reactions.
If you stare and smile at her, but she doesn’t reciprocate, she isn’t interested. If you keep staring and smiling at her without any positive reaction from her, you’ll look like a creep.
There are other ways of communicating interest. You could find a way to introduce yourself to her, for instance.
When you’re talking to a woman, you can look at her more. You’re engaging with her. It makes sense within the social context to look at her more.
But when you stare at her from across the room, creepiness sets in. The more the distance between you and the woman, the less you should stare.
Balancing making and avoiding eye contact
I think making eye contact with strangers is unnecessary unless you’re interacting with them. People, not just women, feel like you’ve invaded their space if you look at them too much when you have no business looking at them.
However, when you’re engaging with someone, be it a stranger or someone you know, they deserve a healthy amount of eye contact from you.
- Gasper, K., & Clore, G. L. (2002). Attending to the big picture: Mood and global versus local processing of visual information. Psychological science, 13(1), 34-40.
- Gervais, S. J., Vescio, T. K., Förster, J., Maass, A., & Suitner, C. (2012). Seeing women as objects: The sexual body part recognition bias. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42(6), 743-753.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve published one book and authored 400+ articles on this blog (started in 2014) that have garnered over 4.5 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.