Quoted: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson on staring

The first element in the staring process is for the staree to develop a keen sense of being scrutinized. This anticipation and preparedness arms the staree with the proper relational tools to manage expected staring encounters with great effectiveness. The second element in this process is to decide how to oversee the dynamics of the stare itself when it inevitably comes one’s way. If one looks directly at starers, it will only confuse or embarrass them. The staree must assess the precise attitude of the starer, measuring intentions and attitudes so as to respond in the most effective way. Facilitating your starers’ maintenance of face means relieving them of anxiety, understanding their motivations, and working with them to overcome their limited understanding of human variation and their social awkwardness at facing it. The third element is literally manipulating the eyes of the starer. One evaluates when to turn away, stare back, or further extend the stare. Sometimes it is best to allow the staring to go on in order for the starer to get a good look. Another procedure is to use eye contact and body language to terminate the stare as soon as possible, although this risks being interpreted as hostile. Another option is to redirect the stare. For example, some starees report using their own eyes to guide the starer’s immobilized eyes away from the part of their body that has captured the gaze, subtly rescuing the hapless viewer from the embarrassment of the stuck stare and restoring the ritual of casual face-to-face encounters. Finally, the staree can and often must enlist conversation to direct the staring process. Staring has an inherent narrative component that the staree must always address in some way.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson on page 180 of “Ways of Staring” Journal of Visual Culture 5.2 (2006): 173-192.

I so like this redirecting of power in the staring relationship. Do go read the whole article if you can. Also, some of you might be interested in a video I posted on Feministe recently in which Garland-Thomson (a feminist disability scholar!) talks about her work around staring.

One thought on “Quoted: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson on staring

  1. Conversation is the best, though if I’m going to stare at someone, I might start the conversation. (It’s usually “Do I know you from somewhere?” or something like that. Terrible with faces, but I meet and talk to so many people on a relatively small campus…)

    Unfortunately, I’m not so good at confronting starers – what if I’m just being a paranoid, egotistical ugly girl? Why would they look at me, when there are other things to do?

    I stared at a Muslimah in a hijab a couple weeks ago until I worked up the nerve to ask her… how she kept it so white. (I was hoping for a non-bleach answer.)

    Staring is creepy no matter who does it, but when power comes into play – a man staring at a woman, a TAB staring at PW(visible)D… it just gets weird and the staree is afraid of confronting of them. The woman may be the boss, or superior to the man in some way, but there’s still a “don’t piss him off” mentality.

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