We all do this, right? Give someone the once over, the double take? You’re walking around town and you see someone who is a bit of alright and you do the ol’ double take; risk whiplash injury just to feast on a cat-like walk or breasts that appear to be full of helium or, if you are of the other persuasion, visually nail a pert bottom or a tight 6-pack to the mast of your imagination for the rest of the day.
There is no crime in looking. We all do it – both male and female. Neither my wife and I believe in thought crimes. An instinctive look at “a looker” is fine. It’s the acting on it that is morally reprehensible. But I’m not here to talk about extra-marital naughtiness (no, I’m saving that for my autobiography... Joke. It would a single page document, totally blank, ‘cos as Hall & Oates once memorably sang: I can’t go for that, no-o, no can do).
So I’m walking past a building that has just had some renovation work done on it. And the scaffolding team are all over it like the spiders on my bathroom wall taking down their magnificent erection of scaff poles and walk boards. And on the other side of the road a lovely leggy brunette walks by. She looks about 18. She has a canvas bag draped over her shoulder. I take one look at her and think grumpily to myself, “student,” which tells you where my headspace was on that day, and I carry on walking.
I can’t help noticing, however, the sudden very pregnant hiatus in the endeavours of the scaff team. It’s like some villain from Doctor Who has flicked a switch and the secret aliens they’ve been hosting inside their beer-ballooned bodies have suddenly become active and, as one, have taken over their minds. The Midwich Cuckolds are alive, well and drooling over the plaster crapped surface of their flatbed truck. One of them has a scaff pole down the front of his trousers so big it isn’t going to be taken down any time soon, I can tell you.
And I think to myself: poor girl. Because she knows she’s being eyeballed. There’s a sudden awkwardness to her gait that wasn’t there before. A nervous stiffness to her stride. She is shrivelling, red-faced, beneath the look these bozos are giving her en masse.
Because this is no Dusty Springfield Look Of Love... this is a Sir Les Patterson look of pure lust.
And I kind of got the idea that it didn’t matter that, really, truthfully, this girl was a bit of a plain Jane. She was OK but not a looker. Pretty – but normal pretty. The kind of girl who I hope will meet a guy who’ll fall in love with her properly and for herself and not just for her external prettiness. Not a supermodel whose looks ultimately will be her undoing as she ends up with some shallow third division footballer dickhead. An aesthetic benchmarking of her looks didn’t come into it. To the guys on their scaffold tower she was female. She was female and showing a bit of leg. She was sexual entertainment. She was fair game for a going over in the same way that the well bazooka’d lass on the 3rd page of their daily tabloid was there purely for their hormonal amusement. These guys must surely spend their days lurching from one instance of testicular quickening to the next.
But – and this is where I felt uncomfortable – is this how I appear when I take a gander at a lovely little lady walking by? Because, somewhere in the back of my tiny little mind, I assume I look at a passing vision of beauty in the same way I’d look at a vision of beauty in an art gallery. Yes, it is an objectifying look but in this instance isn’t that better than the overly personal leery looks that these builders were dishing out? Or is there no difference between our looks at all?
Because I have no idea what I look like when I look at someone. Do any of us?
Now I know I’m fastening onto the dirty male gaze here but, let’s be honest about this, women look too. And I have seen some women look at a man the same way these guys were looking at this poor girl. And it is just as ugly. The intent behind it is just wrong.
So now I’m wondering: is it always wrong to look? Or are some looks more wrong than others? What makes them more wrong? Are there, after all, thought crimes that some people should be duly admonished for?
What do you think?