Friday, October 29, 2010

Just Looking

Workmen leering at tasty looking womanWe 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?



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47 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

The crucial thing is the length of time spent ogling. Up to two seconds is OK, provided that your tongue remains in your mouth. Being a nerdy, four-eyed writer you might get away with three seconds.

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

As you rightly say Steve, everybody looks. But, there is a huge difference of looking with appreciation and looking with intimidation.

Poor lass, I do remember way back in my own youth, feeling so utterly embarrassed walking past building sites and bracing myself for the wolf whistle and cat calls.

Obviously now I'm wise, brave and confident enough to take it or give some back, no bugger looks twice.

Ah well.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: so you're saying I'm deserving of special dispensation? Cheers.

Very Bored in Catalunya: to be honest I think it's a woman's vulnerability which makes them look. If they see a strong attractive woman full of confidence it makes them feel inadequate and a little bit afraid... so they don't dare whistle. ;-)

Kelloggsville said...

It's a fine line between appreciation and leer. TBH as I get older I'm grateful for any acknowledgement. In sainsburys last week I remarked to daughter "blimey he's nice" as fit man walked past. She died on the spot as he had overheard me but he didn't look too offended. He too was 'grateful' age!

Steve said...

Kelloggsville: grateful age? Frankly, I've been that from the age of 15 onwards.

Nota Bene said...

Wear sunglasses, then no one can tell. Unless you walk into a lamp post. When wearing ordinary glasses don't forget that everyone will see the lascivious glance..I have been caught out on many an occasion...

rummuser said...

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder Steve! Look but don't distract. Otherwise, this can happen to the poor lady. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdbHo4pF_jY

lgsquirrel said...

The obvious solution is to pluck our eyes out. Problem solved....,no?

Steve said...

Nota Bene: ah.. that quick flash of sunlight off the lens... I know what you mean!

Rummuser: a good reason to wear a padded headguard at all times.

lgsquirrel: and then just rely on the sense of touch...? Hmm... I like your style.

Suzanne said...

Completely agree with Kelloggsville it's that difference between a look and a leer. A quick glance,a turn of the head is fine, but a leer followed by a grunt or a lewd remark is another thing altogether.
We might all think the same "phwoar!", but it's how you deliver the look, If you know what I mean.
Googly eyed, dribble etc - not a good look, ha ha. Great post.

Steve said...

Suzanne: no dribbling allowed? Hmm. Plainly I need to practise my "poker look" more often.

Janete Cabral said...

I am sure everyone likes a look of appreciation as long it does not turn into a prolonged stare. The whistling or any kind of vocals can be quite uncomfortable especially when you are young and can feel quite intimidated.

Culturally there can be quite a difference as well, I have noticed.

Good post :)

Steve said...

Janete: the length of time of the look seems to be the crucial thing... the quicker the better is the general concensus, which is a major problem for myopic astigmatists like me! ;-)

-eve- said...

Ooohhhhh....... this was really interesting. *thoughtful*
I think I'm pretty safe here though, 'cos an Australian friend visiting me here said that the last 'cute' guy she saw was two weeks ago, packing groceries in the basement of some forlorn shopping centre (one in 2 weeks - no wonder I don't find anything to look at!;-))

Put that way, it seems that one should gaze with respect? That might make everything ok...

Steve said...

Eve: "gaze with respect". I like that. Yes. There should be lessons at school to teach people how to do that!

libby said...

Everybody looks at some point. There are funny stages for a girl though......
as a schoolgirl looked at without knowing about it
as a schoolgirl looked at and hating it
as a teenager hating it
as a teenager loving it
as a young mum being invisible
as a middle aged mum of a young girl..the girl is looked at and you are ignored..slightly jealous
as the mum of a 19yr old you are really ignored and hate it when you see 'lads/men' on scaffold or in vans leering at young girls..not in a jealous way but in a motherly way...and the circle goes around and around....
If I were to get a look or a wolf whistle now I would assume the whistler was taking the mickey!!
But some older men are gorgeous....mmm ahem.

Steve said...

Libby: I know what you mean. If I get a whistle I am 100% sure it is a pisstake as I think it couldn't possibly be anything else. As for young girls now... I'm scared by how often I look at them and think "do your parents know you've left the house dressed like that?"

Wanderlust said...

As earlier commenters have noted, there is a difference between a look of appreciation and a leer -- a big difference.

I still remember walking to college past a construction site and feeling mortified as men whistled. It's an awful feeling.

Steve said...

Wanderlust: I wonder if the guys who leer actually take on board that their actions actually turn the object of their desires completely off? And would they stop doing it if they did?

Keith said...

Knowing my blog as you do, you know this is a subject always foremost in my mind. When you watch someone who, let's be honest, your find attractive, but disguise it to yourself as 'people-watching', or 'an artist's right' who exactly are you fooling ?

I will always admit I will chose one person to sketch over another because of my own personal predilections, and consciously try to override that, and draw whoever happens to be in front of me. But my eye is fickle, I might draw pleasure from the curve of a neck, or shape of a head, but who am I to say that isn't just as bad.

Gaze with respect, like that, put that on a t-shirt.

And, I have to say, if I sense someone feels uncomfortable being sketched I stop right away.

Old Cheeser said...

A very interesting topic for a post! Like you Steve I'm a married man and still guilty of looking at others...so is Gustavo...but we are honest and open with each other about fancying others and don't allow ourselves to become threatened by it. Not all partners would have that level of understanding! Personally I don't think there's anything wrong with "window shopping", although:
- it's HOW you do it - don't flaunt it in your partner's face!
- I am a gay man and the code of behaviour in gay relationships can be different.

Actually this wasn't quite the focus of your post was it? It was more centred on how long you should spend eying someone else up and how you should, erm, go about it...again an interesting point to consider. Well, I'd say there are different ways of approaching it (obviously!) One can give someone the eye discreetly without even being spotted...however if the object of one's scrutiny returns the gaze and appears interested then it might be alright...if not then it's intrustive and imposing yourself on someone when not wanted...basically the stuff that a lot of your fellow bloggers have been talking about!

Old Cheeser said...

And a bit more I wanted to add cos Blogger wouldn't let me put it all on one post...! Excuse the indulgent ramblings of moi!

I don't know if you've heard of a gay code of practice called "cruising"? It's basically a way of giving someone the "look" cos you fancy them and want to pick them up for sex, looking away, then looking back, all that kind of game playing (actually strictly speaking, the looking bit is just a part of "cruising" but you get the idea). I freely admit I have cruised people in the past and been cruised...where it's been most unwelcome is when people have done it to you who a) you don't fancy remotely b) don't respect the boundaries and carry on regardless, which leaves you feeling distinctly uncomfortable and violated. (Probably in the same way as the girl you write about in your post, after all this doesn't just restrict itself to gay men - although I think men as a whole are far more predatory and have that "hunter" instinct that makes them show their lusts more openly. Stereotypical or not this is very true of men!) Anyway I've been on the receiving end of "unwelcome looks" several times. I won't forget one such example that occurred in a swimming pool - a very sleazy, insiduous camp queen was strutting around the changing room and actually peered over my cubicle door to give me the once over!! I was infuriated and said to him: "Can't you be more subtle?" To which he replied: "Mmmm, subtle. I don't think I know the meaning of the word!" Obviously. Uuuuuggggh! So I guess we've all been victims at some point.

Anyway thanks for indulging my ramblings there but you've inspired me! Wish I'd thought of that as a subject for a post!

Steve said...

Keith: I think that's a good point there - acknowledging the other person's reaction; If they're unhappy, stop right away. If they're please... well, that's a feather in your cap!

OC: thank you for the feedback - it's really interesting to hear from someone who's seen both sides of it. I think you're right - there are clear boundaries and male, female, straight or gay, we know when we're pushing them and we know when we've crossed them. "Gaze with respect" could be a new movement!

Heather said...

ee you big old perv! lol. Nah, as others have said, there's a difference, a big difference. Sadly these days I only tend to get the 'what on earth does she look like' looks.

Steve said...

Heather: that's because you are living in a country where there are more reindeer than people and the people think it is still 1970. ;-)

Alienne said...

As others have said, a quick glance is fine; gawling and drooling is not a good thing. It does sod all for your street cred. And remember, the older you get the quicker the glance - or you will just look like a reeeelly sad dirty old man. And god knows, there are plenty of them around.

English Rider said...

Looking with appreciation is fine but should be accompanied by eye contact and a friendly, non-threatening smile. Then it can be called recognition and you are giving something in return.

missbehaving said...

In your scenario the girl has to actually walk past it, something that could take seconds or a minute right, so the discomfort is inescapable for the duration, and it is intimidating because in the builder scenario she is generally well out numbered.
Having a 'longish' glance at a hot man/woman in the street, the moment is so much more fleeting and also more ambiguous, ( 'was he/she just checking me out?). Everyone does it. Don't they?

Owen said...

My goodness Steve, if no one looked, the human race would have gone extinct millenia ago. We are programmed to seek mates... which is largely a visual process, before we get close enough to smell... Now, what was that you said about a "magnificent erection" ???
:-)

Steve said...

Alienne: you're right... and given the age people live to these days there are possibly more dirty old men than dirty young men...

English Rider: making it a reciprocal process evens the odds and the sense of power.

MissBehaving: yes, I think that sums it up nicely - the unfairness of the situation, who had the power, who was powerless. All these things make it wrong where a quick glance in the street as you walk past someone is a different ball game altogether.

Owen: the magnificent erection wasn't smelling too good, I have to say, not worthy mate material!

Previously (Very) Lost in France said...

Well, it's been a good few years since I had to suffer the particular sort of leer that is produced on a building site - to be honest, one or two would be quite refreshing these days! But I remember walking to work across Trafalgar Square and having to run the gauntlet of a bunch of drunk Scottish football fans. It was seriously intimidating, although I'm sure they thought is was just a bit of fun!

Steve said...

Previously (Very) Lost in France: the difference in perception is the most interesting thing about this. The people doing the leering rarely think they are leering; they often think they are paying the recipient a compliment and acting out a courtship ritual which they desperately hope will give them a good return. The fact that it never does never seems to register. Hope springs eternal, eh?

Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip said...

I'm with VeryBored. Looking is cool, so long as it doesn't turn into drooling and mental masturbation.

Steve said...

Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip: "mental masturbation"... that sums it up so well!

EmmaK said...

No its great to look I don't even mind wolf whistling but I draw the line at someone groping my bum - then I go all Miss Piggy Hy Ya!!! I just get so jealous sometimes I hardly ever fancy anyone (of course its a different story when I've had a few beer goggles etc) Enjoy yourself!

The Sagittarian said...

I am going to have to get outta bed earlier (or stay up later) to get an original thought in here, I can see that! I did wonder how the blokes on the building site (with their butt cracks and hairy shoulders...) eevr thought for one minute about how the girls would be someone's daughter, sister, etc. But then again, now I'm at the invisible age....(sigh).

Steve said...

Emma: looking is one of thing... but touching? Tch,tch. That's something else entirely.

Amanda: to be honest I don't think those guys were capable of thinking beyond or around the sudden rush of blood to their y-fronts...

Being Me said...

Love your photo caption today. Am chuckling immaturely which I'm assuming was part of your intention.

I felt intimidated by that sort of thing in the years before my early 20's. Very self-conscious. Now that I could handle it - as other commenters have already said - I'm never in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

I don't think there's anything wrong with looking out of appreciation, but when someone ogles or makes involuntary grunts (which to me is beyond wolf whistling), then I have to wonder where their sense of decency is. I'm guessing it's not in their pants. I don't know why some males - I've not seen females perform this way, although I can imagine there are many who would - are so incensed that they have to do this.

I've been chased through traffic more than I've been whistled at as I walk past a building site. I can tell you, it's alarming and dangerous to have a car or van full of males hanging out their windows leering at and/or propositioning you. Surely that's not just an Aussie thing?? (is it?)

TheUndertaker said...

Just for my 5 cents worth, at my age (tender 40-ish) a bit of ogling coming my way is gratefully received, as long as it is fleeting. And I don't mind giving it back, if the eye candy is worth it (and not with a girlfriend etc).
And love organic motherhood's (with whip?) comment re mental masturbation. None of that, please : )

Steve said...

Being Me: the van thing sounds horrific - extremely intimidating. I've heard of it happening in the US but not so much here in the UK - though I did have a woman come into my place of work last month to call the police because a lone male in a car followed her very slowly along the street... no difference really; the effect is the same.

TheUndertaker: that's the difference between men and women - guys will still look even if the woman is plainly with a partner. No sense of decency us males!

Livi said...

oooh, interesting! I blogged about being on the other end of this during summer, it's not nice.
But you're right, women stare too and I know that I'm guilty of drooling over a hot woman, but I do like to think it's in a "you are so god dammed beautiful" way, rather than the lecherous "I would" *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*.
Loving the sunglasses comment though! Probably the best idea, as long as you don't do the awful think of literally looking them up and down.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Personally-speaking I have never fancied a man on looks alone. Call me fussy but he's got to demonstrate some charisma and a likeable personality too.

Re men looking at women, I think subtlety is the key. Plus men are far likely to get anywhere if they come across as a letch, so it hardly works as a strategy either!

Apparently the colour red makes us 20% more attractive when we wear it. I am acquiring a fully-scarlet wardrobe as we speak!

Steve said...

Livi: as Laura says below you - sublety is tke key! I guess make it a little bit obvious but not too obvious!

Laura: that explains a lot. Red is just not my colour at all!

LöstJimmy said...

Eyes right...

Steve said...

LöstJimmy: ...is the safest way I think. Eyes up and down and bulging out is apparently frowned upon.

Mark said...

It's all in the timing I reckon... and maybe the intensity of the gaze.

Go to Sienna or similar Italian city in summer and I defy you not to look. I went there on my honeymoon and I still thought the women were gorgeous!

Steve said...

Mark: flight already booked...