Before we discuss why the lady gaze is not only important, but fundamental in retaliating against the patriarchy, I’d like to introduce you to Globe and Mail columnist Ian Brown, the 58-year old self-proclaimed “girl-watcher” with a penchant for young cyclists in nude hose. Sure, society makes him feel like he should be ashamed for staring at a woman young enough to be his daughter, but he rationalizes it because he just can’t help himself. And why should he? The heterosexual male gaze is magnetically drawn to beautiful young women like bees to honey.
At one point in his article, Brown recalls a conversation with a male friend who is similarly drawn to scoping out the stunners he spots on the street.
“We could stop looking,” Brown points out.
“Would that help anything?” his friend replies.
“That’s not an answer. Could you stop looking?”
“You’d have to pretty much turn out the lights.”
So if we recipients of the stares and leers are to believe what Brown says is true, that men not only can’t but shouldn’t stop looking at women, then why not turn the tables around?
Details that catch my attention: curly-haired bed head, worn-in band t-shirts, fitted dark denim that shows just a hint of bulge, sneakers with neon laces, bad boy grins, bubble butts, slightly tattered second-hand jackets, guyliner. I’ve always wanted to go up to a fresh faced lad sporting oversized earphones on the metro, grab his cord and swap personal soundtracks with my own for a stop or two. The romantic in me hopes that we’d be grooving to the same Andrew Bird violin loop which would make us, like, soul mates or something.
But then I look down and notice his shoes don’t match. He’s got on one plain black canvas sneaker and one dark brown leather loafer. Does this mean he’s got his mind on more important things, or that he’s simply too stoned to have more than 5 seconds of short-term memory? I bet he’s the kind of partner who would be too lazy to take the dog for a walk but complain later when scrubbing piss out of the carpet, or the kind who would forget the baby at the park, running off to catch the ice cream truck.
At least there’s another piece of man candy around here somewhere. Aha, that stylish looking ginger with put-together vintage prep look and the perfect accessories is probably gay, but there’s no stealing an envious glance at his outfit, right?
Every man I consult on the subject of the lady gaze says the exact same thing: I’d love it if more women openly checked me out, especially if they’re hot.
That’s right, you think you know what you want until you get it.
It goes without saying that our society is a superficial one preoccupied with physical beauty. This type of environment breeds two different sorts of people: those who are flattered by being scoped out by strangers, and those who are creeped out or even downright disgusted by it. Often, the circumstances of the ogling affect the reaction: how am I feeling about myself today? Am I attracted to the person behind the smoldering gaze? Is the length of look lingering past complimentary and into obsessive territory?
Traditionally, men do more of the looking and women do more of the looking away, though women are catching up. A 2009 survey reported in the Guardian found that men spend almost twice as much time checking out strangers, at 45 minute a day, compared with 20 minutes on average for women. While I can think of countless times I made eye flirtations with a striking stranger, I can also recall as many if not more occasions where the man was pervy and I felt a bit violated. And those were only the ones I caught in the act!
It seems there may even be some scientific basis for this unbalance. Men have about six times as much testosterone coursing their veins as women do, the hormone that is linked to the libido. It may also have an effect on the impulse-control region of the brain, leading to the so-called feeling of not being able to stop yourself from stealing that second glance. I sure hate seeing him go but I do like watching him leave.
In the end, this whole argument leaves me conflicted: I would never want to live in a world where it was considered politically incorrect to look at someone cute for a few seconds longer than the average person, but where do you draw the line? I’d like to think that if men like Ian Brown really knew what it was like to put yourself out there and be evaluated and scrutinized to the extent women are, then they would definitely consider an attitude adjustment in that department. What do you think? Are you a looker?