Not Just a Look

If Ian Brown’s column, “Why men can’t – and shouldn’t – stop staring at women” is trolling for page views, like has been suggested to me, and is not in fact an attempt at an honest reflection about sexuality, then I’ve played right into their skeevy hands. I’ve read, and re-read, and re-read this column. I’ve been trying to identify why I found it so upsetting, why I had an immediate, physical response to the words. Why I felt creeped out and uncomfortable. Why I felt a sudden urge to wrap myself up in a blanket.

My issue with this column is not:

a) Older men announcing attraction to young women. It’s true, it creeps me out – especially Brown’s discussion with a friend realizing the woman they were looking at was the same age as the man’s daughter. I really, really struggle with this concept. I’m not ready to say that all attractions are ok. Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe I shouldn’t be totally grossed out by that, but I am.

But that’s not why this column infuriated me.

b)The discussion of shame for being attracted to young women. I actually do think that discussing shame for sexual feelings is a reasonable thing to write about. Bring on the thoughtful discussion of shame. But that wasn’t what this was.

But that’s not why this column made me angry either.

It’s the entitlement that pisses me off. “Her body held my interest, but so did her decision to wear a miniskirt on a bike.” What does this mean? Did she wear a miniskirt on a bike because she wanted to be looked at? Did she wear a miniskirt for your pleasure? Did she think, when getting dressed in the morning, that she should dress her body for the express purpose of attracting attention? I have no idea. But the presumption that she did bothers me. Because the follow up to that is that when I get dressed in the morning, I have to think about the attention my clothes are asking for, and I’m not ok with that.

So too does the admission, “I am married but spent several minutes gazing at a pretty girl’s backside.” Staring for several minutes is not looking, it’s leering. And staring at your server’s breasts when she’s doing her job is kind of gross.

He then goes on to describe, in great detail, all the things about all the women that do it for him:

Details that catch my attention: lively calves, French blue puff skirts with white polka dots, red shoes, dark skin, olive skin, pale skin, lips (various shapes), curly hair (to my surprise). A pretty girl with too much bottom squeezed into her yoga pants – and, mysteriously, twice as sexy for the effort. A slim blond in enormous sunglasses carrying a banana peel as if it were a memo. An expensively dressed and tanned woman climbs out of a taxi, so vivacious I panic and can’t look at her. Slim girls, curvy girls; signs of health, hints of quiet style. Coloured headbands. A rollerblader in white short shorts does nothing for me: Her look is the sexual equivalent of shopping at Wal-Mart.

The list of things Brown is attracted to is not, in itself, a problem. But somehow, the way it is presented, and I think also the platform it is presented on, makes me feel like the man is so overwhelmed by the presence of women in the world that he might explode. That no matter what, you’re not safe from his stares. It’s…. I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t know how to explain why I find it upsetting, but I do. Just like I can’t always explain why a stare or a comment from a stranger on the street makes me uncomfortable, but they do.

“These days, with women charging so fast past us, we’re happy to feel anything.” Is this another one of those times I’m supposed to feel like I’m emasculating men by asking to be respected?

I’m not completely sure what the purpose of this column is.  All I see from this column is a man using a national platform to ask for permission to leer, and to ask women to stop whining about unwanted attention. He seems to be lamenting a change in culture that makes staring at or commenting on womens’ bodies a shameful act. Should I celebrate it instead? Say, “you poor man. You just need to be allowed to act out your natural instincts”? Because I’m not ok with that.

Pretending that the world is so hard for men now that they aren’t allowed to be attracted to women is nonsense. The premise is untrue – no one is limiting your attraction. But also I honestly don’t care if you feel deprived of the only happiness in your life that is staring at asses in yoga pants in an obvious gaze that lasts just a little too long.

You’re going to get a whole range of reactions from both men and women about what kinds of attention they like or are ok with. Look, notice, have your feelings. But as a general rule, if your actions are making someone feel uncomfortable, or unsafe, you shouldn’t be doing it. Simple as that. If you’re unsure if your actions are unwanted, play it safe. My body doesn’t exist for you. Please try to understand that your desires to feel aroused don’t trump my desire to feel safe.


4 thoughts on “Not Just a Look

  1. Brown has also spilled quite a bit of ink (in the Globe as well, though I can’t find a link) about his fondness for exotic dancers. I’m not a prude, nor do I have a problem with peeler bars,but that indicates to me that he’s more comfortable inhabiting the ‘male gaze’ then the article would indicate and that some of his purported shame might be for show.

  2. Great piece. My respect for Ian Brown took a major nosedive when he wrote that thing. A defence of leering trussed up with writerly prose is still defending the undefendable.

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