Looking and liking

I’ve been looking for something that I could blog about that gave me more than a tweet’s pause, but less than a freelance gig’s worth of research, and then Ian Brown sent the manna down from heaven by way of his Globe and Mail article, “Why men can’t—and shouldn’t—stop staring at women”. And, in a way, this is a compliment to Mr. Brown, because your average run-of-the-mill sexist rant doesn’t elicit any more of a reaction from me than a roll of the eyes and remembering that this is the price I pay for having the internet in my life.

But Mr. Brown isn’t average; he’s a practiced, talented journalist, as a quick snoop around the digital archives shows. Looking at some of his most recent features, I’m fascinated by his adventures into the Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library (where my dad took me as a kid once, and it was love at first sight), and less fascinated with whatever he wrote about The Bachelor (just can’t care), but it’s all solid writing with his oh-well, I’m-an-old-guy persona built in, which can be endearing and sincere. A lot of pining for the good old days, like this sentence, upon seeing a 19th-century map of Canada: “Right away, I could see it showed what kind of a country we once were, back when we were still modest enough to assume there was always more than one answer to a question.” Kind of beside the point, but I’ll read past it to get to interesting information.

Mr. Brown’s persona comes through very strongly in the male gaze article. The problem is, there’s no interesting information to prop it up. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I find it creepy when I catch an almost-60-year-old man staring at one of my body parts (like my “behind”). I think a lot of 25-year-olds feel the same way. Apparently, Ian Brown couldn’t find a single one, which makes me wonder who the hell he was asking, or perhaps they were just creeped out by this old guy asking them if they minded being stared at by him. A cursory glance at social media in response to this article proves otherwise; see screen grab below.)

He interviews young women, old guys and one miraculously anatomically intact 50-year-old woman who by the grace of God still manages to be “attractive”; he trots out the old “it’s evolution, whaddya want?” idea; he describes young “girls” he’s looking at on the street in details that highlight sexualized body parts (“lively calves”, “slim blond”) or the clothes they wear (I think “A pretty girl with too much bottom squeezed into her yoga pants – and, mysteriously, twice as sexy for the effort” pretty much says it all). He doesn’t describe the only named woman in the piece, 26-year-old Ali. Maybe Mr. Brown felt ashamed to write down the word “cleavage” in his notes while she spoke. The description of clothes is interesting in the way it brings class into the issue, too. Mr. Brown insists he’s a man of taste: “A rollerblader in white short shorts does nothing for me: Her look is the sexual equivalent of shopping at Wal-Mart.” Oh well, then, as long as you’re not into those trashy girls. This is, after all, about the discerning and sophisticated desires of men of a certain vintage.

I don’t expect older men to extinguish their sexualities at a certain age —or older women, but ew gross, right Mr. Brown?—but I also don’t think there needs to be such a manifesto in defense of it. It’s part of this whole reactionary “men’s rights” hysteria that seems to think the pendulum has swung so far that even looking at a girl can get you castrated. It won’t, I know because you do it all the time with impunity. That this article was published is evidence that we’re all still very happy to let men’s sexual appetites occupy our public space, our media, our pharmaceutical research dollars, our workplaces, etc. just as much as ever.

It’s part of male privilege to feel that writing a long feature about what “does it” for you, with no compelling argument, no apparent awareness of the last century of women’s struggle for equality (still ongoing, Wente, it’s STILL happening) or the academic work that sprang from it, merits space in our most august newspaper. It also shows that pandering to male privilege is what wins a paper that label, and the accompanying ad revenues, and is thus acceptable to whichever editor approved this for publication. Go ahead and stare all you want, Mr. Brown, but we’re all still thinking, like my first-reaction tweet reads, “YOU’RE OLDER THAN MY DAD!” It’s evolutionary, and we just can’t help it.

About xokasia

Journalist, writer, editor, in Toronto and New York. Amateur Muay Thai enthusiast.
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4 Responses to Looking and liking

  1. James Stanley says:

    It’s interesting how much of this criticism of Mr. Brown (and I’m far from defending his “arguments” as such–but I just couldn’t help notice this one feature of your response) seem to revolve around his age. You say that you don’t expect older men to stop being sexual but you end your piece with a mock-argument that young women are “evolutionarily” grossed out by the gazes of older men. If you or some of the other women whose reactions you sampled in this post were being looked at by young(er), and hence (?), more attractive men, would your perceptions of the creepiness change? Is the power-differential of older men such that their gaze is inherently threatening? How much of this charge of sexism is ageism (or even “attractivism” (to coin an ugly word)), in disguise?

    • xokasia says:

      I get your point about the ageism, James, but I think the most important word is that it is a “mock”-argument, reflecting one of the arguments expressed in Mr. Brown’s article. But, to own up to my own prejudices, I am pretty creeped out by dad-types staring at my bum; if I realized one was following me I’d feel threatened. Regular leering doesn’t make me feel that way because we’re all used to it, and I don’t think the power-differential between me and older men is always in their favour, and I just don’t think of it that way. And I can tell you, not every younger man is more attractive than an older one! And their leering can be just as dehumanizing. So can women’s (gasp!), though I’ve noticed that a lot less.

      I don’t think it changes the point of my quibbles, which are that this article is so long and pointless, doesn’t address most readers’ concerns, sets up the false premise that somehow men need to reclaim the right to stare at women, isn’t Mr. Brown’s finest and doesn’t belong in the newspaper. And if we’re going to charge people with ageism, I’d say Mr. Brown’s a much worthier target than myself; he’s paid for his.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this and to comment, James!

  2. Phil says:

    I’m not even sure how creepy I find this article – I don’t think that anyone is saying that men shouldn’t look at women. It’s certainly not “rebellious.” More than anything else, it’s just banal. It may not be wrong, per se, but it certainly doesn’t belong in print, especially in an organ that claims to be our newspaper of record.
    I guess it is also pretty damn sexist, but you certainly don’t need me to tell you that.
    In the end, I get that he’s old, and married, but he’s also a man, and a lot of men (and, *shock*, women) look at people they find attractive. If you can do it without being a creep, good for you. If not, maybe you should spend more time on your real job, or hanging out with your family, Mr. B.
    p.s. yeah, I guess it’s pretty creepy. Leering is shitty.

  3. Pingback: Yes, you can stop staring: How to stop, and why you should « cool beans

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