A man and a woman are traveling in a lift; both wearing business suits. The lift stops a few floors into their descending journey and the doors open. Another man enters. He does not acknowledge the male passenger. His eyes begin at the woman’s neckline, working their way slowly down her body to her feet, and then back up again, never meeting her eyes.
And so goes the male gaze. Everyone knows it exists, everyone has seen it in action, but does everyone understand its power to harass, objectify and intimidate?
Immediately, the cries of ‘now you’ve gone too far!’ echo through the half a dozen people reading this blog.
Now I’m not suggesting men can’t look at women. I’m certainly not suggesting men can’t find women attractive. What I am suggesting, though, is that when you look at a women as nothing more than a body, then you have a problem. Then you’re unleashing the male gaze.
THE STREET WALK
A man and a woman are crossing a busy city street at lunchtime, both casually dressed. A group of middle-aged men in suits is walking towards them. Their eyes run up and down the woman’s body. They part to let her through, but only enough so that she has to angle herself sideways to narrowly avoid contact. As they pass, her companion looks back and sees that the group of men, too, has turned around. Yet they don’t see him at all. Their eyes are on her as she finishes crossing the street. One of them catcalls. She flinches, but pretends not to hear.
‘Come on, mate, it’s instinctive human nature,’ the detractors cry. ‘Men are born that way!’
Even if this was true, instinct is not an excuse for poor behaviour. Instinct can be controlled; rejected, even, in favour of a different course of action.
What, then, is so forcefully contributing to this belief that we have the right to own women with our eyes; that this is just a part of our loveable rogue, rather than sexist and demeaning, culture? What, I wondered?
Then I turned on the TV. Opened a magazine. Watched a music video.
I wonder no more.
THE IDLE PACK
A group of workers is on a lunch break. A man walks by. The pay him little attention, but he notices one lean across to his mate and say quietly: ‘The next one’s for you.’ The pedestrian continues walking, but stops and turns back when he has passed the pack. Their eyes collectively turn to an approaching woman. She keeps her own eyes straight and holds her head high, but her expression betrays her anxiety. She quickens her step and trips on an uneven piece of ground. The last man in the line grabs hold of her arm to steady her. She thanks him, and gives a relieved smile. As she steps away, he slaps her on the backside. The pack roars with laughter.
By not treating women as objects for your viewing pleasure, you reject what the world tells you; you reject the advertising and pop culture lies. Instead, you make a small, but meaningful, contribution to the daily fight against everyday sexism.
You make a difference.