Friday, August 14, 2020

About Looking

I first wrote about this in the nineties. (This issue was actually the origin of Domai, Dirty Old Men's Association International.) But it hasn't changed yet (haha), so here goes again...

A certain kind of young woman gets offended if you look at her and admire her beauty. 

I say, "what?" You put all this money and time into looking your best, and we are not supposed to look at you? How does that make sense? How does all your work pay off if nobody sees it? 

I would hate to think that it is a status thing, or a power game of some sort. That you hold the power by being so desirable, but if we look a bit too much and enjoy it, then we get enjoyment for free without giving you anything in return, and you hate that. Surely that is not true? 

I've been reading around on answers this question, and the upshot seems to be: 
1: a glance is OK, staring is not. So in other words, we need to be intimidated enough to not look longer than a split-second, literally? And: 
2: if it's a young and good looking guy, it's great. If not, then it's creepy and wrong. What blatant discrimination. We can't all be hot, and none of us stay young. So we need to stop living once past forty?
Obviously, if he is young and hot, you have a good catch on your hands. If he is not, don't give him anything.  

So it seems to me that yes, it really is just a power game. If they can intimidate all men into only glancing and being terrified of looking and giving offense, then they hold all the cards. 

If there is no power game, then there can't also be makeup, hair styling, silk stockings, and all that jazz. All that is a girl's way of saying, "I'm a better sex object than those other sluts you see. I'm the one you want". You can't play the sex object game and then demand to not be seen as a sex object. That's like saying that the other team has a moral obligation to stand down their goalie and their defence players. It is saying, "You can bite the hook but you can't eat the bait". And if we obey, we have been hypnotised into fully submitting to their power. Which admittedly is a great power, but there are limits to concessions. 

I should add that physical touching is a totally different matter, because men are stronger physically, and can easily abuse that power. So in civilisation we don't touch without permission. But to give up the freedom to look at anything we want is not civilisation, that's Stockholm Syndrome. 

Some say "look but don't feel lust". That's a bit absurd. For one thing, how do you control that? For another thing, that's what goes on in my private head, that's none of anybody else's business. 


RunSilentRunDeep has written a lengthy, but excellent note to this. Fear is an essential point to this that I almost addressed, but it did not fit in right with the post, I felt. But I do believe it's at the heart of the issue. 

Now then. I think I remember this note, back in the 1990s. It certainly felt true to me, then.

Since then, though, I have come to see more clearly a specific difference between men and women.

When I walk around outside, in my suburban/urban setting, usually I am not particularly alarmed by the presence or behavior of the people around me. 

I might be alarmed, if I have a specific reason to be: for example, if I'm in "a bad neighborhood," or if I see particularly hostile people heading my way.  But overall I know I'm probably going to be pretty safe.

For women, this is not always the case. Here's a specific example. After dark, if all other things are equal, most men won't think twice about walking out into that large parking lot over there to get into their car. 

If they were attacked there, no one would question their decision to go out. If we want these attacks to stop, then we need to go after the attackers, don't we? We shouldn't have to change our own behavior, should we?

Replace "men" with "women," in that scenario, and a lot of things change very suddenly. Most women, I think, will think twice about walking into the parking lot in that setting.

If they know they will be out after dark, they might look for a lot that is particularly well-lighted, in a place that has a lot of walking traffic.

Nonetheless, if a woman is attacked, in that setting, people all over will be saying that she used poor judgment. That "anyone would expect" such a thing to happen to her, in a dark parking lot all on her own. 

If we want these attacks to stop, they would say, women need to use some "common sense" and don't go outside in the dark, alone.

The men don't need to change their behavior, but the women do need to change their behavior. 

Why? Because the men don't face all that much danger. And because we men leave the women, who face quite a lot of danger, to fend for themselves.

Do you see how much this scenario changes, how the person's feelings and expectations change, when we replace a man in the scenario with a woman?

And do you see how much confidence a woman might sometimes (not) have, when it comes to being kept safe by the men around her?

Now, let's go back to that original scenario: going outside, during the day, by yourself. As I said, I'm probably not going to feel much stress about that.

But women? 

I have heard women tell me this: when they're walking alone and a man-they-don't-know is walking toward them, their senses go on alert immediately.

When they were little girls, their mothers and older sisters were teaching them that this is a potentially dangerous situation. That she's vulnerable here. Vulnerable to strange men.

They've told me that if they can, without attracting attention, they might cross the street -- just so that he will not get within arm's reach of them. To feel less endangered.

How many men have had this reaction to men who are walking their way? To women who are walking their way? (This is a rhetorical question, of course)

These different reactions come from the different dangers that men feel, and women feel, when out in public alone. 

Women (at least, American women, outside small towns) have spent most of their lives absorbing the lesson that they are vulnerable to physical attack, when they are outside the safety of their friends or their home. 

That they need to be careful, very careful, when a strange man approaches them. 

Now let's replay your scenario, and watch it through these eyes. A woman is walking along, her mind going over the coming day. A man, a stranger, approaches her.

And he looks at her. And looks at her. And looks at her. 

For her, the old question "what does he mean by that?" is more than the punchline of a joke about psychiatrists. 

It's Threat Evaluation, like a gazelle who finds she has crossed paths with an animal that may be a leopard. Her reaction is so familiar that she doesn't need to think it through with words. She thinks it through with her gut, with the pit of her stomach.

She and her girlfriends have probably rehearsed the process many times, when they have walked around together. But now -- she's alone.

"He's looking at me," she is thinking. "What is he going to do? Is he going to do something to me? Will he do it now, or will he follow me (or find me) and do it later?"

Because there are men who have done each of those things to women. 

And because, when you are vulnerable (and everyone agrees that a pretty young woman outside on her own is vulnerable), which is the safe move, the smart move: to behave as if he's harmless, or to behave as if he might be a threat to your personal safety?

Yes, he probably is harmless. On the whole, most men are. But you can't tell the dangerous ones from the harmless ones.* 

And if he is dangerous, your experience with him will be a lot more "bad" than your experience with a "harmless" male stranger would be "good."

Now then, a couple of closing remarks. First, one way that a harmless man can reassure the pretty, young, and vulnerable woman that he is harmless is by not going "ga-ga" when he sees her. By keeping eye contact brief, by being cordial and impersonal. This will reassure her that he doesn't suddenly have an obsession about her. 

She's going to find that behavior from a stranger a lot less alarming than a long, intense stare -- which might be "obsessive."

Second, women know that even talking with men about these matters can be dangerous, in itself. Many men, perhaps most, hardly ever try to re-examine the world through someone else's eyes. 

They are even less likely to re-examine it through the defensive and vulnerable eyes of women. Instead, some men react with anger -- because, after all, they're harmless!  

Some will deny that women are in danger from men at all -- while, in their next breath, offering to escort women to their cars in that dark parking lot. 

Because every sane person -- even men -- does know that women are at greater personal risk in that setting.

Given all this, when a woman is asking men to behave differently because they have frightened or alarmed her, it may be safer for her to use a "more polite" word.

"Oh, no, I'm not saying that I am frightened when you do these things! I don't want to kick off an argument about whether I 'should' be frightened. 

(I do get frightened; in some circumstances I might be terrified. But I have learned through bitter experience that men often stop listening to me when I tell them this.)

I don't want to get into an argument, I simply want you to stop doing them! So I'm saying, instead, that I am 'offended' when you do these things. 

Even men who will blithely tell me that I should not be frightened when they do something that alarms me, will probably not launch into an argument about what I 'should' feel, when I say that I am 'offended' by them."

And -- thank you for the occasional photos. I enjoyed DOMAI for many years. I'm continuing to enjoy these emails. 

Best wishes, 

RunSilent RunDeep


Good points. I'm sad to say that at least half a dozen of men I've known, who seemed like great guys, have committed sexual assault. And those are just the ones I happen to know of, it's not something you like to reveal.
And if asked, very few men will admit to have done rape, but many, like 20%, will admit to "non-consensual sex"... which is more or less what rape is, except for petting. And that’s only those who admit to it. 

Anyway, last year I was out for a night stroll at like 3am, and on a dark and quiet side street, up ahead I saw a woman who was just coming out of a night shift (at the bus service centre), and stood alone waiting for a ride. We were the only two people in the whole street (in an industrial neighborhood), and likely to remain so. So what I did was that I went out in the street to walk so I would not have to brush closely by her. If I'd been a woman with a big tall man coming towards me in the dark of night, I'd have been nervous. 

As it turned out she was both cute and lively, she said "good night", and I replied "good evening". She laughed at me saying that at 3am, etc. 


Bill Brandt

Photos by Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt was an intuitive genius, probably the only one I consider to be in the same class as André Kertész and Lee Friedlander.

It is actually amazingly rare for a photographer to make pictorial *art*, rather than documentation. Brandt, even when he was hired to document things, still made fine art out of it.

... One thing I had not thought about: Brandt worked almost exclusively in vertical format, that is also really unusual.