In Defense of Ogling [1]

I’ve seen other men ogling women, and it can be a pretty contemptible thing. Mostly when a large age gap exists, like the 60-year-old gentleman looking at a questionably-legal teenager’s ass as she passes, following her ass with his eyes, in front of 15 or more people at an outdoor mall without shame. Not that I haven’t done that. I just enjoy a womanly figure, so the 17-year-olds don’t inspire me to make a complete perv of myself. For am I ever going to see this contemptible man again? No. So what does it matter to him if he turns and looks at her questionably-legal ass? This is pretty standard man cognition. Yeah, I may look like an asshole, but I’m just looking. Most men try not to creep out a woman, or make her feel threatened. Ogling is just how we’re programmed, in ways.

Now my female readers, I can feel your anger. There’s tension. I can see you quietly fuming, but let’s make this a nice read. I’m communicating. Aren’t you always saying we need to communicate more? I can quote you, “You never tell me anything!” Not that I’m arguing. I’m not. I’m just trying to let you understand where we, men, are coming from. What exactly is going through your boyfriend or husband’s head when a beautiful women (or, possibly, any women) pops in to their view, and his eyes naturally go to boobs and butt, and quickly looks away. Your dear sweet grandfather (blessings to the living, and R.I.P. to the passed) ogled women. I’m sorry to say this. I got a little heated. But it’s true. Good men ogle, like myself. I’m in a faithful relationship of over 3 years. I’m not a perfect boyfriend, but I think I’m pretty damn good. Lately I’ve been making all the meals because my girlfriend tore her ACL tendon. I’ve been waking up early to make her coffee and oatmeal. Spent 11 hours at the hospital on her surgery day. I even got scraped from the Velcro on her knee brace while having sex. But that’s “mandatory stuff,” according to her. Maybe my shining light was her last birthday. I had bought tickets to a Hitchcock play “39 Steps” 2 months beforehand, getting great 2nd row seats. It was a matinee. I’d made her an omelet for breakfast. Took her to a nice restaurant that night. Bought her flowers and jewelry. And I treat her good, generally: making her laugh when she’s down and doing my share around the apartment. It’s not like she hasn’t called me a “selfish asshole” before, but, you know, what man hasn’t? You need to explain certain things to us. We’re a little bit dumb sometimes. Example, I’m writing this.

This is why men don’t talk. Everything has to be qualified. But ogling is like breathing. At least initially. A problem I have is something that I’m going to need a little humor, and understanding with—it’s boob/butt-dar. I know, I fawn over a woman’s shoulder, calves, toes, eyes (damn, should’ve listed that sooner), cheek bones, hair and shoes. Intellect also, shit. But that doesn’t come on the boob/butt-dar at a 100 yards. A man can be in a crowd at Disneyland, turn 90 degrees and immediately and instinctively zero in on some cleavage at a 100 yards. I’ll be with my girlfriend in any public place with some sort of courtyard, and turn and my eyes will be guided by boob/butt-dar right to the said, and I quickly look away. I don’t want to piss her off, and sometimes worry about my instinctual boob/butt-dar. I know what you’re thinking. Nature/nurture. What was taught? I know I saw my dad ogle, and he’s a good guy. Been married 42 years. Yet I think this urge can be traced back to female primates walking on their tip toes and red butts to attract the male primate. They loved some red butts! It’s an urge that goes back in geological time compared to human rights and equality that go back at most a few hundred years to the Enlightenment. And women’s equality is even younger; they have only had the right to vote for less than a hundred years

I know men do go too far. Make women feel creeped out, and sometimes scared. Sadly even worse. I’ve been creeped out by ogling and have probably creeped some women out. Now the closest I can relate to being creeped out, is when I’ve been weirdly hit on by gay men. I worked at a Kinko’s in Hillcrest (the gay neighborhood of San Diego, CA) and often people would flirt with me. They were nice. I was generally helping them. They’d own/manage a business, and maybe smile and talk with me more. It was innocent and made me feel good. The guy from the leather “Bear” bar was always very nice to me when I’d print out his posters, but I think people involved in S/M are generally really nice. Even when a couple drag queens and their gay friends were cat calling me when I got ice cream shirtless from a street vendor last summer, I found it complimentary. Only twice have I been creeped out. The first was in Hillcrest, I was helping someone in the self-serve area and turned around and this dude was mind fucking me hard. He was a very masculine 80’s porn star-ish looking guy, and it made me sympathetic to what women must face. The other time was in my neighborhood in Denver when I went, shirtless (it was hot) to the basement of my building to put my clothes in the drier. I went out the front door and a creepy 50-year-old, leathery skinned, cigarette smelling guy said, “Hi.” I was stoned and not wanting to talk. I said, “Hi.” And walked toward the side of my building. He said, “You know you’re not wearing a shirt.” “Yeah,” I said with the tone of FUCK YOU! He creeped me out. I was just doing laundry. It was hot.

And you know what ladies, I’m calling bias on you and myself. The better looking the guy, the less creepy. If the smelly, leathery 50-year-old would have been some 20 or 30-year-old, fairly good looking, male, I would have took it as a compliment. I fear my creepiness will only increase with age. Shit.

I’d like to say before it’s too late that women are more than sexual objects. I agree. I’m on the team. I get along with women better. Have more interesting conversations. They generally seem more educated. I’ve read “The Awakening.” I read blogs by Michelle Tea. I review poetry exploring women’s feelings on being sexually objectified. I recognize the contradicting/conflicting ideals on beauty and sexuality women must face. But I’m talking about ogling, so I have to write boobs & butts, a lot. I think we’re making such progress in our writer/reader relationship. I feel the wall coming down.

Let’s consider the effect of boobs and butts on the at least 80% hetero-male. While watching the movie “The Stoned Age” with my girlfriend there was a scene where the lead female took off her top. I’d watched this scene in my adolescence, and leaned forward, curious if it was as awesome as I remembered. (This was pre-internet days when an adolescent dude was stoked to see a pair of boobs in a movie. Boobs were a selling point.) She took off her top and my mind went to a nice quiet place, almost opiate like. My girlfriend was watching me, and she laughed. I must’ve stammered something about my adolescence and the movie, and she said, “No, it was interesting. It was like aggressive, but not. And very primitive.”

And that’s what it is. The ultimate drive. Men are intoxicated by a women’s beauty, more than boobs and butts. But butts and boobs are the sexual areas, so I’m focusing there. Clearly, I’m afraid of offending you. Yet this instinct to ogle comes with the conflicting, and winning instinct to love and care for their companion. Feel assured just as your man may turn and look at an ass or two, doesn’t mean he will stray. You are the keeper of the drug he craves. And let’s be realistic, occasional hookups happen when you’re single. But if you like the person, are having sex with them, and pursue their company, how many times can you have sex before there’s attachment? So your man’s just not going to run after some booty because (A) he loves you, and (B) even if he were single, the how-many-times-can-you-have-sex principle comes into play, and (C), most likely, he’s not Justin Timberlake.

Now I know ladies ogle men. A female coworker of mine walked into a building ogling a man she still gasps about today. But it seems women don’t ogle as much because it encourages engagement. They aren’t as free to ogle. Or men are too dumb to notice the subtlety of women.

I read in a magazine, while waiting for my girlfriend at physical therapy, a short interview with Gloria Steinem, and she said, “Who said I didn’t like being looked at.”

Just with respect and without being creeped out.

I’m scared I’m going to have to pay for this. I can tell. You’re acting like its cool. But I can tell that it’s not. Damn, I’m screwed.

[1] I wrote this a year ago, and typed/edited it in the spring. I submitted it to thoughtcatalog.com and therumpus.net; no reply from TC and a form response from Roxane Gay @ the rumpus. So I’m blogging it.

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About Brian McElmurry

I live in Denver with my wife and dogs. I'm the author of the novella Rocket Man and have written a few unpublished novels (that are awesome, if you are a publisher/agent). http://thoughtcatalog.com/brian-mcelmurry/ My novella Rocket Man is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Rocket-Man-Brian-McElmurry-ebook/dp/B00DLCWO44
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