Why my body doesn't exist for your viewing pleasure: An open letter to Ian Brown and friends
On Friday, The Globe and Mail published an article so offensive, so backwards, and so nauseating that the only reaction I could muster over the last 48 hours was fuming, spitting, red-faced anger.
They smartly (if intelligence is calculated based on page views and the ability to get pervy dudes on-side, which clearly The Globe and Mail believes is the case) titled the piece: Why men can’t – and shouldn’t – stop staring at women. Criticism of the article could almost begin and end with the title.
One of the things we’ve learned from feminism is that, while men have long enjoyed arguing that biology accounts for misogyny, having used scientific arguments to “prove” that, for example, male dominance, rape, male violence and of course, the objectified, sexualized female body is “natural”, things are not quite so clear cut. Similar arguments have been used by white men to justify racism and slavery. As such, it seems reasonable to assume that those doing the “science” and those communicating to society what is and is not “natural” based on said science have some level of control over what we come to believe, as a society, is true, factual and, of course, “natural.”
Now back to the overwhelming stupidity of this particular article.
I’m gonna go ahead and make some assumptions about the series of events which led Brown to write such a thoughtless and offensive article in the first place:
1) Brown leaves house
2) Brown stares at 20 year old ass
3) Brown sexualizes 20 year old ass
4) Because Brown is turned on and, as we’ve learned many times over, anything that provides erections is GOOD and TRUE and NATURAL and JUSTIFIED he is led to not only defend and justify his pervy behaviour but also find other men and women to argue that, in fact, he is doing women a favour by staring at and sexualizing 20 year old ass.
5) The Globe and Mail is run by like minded dudes and still believes that white men should have the space to write 1500 words on why 58 year old dudes have the right and obligation to stare at 20 year old ass and, one would assume, have few to no feminist minded women on their staff (or, at least, in any positions of power on their staff) to say: “Hey guys! This article is gross!” And it goes to print. Easy peasy.
Much of the piece is dedicated to pornified descriptions of female bodies. That, in and of itself, could and should have (in my humble opinion) led the editors to question the usefulness and/or necessity of publishing the piece. The lack of thought, research, and analysis which fills in the empty spaces in between descriptions of Brown’s favorite 20 year old body parts should have been the second clue.
It’s not that Brown wasn’t able to find folks who agree with his thesis, which I summarize as such: “It is not only biologically natural for me to objectify much younger women, but they actually like it.” He does find men and even women to help ease the little guilt, shame, and uncertainty he may have around his fetishization of the female body. His male friends are, unsurprisingly, just like him. They support his hopeful thesis that says: “this is not only right and natural, but good.”
[Y] holds up his BlackBerry. “I don’t see what’s wrong with it. In a world where, thanks to this thing, I am only two clicks away from double penetration and other forms of pornographic nastiness, the act of merely looking at a girl who is naturally pretty – I mean, we should celebrate that.”
Another friend takes it further. Acting as though the objectification is a compliment:
“Beautiful women are like flowers,” W interjects. “They turn to the sun. But if they don’t receive a certain amount of attention, they wither.”
Oh dude. You are so right. If you don’t stare at my ass I will actually die.
As if the flower analogy wasn’t enough to signal red flags with “Women are not human beings, they are pretty things that exist for me to look at” written all over them, the idea that women will wither and die if old dudes stop objectifying them really solidifies the deep misogyny of these kinds of arguments and beliefs.
Sadly, Brown finds one women to back him up:
[K] just turned 50, and is still attractive. But she admits looks from men are rarer. “Leering hasn’t happened in years,” she adds wistfully. Visiting Italy 20 years ago with friends, “we were furious that the Italian men pinched your bum. When we went back, in our early 40s, we were furious that no one was pinching our bums.” This makes me as sad as it seems to make her.
Oh you guys! He feels sorry for her! Sensitive.
At this point I am seething with rage. Has he asked one young woman how she feels about his 58 year old eyes fetishizing her legs, her breasts, and her backside? Does he even care? From what I can tell, no. The argument he makes has little to do with how his eyes and how his sexualization of these women’s bodies might impact actual women. Would anyone like to take a gander as to why that is? Because the women he is sexualizing aren’t human beings. They are delicate flowers! Also they are tits. They are legs. They are asses. Why would a disembodied ass care what a man was doing to it?
Though Brown claims that the intent of his article is to “investigat[e] the famous male gaze,” he has zero understanding of it. The male gaze is a concept which was explored initially within feminist film theory and has since extended into an explanation and analysis of the objectifying, disempowering male gaze. So when a 58 year old man decides that a 20 year old woman is a beautiful flower which exists in order for him to look at, he dehumanizes her. And, as many of us know already, dehumanizing a human being is a dangerous thing. It means we no longer need to treat said human being with respect. A body part is just a body part, not a whole, complex being with thoughts and feelings.
One of the most minor consequences of the male gaze is that, and I will speak from personal experience here, a lifetime of being looked at makes you feel as though your self-worth is largely dependent on your ability to be desired by men. This is not a good thing. It is something many women fight at every turn. Yet we still internalize that male gaze. This means that many women see themselves through male eyes. We also believe, to a certain extent, that we exist for your viewing pleasure. Should women really have to fight to believe that their value exists outside your desire?
I won’t speak for any other woman aside from myself at this point, but “Hi, Ian Brown! I am a woman and I don’t want you to look at my ass. It doesn’t feel flattering, it feels creepy. It makes me feel self-conscious and it makes me not want to leave my house. I may be too old for you at 32 (gross!), but many old men stare at me regardless. I hate it. It makes me want to punch them. So stop. Please. I guarantee your penis will survive.”
The fact that men believe women exist for their viewing pleasure IS A PROBLEM. It doesn’t matter how much men like it. I should be able to leave my house without feeling watched.
This isn’t to say that there is something wrong with finding other people attractive. Every once in a while I, myself, find other people attractive. Being heterosexual, often those human beings I am feeling attracted to are men. Strangely, I don’t find myself ogling 20 year old man-ass or lusting after young man calves pedaling a bike. Has it ever occurred to you that there is a reason young female bodies are, in particular, sexualized and fetishized by older men? Is there any reason that 58 year old women aren’t commonly writing 1500 word articles about how much they enjoy watching 20 year old men walk down the street? I find (some) male bodies attractive. And yet, the men I am interested in are my own age. And often, when I am attracted to a man, I will look at his face and talk to him as though he is human. I don’t tend to see them as things which exist simply for me to look at.
I’d like to be able to go to the beach without feeling as though I am on display, being judged, being sized up. I’d like to walk down the street in a dress without feeling like some 60 year old dude is fucking me with his eyes. It’s gross, not flattering. I don’t need the gaze of a 60 year old man to validate my existence. All that gaze does is make me hate 60 year old men.
I am not your right. No woman is. No matter how beautiful she is. You have no right to her. She is more than just body parts. Allow me to confirm what I assume was the fear which led you to write this piece, Ian Brown, you are a perv. Stop staring at us. We have the ability to exist without your eyes on our asses.