The NY Times is all about the creepy street voyeurism (h/t Feministing):
The summer dress, in all shapes and styles, is preferred by many women, and by men who like watching them. (Photo caption)
From a 'retro' and 'Mad Men' garment, the dress was transformed into a wardrobe staple, to the benefit of women and those who get pleasure from gazing at them...
Those are from a fashion article in the Times, about how a straight male fashionista wants the dress to stay in so that he can look at women in dresses in the street. More after.
The dress, Jennifer Emory, another midday shopper, said: 'is very easy and very flattering -- a no-brainer, really. It's comfortable, and you can easily go from day to night. And guys like it because it's so feminine.'
...And so, for those of us who take pleasure in the sight of a woman in a summer dress walking along Fifth Avenue, her dress caught in a faint breeze, a vision that calls to mind a Guy Wiggins painting or the famous bit of dialogue spoken by the actor Everett Sloane in 'Citizen Kane,' there is still time. (Emphasis mine)
[There quotations are actually some of the better parts of the article - the rest is just lame, bemoaning the entire generation of women who never wore dresses (when was that?) and, in contradiction to everything I know about the differences between the US and the UK, saying that Americans use the word "trousers" instead of "pant." (The plural "pants" is something that writer has never heard of, evidently. Perhaps he should visit America some time before writing articles about New York fashion?)]
OK, back to the point of this post. This is all a foreign concept to me since I present and am always accepted as male wherever I go. I don't get the catcalls, the stares, etc., but I can see how that would get more than tiresome after a while.
The only times I get openly checked out are in gay male spaces, places I go to less and less. But whenever I did, being checked out was part of the game. I expected it, I understood it, and I enjoyed it. Of course, I also remained relatively in control of it, and, when it was over, it was over.
That's vastly different from what the Times columnist is advocating - full-out stare-downs in the street wherever women are.
It reminds me of this passage from Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man, at which time she spent an evening in New York City presenting male:
We passed, as far as I could tell, but I was too afraid to really interact with anyone, except to give one guy brief directions on the street. He thanked me as "dude" and walked on.
Mostly though we just walked the streets of the Village scanning people's faces to see if anyone took a second or third look. But no one did. And that, oddly enough, was the thing that struck me the most about that evening. It was the only thing of real note that happened. But it was significant.
I had lived in that neighborhood for years, walking its streets where men lurk outside of bodegas, on stoops and in doorways much of the day. As a woman, you couldn't walk down those streets invisibly. You were an object of desire or at least semiprurient interest to the men who waited there, even if you weren't pretty-that, or you were just another piece of pussy to be put in its place. Either way, their eyes followed you all the way up and down the street, never wavering, asserting their dominance as a matter of course. If you were female and you lived there, you got used to being stared down, because it happened every day and there wasn't anything you could do about it.
But that night in drag, we walked by those same stoops and doorways and bodegas. We walked right by those same groups of men. Only this time they didn't stare. On the contrary, when they met my eyes they looked away immediately and concertedly and never looked back. It was astounding, the difference, the respect they showed me by not looking at me, by purposely not staring.
That was it. That was what had annoyed me so much about meeting their gaze as a woman, not the desire, if that was ever there, but the disrespect, the entitlement. It was rude, and it was meant to be rude, and seeing those guys looking away deferentially when they thought I was male, I could validate in retrospect the true hostility of their former stares.
A few months ago I was walking through a mall here with a straight male American friend. He checked out every woman walking by that he felt like; I kept looking straight forward. When we got home, he asked me why I wasn't checking out the guys like he had the women.
I don't know what I said in response, but for a good while I thought that it must have had something to do with a fear of violence. Growing up in ex-urban Indiana, homophobia is present enough to make me know my place in public.
When I was 14 I ran cross-country on the school's team (don't worry, yours truly made up for that athleticism by being horrid at it). It wasn't like that, we were all too nerdy to shower after practice, but one rainy and muddy day when we were supposed to hit the weight room afterwards, Coach made us all....
And I stared. Lengthily. Obviously. Horribly. What else could I have done? I was 14, and cross-country running does a body good.
I learned my lesson well after that from the others there.
Which reminds me of another time, on a train a few years ago with my brother when we were going out to his place in Germany from Paris. A (probably French) man was staring at him on the train. I doubt the guy was checking out my brother at all; it was a far more vacant stare. And my brother got angry - he wanted to go over and talk some sense into that guy.
I just thought he was strange.
But all this talk about staring has gotten me to thinking about how violating someone's personal space like that is an attack. Tim Hardaway's comments from last year about how he didn't want to be on the same team as someone because he'd be "worried" about what would happen in the locker room comes to mind.
What was he worried about? Did he actually think that a gay man would physically attack another man in a locker room with some thirty other people around, mostly in great shape, sometimes with cameras? Are we that strong in their imaginations?
I would say that the gaze is in fact that strong, and that's why men learn at a young age not to stare at each other in public. As Vincent puts it:
But that wasn't quite all there was to it. There was something more than plain respect being communicated in their averted gaze, something subtler, less direct. It was more like a disinclination to show disrespect. For them, to look away was to decline a challenge, to adhere to a code of behavior that kept the peace among human males in certain spheres just as surely as it kept the peace and the pecking order among male animals. To look another male in the eye and hold his gaze is to invite conflict, either that or a homosexual encounter. To look away is to accept the status quo, to leave each man to his tiny sphere of influence, the small buffer of pride and poise that surrounds and keeps him.
I surmised all of this the night it happened, but in the weeks and months that followed I asked most of the men I knew whether I was right, and they agreed, adding usually that it wasn't something they thought about anymore, if they ever had. It was just something you learned or absorbed as a boy, and by the time you were a man, you did it without thinking.
I don't remember ever actively learning something like that, but I think it goes a long way to answering my friend's question. And maybe he should learn to stop staring.