Third time’s a charm! So glad you decided to read my op-ed about everything from wearing socks with sandals to the state of humanity. Actually, those two are more closely related than you’d probably think. Anyway, as I’ve said before, I love an open dialogue. I may be one opinionated bitch, but I am always willing and able to change my opinion should someone present a well thought out and founded counter-argument. If you want to actually comment or discuss a topic like adults, you can join me on twitter @DannOpinions.
So, onward we roam to the actual article. This week I want to talk about something that arguably falls into the grey area of social decorum. With the Anziz Ansari sexual misconduct case making headlines (Tada!), the discussions of sexual propriety have never been more open. Now regardless of how you feel about Ansari or the case in general, the grey zone of sexual behavior is being talked about, and it needs to be. I mean most people understand what assault and molestation are, and if you don’t, well, go on a date with Kevin Spacey. But when does flirting become too aggressive? When does flattery become cat calling? When does appreciation become leering? That last one is what I want to talk about.
For those of you who need me to mansplain what leering is, it is the lascivious gaze that people often give when looking at a person of desire. For the sake of this argument, I’m not going to debate the difference between leering, staring, admiring, etc. It too often becomes an issue of opinions by various parties involved. So, instead, I will be referring to leering as a sexually overt gaze, neither intrinsically good nor bad. And as such, women everywhere will know what it feels like to be leered at. Most men will know as well, but the emotional response is often quite different, and I’ll get to that later. I am also making a few generalizations about men and women for the sake of brevity, and there are always exceptions to everything…but stay with me.
As someone outside the straight sexual dynamic, I have been a silent (insert laugh and eye rolls here) observer for almost 4 decades. For women, I have noticed that there are basically two responses to a leer:
- Hell yes! Cruise me you hot piece of man candy!
- Hell no! There is a creep staring at me like he wants to wear my skin or introduce me to the inside of his trunk.
What I have also noticed is that a woman’s choice of which response to have is often predicated by what the leering man looks like. If he is attractive in her eyes, she’s much more likely to pick #1, even if the guy is a raging creep who collects hair clippings and has a shrine to his mother in his condo. If he’s hot enough and, not to put too fine a point on it, rich enough, he can practically get away with anything. It’s like in 2011 you watched your Great Aunt Cybil flush while reading Fifty Shades of Grey at Thanksgiving, the year it became ok for women to read porn in public. If you asked her flat out if she’d like Uncle George to make her a sex slave, she’d most certainly say no. But Grey…rich and hot. Get the idea? And before I get all those BDSM people pissed off, I’m totally not slut shaming. Do what you want consensually. The point I’m making is that women still view a man’s appeal by both his physique and income. It’s lizard brain related.
For a woman to give the second response, the guy basically needs to just fail on one of these counts. If he’s rich and ugly, well he can still get certain women. If he’s poor and hot, he can still get others. But creepdom of a leering man is directly proportional to his looks and perceived income. Conversely, when women leer at men, our society has decided that this is acceptable. This may have to do with the remaining power imbalance that exists between women and men, but as that power balance is slowly eroded and equality gets closer and closer each day, female leering may soon fall into the same realms as male leering. But for this exercise, we will stick to male leering, as most straight men have no idea what it feels like to truly be leered at.
Now for a woman to understand why a male is leering, it’s sadly necessary to point out that it stems from two things: lust and lust. The first lust is the male gaze. We’ve heard a lot of people demonizing the male gaze in the past, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s sexual attraction and objectification that stem from the male lizard brain and when directed properly leads to great sexual dynamics between men and women and of course to the procreation of our species. Any woman would love to have the man of her dreams lustily stare at her. It can actually be quite empowering to command and control the male gaze. But when misdirected, it can be dehumanizing.
The second lust is the value system that is placed upon women. If men are judged by their looks and income, women are judged by their looks and sociability. Often our society decides a woman’s worth primarily on her looks and a man’s on his money. Interpersonally, I have seen that looks do matter to women and a woman’s personality matters to men. So when a straight man leers at a woman he is betting (or praying) that his values will match with the woman’s perception of his values, and she will have response #1. No man actively wants response #2 from the woman he is leering at. The issue lies with the fact that leering is an aggressive and often intimidating behavior.
The reason so many straight men don’t understand the aggression that is both the power and the downfall of a leer, is because he’s never been leered at by a person who could hold power over him. In the gay world, men are both the leering and the objects of the leer. It creates an interesting dynamic of the male gaze that doesn’t exist in the straight world. If you want to watch a straight man really have an epiphany about leering, take him to a gay bar. Suddenly, he will feel the eyes. The animals are hungry, and they smell the prey. They will lustily and slowly look him up and down, beer steins in hands or whiskey on their breath. The bar will be lowly lit, loud music blaring from some shirtless DJ, drinks poured by a bartender who looks like he hasn’t eaten a carb since 1982, and men with pants so tight you can tell their religion. The hunt is on and an unsuspecting gazelle has just wandered away from his herd. In here, men know what it feels like to be leered at and what power can be wielded by a well-timed and received leer. It’s the communication of lust and sexual aggression.
I don’t know any straight man who will forget his first experience in a gay bar. For the first time, he’s the object of desire by someone who may actually be more physically powerful than him. This is a daily experience for women. Women live with that constant thought that if that leering guy wanted to act with force, he’d have a good chance at succeeding. It’s a power dynamic that a straight man can only experience from other men; that look that signals a deep carnal desire to possess another person. It can be incredibly exciting when it’s reciprocated. It can be completely unnerving when it is not.
So, now we arrive at the point. Is leering bad? Personally, I love to be leered at. My inner narcissist is titillated at the thought of being desired, publically desired, and for someone to risk rejection and place their desire out front, saying a little prayer inside that their leer will be returned. I think my comfort with it also stems from the fact that I understand the impulse to leer. As a man, I am naturally predicated to leer at objects of sexual desire. I totally understand why they are leering and enjoy the power I feel it gives me to hold their gaze. My sexual impulses are strong, and though women are visually stimulated as well, the male gaze is a thing for a reason. Men have a direct sexual response to looking at a desirable sexual partner. This is why Aunt Cybil got off reading a novel, and Uncle George had a collection of vintage Playboys with the pages stuck together.
So to women, the next time you are leered at and find yourself not enjoying it, realize that for most men, they are simply expressing desire and may not even be aware they are leering. Ask yourself if his leer would bother you the same if he were hot and rich. If the answer is still yes, then tell the douchebag this ain’t no cheap meat he’s looking at and to take a hike. If the answer is no, but you still don’t want to reciprocate, simply give a smile and shake your head to indicating that you appreciate his interest but he doesn’t have a chance in hell. Now to the men who are leering, make sure you are leering with respect and admiration. I know this might seem like an oxymoron, but I have faith that you don’t need to be a douche and can figure it out. She isn’t there for your enjoyment, but her own. So if you are giving a look to a woman that you’d be uncomfortable receiving from a cellmate in prison, then knock it off. That is all.
Here is a picture of Chris Colfer getting leered at. Thanks Rolling Stone.