Monday, June 12, 2017

Invisible Women

If you belong to the world of pseudo-sophisticated pseudo-intellectuals you have undoubtedly gnashed your teeth over the dread male gaze. Apparently, some members of the male gender cast longing glances of women who are merely walking down the street. Occasionally they accompany these vulgar looks with inarticulate sounds that are commonly called wolf-whistles and cat-calls.

An elementary knowledge of the English language would tell you that these descriptions of male behavior dehumanize the males in question. Being called a wolf or a cat makes you subhuman. I trust that I do not need to explain this to you.

As it happens feminists take serious offense at said male gaze, whether offered by wolves or cats. They want it banned. The reason, Jezebel writer Dodai Stewart says, is that it dehumanizes women. One might imagine that the dehumanized males who engage in this ghastly activity are trying to bring women down to their own level, but seriously, when was the last time a wolf or a cat engaged in such vulgar behavior. Generally speaking, these mammals only evince sexual interest when they perceive signals of fertility, not otherwise.

While we certainly do not condone vulgar and offensive behavior, in previous ages codes of gentlemanly conduct proscribed them. Nowadays, thanks to certain ideologues, such codes have been rejected as demeaning to women. Thus, we find ourselves trying to control behavior by inventing new taboos and policing thought and even glances. Imagine the thought police out on their daily rounds, trying to ascertain whether this or that construction worker moved his gaze by which angle when a comely lass sauntered by. Was he focused on her pussy hat or a more intimate aspect of her anatomy?

Allow me to raise a point that no one else seems to mention, namely, that the average female has some control over how she appears in public. The multitude of women’s fashion selections allows women to craft an image that can influence how other people see her. If she dresses like a vamp and shows off a lot of skin, she will provoke a certain response. If she dresses like a businesswoman, she will provoke a different response. True, this is not foolproof, but at the least it relieves women of the depressing thought that they have no say in how other people see them. The world of fashion should have helped everyone to overcome this illusion, but apparently not.

In the meantime, Charlotte Allen has written an article for the benefit of young women who have had it up to here—I don’t know where here is—over wolf whistles and cat calls. Her message is simple: enjoy it while it lasts.

Hmmm. She means that at a certain point in life the looks vanish, the cat-calls and wolf-whistles are muted, and a woman becomes invisible to the male gaze. Almost any woman over the age of 50 can recount the moment when she realized that men did not notice her walking down the street. It was not a happy day.

Eve Pollard, veteran journalist said:

"Of course, like most women over 50 I know, I am invisible....

"I know that no man is ever going to wolf-whistle at me or stare moodily at me with a hint of lust again. Yes, you can be a feminist and secretly enjoy that."

Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine explained:

When I was young, I suffered from all the usual afflictions — naivety, arrogance, vegetarianism, sixth-form socialism, a liking for cider and bad poetry.

I was, I’m ashamed to say, a walking, talking cliche.

But the thing I regret the most was my half-baked feminism — and the sense of humour bypass that accompanied it. Like so many girls of my generation, I took myself far too seriously and was quick to mistake kindness or generosity for sexism.

I would never let a man pay for dinner (or I would never admit to it, at any rate) and I wore ugly shoes I could walk in, rather than have to accept a lift home in high heels. As for winking, thigh-patting and the occasional wolf-whistle — woe betide the man who dared.

Now, aged 50, I realise how silly I was to get so wound up about such things. If I had my time again, I would accept those gestures for what they are: crude but flattering demonstrations of male admiration. And I would appreciate them all the more as I know how much I miss them now they’re gone.

And also:

Believe it or not, I used to get wolf-whistled on a fairly regular basis in my youth (although not as much as my friend Lucy, who’d cause serious industrial accidents if she went within 100 yards of a building site)....

Nowadays, I’d be positively overjoyed by the attention. To today’s right-on students, these must sound like the demented ramblings of a Fifties housewife. But until you’ve experienced the invisibility switch for yourself, you really have no idea what it feels like.

As though to contradict my earlier point, the obvious conclusion we draw from these testimonials is that there is a cut-off point for wolf-whistles and cat-calls. And the cut-off point has more to do with biology than anything else. One empathizes with the chagrin that befalls some serious pseudointellectuals when they see evidence that gender is not a social construct, but, what can you do?


Sam L. said...

It's such a bummmmmmmmer! Although, older men will notice. We're just quieter about it.

Ares Olympus said...

Sarah Vine: But the thing I regret the most was my half-baked feminism — and the sense of humour bypass that accompanied it. ... I would never let a man pay for dinner (or I would never admit to it, at any rate) and I wore ugly shoes I could walk in, rather than have to accept a lift home in high heels.

Half-baked feminism must have infected me as well. I confess every time I see a woman with high heels, my internal reaction is "There's a useless and foolish woman I'm glad isn't in my life."

And maybe someday I'll regret my lack of interest in women who prefer catcalls over invisibility, but I have no evidence so far.