How is it possible that any person could hate spring? I love few things more than stepping out of the gloom of winter to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine with friends, tossing around a frisbee, having picnics, going for bike rides! Spring makes me absurdly happy!
After reading a post by “Sista Toldja” over at The Beautiful Struggler entitled “Cruel Summer,” I remembered a conversation I had with a female friend a few years back. We were getting ready to go to the park to enjoy the sun, and before we walked outside, she took a deep breath and said, “I hate this!” I didn’t ask immediately what she hated so much, but I quickly realized what she was preparing for with her deep breath. In the ten blocks or so that we walked to the park, nearly every man we passed stared, eyes down, some even being bold enough to lick and smack their lips. One dude even grabbed at his crotch. The part that amazed me is that we were walking together and very likely could have been a couple, and a few guys even felt entitled to “cat call,” commenting on her ass as we walked by!
She ignored them and asked me to do the same, and as we got to the park, we talked about it. “It’s hard for me not to hate spring,” she said. “It’s always worst in spring when the warm weather clothes first come out. It’s like they’re starved puppies who are watching a meat truck unload its wares for the first time in months!”
I, of course, was furious! My friend is being objectified, and it’s happening right before my eyes! This needs to stop! We men need to learn how to act! Look at what a good, feminist, progressive man I am!!
Well, as I am so good at doing, I found myself a hypocrite today. I was in line at a Subway, and I caught myself leering at the woman in front of me, eyes down, practically memorizing the shape of her backside. I shook my head in frustration with myself . . . after all, haven’t I written this blog before? I ordered my sandwich and walked a few blocks to the coffee shop where I planned to work for a few hours. I sat down, noticing but not recognizing the girl sitting directly across from me. When she stood up to go to the bathroom, I realized I did recognize her. I recognized her ass from Subway. Yeah . . . I didn’t recognize this young woman’s face, but I recognized her backside.
Sitting here now, writing this blog, I am frustrated with myself, and I want to open the discussion to my readers. In her blog, “Sista Toldja” ponders, “How exactly should a woman respond to street harassment?” On the other side, we men need to be having a similar conversation.
Undoubtedly my socialization that says, “OBJECTIFY HER! OBJECTIFY HER!” is powerful considering that I work actively against such leering and yet still sometimes catch myself doing it. So how exactly should we, as men, begin our work to change the way we look at women and to respond to the men around us who are cat calling and leering at women? In thinking about this, I think of the point a fellow educator made recently as we talked about how we can approach healthy sexuality with the young men we meet. He stressed that we should be careful not to encourage shame in young men who feel aroused when they see a body they find attractive? The solution seems to be in trying to move our thoughts and actions more toward the “appreciation of beauty” side of the spectrum, but how!?
To me, “appreciating beauty” means appreciating a woman I find beautiful as that . . . a woman . . . a human being with whom I can build a relationship, with whom I can have a conversation. If I find myself casting those leering eyes downward, I try to lift my eyes to look at the person in the face and smile (though I quite clearly fail far too often). I find myself needing to think back to a blog post I wrote nearly six months ago:
For me, the line must be drawn with relationships. If I am simply staring at a woman’s body, separating the beauty of the female form from her as a person, I am simply objectifying her. When, though, I can appreciate how beautiful a woman is in the context of her as a person, her physical beauty mixed with her beauty as a person with hopes, dreams, passions, faults, and realities, I am taking a step toward appreciating beauty in a much more healthy way. In doing so, though, I must keep in mind the standards of beauty laid out for the women in my life by the media and the men (including myself) and learn to see all types of beauty.
I want to interrogate that further, knowing that I can’t develop relationships with every person I meet and find attractive. Is it possible for me to briefly admire a woman’s form without it being objectification? If so, how long is too long before I’m start leering, staring? How is my gaze causing women to sigh, saying, “I hate this!”?
Maybe I should simply take the advice of the Astronomical Kid and “stop staring at [his] moms!”