Must… resist… “birdwatching” pun!

Blogging requires a lot of mental and emotional resources, and lately I’ve been devoting most of what I have to job-searching and paperwork-completing and angry-phone-call-making. I want to blog more, I hope to blog more, but “I’m sorry I haven’t been writing!” posts are boring to read and just make me feel bad, so I’m going to try not to do that. I do promise to post if I’m planning on abandoning blogging, so assume that any future incidents of radio silence will be only temporary. For my part, I’m going to try to make myself post more of the quickies that cross my mind most days, even if it means forgoing in-depth analysis on some posts. I don’t think I really have any Feminism 101 readers anyway, and besides, there’s already a blog for that. We’ll see how this resolution goes.

So! Here’s what got the ol’ noodle noodling today: A Girl’s Guide to Respectful Girlwatching on Jezebel. Sadie gives some anecdotes about creepy oglers and some reasons for why she likes people-watching women more than men. Both she and some of the commenters seem to feel that the curvalicious ladies are more pleasing to the eye than dudes. I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to this—I am a big fan of female beauty, and although I enjoy looking at naked dudes as much as the next straight woman, I see where people are coming from (…hee) when they make cracks about guys looking goofy naked.

But of course, this ignores that millions of ways that people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, are trained to seek out, recognize, and appreciate female beauty. Ads, TV, movies, modeling, magazines, whatever, they’re all trying to associate their product with beauty, and beauty, they pretty universally tell us, resides in women. We have been taught to find beauty in women. Men, we are left to assume, are just sort of… there. They are not for display because they give us nothing worth displaying. But imagine the many varieties of male beauty we might suddenly discover if only we were trained to look.

We have no problem acknowledging that trained photographers are more likely to be able to find the beauty in a moment or vista than those of us who have not been taught to look at the world that way. Yet when it comes to our preferences in human appearances, we believe our sense of what is and is not beautiful, of where to find beauty, is innate, objective, and universal.

And that’s without even getting into the ways in which the things that are most valued in female beauty are themselves often a construction—clear skin and big eyes aped with makeup, slim waists honed through dieting and exercise and faked by “support garments” and tailored clothing, long legs an illusion created by stilettos, and boobs! Forget padding and implants, even all-natural, unembellished boobs, as we most often think of them, are a construction. Breasts don’t stay high and round and small-nippled well into middle age if they are left to their own devices. They sag and flatten and stretch. And I bet neither the Jezebel commenters nor Isaac Mizrahi, whom Sadie quotes as saying, “I mean, breasts! They’re beautiful! All breasts!” were thinking of “National Geographic boobs” when they sang the praises of those luscious curves.

I’m meandering, so in case it’s not clear, let me state outright: I’m not criticizing Sadie, who wrote a short piece on a topic tangentially related to this post, for not shoehorning in some analysis on why so many of us seem to feel that women are more aesthetically pleasing than men. She doesn’t even make the mistake of saying women are objectively or obviously more beautiful than men. But her post touches on an argument I’ve had more than once, where someone says, “Women are just more fun to look at!” and I’m forced to say, “I kind of agree, but I think we need to look at what makes us say that.” And then it gets awkward and shouty.

But it’s an argument worth making over and over, because letting the presumption that women are inherently better-looking than men stand feeds into and provides an excuse for treating women as decorative objects, for expecting them to be on display all the time, for equating them with sex.

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