Monday, December 3, 2012

Checking her out

I dedicate this post to Lynn and Anna-Maria who were roommates of mine back in college. Seven women and men shared the house we lived in and I don't think a single week went by in which Lynn or Anna-Maria didn't make some snide comment about how men never cleaned up. This was much discussed among us because no one else in that house, male or female, ever saw either of the two do so much as rinse out a coffee cup in all the time we lived together. They may well have been the biggest slobs in the history of college students, and that isn't hyperbole.

What made the women interesting was that neither was lying. They really believed what they were saying. I think of them when I stuff like this:
When it comes to checking out competition women should not worry about men checking them out - but women instead.
The story concerns a study that used new computer technology that follows eye movements to see how men looked at women and how women looked at other women. The conclusion, apparently meant to be surprising, is that when men meet a woman they mostly look into her eyes whereas women, upon meeting another woman, scan her all up and down looking at her body and especially breasts more than looking at her face.

I don't how this could be news to anyone who ever was in high school. As I've said many times before on this blog, women dress and behave the way they do because they are in competition with other women, You can't compete without checking out the competition.

Again, as I've noted before, put a bunch of women in a room together and all the women will steal glances at the woman with the best breasts in the room (and she, as all women know, is often not the woman with the largest breasts). There is an instant pissing match about these things. Furthermore, if the woman with the best breasts makes a thing of showing off her dominance you can be sure the others will react like a bunch of whipped puppies. (Which is why women collectively act so as to prevent such a thing happen. They are usually successful at this too.)

One of the most blatantly decisive such matches I ever saw was among a group of Christian women meeting in a church group. None of them would ever admit to caring about such things. Not even the woman who demonstrated dominance. And, like Lynn and Anna-Maria, it may be that they honestly didn't believe they cared about such things but you sure could see it from outside. It may even be that the supposedly "pure" church function actually made a form of cutthroat competition that normally wouldn't be seen anywhere, save perhaps backstage before a wet t-shirt contest, possible.

To get back to the main point, if this is so obvious, and it is to anyone who takes the trouble to actually look, why do men still get the blame?

Well, most men don't notice because they look at women. I'm leaving here in a few moments to take part ion a class with about five gorgeous women. It will be very easy for me to notice those women and very hard to notice how they look at one another. No man needs any incentive to glance at Christina's  body but it takes a deliberate and unnatural effort to make a point of watching how other women look at Christina.

Another big part of the answer is intentionality. You look at a woman's breasts in a far different way when you are doing so for pleasure than when you are checking out the competition. I remember being in a room with a bunch of stand-up comics back in the 1980s while they were watching a tape of another comic in action. When they thought his material was good, they'd nod grimly and say, "That's funny". That's how women look at other women's bodies, especially their breasts.

My experience is that women are much better at assessing other women. Often when out with the other women I will be forced to see this. A while ago at a choral concert, for example, I commented about a woman who was there in a far sexier dress than any other women in attendance. Nothing so wild as we often see on the street, just more revealing than any other woman in the room. I, in an almost knee-jerk fashion, made a disparaging comment. I didn't think the Lemon Girl was even aware of this other woman's presence in the room as she was reading the music programme but she calmly said, without even looking up, "What's wrong with that, she has an amazing body."

I looked again and realized that she was right. At no time could The Lemon Girl have done more than a quickly glance at this other woman but she had managed a far more thorough and balanced appraisal than I did.

My appraisal was primarily moral: who was she and what kind of person was she. Who is she and what is she, or could she be, to me.

And that is why men's attention to women's breasts gets a different type of attention. If a man and woman meet for lunch and she sees him glance at her breasts when he thinks she isn't looking, she can be sure that he is thinking how much he would like to caress them and remove her shirt and bra and then ... And that is a rather intimate and invasive thought far different from what other women do.

Competition from other women is threatening, of course, but, if you think about it, an awful lot of what we call civilization consists of conventions meant to limit what women can do by way of competing. A point that becomes painfully obvious when someone fools women into fighting for the "right" to go topless.

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