Noah Brand responds to The Frisky’s criticism of a Good Men Project article.
Newsflash Nathan Graziano: Not everything women do is done with men in mind. Just because you find someone sexy, doesn’t mean she’s being sexy for you. Just because someone is wearing something you find sexy, doesn’t mean she is wearing that something for you. Your argument that women must be wearing yoga pants in part to appeal to man’s reptilian brains is based on one thing: “Sweats are comfortable too.” So a woman who chooses yoga pants over sweats is choosing the option that happens to be more appealing to men, so that must be her M.O. But maybe they’re more appealing to her because they fit better. Yoga pants are certainly more flattering, but women like to look good for themselves too, you know.
She’s not wrong. Mr. Graziano’s article was mainly about his efforts not to stare in a creepy and unwelcome way at people he’s attracted to, a problem a lot of us face, both men and women. That’s not the cause of the criticism, though; McDonell-Parry objects to Graziano leaping to the conclusion that yoga pants must be a deliberate form of performance for the male gaze. And she’s right to so object.
Graziano’s piece does fall into that trap, not out of malice—he’s clearly doing his best to avoid inappropriately sexualizing women he doesn’t know, despite his libido’s unhelpful suggestions—but because falling into traps like that is so damn easy in our culture.
I’m hardly the first to point out that the male gaze is everywhere in our culture, taken for granted as the default “normal” way of viewing the world. Feminists have been critiquing and unpacking it for decades, but it’s still the way half the images we see in the world are constructed. Nobody ever told Nathan Graziano “women do things just to be looked at” because nobody ever had to. It’s built right into the way we see things as a society. Most of us are guilty of falling into this kind of unexamined assumption at one time or another. I personally bristle when I’m dining out with a woman and the server automatically hands me the check, but I understand why it seems perfectly natural to them to do so.
That’s not to completely excuse the implication in Graziano’s article, of course. One of the things I try to do in my own work is dismantle and examine assumptions and stereotypes about men, so I understand how pervasive and persistent these things can be. It seems clear to me that Graziano’s intentions are good and his mistake understandable, but at the same time, the way we learn from our mistakes is by having them pointed out and criticized, so honestly: fair point, Ms. McDonell-Parry.