“I just like the company of beautiful women. I have a weakness in that department.” — Eric Clapton, from an interview with Rolling Stone, 1991
“Am I perfect? Hardly. When I was little, I sometimes saw my dad turn his head to admire a beautiful woman as we drove by. Once in a while I catch myself doing the same thing. Maybe my son sees me. I’m striving to be a better man, too. It starts with self-awareness.” — Danilo Alfaro, “Men: Misogyny is About Your Sons, Not Your Wives and Daughters.” Good Men Project, Oct. 12, 2016; originally published on the Huffington Post, Oct. 9.
The revelations about Donald Trump have led to a much-needed discussion in our society about how women are treated by men. And there really can be no excuse for groping nor even for the kind of “locker room talk” that Trump engaged in on that now famous tape. But I think some men have taken this noble desire not to offend to an extreme, so that to some, even looking at an attractive woman is a bad thing. Surely that is the implication of those words I’ve quoted from Danilo Alfaro’s recent piece. When you “catch” yourself doing something, there is the clear implication that this is not something you should be doing – especially, as Alfaro specifies, in the company of your young son.
As the father of three grown sons and the grandfather of four boys, I have a lot of trouble with this. I totally agree that my sons should have gotten—and hopefully did get—the message that women should always be treated respectfully, and I assume that my grandsons are getting the same message from them. But when Alfaro writes “When I was little, I sometimes saw my dad turn his head to admire a beautiful woman as we drove by,” as if this were a bad thing, my immediate feeling is that the only bad thing about it is that when you turn your head while you’re driving, you could have an accident.
Just think about the word “beautiful.” The dictionary definition is “pleasing the mind or senses aesthetically.” And if something is pleasing to the mind or senses aesthetically, we are drawn to experience it – typically either by looking (mountains, art, and, yes, human beings) or listening to it (music). To not do so requires a very special effort.
And let’s consider a word that we often use interchangeably with “beautiful” or “pretty” when applied to a woman: attractive. Is it sexist to say that a woman is attractive? (And don’t forget, men can be attractive too.) Let’s look up the dictionary definition of that word: “appealing to look at; sexually alluring.” Put more simply, “attractive” means capable of attracting.
Do women-–and men—not want to be attractive?
Here’s an experience I had many years ago that showed me how being noticed by women was important to me, even though I hadn’t noticed they were looking until suddenly one day they weren’t.
I wasn’t the world’s greatest looking teen and had the misfortune of having an extremely good-looking younger brother. On top of this, he was close to six feet tall and I was more like 5’9”. It is a simple, well-researched fact that, all other things being equal, women are attracted to taller men. Sorry, guys, but we know it’s true.
As I got into my twenties, I started looking better. In my late 20s I grew a beard, which my wife liked a lot. But even with a beard, I never noticed that women other than my wife were looking at me. The beard didn’t hurt, I felt, but it didn’t seem to be a game-changer.
Then one day, at age 40, caught in the throes of a midlife crisis, I decided to shave my beard off. I let my wife know, and she was not happy about my decision. But I did it. I knew I could start growing it back immediately, so it was no big deal.
When my wife got home from work and saw me, she got very upset. One of my two young sons started to cry. Daddy just didn’t look like Daddy anymore.
This itself would have been enough to get me let it grow back immediately, but what happened outside the house was the clincher. As I walked down the street, beardless, I noticed that women were not looking at me. I had never noticed that they were looking, but I sure noticed when they weren’t. My beard had clearly made me more attractive to women, and that was just one more reason to grow it back.
Would a woman have turned her head to look at me as she drove? I don’t know, but that would have been fine with me as long as she didn’t have an accident. And if she did look at me or any other man, with her young daughter sitting in the car with her, would this have been bad role modeling?
I’m not comparing the glances I got (and still get, I hope) from women with the kind of attention beautiful women get from men. But for heterosexual men to purposely avoid looking goes against the very thing that has kept us propagating. Looking at women is not touching and it’s not catcalling. It’s not even gawking or staring. It is just a natural part of being a heterosexual male.
There is a dialectic about male-female interactions which involves an interplay between our basic biological and sexual selves and the kinds of caring and respectful people we want to be. In being a role model for our sons, I think fathers do them a disservice when they pretend not even to notice attractive women. It almost borders on dishonesty, which is certainly not something we’d want to model for our sons or daughters.
Photo credit: Pixabay