Criminalizing the male gaze: giving female narcissists the upper hand

The US cosmetics market is the biggest market in the world, worth an astonishing $55 billion in 2012, and forecasted to just keep on growing.

If you eliminate all women under the age of 14, the female population in the US is around 124 million, suggesting that each and every woman in the US spends $443 per year on cosmetics.

Okay, men buy a few cosmetics, principally in the category of “skin care” products (which includes sunscreen), but jesus that is a lot of money.

I wonder why $50 billion dollars is being pocketed by the makers of lady face spackle and prettification? Why would women do that? Ask a feminist and she’ll say PATRIARCHY OPPRESSION UNREASONABLE BEAUTY STANDARDS OBJECTIFICATION MISOGYNY, but ask a scientist, and you’ll get a different answer.

 “As women, we don’t have the choice to engage with the beauty industrial complex: it’s so ever-present in our lives that women who don’t wear makeup are commonly taken as defining themselves against it. To not wear makeup, for many women, is to invite misunderstanding or, worse, judgment.”

Oh, good heavens, no!  Not judgement!  Women are judged on their appearances?  Appearances convey information about who you are and what you value?

Luckily, men escape that whole boondoggle, don’t they? Ask the 75% of men who shave their faces every day about that one. Well, that’s according to Glamor magazine.  Curiously enough, I couldn’t find an official government department that tracks men’s shaving habits.  That’s very sad.  Think of all the liberal arts graduates being denied citizen funded salaries and benefits!  Won’t someone please think of the liberal arts graduates?

Let’s try asking a scientist why women are so enamored of cosmetics.  According to two researchers at Gettysburg College, women use make-up for a very simple reason:  it makes them look younger. And looking younger is something women care about, very much.

Looking older or younger than one’s age is associated with health and environmental factors such as body mass index (BMI), depression, marital status, and social class . Indeed, perceived facial age is a clinically useful biomarker of aging, and looking older than one’s age is a sign of poor health, and mortality. Though poor health surely contributes to appearing old for one’s age, there is evidence to suggest that appearance may also cause diminished health and psychological well-being, because of reduced social contact and social touching that results from having skin that no one “loves to touch”, including the possessor. A person who appears older is perceived as more autonomous and dominant, which discourages touching. Though the benefits of touch increase with age, the opportunities to be touched decrease significantly.

Maintaining a youthful appearance is of great importance for many people, perhaps because of the relationships between the appearance of age and health, and between the appearance of age and beauty. Many people are concerned with reducing the visual signs of aging, and this supports the existence of the multi-billion dollar cosmetic and cosmetic surgery industries.

It’s super-cute that the researchers use the word “people”, but a closer look at their experiment reveals that only women were digitally manipulated to test characteristics relevant to perception of age and beauty.

Experiment 1: 289 women

Experiment 2: 150 women

Experiment 3: 30 women

No men at all.

Why do we care about this?  I’m providing evidence for the argument that women spend, literally, billions of dollars every year in an effort to draw attention to their physical appearance.  And from whom do they hope to garner this attention? To a certain extent, women use cosmetics and their appearances to compete with other women, in a strategy called mate-guarding. Women ward off more physically attractive rivals by enhancing their own attractiveness.

But for the most part, beauty serves as function to attract high status males.  The key words being “high” and “status”.

So what happens when the $443 dollars Princess spent on her face trying to attract a high status male backfires, and instead she attracts the attention of lower status men?

Hannah Price decided to photographically document those results in a series the media dubbed “My Harassers”, but which Hannah herself calls “The City of Brotherly Love”.

Before we take a more careful look at Hannah’s photographs, I think we should at least give her credit for demonstrating a nuanced, rational account of what she was trying to do. Hannah does not consider the men she photographed to be “harassers”.  She admits that sometimes it was only a glance in her direction that prompted her to request a photograph.

Ambiguity might be one of this project’s most prevalent themes. It’s been mistakenly referred to as “My Harassers” on some blogs, which Price does not like. Her series doesn’t take an aggressive stance on catcalling; it’s not meant to incite social action, she says. Rather, it’s an observation, a way to react behind the camera lens.

Hannah also discusses the conditions under which she would like to be approached by men.

“The nonportraits are more of how I would like to be approached. I would like to be approached in a respectable manner, or I would definitely like to fall in love,” she says. “The nonportraits are more sort of how I envision a romantic encounter. I don’t know if catcalling is necessarily romantic, it’s more of like an instant in a situation.”

And the charges that Hannah is racist seem a bit premature, given that she explicitly selected subjects that intersected with her own identity.

My background is I’m mixed-race. … I’m Mexican and black, and I grew up in white suburbia and so I’ve photographed stereotypes of the black race and the majority [of the recent work has been] mostly about men.

No matter.  The mainstream media picked up the story and ran with it.  Brotherly love turned into menacing thugs.

Street harassers!

My harassers!

Confronting street harassers!

Read through the comments, if you have the stomach for it, and you will hear men called every version of sleazebag, scumball, creep, pig, asshole – words specifically meant to deny/dismiss/deride sexual attention from low-status men.  Sexual attention from high status men is still a welcome compliment.

Even Anna North, a regular contributor at Jezebel writes “I’d be lying if I said I’d never in my life been flattered by a catcall.”

Sexism:  acceptable when it works in your favor.

Let’s talk for a moment about the concept of the “gaze”. In feminist theory, which I had ample opportunity to study during my Barista of Arts days, arises from an observation Laura Mulvey made about certain Alfred Hitchcock films.  Using a technique called shot/reverse shot, Hitchcock will show the man looking at something, reverse the shot to show that he is looking at a woman and presto voilà the man has objectified and controlled the woman with his gaze.

No, really.  That is how the theory works.  She then notes that when a woman does look first, she ends up dead.

In Alfred Hitchcock films, a lot of people end up dead.

You can take a look at Mulvey’s Visual and Other Pleasures here, although I warn you, it’s a typical piece of academic writing, dragging a sentence worth of ideas out to pages and pages of obfuscating,  deliberately confusing nonsense

To my knowledge, no one has ever exhaustively confirmed that when a shot/reverse shot shows the women looking, the women always end up dead, nor has anyone ever demonstrated that when the man is shown looking first, he is narratively powerful and controlling over anything, never mind the woman he looks at.

Of course, that would constitute actual research, and that’s a no fly zone when it comes to feminist theories of knowledge.  Facts are sexist anyway.  Gravity:  just another male theory that holds women down.

Feminists ran with the idea that the gaze has the power to control and that only men get to deploy it (despite any evidence).  Women who look will be punished and therefore men control women by looking at them.  Is it any wonder that some women actually claim they can be raped by a look?

Recap:  women spend billions of dollars to get men to look at them; when men look at them it’s either flattering or rape, depending on…. the status of the man.

Let’s go back to Hannah Price.  Hannah, who grew up in a white suburb, probably knows a thing or two about being looked at.  Moving to Philly introduced her to something she had never encountered before:  sexual attention from low-status men.  Beginning with the assumption that regardless of their social status, these men were all still human beings, she decided to capture their humanity in a portrait.

It’s kind of amusing, but kind of not, that so many feminist writers seemed completely astonished by the fact that men are, *gasp*, human beings!  Even men they don’t want to fuck!

Price’s photos remind us that these men are human. Their behavior is disgusting, their view of women is appalling, but they’re not monsters. They are complex, confused humans.

Oh, you need reminding, do you?  Good to know what your basic assumptions are. Well, I suppose when you consider having (the wrong status) man look at you or talk to you “disgusting” and “appalling”,  a reminder is in order.

When Hannah approached the men in these photos, she did two things: she demonstrated that the gaze does have power and it depends not on the gender of either the wielder or the recipient, but rather on the status of both, and that women have agency and are actually capable of perceiving themselves as something other than victims.

Men who cat-call women on the street are playing out the script that women continue to insist upon:  women draw attention to their appearances and highlight the features of their bodies that convey youth and fertility, and only object when the wrong man notices.

Status, of course, is relative, and there is no real way for any individual man to know if he meets any given woman’s criteria.  What he does know, invariably, is that he is expected to make the first move. Both men and women expect and prefer men to be the pursuer.  Dr. Michael Mills at Loyola Marymount actually went ahead and got all patriarchal and conducted some empirical research into that phenomenon.

A great majority of women, 93%, preferred to be asked out — only 6% preferred to do the asking. The majority of men preferred to do the asking, 83%, while 16% preferred to be asked out on a date. It is interesting that more men preferred to be asked out (16%) than there were women who preferred to do the asking (6%). That difference suggests that 10% of men may be waiting quite a while for a woman to ask them out on a first date.

Cat-calling a woman on the street is hardly an elegant approach, but it does fit the dominant cultural narrative:  women get all pretty and wait for men to make the first move.

The idea that women are somehow harmed by attention from men requires two assumptions:  that women, and only women, have the right to control the expression of sexuality, and that women are always, always victims. Hannah demonstrates that neither of those things are true.  Her photos are an expression of her status, which is a result of how she interacts with her environment and the other humans in that environment, and not just something she gets to unilaterally declare.  And they demonstrate that she can easily turn the tables and objectify men.  If anything, a lot of these men look intensely vulnerable.

Indeed, there is a great deal of power in the “gaze”.  And despite the protestations to the contrary, organizations like Hollaback! are seeking to criminalize that gaze.  But only one side of it.  The male gaze.  And not just any male.  Low status men.  The ones who happen to have brown skin are in for some amplified lady hate.

The problem, among a great many here, is the FACT that despite whatever Ms. Roy [Deputy Director] does or does not believe or advocate, and despite whatever the powers-that-be at Hollaback! itself does or doesn’t believe or advocate, taxpayer monies were indeed given to the organization to develop a smartphone app for use in the City of New York, in Adria Richards vigilante fashion on largely Black and Brown lower class Men – full stop.

Because they’re not marginalized and criminalized enough, right?

The issue of street harassment contains so many of the central contradictions of feminism.  “Hey baby, looking good” is NOT harassment.  The use of powerful words to describe “things I don’t like” is endemic to feminism.  “Rape” can now be used to describe how a man looks at a woman.  “Domestic violence” can be invoked when a woman is being ignored.




These words describe actions, and not feelings.

Women continue to expect all the benefits of so-called “benevolent” sexism, while accepting none of the downsides. They continue to demand all the privileges of the feminine, while refusing the costs.  They accept all the rights, and reject all responsibilities.

Well, wake up, bitches.  You can’t have it both ways.  If you are going to demand the right to shove your tits into push-up bras and unbutton your shirt to the waist and go sashaying down the street trying your best to attract high status men (however you define that), all the while expecting him to be the pursuer, then guess what?

You’re gonna get some blowback. Some of it will come in the form of men mocking your efforts, and some will come from men who understand they are expected to initiate.

You know what you call a woman who thinks the entire fucking world should revolve around what she wants?  Who thinks she is the star of her own universe? Who has a grandiose, inflated sense of her own self-worth?  Who is convinced only her desires and her needs and her wants have any currency?


There is a really easy way to deal with “street harassment” ladies. It will require you to consider the point of view of someone other than yourself.  It will require you to envision the person talking to you as human.  It will require you to envision a world in which what you want is NOT the governing principle.  It will require you to acknowledge that other people exist and they have different motivations than you.


What do you say?  How do you respond?

Listen carefully.  Two words.  You can’t go wrong.

T H A N K   Y O U

You’re welcome.

Lots of love,


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