A few weeks back, Globe and Mail writer Ian Brown wrote an article about the inevitability of staring at good-looking women. Spring brings temperate weather and temperate weather leads to less layering and more revealing clothing and more revealing clothing leads to fellows feeling their temperatures rise. Think of it as the male gaze as sponsored by global warming.
Whenever someone has an interesting idea, I like to play a little game called “in a car.” I just take the idea and put “in a car” at the end of it and, hey presto, you’ve got an insightful essay that entertains while it enlightens.
To be fair, I was already considering writing a “think piece” about how men can’t resist staring at women from cars, but the furor that ensued after Brown’s story was published convinced me this was an automotive issue that required immediate examination. Plus, for for a few weeks last month and this month, everywhere I drive there are women walking around who aren’t wearing parkas. It’s distracting.
There is no way to know precisely, but it’s fair to say that there are probably millions of car accidents caused by drivers whose attentions are diverted by the world’s oldest distraction. It happens so often that insurance companies should have a specific category for it, something like the “forlorn hope” or the “pathetic leer.” I’ve often wondered if, when a driver rear-ends the car in front of him while eye-loving a passerby, he feels remorse. Does he think, “I’m so stupid” or does he think, “I’m only human.”
That’s the cornerstone of the activity. That it is impossible not to stare at a person you find attractive and the car provides the perfect vehicle for said pursuit.
Face it. Men have been eyeing women from cars since the introduction of the first Model T. The car makes a male gazer feel camouflaged. The vehicle’s motion and steel exterior makes him believe that his leer will go unnoticed. So he stares. Then the object of his uninvited attention moves on – crosses the street or disappears into a store. Then it’s on to the next distraction. That’s another factor. These people are simply out there living their lives. You’re not actively searching for them. They just appear. If a man is traveling with his girlfriend or wife, he has to apply some sort of move to cloak his sad involuntary leer. I like to point out some landmark, “Hey, look at that building.” Then you have around five seconds to check out whoever is going by.
The car also allows the driver to engage in a form of behaviour he would not normally indulge in. Most of us would not sidle up to a stranger and mentally give them a physical. Not cool.
The car also spares his ego. That beautiful woman (by beautiful, I mean whatever the gazer finds attractive, I’m not going into type) might have given him her number, if he had the time to stop and ask, but he was driving and had to keep rolling along, so I guess we’ll never know. He never has to confront the fact he would never ever, ever, ever have any kind of chance.
Do women drivers stare at men as they cruise by? Yes, but it is not season-dependent. Most of the time the amount of clothing a man wears in public is the inverse to his attractiveness. Show me a guy in skin-tight shorts and skimpy T-shirt and I’ll show you a guy who is going to spend his day leer-free.
Women stare at women, too. Some do it because they are gay, others because they are admiring their shoes and some because they are gay and admiring their shoes. But men will never get an official confirmation on any of these activities (straight, gay or otherwise).
Women, in fact, are surprisingly quiet when it comes to coming clean about their automotive concupiscence. That’s because, generally speaking, women treat the enlightenment of men on a need-to-know basis.
Few people are aware of it but Jack Nicholson’s immortal line from A Few Good Men – “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” – was originally written for a husband/wife scene between Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline but was switched after lobbying from various female organizations who didn’t want this fact revealed.
It’s hard enough being a woman, knowing that a bunch of slack-jawed Y-chromosome carriers are staring at them as they drive. They don’t need those individuals knowing that they sometimes do the same thing.
How do women feel about getting the look from passing vehicles? Depends on who you ask. Some take it as a compliment. Some as an affront. Others accept it as a nuisance.
For men, the experience is not quite the same. Most of what men receive from passing motorists can be described as “all things hurled.” I may have been ogled when I was younger, but back then I was too awkward and consumed with self-loathing to notice (now that I am older I am comfortable with my self-loathing).
I can recall walking home the night I realized my first marriage was over and being called various derogatory epithets from a random passing car. There have been eggs and cups of soda tossed my way. If someone is any way nice or complimentary most men gratefully accept the attention. Once in England, a guy in a Jaguar stopped at a light said, “You’re looking good.” To which I replied, “Thanks.” I was looking good and I appreciated that someone had finally noticed. Plus he was driving a Jag.
So that’s it. It’s spring and will soon be summer – prime time for all the King Leers out there to take in the scenery. Call it sad. Call it wrong. Call it nature taking its course. Call it what you like: just try to keep your eyes on the road. And keep your hands on the wheel where we can see them.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy