by: Tasia Alexopoulos
"Dorsal view. Glimpse of shiny skin between T-shirt and white gym shorts. Bending, over a window sill, in the act of tearing off leaves from a poplar outside."(Nabokov, Lolita)
After reading Ian Brown's column in the Globe and Mail, "Why men can't--and shouldn't--stop staring at women", I mainly just felt embarrassed for the author. Spring fever has inspired Brown to try to compose something 'sensual', honest, raw, and fundamentally masculine. Maybe he's been watching too much Mad Men and he's yearning for bygone years, but he doesn't seem to realize that very few (talented) authors in history have been able to really pull off this kind of writing without coming off like old perverts justifying their leering.
This sloppy essay probably seemed like a really sexy idea after a respective drink with each source of "research" Brown encountered; writing at his desk late at night, under lamplight, some kind of fancy scotch at hand but in the cold, hard light of day all illusions of grandeur are completely dispelled. Not only is this piece badly composed and unfocused, it's also completely boring.
We all know that some men stare at women. Women, especially, know this. It's creepy sometimes, scary other times, once in awhile it can be reciprocal, and it's always an every day occurrence. Most people also know, by now, that turning women into objects that need to be admired to survive is probably not ok. It's not surprising to me that a bunch of 50-60 year old upperclass professional men are sitting around waxing philosophical about staring at 20 year old asses, what surprises me is that Brown insists on painting all men with the same brush.
It's natural, all men do it, because no man can help it. Men are animals! And women should be flattered when men look at them because, as one charmer puts it:
"[men are always]only two clicks away from double penetration and other forms of pornographic nastiness, the act of merely looking at a girl who is naturally pretty – I mean, we should celebrate that.”
Can the Globe and Mail just casually print the term "double penetration"? Also, because there is a huge market for pornography and this married man can access any type of woman any time, women on the street should celebrate still being viable? This guy isn't making a good point, he's just pointing out that he's sleazy. He and Ian Brown want to convince the reader that all men are like them, but that just isn't true.
Brown's compatriot laments “the problem for us as men is that we're in the wrong culture, and we're men at the wrong time. We're not a culture that empowers men with casual sensuality.” What does being a man at the wrong time mean? Does it mean that you weren't alive during a time when women had no rights and, therefore, truly were objects? Does it mean a time when women were sexy secretaries and flight attendants? Casual sensuality exists, it just doesn't mean what these men think it does. Casual sensuality isn't blind to the conditions of the world because 'casual' and 'predatory' are two totally different things.
What Brown and these men(and lady) are doing is projecting their own wants and desires onto young, female bodies without considering how that human experiences the world. Women as works of art, women as flowers, women as trophies. It's not sexy and it's not sensual, it's gross and passé. Brown doesn't ask the young women that he's describing in such detail how they feel about his lechery, he doesn't ask their names or what their professions are because he's decided that the opinions of his male friends is more accurate and carries more weight.
What Brown is doing, I think, is most deftly demonstrated by Nabokov in Lolita. Nabokov's narrator describes in detail his voyeuristic experiences with young girls and women, and when his affections transfer to Dolores Haze(his Lolita) he completely erases her identity. Readers don't experience Dolores they experience Lolita, because the narrator can't enjoy his compulsion for young girls if they are humanized. The reader doesn't experience sexual assault or rape, kidnapping or abuse, the reader experiences the gratification and fruition of all of Humbert's sexual desires. Brown engages in this kind of dehumanizing rhetoric when he says things like "it's not as if they're hiding", "Ki's waitresses are brain-stopping, cleavage seems to be the prix fixe", or saying that the girls are so appealing because they are "free." How does he know they're free? He doesn't but any attempt to fill out this "free" girls' personality would effectively kill his fantasy.Brown and his fellow men discuss how the women they are staring down are the same ages as their daughters but that doesn't make them off-limits. How can men who have daughters be so disconnected from the experiences of young women? How can they care so little? So they accept and are completely fine with the idea that their daughters are some old man's Lolita? Really? That kind of mental disconnect just seems bizarre.
For all of these reasons I found Brown's article less infuriating and more humiliating. It makes me shudder to think of these men sitting at fancy restaurants and coffee bars enacting this manly, sexy shtick , throwing back their "manes", and revelling in their virility. Sad, fading masculinity, grasping at any and all vestiges of power that they can.
Ian Brown (and those like him) is not special or interesting and is no Vladimir Nabokov, but he is kind of a Humbert Humbert.