As I’ve mentioned previously, much of my quiet-computer-time lately has been spent rereading archives of my favorite cozy blogs, including the very wonderful Yarn Harlot. Because it is a knitting blog, the demographic of her readership is highly skewed towards the female, although there is a small, proud contingent of male knitters and supporters as well. One thing I’ve noticed is that several times, in telling stories about her day, she’s posted pictures of attractive gentlemen (friends and relatives of hers), and she invariably gets comments of the “hubba, hubba… is he single?” variety.
The assumption that the writers and the commenters and I all carry around that is that it’s charming and complimentary to the man in question. I don’t perceive the person making the “hubba, hubba” comment as shallow or immature, and I don’t think anyone else does either. But if the genders were reversed, I would. A comment like “Tim is quite as delicious-looking as that cake” would be creepy and irritating if it were a man saying, “Tess is quite as delicious-looking as that cake.” Once again, it’s quite apparent that we see women’s sexual desire as harmless and complimentary, while we see men’s sexual desire as creepy and predatory.
There are a number of things behind this. First, our cultural paradigm is that men are always reacting sexually to people, whether they say it aloud or not, while women rarely are. A man is presumed to be constantly thinking “Ooh, what a hottie!” whenever there are attractive women around, but it would be obnoxious if he said it every time he thought it, so we expect him to keep his thoughts to himself. A woman, on the other hand, is presumed to feel sexual interest rarely enough that she can afford to say it every time she thinks it, without it becoming the only thing she ever says. So commenting publicly on someone’s hotness is viewed as a sign of poor self-restraint in men, in a way that just doesn’t apply for women.
Second, some males do engage in some pretty gross and creepy sexual evaluations of attractive women. Some males are predatory, cruel, and dishonest in sexual relationships (some females, too, but the cultural stereotype is that it’s mainly males). Some males have a hard time thinking of an attractive woman as anything but a sex object. Because of these things, any male comment on a woman’s sexuality is guilty, or at least suspect, by association. That sounds unfair, and it is, but I think part of the reason for the strong association is that even men who don’t, themselves, demean and belittle sexy women don’t do a lot to punish that kind of talk in other men. Because I’m a woman, I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but my impression is that dudes are pretty vigorous in defending their dudely privilege, and any man who dared to say, “Um, what you just said was disrespectful and misogynistic” would be socially punished. (Men? Am I right?)
So, for me, a man has to build up some serious feminist cred before I can hear him going “Hubba, hubba,” without harboring doubts about his maturity and level of respect for women. (There are a number of men of my acquaintance who have done this, by the way.) And at this point, I honestly don’t know whether that’s something I should apologize for or not. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be the case, but in an ideal world, the first factor I mentioned would be diminished and the second nonexistent. Since we live in the real world, I’m provisionally comfortable with my prejudice, though always open to new ideas that might change my perspective. Thoughts?