Anyone Crave The Male Gaze?

oglerOgle: to gaze with sexual desire.

When it comes to feelings about this sort of gaze, women aren’t all of a kind.

I surveyed 44 of my women students for their thoughts.

Some love it. Some like it sometimes. Others… not so much.

Women who love it

Just over a quarter of the women I surveyed really enjoy the male gaze.

Most of these ladies think men are hardwired to do it and can’t help themselves.

And these gals like it regardless of circumstance. Doesn’t matter whether they have purposely dressed to look sexy, or who is looking at them. It’s all good in their minds.

Women’s self-esteem in our culture is often based on looks and this gaze probably makes them feel high status.

But do they feel any discomfort if a guy ogles in front of his partner? Half of this group didn’t mind one bit. Usually, they simply weren’t thinking about his significant other. Others relished a feeling of superiority over his lady.

But about a third of these women thought that any guy who would do that in front of his wife or girlfriend is kind of a jerk.

Sometimes I like it. It depends.

Just under 1/5 said the male gaze can lift their self-esteem and make them feel good.

But it depends.

Like, is she trying to dress sexy?

If not, the attention makes her feel self-conscious, like an object, and it feels like an invasion of privacy.

The attitude behind the gaze is crucial. A respectful, appreciating glance (not stare) can be a complement. Anything disrespectful is not.

But most importantly, is the man someone she’s interested in? If so, the attention is most definitely wanted.

The women in this group all feel like any guy who would ogle her in front of his partner is a jerk.

Do I like ogling? Not so much

More than half — 55% — don’t like it at all.

Ogling doesn’t make these women feel good about themselves; instead, stares from strangers make them feel uncomfortable. Like objects. And it makes them feel like the men feel entitled to their bodies.

But there’s an exception. If the male gaze is coming from someone she’s interested in, she likes his attention very much.

And these women just hate it when a man ogles her in front of his partner, which they find rude and disrespectful to all involved. Many worry that the wife or girlfriend will be upset with her, as well.

This group does not think that men are hardwired to behave that way, either.

So there you have it

Three different groups of women with three different attitudes toward men’s ogling. Maybe the variety of experience helps explain why some guys find it all so confusing.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 20, 2017, in women. Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. Jessica Valenti: 6/3/2014: “The end of hisses, whistles and stares: we need to walk the streets without fear”

    Jessica Valenti 7/20/2015: “Men rarely catcall me any more. I hate that out culture makes me miss it”.

    Even women don’t know what they want, as illustrated by the complete contradiction above. Jessica claims she doesn’t want it, but culture makes her miss it. My interpretation is that she really does want it, but feminism has taught her that’s it’s naughty to want it.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/03/women-street-harassment-statistics
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/20/catcall-culture-feminism-jessica-valenti
    (She has subsequently changed the name of the article, presumably because someone pointed out her self contradiction)

    • She is completely aware of contradiction. And she’s addressing it.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if many women feel that contradiction. Regardless, the women in my classes were all over the place in terms and how they experience the male gaze.

      For some it raises their self-esteem. Others find it threatening. Which seems to be the more common response. Didn’t your mother tell you that staring is impolite? Most people experience staring as threatening on some level. Maybe that comes from evolution when staring meant you were prey to some predator. Which is most often how it feels.

      That said, as Ms. Valenti points out where the gaze is desired, it comes from a culture that values women based on how sexy they seem to men. Which isn’t the healthiest way to get your self-esteem. In the very best case scenario a woman’s self-esteem will only be strong if she is considered attractive, and even then, only for about two decades.

      It’s superficial on all sides. Dustin Hoffman talks about how his self-esteem was affected by not being a beautiful woman when he played Tootsie. And realizing that he/she was an interesting, engaging person and that any men would never get to know that about “her.”

      Men seem to suffer a similar problem in getting their self-esteem via the number of women they have sex with. Men have complained about that on my blog.

      Really, we would all be better off if we got our self-esteem from something more substantive. And fortunately, many of us do.

      • “She is completely aware of contradiction. And she’s addressing it.”

        She seems to be saying she likes it provided it isn’t too crass. But who knows, she is extremely vague and self doubting.

        “The women in my class were all over the place”

        They might have been all over the place, not just between each other, but in their own minds too.

        “Others find it threatening”

        Psychologically speaking, you get over uncomfortable feelings by exposing yourself to it. If you are socially awkward therapists will advise you to go to parties and look into people’s eyes.

        “Didn’t your mother tell you that staring is impolite?”

        Not that I remember. But staring isn’t considered a big deal in many cultures, like China and India.

        “Maybe it comes from evolution”

        Or maybe it’s social dysfunction from living outside of small tribes like we evolved to do.

        “A culture that values women based on how sexy they are to men.. which isn’t healthy”.

        It’s not healthy for men to value sexy women? I think you’re out of luck if you want to change that. You may as well hope for the earth to stop spinning.

        “A woman’s self esteem will only be strong if she is considered attractive”.

        Why do you assume because that someone is valued for reason A that there can’t be other reasons? If a man is valued for being handsome, he can’t be valued for other reasons? What a very odd notion you have there. In any case, aren’t you setting yourself up for trouble if your self esteem comes from caring what other people think? Right there you are on the road to ruin.

      • I checked on the staring in India and China and it was explained this way: we stare at everything unusual and weird.

        That isn’t exactly a compliment.

        There’s nothing wrong with appreciating people who are sexy. There’s a problem when we have narrow notions of what is sexy and when that is the only thing we are valued for.

  2. Women certainly recognize it happens so there’s a little window where you’re allowed to “snap out of it” and regain control.
    In the wild, predators stare.
    It is the natural instinct of a creature who feels less empowered to fear it. It is the natural instinct of a creature who feels more powerful to challenge it.

    It depends on the situation and how he’s staring.
    If I turn my head and catch a guy staring, and he looks away quickly and looks embarrassed, I feel nothing, really. A little amusement, a little sympathy, and yes, possibly, if he is appealing to me, a little interest. I certainly would not think a guy creepy in this instance, no matter how unattractive he was. And for the record, if a stranger came up and felt the fabric of my shirt, no matter how attractive (s)he was, I would find it creepy.
    However, if I catch a guy creepily staring, I will feel uncomfortable and scared—even if he is good looking. I define creepy staring as:
    The guy is very close (within a couple feet) and obviously NOT looking at my face;
    The guy doesn’t look away when I look at him, or keeps looking back (i.e. I catch him looking at me several times).
    The guy is, in addition to looking at me, doing other things (licking his lips, massaging himself, etc.).
    For that matter, passing a strange man in a deserted street at night/in a bad neighborhood makes me nervous regardless. But if he starts staring at me or doing anything else that shows he is taking particular notice of me I’m going to start to panic.

  3. theburningheart

    Very complicated issue, most of us included men, we crave attention, unless you have given up totally, and almost everybody, not to say we all like to be looked by a person, you may feel special, these be men, or women alike, because it boost our ego, and our confidence, unwanted attention it’s when we don’t like the looks, or intentions of the person giving us the ogling!

    To be fair we have to accept it, or wear a burka, since other than get yourself annoyed, there is little than you can do if the person ogling you wasn’t rude, verbally, or physically aggressive.

    Hey, some people have manners, and are educated, others are not.

  4. theburningheart

    I don’t see how my comment suggest your response, I do not approve of ogling, specially if you are with your best half, that it’s rude and impolite.

    And I am all for progressive issues,, and for more empowerment to women.

    When I said it’s a very complicated issue, I am talking about many things, that are not addressed in your piece, you provide a definition of ogling, but to apply that definition to all men who look at a woman it’s tricky, and there is a lot of room to talk about it.

    Just for the fact you look at a beautiful woman, or a woman look to a handsome man, doesn’t mean, there has to be desire to engage sexually with that person, as human we are all attracted to our particular definition of beauty, that may change culturally, according to the people, and individual who is appreciating the beauty.

    There is a fine line into liking the looks of someone, and being disrespectful to your better half, in case you have a better half, I don’t, and so many other single men, most men with a woman know better, but they are those who don’t. And that’s a fact of life, nothing to do of how I do not approve of that conduct period.

    • Sexual desire isn’t bad. Appreciating an attractive person isn’t either. Ogling — staring — makes most women uncomfortable.

      Miscommunication, I guess. Sorry about that.

      • theburningheart

        No sweat, I wanted to clarify I do not approve of rude behavior towards women, of any kind, and to say there is a gray area that need to be addressed.

        something I did not mention before, for example it’s the exhibitionism so blatant now day, of many women who dress too inappropriately, like that fashion of wearing those shorts showing part of their butt hanging, call me old fashioned, but that’s an invitation, for unwanted attention.

        What do you think about that, and do you have any post about the subject?

      • I have a post that one of my students wrote on the subject that I will try to post Spring Quarter.

        I ask my students this question: a feminist friend of mine has a daughter who wants to wear short shorts. The daughter says it’s a feminist choice because feminism means that women should be able to make any choice they want. Her mother worries that she is objectifying herself. I ask my students what they think. (and that is the topic of the paper that one of my the road which I will be posting)

        Here are my thoughts:

        1) no matter what she is wearing it is not an excuse for sexual assault or being rude. I can see how that sort of dress can draw someone’s attention. Regardless of how others behave we can always respond without being rude or hurtful: Which is Worse: Objectification? Or Modesty?
        https://broadblogs.com/2014/03/12/which-is-worse-objectification-or-modesty/

        2) modesty actually works to objectify women. In cultures where women walk around topless and a loincloth their bodies aren’t considered extremely sexual. But in places where a woman is completely covered up she is blamed for being raped because “What man can resist attacking a woman if she is showing an ankle?” See this: Modesty Objectifies Me
        https://broadblogs.com/2015/04/15/modesty-objectifies-me/

        3) that said, we live in a culture that sexualizes women’s bodies by selectively covering and revealing and, given the cultural reality, I think that young women should consider whether they are purposefully or subconsciously objectifying themselves when they wear the kind of shorts you describe. And then ask themselves why they’re doing? What are they seeking? And is it something day really want? But like I said, that doesn’t mean that anyone else has an excuse to be rude to them or assault them.

        Maybe I will write a post on this sometime. Thanks for the idea. If you have any other thoughts I would be interested to hear them.

  5. You know the interesting thing about this, is that yeah it’s creepy or rude for guys to stare, ogle or gawk at women. It’s not nice to look or talk about a woman or her body infront of your girlfriend either. I don’t think guys would like hearing their girlfriend look at a better looking guy and say how hot he is in front of their boyfriend, so it’s good to be respectful and mindful of your partner. But what I’ve experience and like you’ve written about how it’s split with women as far liking glances or looks and depending on who it’s from. There are two times that I thought were funny because it makes me realize women can play the “oh I’m doing this unintentionally, when it’s on purpose”. Kind of how like guys if shirtless at the beach or see a hot girl sometimes suck their gut in lol or like if a man is lifting something or pushing a mower, he might try to act like it’s part of his movement or act, but is kind of flexing his arms or tensing or tightening his chest, but making it look like it’s not on purpose when it is. Two examples one involving me directly and one someone else, but I was there to witness. At a previous job I worked at, I had two supervisors.

    One guy who I like and he still works there. A nice guy and a woman, who I guess neutral about. Anyway, word got out, and many people knew she had the hots for the guy supervisor. I don’t know she must’ve thought she was subtle, but I knew it, others knew it and the guy knew it too ha. Her actions and mannerisms gave things away, but for some reason she must not have known he knew or others. But there was one time when in the break room. She usually didn’t wear revealing clothes, but that day she had a top on, like low cut where I good amount of cleavage. I was eating lunch at the table kind of on one end, and it was just the guy there at the time. No one else, so many empty spots or seats at the table. She comes, and I guess made it seem coincident or something, but she sits right across him on the other side of table. But the amusing thing is when talking to him. She just so happens to hunch forward. You know what that does when women have a cleavage baring top…it really shows their boobs off even more ha, But the amusing thing was her trying to make it look incidental. When it was so obvious to me and I’m sure him it was anything but that. She would then just find a reason to yawn or stretch, which well, when women do that, it pushes their breasts out. I remember just looking down at my food and not looking over as I didn’t want her to see me holding in a smile, because I thought it was funny, because it was so blatant to me, but she was trying to play it off like it’s her natural mannerism when talking to him.

  6. Very interesting topic. I do have my own feelings about this too. I don’t mind just getting glanced at it does feel like a nice gesture especially when I am feeling insecure that day or a little down in my confidence. But I don’t like being stared at for awhile and it does make me feel uncomfortable as well as a guy doing it with his significant other by them. I wouldn’t want my significant other doing it just because it would make myself esteem go down and if Im standing right there just doesn’t seem fair to do in front of me. But another part of me makes me think that they can’t help it. They see a pretty girl and immediately they have to look and just can’t help it rather they are with their significant other or not. I feel like it is most definitely mixed feelings and I am curious do we let the men stare and look and not get upset about it or is it not fair?

    • Generally people are taught that it’s not polite to stare. And men risk having their partners grow less sexually interested in them when they stare at other women. I did a survey and the more you’re partner stares the less interested women were in their partners. So guys might have to make a choice between staring and a relationship. A few of the women didn’t seem to care though, but they were unusual.

  7. I can’t stand ogling, staring or unclear nonverbal communication. It seems almost borderline ‘racist’ for me to assert this, given my upbringing in a traditional high-context culture. In my ethnic culture, women and men are taught to “read faces” which is helpful in understanding emotion, but not motives. I can tell when someone is visibly worried or upset, but their facial expression alone will not hint at the reasons behind said emotion. I cannot help people who do not tell me exactly what has led them to feel a certain way, and I should not be expected to.

    In regards to cultural ‘ogling’ of women, I find it pretty disgusting and uncomfortable. Never in my life have I felt aroused by a nonverbal stranger’s intense gaze at my body and face- sure, it may be a ‘sign’ of attraction but I do not know what is causing said attraction. If someone is attracted to me purely because of my race, hair color or cup size, they should arouse themselves with objects instead of people because I am more than my features. If my hair color is so attractive, for example, why not hook up with a wig? Or a flag of China? Or a bra?

    People fetishize objects because they are status symbols- blondes are considered beautiful and unattainable, Asian women are seen as submissive and exotic, and the voluptuous are considered ‘hot.’ I don’t think people are truly attracted to ‘blondes/Asians/blacks/thick women’- I think they are attracted to the social response they elicit. Validation is power, and people want as much of it as possible.

  8. Women can gain self-esteem and confidence from complement to their good taste on dressing, and they can also gain it from the achievement on working and hobbies, and I think it’s not wrong to dress nicely or sexy, but it’s inappropriate to sexualize or objectify women in this way. Validation surly is something people want to get as much as possible, but not everyone will enjoy the ogling and I am one of them. Respectful and appreciate gaze is fine because it gives the sense of recognition and validation, but ogling is not, especially when it actually sexualize women, and some men would consider woman who’s wearing provocative dress as a symbol of slut or signal of trying to have sex, which is misunderstanding and inappropriate, and not every woman will enjoy their ogling gaze because personally I would feel really uncomfortable and be offended, even insecure by this since there are people who don’t get that some women dressing sexy or pretty is not for men’s pleasure, instead they are doing it for their own pleasure, and it their rights to do so.

    • Yeah, I think it’s important to make a distinction between sexy and sex object. Both in how you see yourself and how you see others. Sexy is fine but behaving in ways that are harmful– Because an object has no thoughts or feelings–is a real problem.

  9. I think it’s ridiculous for men to say they can’t stop themselves from ogling women. If a guy looks at another woman while he is with his own partner, and thinks that’s ok, I wonder how he would feel if his partner started staring at other men? I bet he wouldn’t be so understanding or just say “girls can’t help themselves.”

    If two people genuinely love each other and find each other attractive, there shouldn’t be any need to look at anyone else. I appreciate it can make us feel good about ourselves or maybe more confident if we know someone finds us attractive, but let’s face it, there is only one reason a guy is ogling you! Girls, don’t let guys away with it. It belittles you and objectifies the woman he’s looking at.

    • Yep. And I know from experience that most men certainly can control themselves. I’ve only dated four men who behave that way — and not for long, I might add!

  10. Isn’t ironic that even women look through the male gaze but that doesn’t bother anyone?

    So what if the question was
    Do women crave the female “male gaze”?

    • It bothers me. It bothers feminists. And I would think it would bother a lot of other women too.

      As to your last question I would think it would make a lot of women uncomfortable. Whether because they are straight or due to homophobia. I mean being stared at by guys is creepy but Women gazing adds even more weirdness if you’re straight or homophobic.

      • Female homophobia, is that really a thing?
        One would thought that women would be open to that, women having fluid sexuality and bisexuality and all that.
        Perhaps most women wouldn’t like gay men since society consideres them to be less of a man but I wouldn’t expect that women would object against female bisexuality and homosexuality. Perhaps only a very few would

      • Yes, that’s a thing. Probably less of a thing today than in the past. But we still have homophobia in our society that women learn too. They have just learned it less than men do historically. Although they’re at pretty equal numbers these days, with homophobia down.

        But I can assure you that Women can be homophobic toward lesbians as well. Part of the way that painting all feminists as lesbians works is because of that homophobia. I have experienced women being afraid of me because I’m a feminist, and interpreting that as I’m lesbian. Some people have scared women away from feminism by calling it a bunch of lesbians. But like I said, that sort of thing is less common now.

      • Women being homophobic, that reminds me of your post that homophobic men are actually gay. Researches have shown that homophobic men are turned on by gay porn and therefore they are actually gay.
        By the same logic some women are homophobic even though women are sexually turned on by naked women and lesbian porn.
        So that should lead to the same conclusion that homophobic women are also gay, just how homophobic men are gay

      • Well there’s the question of how homophobic. The more homophobic a man was the more he seem to get turned on by gay porn.

        That said, in our culture we learn homophobia from the time we are born and so most of us internalize it to some degree. Even people who are openly gay and lesbian can internalize it to some degree.

  11. I’m between “it depends” and “not so much”. At one time, I would have been in the “women who love it” camp. As a woman who grew up without her father (and who had an abusive stepfather) I will admit to having very low self-esteem.
    Despite experiencing abuse/harassment at an early age, I craved male attention because it made me feel better for a little while.
    That took me down a bad path in my late teens and early twenties. Now I’m much older, married, and mostly settled.

    I live a very different life now. I don’t drink anymore besides the odd glass of wine or champagne; I don’t wear sexy clothes anymore; I don’t flirt with random guys anymore or dance or do anything to be noticed.
    It feels good to no longer experience verbal abuse and sexual harassment from men (and hateful jealousy from women).
    On the other hand, I still receive male attention but not from my husband. It’s hard to explain.
    I still want the “male gaze” but from my husband, not guys on the street. I don’t mind anyone looking at me as long as they are respectful about it.

    Certain actresses from the golden era of Hollywood built their careers on their ability to attract the “male gaze”…Marilyn Monroe comes to mind.
    She started to attract male attention at about 12 years old and it made her feel good about herself, which I think is fairly common for a lot of girls, especially girls with low self-esteem or girls with poor family relationships.
    I’m caught between wanting to be desired (especially by my husband) and not wanting other men to look at me in the way they do. It’s kind of a weird situation to be in.

  12. My thoughts on the Valenti article…because women are often trained by society to believe that beauty is power and that it determines our worth, the contradiction is understandable.

    We are told that men are the more powerful sex but a woman’s beauty can bring him to his knees.
    And because we live in a society with narrowly defined ideals of beauty and youth, it can be very hard on women who don’t fit these definitions.
    This is also true of women who might have been gorgeous when they were in their teens and twenties but once they hit 30, men aren’t as interested in them anymore.

    I can somewhat relate to what Valenti is saying in that article. I don’t miss catcalls or harassment, but I DO miss the feeling of being desired.

  13. Also, I don’t think that liking or wanting male attention is bad at all…the only problem is in how some guys express their attraction in a disrespectful way, and how some women define their worth only in their ability to turn men’s heads.

    So I admit that I want to be admired; I want to be considered “hot” and sexy. But being married to an otherwise wonderful man who doesn’t appreciate my womanly charms (LOL) is tough on a girl.

  14. This posting talks about the two sides of the male gaze from the female’s point of view. She either invites it, or she doesn’t like it. From a guy’s perspective, it can also go both ways. Some guys can look and be genuinely interested but some other guys can look at females just as objects. Society has created this norm where girls have to show off their physical assets to men. I think that girls who don’t want to attract this type of objectifying attention, should cover-up a little bit more and not fit that stereotypical look of a girl trying to attract attention. With that being said, girls vary in attractiveness which is a key point in this. The girls that society deems more attractive is going to have to have different standards than that of less attractive girls. I think that more attractive girls probably have to deal with this type of “male-gazing situation” more than some other less attractive girls.

    • Interesting that you suggest different ways that men can be looking at women. 1) as a sex object — purposely to objectify and make her feel less for them, more threatened. You often get that with catcalls where the guys are more interested in impressing each other and feeling superior to her by there threatening glares and calls, than because they find her attractive 2) because he genuinely likes her — but then he probably isn’t staring, which is rude. Which you wouldn’t do if you really like someone.

  15. How about the female gaze, does that exist or are women oblivious to men’s looks?

    • Probably less comment because of how our society portrays women versus men, but yes, it does happen.

      • So even if there are some claims that there aren’t many differences between men and women, it seems after all that men and women do have differences.
        For one. The inability of women to be sexually turned on by the male body, to the point that women are even indifferent to men’s looks. One may suggest that it’s because of the media, and that would be correct to a point.
        That doesn’t explain why gay men are definitely turned on by the male body even though the media ignores the male body.

        And this probably points out that evolutionary psychology is correct on this one at least.
        Women were evolved to NOT be attracted to men’s looks because if they were, then this would lead to many unwanted pregnancies. So women were evolved to not be affected by men’s looks, and that way they can be more cautious at selecting a partner who can protect and provide for them.
        Men on the other hand are definitely more visually attracted to women.
        Another major difference between men and women is that for many men, love at first sight really does exist. But for most (if not all women) love at first sight is something that they don’t believe in. Once again, women were evolved to be more cautious with men.
        Ironically women are considered to be more romantic than men, even though men develop romantic feelings faster

      • The love at first sight is probably more cultural because in patriarchies men tend to be more dangerous with higher rates of rape and battery plus the simple fact that in patriarchies women are more affected by their husbands lives than vice versa. And as we have more gender he quality the gap is narrowing.

        On finding bodies arousing the thing is that in cultures that don’t objectify women, a woman’s body isn’t found arousing, like a fetish. I don’t know what is going on with gay men. Men of all sexualities seem to be obsessed with the penis and maybe that is because they get so much pleasure from it, so maybe that is part of the visual fetish? The association of the two things? Because research has shown that straight men can develop that visually too.

        Yet their clearly are some biological differences as we have discussed before. And they may be playing a role here.

  16. theburningheart

    I agree, women should be respected regardless if they walk naked, or totally covered, however there is no denying certain people of any gender like attention so bad it becomes an attitude, and they become the object of attention, good, or bad..
    And as we try to change society for the better we can’t forget there are those who wouldn’t respect others regardless, despite the laws of the land to protect us from harm, we have to take precautions first to protect ourselves, and that is why we have to use our common sense, rather than to expect everybody to be a saint, for the same reason we do not expose large amounts of cash in public, and the reason why we have armored vehicles carrying it to the banks.
    We like to say: An ounce of prevention, it’s worth a pound of cure.

    • Yes covering up doesn’t keep women safe.

      The more Egyptian women cover-up — now pretty much head to toe — the more they are harassed and raped.

      Because harassment and rape isn’t about what women are wearing. It’s about men trying to feel superior by controlling women. And telling women how to dress — to cover up — is one way to try to control women.

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