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14 June 2016 @ 11:34 pm
do men really think like this?  

I feel that that’s a provocative subject line, but it’s the root question being posed here, so…

I’m reading a book. It’s a decent book. Written by a guy, four or so main characters, one of whom is a woman, and she’s beautiful, which is fine. Viewpoint Bad Guy Character creeps on her, which is creepy but okay fine he’s the bad guy. He creeps on all the other (attractive) women he encounters too. It’s gross but certainly recognizeable.

Hero Viewpoint Character does not creep on her, which is good! What he does do, though, is constantly, *repeatedly*, every time he looks at her, thinks about her beauty, admires her beauty, says to himself, “Self, I would like to spend more time with this woman,” which okay fine whatever, I find it sort of nauseating, not quite as uncomfortable as the Viewpoint Bad Guy but still pretty much “ugh,” and so my question became:

Is this just bad writing (because it is bad writing, it makes me go “ugh” and I’d like to think if it was well done I wouldn’t go “ugh”) or is it actually decently representative of how men think?

Or I don’t know, maybe how *people* think, except, I mean, I know some very beautiful people, people I like to look at, but I do not actively think of their beauty every time I look at them. Literally the only time in my life I can remember thinking of someone’s beauty every time I saw them was Harry Cavill in The Man From UNCLE, because every time he came on screen I was just like “my GOD he’s beautiful, my GOD he is SO BEAUTIFUL,” and I thought it was *ridiculous* that I couldn’t think of anything except his beauty.

I mean like there’s the opening credits of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid where there’s this sepia shot of Paul Newman and even in sepia his eyes are just so freaking blue, so clear and so incredible, that it’s a *moment* of sort of falling over sweet jesus what beauty, and there’s like that gif of Marlon Brando rolling his eyes that I could stare and giggle helplessly at for like a week straight, and okay possibly the entirety of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Newman and Taylor is pretty nearly like that, but those, to me, are pretty extreme cases. I mean, Ted wandered in the other day to see a picture of George Clooney on the screen and said, correctly, “My God, he’s beautiful,” which is absolutely true, but that’s a passing observation; one swiftly becomes *accustomed* to that beauty, and moves on. That was why Cavill in The Man From UNCLE was so absurd: I could not stop noticing how utterly beautiful he was, and that was completely outside my experience.

But that kind of writing from a male POV isn’t all that *unusual*, and so it leads me to wonder if that really *is* decently representative of the male experience (or indeed, the female experience outside my own).

(If it is in fact representative of the male experience but not, broadly speaking, the female experience, I have a lot of Opinions about society and expectation and objectifying and things like that on the matter, but it’s late here and we’ll leave the unpacking of that for another time. :))

ETA: I should note the Hero Character does not seem badly socialized or at all an ass; I have the impression that if the Female Lead said “nah, not interested” he’d be all “okay, cool” about it, not manboy-crushed-self-esteem or anything, which is actually I think why I’m asking: this isn’t the boy who can’t take a hint or doesn’t know how to talk to girls or whatever, it’s an apparently pretty average decent human being, just with this weird-to-me constant *active* awareness of/fixation on How Lovely This Woman Is, and do men really just do that all the time or is it really just bad writing?

ETA2: I mean I get being aware you’re attracted to someone and even noticing “god damn they’re hot” unexpectedly, perhaps even often, and perhaps it’s just that it’s compressed into a book and therefore really noticeable and stuff in which case it’s emphatically bad writing, but…yeah, I’m going to bed now.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

Lolaidancewithlife on June 15th, 2016 03:06 am (UTC)
Well, as a female reader I don't know if men do it all the time in RL but I will say that in a book any character who the author has say or think the same thing about the same person over and over annoys me because it's BORING. Do they not think I got it the first 20 times they said it? By time 50 I'm asking myself if this book is good enough to finish. So as boring writing I would call it bad writing. After all we wouldn't want to hear anyone in RL say a bazillion times that they find a certain person beautiful.
kitmizkit on June 15th, 2016 07:28 am (UTC)
Yeah, the more I think about it the more I find it emphatically bad writing for exactly these reasons, but it's so *obviously* bad writing to me, and so broadly consistent across a lot of male writers, that apparently I just finally cracked and had to go "IS THIS NORMAL MALE THOUGHT BEHAVIOUR??!?!" :)
pgwfolcpgwfolc on June 15th, 2016 05:00 am (UTC)
Short answer: Yes, that's how our brains work. Sort of. Not the way you've described. But it's a difference of degree rather than kind.

Long answer: Hoo boy. This is going to be tricky, because it means navigating a web of minefields. I mean, look, I'm already mixing metaphors and I haven't even started. You can't talk about the male gaze without getting into objectification, sexism, rape culture, and so many other things.

From my own experience, from talking with other men, from things (for example) stand-up comedians say that resonate with their male audience... We seem to be wired that way.

And I need to stop here and say that this does not excuse rape culture. You can't just say "yeah, we're built that way" and use it to justify anything. Being a civilized human being, in large part, is about learning to rise above our baser nature to behave in an acceptable and respectful way. You can't help that some things make you angry. That's just how your brain is wired. It's your subconscious. But you can control what you do with that anger. Same thing here. You can't stop your brain from going "ooo, pretty!" but you can control yourself so you're not staring, you're not trying to take anything from her that she's not willing to give, etc.

But it's not the overwhelming "stop the world" sort of moment like you describe. It's more of a background thing. It's sort of... Okay, I mean this only in terms of degree. I'm not drawing any other parallels. But I think the experience you've had that more closely matches the feeling is, as a mother, thinking "My child is really cute." That's love, not lust, and it's a very different relationship. But you look at your kid, and you're struck, time and again, by how cute your child is. It's an instinctual thing. But it's also a background thing. It's just one bubble in the myriad thoughts coming along the stream of consciousness. You can be thinking and doing other things even as you're hit with that little emotional thrill.

And it is a thrill. One that's deeply rooted in the male brain. As one comedian pointed out, there's an entire, very profitable industry which exists solely because men are so wired that we get a thrill just from a flat, unmoving picture of a potential mate we'll never even meet.

It's like this. Take the split second of object recognition, and expand it out.

Eyes: I see something.
Visual cortex: Pattern match - ice cream cone.
Hindbrain: Ooo, ice cream! Yum!

Eyes: I see something.
Visual cortex: Pattern match - Human, adult female.
Hindbrain: Is she hot?

You can't not think it. It's always on. And there's always a voice in the back of your head going "Ooo, pretty!" when you see someone attractive. You just sort of learn to shunt it to the background so you can think about more productive things.

pgwfolcpgwfolc on June 15th, 2016 05:01 am (UTC)
(My ramblings got too long.)

Which reminds me of another comedian, who talked about cuddling with his girlfriend after sex. She'd ask "What are you thinking? Are you thinking about me?" And he'd say "Yes" because of course that's the only acceptable answer. But he said, really, he was thinking about all the stuff he needed to do around the house. Because those few minutes of afterglow are the only time when his head is clear enough to think about things while the sex drive is satisfied, and thus not buzzing around the back of his head distracting him. That's comedic hyperbole. The "men think about sex every x seconds" thing is bunk. But the grain of truth is that there's a hair trigger to it.

Which is why so many oppressive patriarchal sexist cultures keep telling girls they have to dress modestly so as not to distract the boys. Cover your hair. Don't show your legs. It's wrong and it's stupid because it's blaming the girls when we should be training the boys how to control themselves and act like civilized people. But it's there because, yes, it really doesn't take much to get a man to think some variation of "Ooo, pretty!" or more lustful thoughts.

Which brings me back to the short answer: No, it's not just a matter of bad writing. (As the comment above suggests, it might still be, for other reasons.) Men in the presence of someone they find attractive are, constantly, on some level, thinking about how attractive that person is. Not in a "drop everything, I can't think about anything else, OMG WOW" sort of way. It's just ever-present background noise which can, in idle moments, bubble to the forefront, over and over.

Does that make sense? Does it help?
kitmizkit on June 15th, 2016 07:34 am (UTC)
That, particularly But you look at your kid, and you're struck, time and again, by how cute your child is., is actually very helpful, because I do that constantly BUT I ALSO THINK IT'S ABSURD that I do it constantly. :) Not as absurd as the Harry Cavill thing was, because I really did find that completely ridiculous, but the point is more that it gives me a more comprehensible frame of reference for grasping what the author is perhaps trying to get across and possibly how the male brain works. :)

It's still bad writing, mind you. :) But seriously, that was a really thoughtful and helpful explanation, so thank you very much!
pgwfolcpgwfolc on June 15th, 2016 07:38 am (UTC)
Glad I could help. And yes, it's absurd. But it seems more absurd when you suddenly start doing it as a grown adult. When it just comes on you as part and parcel of all the changes that come with puberty, I guess you get more used to it. It's still absurd, but more in the way of "Oh, yeah, it'll do that."
Autopopeautopope on June 15th, 2016 09:23 am (UTC)
you're struck, time and again, by how cute your child is ... I do that constantly BUT I ALSO THINK IT'S ABSURD that I do it constantly.

That's basically what it's like to be a man in the presence of attractive women. (Or men, if you're not 100% heterosexual.)

To use a different sensory metaphor: it's like you're running your fingertips across a smooth surface and part of it is tacky/sticky and you feel a resistance to moving your fingers on ... only it's your gaze, scanning across a crowd, and it just stuck to someone even though you know that's stupid and you're not even thinking about sex, let alone looking for a partner.

Another example from real life: I do a lot of panels at SF conventions, and about 40-80% of a panel consists of sitting in front of the audience, listening to what the other panelists are saying, and trying to construct an interesting/entertaining counter-argument or response in my head. This means my face (and eyes) are pointed at the audience, because closing my eyes would be rude (or send me off to sleep depending on the night before). And it takes mindfulness not to allow my undirected gaze to gravitate towards the prettiest/most striking member of the audience, simply because my eyeballs are going to point somewhere and left to their own devices they gravitate towards hotness.
Dayle DermatisDayle Dermatis on June 15th, 2016 05:17 am (UTC)
Or does this male writer think this is what women readers want to read? The fantasy of the "safe" man who will adore her/find her beautiful always, but not creep on her?

Goodness knows it comes up in romances very frequently. In fact, often heroes sound just like stalkers/creeps in the way they think and act, but the difference is the reader (and the heroine) knows he's the good guy.

Definite food for thought...
kitmizkit on June 15th, 2016 07:36 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's one of the things that makes my eyes roll hard enough to dislocate, is that (to me as a reader) it's so clearly (and so poorly) trying to differentiate between the good guy and the bad guy with how they think about women that it verges on caricature, I guess. Yeah. And I mean, the good guy character is *not* a creeper, he's really not, it's just good god I got the first time that you thought she was beautiful, you don't need to repeat it every page. (Ok, it's not really every page but it's a lot.)
sillylilly_birdsillylilly_bird on June 15th, 2016 05:37 pm (UTC)
Definitely not good writing. I have a similar reaction to Matt Bomer - my eyes follow him 85% of the time he's on screen - he's so. damn. pretty. And like you said, it's not the conscious recognition and then acclimitization to its presence; it's a steady stream of 'holy moly PRETTY' at the same level of distraction.
Wolf Lahti: Sabrinawolflahti on June 15th, 2016 05:47 pm (UTC)
There is no "men do that" just as there is no "women do that" because we are all individuals. Some people like to extrapolate a behavior or an attitude to an an entire gender or religion or race or whathaveyou based on a single encounter, but that is clearly wrong, and it leads to all sorts of trouble.
lokifanlokifan on June 18th, 2016 05:52 am (UTC)
I'm a bi woman which might be a useful data point - and, hmm, not EVERY time but there are definitely women where I think a LOT about their hotness. I do think that's partly about attraction but also partly about internalising gender expectations, because I do it a lot more often with women and also with women I'm not attracted to. But it happens most with women I find beautiful. It's DEFINITELY not every time I look at them or even most, though, because basically every time I see one of my best friends I think "wow she's so beautiful" (and also notice their clothes/make-up because it's an interest of mine) but like... then we hang out for ages.

I can also think of a couple of people where I think it basically every time I see them, and those people are actresses: Jessica Alba and Kristen Ritter. (And then to a lesser extent Tom Hiddleston & Chris Hemsworth.) And I think that's telling because, well, they're people but from my POV they're not people in the same way my friends are - they're there on a screen.

I am very very skeptical that it's much about gender/sex though because I'm cis and the "background level of attraction" thing mentioned above does fit my experience. So I think it's probably much more about the way we're "allowed" to feel about women. Because it does happen with men I'm attracted to but not as much even though I'm just as attracted to them.