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While on a recent outing to a mall, I noticed that my boyfriend has the repeated habit of ogling women’s breasts and buttocks. He even mentions them to me while pointing at women and seductively rolling his eyes as though deriving sexual gratification.
This irritated me and later that evening, I explained to him that sexual objectification of women is unacceptable. I suggested that one of the reasons for men displaying this behaviour is the media that constantly conditions us to this objectification by repeated exposure. I gave him the link to this incredibly well-researched documentary where Siebel Newsom suggests that it’s something we’re being unconsciously and socially conditioned to do. I hoped that this awareness would help him come out of the habit, or at least get him to see how wrong he is.
On the contrary, my boyfriend’s argument is that it’s alright to ogle women’s “assets”, as they’re so often called, because these are strangers who have nothing whatsoever to do with him. “A few seconds of ogling couldn’t do them any harm, after all. Then they go their way and I go mine.” His contention is that these women are strangers who need not be looked at as fellow humans because he has no intention of establishing a relationship with them.
How do I explain to him that ogling is just wrong?
A Concerned Girlfriend
♠ ♠ ♠
Dear Concerned Girlfriend,
I want to suggest a little experiment, the danger of which is ki it might make my reply redundant. But an insecure and self-important Billi is no Billi at all, so here goes: read your letter to me backwards please. It will start with, how do I explain to him that ogling is wrong? He thinks it’s okay to ogle because the women are strangers and finally, when you get to the start of this letter you will find that you had already explained to him that what he is doing is not kosher.
So, in effect, you do not need to ask me how to explain it to him.
First of all toh, I am not sure ki how does he not know this already? This idea of reducing appreciation of women to ‘assets’ anywhere outside a bank being obnoxious, has not been invented by feminism alone – after all every pre-Shakaal Hindi film villain began his career with a lecherous ogle and ended it with rape, right? So we can confidently say that ogling has never had sanction in society generally, but it has also been sanctioned under the heading Boys Will Be Boys.
I don’t know the tone in which you explained this to him. At face value it seems that you have tried to tell him this is a conditioned gender response and not an individual Ranjeet-flavoured personality defect.
But since normally I feel face value must be counted with some depreciation (which is not the same as deprecation), let us take out 20 percent from your claim for the sake of argument. Let’s say you were a little lecturesome or outraged at his behavior — all of which are understandable, so I am not saying this in a lecturesome way myself — and that has made him feel like he was caught on the wrong foot.
So let’s say that’s the reason he is being childish and saying these ridiculous things, basically that there are different rules for women who are related to you and women who are not, in response to you talking about the objectification of women in general; or deciding for them that they don’t mind, because he assumes they don’t know, or it suits him to assume they don’t know.
If actions do speak louder than words, let’s just give him the benefit of the doubt, and say his loud words are bluster which masks awkwardness. So you have the option of letting it be for a while and watching to see if he changes.
If not, then you will have a decision before you, won’t you? Can you be with someone who isn’t willing to change his attitude to women from retrograde to mature even after his partner has pointed it out to him and told him out uncomfortable it makes them? That’s a different discussion though, about a question you haven’t asked and an eventuality that has not yet arisen.
But as any intrusive Billi might, I can’t help noticing another odd thing. Why does your boyfriend want to include you in this activity? Why does he think that you should participate in this ogling as if you have to prove you are a cool girl by being one of the boys, especially given that you don’t want to? As if what fun, you are both group dancers in a funny Shahid Kapoor song — tu mere ogle bogle hai — or some such? Maybe that’s supposed to emphasise that this is just for faux jollies and not to be taken seriously, but seriously, what’s all that in aid of?
I feel sometimes like there is this new fashion, one of the younger Billis calls it being a man-child and my sister calls it laddishness. Boys, who should know better, will stay boys, instead of growing up and accepting that this sexism is childish and it is not actually the same thing as appreciating attractiveness in random strangers, which is half the pleasure of people-watching after all.
Sometimes, this also translates into some equivalent of boys making funny faces and loud noises when you are trying to say something serious, know what I mean? And especially when it comes to talking about gender stuff, some guys end up trivialising something that matters to you by refusing to engage with it seriously, saying pish and pshaw and evs and you’re being too serious and boring and making baat ka batangad rather than thinking about what you are saying, even if only to refute and disagree, but in a grown-up, equal manner. It’s as if they’ve decided — if they’re not allowed to grow up into Don Draper, then you know what? They ain’t gonna grow up at
all, uh-uh. And if you don’t like their jokes there is Twitter, ok?
Some people think this is cute. And well, cute lies in the eyes of the beholder, but these are just some things to think about when you’re explaining what you already explained thrice before to your cutie pie.