The recent warm weather has brought with it a huge amount of exposed flesh wandering up and down the streets. Cleavages of all shapes, sizes and tones have been bouncing about with abandon, triggering within me an age old confusion about how not to look at something which is blatantly screaming out to be ogled.
There’s no doubt it confuses the hell out of the feminist in me.
The younger generations seem perfectly at ease with it all, while the generation above me is forgiven for being lecherous old buggers and are viewed with a certain amount of pity. But for me the dilemma remains: am I allowed to let my eyes roam?
I was brought up with quite a strong feminist cultural background. I knew from the offset that women were in no way inferior to men, and certainly should never, ever be treated just as sex objects.
Fair enough, and I’ve always been a passionate believer in equal rights. But in the confusion of it all there were some less healthy ideas embedded in my psyche, not least the one that seemed to believe all men were potential rapists. This idea horrified me.
As a teenager with raging hormones, it was easy enough to understand the difficulty in trying to keep all these sexual urges under wraps, but the idea of taking a woman against her will was utterly abhorrent. Of course in those days I didn’t yet understand rape is not about sex but power, so lived in a certain amount of fear of what I was told might be capable.
Back then it was my understanding that all women believed that all men were possible rapists in waiting. So before I could ever hope to establish any kind of relationship with a woman, whether sexual or platonic, I would first have to demonstrate all my sexual yearnings were strictly under control.
One form of this was to teach myself not to look at her breasts when talking to a woman. When you are a teenager with raging hormones, this is an incredibly difficult act; there’s no doubt it would have been considerably easier to gouge out my own eyes. But I was determined and by my late teens I had learned how to look women in the eye even when they were wearing the lowest cut blouse.
However, in the past few years in our very distinctly post-feminist culture, there have been no end of fashion programmes for women showing them how to make the most of their “assets” and draw attention to them. From the cut and the colour of the dress through the plunging neckline, to the use of necklaces to draw the eyes right to the sweet spot. Everything is designed to make men look.
So I’m left in a state of perpetual disorientation as the twin forces of cultural upbringing and in-your-face marketing pull my eyes, brain and conscience in opposite directions.
I suppose I have to conclude that a brief admiring browse is acceptable or even desirable, but no woman is likely to enjoy being gawped at or feel the drool dropping into her cleavage.
But this in turn makes me wonder how many women, when I was younger, must have wrongly concluded I was not interested in them because of my utter failure to offer an appreciative glance…