there’s a place in France where the naked ladies dance…

I would hate to live as a pretty girl in America. Of course, when I say America, I really mean Los Angeles as I believe it represents the rest of the country, but if I were to say, “I would hate blah blah blah in Los Angeles,” the statement feels so much smaller. Anyway, back to my grand point about gender in America (Los Angeles). If you meet any modicum of the standardized notions of beauty – skinny, leggy, busty, blonde – even if you only acquire one of these criteria, you become subject to the incessant stares of the opposite sex. I say this because I observe it both in other men and, of course, myself. I don’t particularly like being a part of it, and yet there I am, standing on the opposite side of the Rock-n-Roll-Ralph’s salad bar, surreptitiously trying to check out the coke-skinny rocker chick in the wife beater, black bra and over-sized sunglasses as she tries to decide between the light vinaigrette or the slightly more indulgent “lite” blue cheese.

I hate those goddamned sunglasses. They’re obnoxious, unnecessary, and inspired by the porn stardom of Paris Hilton, assuredly in a bid to make her head, and by extension her body, appear relatively small underneath those insectoid lenses. But when I consider how brazenly most guys stare at these girls, as if these girls are no different from the mini corn or spinach leaves in front of them (me), I can understand why these chicks might want a blackened barrier between them and the lasers directed at their boobs. Ignorance, even willful ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

It comes from this whole crock that men are visual creatures by nature. You show me any biological – as opposed to sociological – study that proves men are more visual than women, and I’ll show you just as many studies showing that babies of both genders stare for an equal amount of time at what are considered pleasing images (though of course the definition of pleasing is interesting in and of itself, but more on that later). Rather, I look to the voyeur theory and studies on the power of the gaze. There is a higher place of privilege in watching a woman dance for you than being the woman dancing, no matter what kind of financial interaction may or may not be happening at any given point. At a strip club, even though women are reaping the financial benefits, it is men who are firmly placed in the sociological driver’s seat. They first of all have the money to pay for this kind of entertainment, but second, by being the watcher, they are allowed to be passive; they don’t have to do anything but watch, while the subject has to do all the work. To take a more extreme example, the peeping tom gains information from his “victim” without ever having to risk anything of him(/her)self within the contexts of the relationship between viewer/viewed. To watch is to be in a place of privilege, and there’s too much power in patriarchy to make me believe that this can possibly be a chicken-or-the-egg argument.

That said, it is hard being a man and not succumbing to what I consider to be sociological programming. Everyone has a type, and I’m no different: I don’t really know what it is about redheads and my curious appetite for them. Is it because in my inextinguishable quest for passion, I assume there to be an insatiable fire in these women that cannot be contained by their porcelain skin, that must erupt erupt erupt! from the top of their heads, reaching to the sky where I can run my fingers like rivulets through their blazing forest, tangibly experiencing the whirlwind of their being, perhaps even plucking one strand to serve as a kindling for my own endeavors; and more importantly, from their down-there region, where the furnace of their lust will open worlds for me, take me sailing outside of myself until my corporeal being is but a speck on the distant map below, until she slips slips slips her had in mine, until she smiles that devil smirk filled with canines and mischief and plunges me back down to earth, to reality, to myself with some kind of new understanding I could only have acquired through this eagle eye view?

Of course, most redheads dye their hair, so what does that tell you? So do blondes, which is why I’ve rarely been attracted to the flaxen persuasion. Perhaps this is why, more than not, I find myself pulled toward those women with raven locks, as if that’s the most “real” hue of hair. Perhaps they are darker in spirit, more critical in thought, brooding even. But what a crock’a shit. These qualities of which I wrote above can and are found in women of all hair tints, body sizes, skin colors. And to speak the truth, this lust for a carrot top is more in theory than anything, for I’ve never actively been involved with one (in fact, the real women to whom I’ve found myself legitimately attracted I think have had a consistent brownish, maybe even dirty blonde hair color). Now, I do not want to diminish the potency of physical attraction here – it is the corner stone from which the foundation of love is built. Nor do I want to slight the notion of a “type”, for most people find more than enough information about a person via the way they present themselves to the world, either through their hair color or style, the cut of their shirt, the car they drive, the size, shape, and orderliness of their teeth, or the brand of sunglasses they wear. Whether that is considered the bad side of being judgmental I’ll leave up to you, for nevertheless the case is the same.

I’ve just noticed the stewardess on my flight – fuck, flight attendant – has short red hair. Did I mention I also have a thing for short hair? I try not to stare, but there are times when she’s attending to someone else that I can’t help it. And I feel bad, because she has no sunglasses to protect herself.

I have a hard time dealing with men who constantly and socially spend copious amounts of time categorizing women. “So and so is HOT.” “I dunno, dude, I’d prolly just make out with her.” “Aw, no, man, I’d get fucking nasty with her!” “I bet the carpets match the drapes.” “I bet she has no carpets!” (together:) “WOODEN FLOORS!” Score. I typically roll with this shit, these kinds of conversations, the ones which have no other purpose but to arrive at some kind of masculine consensus as to what defines “hotness”. Hell, I even find myself participating in them, and not always because I see no other escape. But in my heart of hearts, I wish I had no time for them. Many might say, “that’s the feminist ideology dictating your emotions” (actually, anybody who could make that kind of intelligent statement is probably also smart enough not to). But in truth, it’s the other way around: my feminism is informed by my pre-established, even socially programmed, discomfort. Perhaps because I feel trapped into objectifying these women I end up judging my fellow men for doing so, but only because I am judging myself so harshly. On either account, it is not a desirable trait.

I’ve been trying to remember that one schoolyard chant, and it finally came rushing back to me: (sung to the tune of “The Streets of Cairo” – you know it, the kinda/sorta snake-charmer song, which is actually an American concoction composed for the 1893 worlds fair in Chicago, home of the White City – alright, here are the words) “There’s a place in France where the naked ladies dance / There’s a hole in the wall where the men can see it all / But the men don’t care, ‘cuz they’re in their underwear.” Obviously, as with all folk songs, there are various variations, but this is the one with which I remember growing up. It’s a strange little rhyme, because at first it asserts the power of the boys through their hole-in-the-wall spying, but then it doubles back on itself with that last line – why don’t they care? Should they even be “not caring” in the way the rhyme implies, as if there is a communal shame in the nakedness of the women that the boys merely shrug off? Especially considering the boys are half naked themselves? Of course, one might trivialize this as some kind of masturbatory fantasy, but considering this is a schoolyard chant, spoken at a time before sexual yearnings peek through newfound tufts of hair, it is more tempting to read the boys’ lack of over-garments as a cause for embarrassment. Despite their place of privilege, they themselves are brought to the same social level as their female objects of desire through the implication of exposure.

Exposure, ladies and gents, is the great equalizer. When the emperor has no clothes, he’s no different than you or me, her or him. For in the end, despite our obvious physical/chemical/biological differences, underneath all the make-up and curls, the goatees and muscle shirts, the black bras, beanies, sandals and sunglasses, we’re all looking for the same thing: to be loved. To belong. To be respected as equals seen not as objects of desire, but fully-humanized individuals, each with our own set of desires. And that’s always worth considering when you’re (I’m) assembling your (my) salad at the Rock-n-Roll-Ralphs (America).

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Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 1:17 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post.

  2. I always sang it as “But the boys don’t care/’cuz they chew their underwear.” Which was EVEN MORE puzzling. Who are these boys? Why don’t they care that naked women are dancing? Why are they chewing their underwear?!? Alas for questions without answers…


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