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Old age and women

Can our gaze be changed?
[Some motivation for these questions occurs here in the meta-discussion. I was arguing there against G.B.'s rather depressing view of female sexuality, and thought I'd see if we might use that to actually change our world a little.]

Any observant person can tell you that the potential we see in another person -- and especially the potential we don't -- is overwhelmingly a matter of learned behavior and culture.

You see a woman walking down the street. For most people in US society to comfortably think of her as a sexual creature (and moreover not to begrudge her this, or consider her trashy, or inexperienced, or predatory, or...) she must exist within a very narrow range of parameters:

-- a certain age range (which starts earlier and earlier, even as it irrationally and abruptly ends early)
-- certain weight range (overweight women are, to most men, simply invisible)
-- to some extent, a certain race (let's pause a moment for the laments of non-white women and the endless projections/fantasies/fetishes they deal with)
-- a certain height, perhaps relative to the viewer (why do so many tall men fantasize about being with tiny women but not the reverse?)
-- a certain way of dressing (few people see obviously poor or destitute women as being in control of their sexuality; few people see badly dressed women or women in tight clothes as really in control of their sexuality -- Herve Leger dresses excepted provided they come with a limo and bodyguard)
-- a certain class (see previous comment -- I'm not talking about middle-class versus upper class but rather pointing out that many people on the margins of our society are for all intents and purposes invisible)
-- a certain beauty (whatever this means, its tyranny/its effect is undeniable)
-- a certain adherence to the female ideal (this encompasses physical beauty, but goes beyond it to include what let's call a conscious acceptance of this standard on the part of the woman: piercings, "butch" haircuts, etc will really complicate the "average" person's ability to attribute sexuality to our given woman)

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The point is we know this. We know that we're very narrow in the way we see, and we know that our gaze affects the people we look at. In some cases, when we fail to see them as having a legitimate claim to sexuality, we fail to see them as fully human. In other cases (e.g. young girls) we damage them considerably by projecting onto them a sexuality whose weight they shouldn't be made to bear.

So here's my question, simple but revolutionary:

Can our gaze be changed?
Is it possible to learn to look differently? I mean starting with us.
What, concretely, do we do? And so that we can understand the right way of looking:

How would you (how would any of us) want to be seen?
"-- a certain class (see previous comment -- I'm not talking about middle-class versus upper class but rather pointing out that many people on the margins of our society are for all intents and purposes invisible)"

I would add to this the issue of inverse snobbery. While it can be true that people who have a false sense of their own importance, of being a higher class or of great beauty, ignore those who are lower in status of perceived good looks, this also works the other way about. Some people think they are "not good enough" for people with a higher status in terms of class or beauty.   For example, I know a man of very humble beginnings, who was brought up in a local authority (Council) house although he spoke like a toff.  He became an officer in the Royal Navy, eventually taking command of his own ship.  He met at a party a beautiful young woman and they fell in love. However, it turned out she was a daughter of a very rich businessman and lived in a stately home in hundreds of acres of land. The idiot felt out of place, that she was too good for him, and ended the relationship, finally marrying a woman from a social group lower than his own humble origins.  In general, however, my impression is that these people do not even let such a relationship start in the first place, that they may - for example - see a woman in a disco and decide "She's way out of my league/she'd never look at me (etc)" and not ever even say "hello".  (Or, perhaps this is peculiarly English, where there is class consciousness?)
Interesting question Emily.
I'll answer briefly that we can, and we can't.
For example, sexualizing other races can easily be achieved by exposure in the media. If we are shown more black women as sexual beings and objects of desire in the media, we are going to learn to see them that way. Perhaps this happens because Desire is always a desire of the other (or The spark of love). If we are shown homosexuality as not so scary in the media, we are going to be fine seeing it on the street.

On the other hand I recently saw an episode in a sitcom where most of the couples discover they are actually dating their mother/father, and in real life you could add brother/sister. It is quite common for people to be attracted and look for people who resemble their parents or siblings. Can this be altered? Probably not, as it is in our core, so to say.

To take it a step further, can we alter whether we see a man or a woman as attractive? Can we be develop a homosexual, or heterosexual gaze if this is not our current gaze? Clearly not, though this can be done to some extent by better understanding what the others are attracted to.

I enjoyed the many different examples, and Graham story.
It's a provocative question, Emily, so let me try to take it a little beyond the personal -- to react to the way it seems Graham and George understood your meaning.

Graham and George, I'd question the idea (which may or may not have been yours, but is a spectre here) that "changing our gaze" is a matter of infusing one's own observations with desire. I can't imagine the world would be improved if we all saw hazily, through the curved lens of lust. So I don't think this proposed change is a matter of expanding the range of possible partners, or even expanding the range of fantasy and desire.

On the contrary, there's something in the gaze which allows us to hold open a space for others to live freely, and it's perhaps this which we want to develop, after first exploring what it means.

For instance, when I go to weddings of gay male friends, the grooms themselves are outside of my own matrix of desire yet my presence at the celebration is, still, an important affirmation of them as sexual beings.

For instance, when children in a family acknowledge that the parents need time to themselves, and that the parents' relationship involves a certain intimacy which the children aren't privy to -- even though this may only be understood on an emotional level, it allows the parents a kind of space in which to be with each other rather than experiencing the role of "parent" as a kind of tyranny.

For instance, when reasonable sex ed and sexual health clinics are made widely available...

What kind of provisional answer can we find here?
Perhaps it's somehow a matter of looking at others as beings capable of desire, and capable of passion, and not begrudging them the wilfulness, selfishness and autonomy necessary to pursue this and to create life on their own terms.
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