It’s a phrase used to excuse things from excessive porn watching to infidelity. It makes women wear things they’d never wear and excuses the lack of reciprocity when it comes to things they find visual appealing. It says that women don’t care about looks while men do and shames women who care all at the same time. I believe women are just as visual as men, but our socialization has pushed us to downplay those things while our insecurities bubble up with each photo or video in our newsfeeds and timelines.
There are countless Twitter accounts dedicated to photos of women’s bodies. I know this because I’ve muted some of them. I believe many of them are ignored by women because they’d be labeled insecure otherwise. Other women enjoy them alongside men. Either way the accounts are able to flourish undeterred. However, when an account dedicated to men’s bodies is created, it’s quickly deactivated. Prior to that deactivation, women are ridiculed for even enjoying the visuals. Consider a hashtag like #meninsuits and the overwhelming praise and excitement is almost always peppered with snide remarks from men. They’re allowed to display their insecurity.
Image: Torba K Hopper via Flickr
Now, I don’t believe admitting that we(women) like eyecandy and prefer that men look a certain way is going to make people stop being insecure, but I do think it could help in allowing us to be fuller human beings. When one says that men are more visual than women, it creates a chasm between them. His pleasure in seeing attractive women is validated while her pleasure in seeing attractive men is shamed. You get posts like this that call for women to cover themselves up so that men won’t be tempted to look. That doesn’t make sense to me because we’re asking visually capable men to not do something humans do, look, then blaming women when they do.
When one says “Men are more visual” it creates the environment for women to be called shallow because they want to be attracted to their partner as well as loved by him.
I’m not sure we think about how our socialization contorts us and forces us to live lives that create hindrances to our relationships, rather than making them thrive. I’d argue that because people accept that men are more visual, it creates insensitivity in men towards women and their valid grievances (excessive porn watching, ogling, etc), while making a women feel wrong for even having them in the first place. It makes it okay for men to be outwardly excited about the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Edition while women have to hoot and holler at Magic Mike in the confines of a movie theater only to come home and say the experience was "just okay".
As women, we’re conditioned to be the caregivers and caregivers have to be sensitive to others’ feelings. How else can we provide adequate care without that sensitivity to others? It makes sense, but that sensitivity causes us to pretend things don’t excite us when they really do. We downplay our excitement under the guise of being sensitive to others even when we’re not getting that same sensitivity from our partners.
I love looking at Joe Manganiello and countless other men. They’re on my timeline and on my Pinterest board. I appreciate biceps, pecs, hair, lips of men. It doesn’t make me shallow, but even I am tactful when I express that excitement in my husband’s presence and believe he does the same thing when he comments on the attractiveness of women in front of me. But I know everyone’s relationship doesn’t work like that because that’s not how we’re told relationships work.
Women are conditioned to not bruise the male ego while our egos are poked, prodded and chastened not to break. We’re told to put on a brave face or else be saddled with the label hypersensitive. “At least he’s not cheating, abusing, etc” is what women hear. Settle and accept, even to your own detriment. We’re not going to get the best outcomes when one side can be who they are while the other side can’t.
This type of thinking goes beyond this immediate topic of men being visual while women are not. This thinking says boys can’t cry, women can’t be strong, femininity is a weakness, men don’t know how to care for children, the list goes on. They’re all handcuffs. They’re keeping us from being our best selves because we’re shoving ourselves into something that doesn’t fit and insisting others do the same.
Insecurity isn’t going to go away because it’s human. It doesn’t need to go away. What does need to go away is the idea that men are hardwired to react to pleasing visuals while women don’t have the same capability to react to similar visuals. It’s easy to see if we would stop ignoring the obvious and open our eyes.
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