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Daniel Frampton: What’s so wrong about men looking at women?


Laura McVey and Paul Harrison, both academics, recently co-authored an article responding to Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, which encourages women to be more active. According to Harrison (resident white knight at Deakin University, Australia) and his colleague McVey, this ‘campaign of empowerment’ is really ‘one of sexual subjectification . . . an example of the continuing power of hegemonic discipline over women’s bodies . . . depicting women and the world from a male point of view’. Yes, the ‘male gaze’ has struck again.

There is some substance to the claim that women are becoming increasingly hypersexualised. In the video advertisement ‘This Girl Can – what about you?’ there is a brief jiggling of the booty that McVey and Harrison dub ‘simulated hypersexuality’. I might be an innocent pup from the provinces, but I don’t find ‘twerking’ in any way sexy. It is also worth noting, however, that such displays are a product of a ghetto culture almost entirely bereft of fathers. Nevertheless, the suggestion that Sport England’s campaign underscores the iniquity of the male gaze is palpably absurd.

During times of universal inanity, telling the truth – that women are, you know, sort of hot – has become a revolutionary act. It’s no real secret that men are generally attracted to athletic young women in sports bras. Men like healthy women, which is simply another way of saying that nature necessarily holds fertility in high regard. It’s almost as if men are designed to fancy women. It’s not so much a pursuit as a higher calling.

The male gaze is a common feminist trope founded, as it only can be, on misandry. It is decidedly inhuman, reproaching men for behaviour which is essentially innate. The so-called ‘objectification’ of women is a particularly nonsensical concern. Imagine walking along Oxford Street past any number of designer Venuses sauntering towards Marble Arch in their tight denim jeans, each leaving an appetising aroma of soft citrus in her wake. The only conceivable way of not reducing them to mere appearance would be to engage every one of them in deep conversation. It would be an exercise in insanity. And I’m not nearly charming or handsome enough to pull it off.

I do not subscribe to the materialist proposition that we are the sum total of our own biology. We are also spiritual creatures, in the sense that we are capable of appreciating beautiful things for their own sake. In particular, it is the male gaze that we have to thank for much of the tradition of Western art, which has for centuries dedicated itself to the elevation of the female body.

Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, boasting a pair of the most prepossessing and glamorous buttocks in Christendom, is a feminist’s worst nightmare. Housed in the National Gallery, this was the painting slashed in 1914 by the suffragette Mary Richardson in protest at the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst. Richardson would later claim that she did not like the way lustful men ‘gaped’ all day at Venus’s peachy derrière.

There is a sense, which Velázquez clearly intended, that Venus, her face reflected in Cupid’s mirror, catches you in your voyeuristic glee. Such nudes were often commissioned as a sort of sexual preliminary for naughty 17th century aristocrats after they had retired to their chambers with a bottle of fine wine and a silken handkerchief. Interestingly, the Spanish Inquisition enforced strict rules prohibiting such expedients as the Rokeby Venus. There is something of a parallel here, very much puritanical, between the extreme elements of religion and the particularly disagreeable protestations of feminism today.

One of the paradoxes of modern feminism is its pronounced prudishness that actually goes against the stated goal of such adherents as McVey and Harrison, which is the ostensible ‘empowerment’ of women. A young woman’s beauty affords her a great deal of power in a free sexual market, which the West is. And if there is such a phenomenon as misogyny then surely it is this imbalance of power that is at its root. One need not go much further than Samuel Johnson’s instructive witticism in 1763 that ‘nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little’.

The great irony in all of this is that feminism is now in the business of undermining the power dynamic that has served women so well throughout the centuries in the West. This is after feminism brought about the conditions of divorce and fatherless homes which arguably made for the hypersexualising of women that McVey and Harrison now oppose. In other words, feminism, being fundamentally irrational and reactionary, provokes itself on to further extremes. This may also explain its hitherto inexplicable lack of a critique of the repressive elements within Islam, which it might on some unconscious level, I daresay, sympathise with.

(Image: Igor Borodin/

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Daniel Frampton
Daniel Frampton
Daniel Frampton is a historian and writer.

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