On Not Standing Out

I originally wrote this during a heatwave – nothing much by the standards of the Continent in 2018, but by Bergen standards enough to have all the women under 50 displaying their legs, backs and breasts. I am now old enough for this to make me philosophical rather than excited, and so what struck me was how many such semi-bare women there were. I took to wondering what it would feel like to be showing off what thousands of people around you were also showing off, to such an extent that it was doubtful whether you would get noticed at all. And this is a very small city; so what would it be like to flaunt the flesh in a world metropolis where the just-as-nice-as-yours legs number in the millions? For obvious reasons, I am never going to find out.

The same wonderment has often occurred to me in connection with the new-rich mainland-Chinese tourists in which we were knee-deep in all weathers until the 2020 lockdown. What does it feel like to be the ultimate in “being one of the crowd”, owing to the sheer numbers the ultimate in not standing out? It then occurred to me that the main driver of social media was probably a desperate thirst for non-nullity, in an overpopulated world that may fatuously call itself a village but is actually the very opposite of our evolutionary heritage, namely a group of about 120 in which everyone can be known.

I once touched on the former theme in conversation with a young lady who was extremely intelligent yet had her generation’s attitude of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” and its unconcern with the evils of being looked at that so bothered her mother’s generation (or should that be grandmother’s?). I made the point that I could not begin to know what it felt like to have a millimetre here or a millimetre there of your costume sending a sexual signal. About my costume, nobody cares; I can no more imagine being looked at with concupiscence than I can imagine seeing in the ultraviolet. She countered that a woman does not always arrange those millimetres consciously. True, no doubt, but men have no idea when the woman is thinking about the skin she is showing and when she is thinking about mathematics. It is not as if the mathematician can take her boobs off and hang them up.

The term “objectification” is misleading; the problem is not so much that you are an object of desire (which a woman wants to be when it suits her and not otherwise) as that you are taken for a player even when you are not playing – either because you never play, or because right now you are taking a break. It must be really annoying when other people keep right on playing. How dare they!

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