I Never Looked At You, Honest!

It strikes some as a paradox that Spartan women, who in their youth did public gymnastics naked, and could receive male visitors in the absence of their husbands, were known as the chastest wives in Greece, while the sequestered Athenian wives had a reputation for infidelity. Others it strikes as being simple cause and effect.

I remember this whenever, in my travels, I have cause to compare Scandinavian females with women of those other cultures that the Scandinavians like to consider as in need of gender liberation at their own hands. For it seems to me that Mediterranean women look me far more in the eye, whereas the net effect of all that high-minded Nordic preaching on equality and objectification and so forth seems to be a society in which everybody is always looking away. The men look at the pavement in mortal fear of being caught noticing the breasts and so lectured on the male chauvinist piggery, while the women cast their eyes down in mortal fear of – well, I am not sure what. Probably fear that looking a man in the eyes will be mistaken for a come-on. It is as if “objectification” is supposed to mean even the most peripheral awareness that the human race comes in two main flavours, or even awareness that we are embodied.

And then there is the matter of private space. I have never in my life met women who stand as close to me to converse as hijab-wearing women in Muslim countries. We could practically rub noses. Yet I am quite certain that they are not coming on to me. Is it some deal whereby they feel more secure, by virtue of the symbolism of hijab, or perhaps the readiness of all the men of their country to rend me limb from limb should I transgress? By contrast, of course, the preferred Norwegian private space is about a kilometre.

They do say that private space correlates with population size and distance from the equator. And also that female emancipation increases with distance from the equator. And yet, if liberation means the obligation to stand at a chilly distance and avoid eye contact during social conversation, I wonder whether it is actually worth having.

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