Tourist Guide for Woman-Watchers

// 9 May 2008

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A speech writer for Bernard Kouchner (France’s Foreign Minister) has written a book advising on the best places in Paris to look at beautiful women. According to Pierre Louis Colin, people go to Paris to see the city’s magnificent women as much as they go there “to admire the Mona Lisa and the Eiffel Tower” and he wrote The Pretty Women of Paris because he couldn’t find any such guide already in existence. The French feminist group SOS Femmes has taken a critical view of Colin’s book and this has, somewhat predictably, been sensationally described in the press as “feminist fury”.

Though arguably not quite worthy of my “fury,” I discussed this thinly veiled effort to keep the sexes in their traditional places on the Richard Bacon show on Tuesday (scroll through to about an hour and a half in). Colin has said he is “blowing a raspberry” at so-called “political correctness” and this obviously makes the book sound edgy but there isn’t anything very rebellious going on as far as I can see. If anything, he just seems to be blowing a raspberry at women in celebration of the fact that we get looked at more than men do.

Judging by what Pierre Louis Colin said during our discussion and the quotes I’ve read, I’d say this “guide” is basically one man’s quaint, misty-eyed fantasy of a culture where men who fancy women stride about, all-seeing and all-knowing, while we lovely ladies feel special because -oh joy!- these lofty adventurers might have something flattering to say about us. Here’s a prime quote:

In this troubled century, while from America come the echoes of another moral order, the responsibility of the contemplator is immense: in his respectful courtesy depends a part of the survival of our civilisation of liberty, of gentleness, and of grace.

Surprise! The contemplator is framed as male. If you were in any doubt with regard to the unequal conditions that underpin this assumption, here’s a Daily Mail comment to contemplate:

Now that’s my kind of elected official. The kind of guy you can sit down and have a beer (or a glass of wine) with and shoot the breeze about sports and women.

Doesn’t this commenter realise that smugness is deeply unattractive? Okay, I admit I’m being obtuse now…

That said, I’ll admit that I have been known to “shoot the breeze” about men. I’ve also done a fair bit of roaming about, quietly observing and contemplating them. Of course, all that hanging out alone in public spaces sometimes leads to me being interrupted by some random guy who has decided to loudly make it clear that he is going to contemplate me but, hey, what the hell. As we are constantly told -in no uncertain terms- equality has been achieved! If I get frustrated, I can always pop to my local newsagent to grab one of the many magazines showcasing sexy men with full boners, getting thoroughly rogered by anonymous women for my pleasure…

All that talk of the freedom to “contemplate,” along with the author saying he is on a “high mission,” seems to allude to the intellectual. Perhaps such high-mindedness is beyond me because I have to admit I’m having trouble appreciating the great philosophical high ground to be gained from making a special trip to the Spiral staircase at Cafe Louis Philippe to look up women’s skirts (one of Pierre louis Colin’s recommendations in the book). Perhaps I would understand if some randy lover of men informed me of the cunning ways that I could invade men’s privacy by sneaking a look at their cocks without their permission. Perhaps a tour of the urinals is in order? I wonder what the Daily Mail would have to say about that? (They don’t seem to have much faith in men so I’m guessing the words Asking, For and It would figure somewhere.)

In all seriousness, I don’t really think there is anything wrong with anyone admiring another person’s beauty. Being a sex object from time to time is fine if it doesn’t drown out everything else or become unmanageably one-sided. As I’ve said before, I also happen to think men miss out when society doesn’t fully appreciate the beauty of their bodies.

Hopefully, for the women of Paris, this book will prove to be a passing novelty item. If it doesn’t, they can probably expect some very annoying tourists.

Photo by KRFulton, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Comments From You

Cara // Posted 10 May 2008 at 11:43 am

OK – standing under spiral staircases to look up women’s skirts? That’s not even just leering, that’s being a full-blown perv. EUW. So very wrong.

As for looking. Hmmm. People-watching is a fun pastime (I intend to do some today on such a lovely warm Saturday) – and in the course of doing so, most adults will on occasion see someone of whichever sex they fancy who they think is attractive.

There is a difference between that and blatant leering, though.

Leering is often not about “admiring beautiful women” but reminding those of us deemed insufficiently “beautiful” that we will be invisible – to politer men – and receive insulting comments on our weight/ clothes / hair / face / (lack of) make-up / whatever, from those specimens more lacking in social skills.

It is so obvious that the assumption is that women are decorative objects to be looked at, and men do the looking.

Yeah, when they bring out a guide to finding hot men in Paris…I’ll be there. :-) (I would draw the line at looking at penises, though.)

But that would subvert those tired old gender roles, wouldn’t it?

Sian // Posted 10 May 2008 at 12:39 pm

I agree with the above’ comment about the difference between giving a look to someone who may fancy and blatent leering. I’d even say you can prolong that glance and it not be blatent leering-most people have exchanged these types of glances with beautiful strangers on public transport, with that knowing mutual smile (even if it’s from someone who you don’t fancy back, it isn’t threatening)? What Pierre is talking about in this book definitely falls into the blatent, scarily threatening leering category for me.

I went to Paris last year, and despite being with my boyfriend all the time, was subjected to this leering constantly. I’ve never experienced it in other parts of France, only Paris-not sure what’s going on there?

Victoria // Posted 10 May 2008 at 1:11 pm

Cara, you’re spot on.

m Andrea // Posted 10 May 2008 at 5:11 pm

THANK YOU!! I’ve been wanting to read some foreign feminist websites, but can never find the english versions. Not websites aimed at english audiences, just websites for their own folks, translated into english.

A spanish one and mexican one would be awesome, hint hint. :)

victoria // Posted 10 May 2008 at 5:18 pm

I’ve just had a look at some of the comments on the article that you find when you click on “feminst fury” above and I am now extremely disappointed and angry. I would actually suggest to other feminists that they don’t even bother reading these comments. Apparently men have a “right” to know where the “hot” women are and we feminists are just ugly and jealous! I’m certainly not ugly or jealous but I’m 100% against the publication of this pathetic book. I spent literally just a few days in Paris last year and received a lot of unwanted attention. I was actually stalked by a lorry driver all the way back to my hotel. Other women I’ve spoken to have had similar experiences in Paris. A book such as this is only going to make matters worse. How depressing.

Anne Onne // Posted 10 May 2008 at 8:02 pm

Come on, as if ‘hot women’ hang around in particular places looking all hot for objectification(I know why they told them go to the Louvre- to look a the nude paintings and statues!), and you know, don’t have a life or move around or anything.

As far as I can see, they just tell them to go look at tourist hot spots where there will be more people generally. There may be more ‘hot’ women there, but that’s just because there’s more people- it doesn’t take a genius to work it out!

Wryness aside, it’s cheap, voyeuristic tat that aims specifically to insult women. Nobody minds men just casually *noticing* women they think are attractive, as long as they don’t make a scene about looking at women. But the fact that this isn’t actually noticeable or macho enough means that some men feel they have to make a song and dance to prove they are very, very heterosexual, and that they want to make sure women know what they think and are watching. They have to grind it into your face, leering loudly, staring, or trying to look up skirts, because quietly passing a polite look isn’t macho, isn’t masculine, and doesn’t subjugate women. This isn’t about being attracted to women, it’s about power. Why else would they want to flaunt it?

These kinds of men are actually very insecure about their maleness, hence the need to demonstrate it with loud, obvious attempts at gaining power over women. And the book is a reflection of that. Putting up a big signpost that say’s ‘I’m a manly man who likes women, got it! I look at them! They’re for me! I’m the man, get it?!?!’. It’s actually sad, and I wonder if men actually will go to certain places in the hope of finding certain ‘types’ of women, rather than realising women aren’t flocks of migrating birds, but people who you can find everywhere in all shapes and forms.

But if you’ve more than half a brain cell, the book’s not aimed at you, anyway.

Lisa // Posted 11 May 2008 at 2:02 pm

Just to give a more balanced persepctive of Paris – I’ve lived here for 2 years and have found the men better behaved than in London. They’re much more discrete, subtle and even if they look, they rarley say anything and never shout. This isn’t just with respect to me but other women. I spend a lot of time pounding the streets of Paris because of the nature of my work so think I have quite a good overview. French sexism is much more obvious in privacy of the home or office than on the street.

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