From time to time I hear about vicious and cruel tweets or comments thread posts about some woman or other being ugly. Most recently, I recall the winner of some tennis championship being the subject of hateful, nasty comments from people who figured she didn't deserve to win because she wasn't as pretty (in their opinion) as her competitor.
Quite rightly, plenty of people have condemned this behaviour, and also making the point that there is much more to any individual (female or male) than how physically attractive they are. I have nothing to add to this self-evident observation; instead, I want to suggest another reason why we ought to regard such behaviour with contempt, and that is from the perspective of an unapologetic girl-watcher.
I make no excuses. I confess that I do appreciate feminine beauty, and spend rather a lot of time in its contemplation. I do love to look at women. Not because I think that's all there is to them, not because I consider it to be any measure of their worth (even a small one), but because I just happen to be wired that way. If you're a woman, and you're talking to me, I am of course interested in what you have to say, because I value humans and their ideas and experiences, and I won't be staring at your breasts because, lovely as they may be, I value your mind much much more. That doesn't mean I'll be completely ignorant of your physical features, but they will just be one of many elements of the environment in which I might take some aesthetic pleasure. That I happen to like the music playing in the background, or the coffee in my cup, doesn't mean I'm not also paying more attention to you, your distinct human mind and your ideas.
If you happen to just be walking by, or sitting several rows down on the bus from me, or otherwise not interacting with me personally, well, then, while I know there's a unique mind in there, I don't have any access to it; all I have available to notice then is the way your hair complements the shape of your face, or the flattering contours of your jeans. That I might take some pleasure in seeing such things should be no threat to you, nor indeed of any interest to you whatsoever (unless you happen to be interested in me). It happens entirely within the head of this middle-aged married guy that you may or may not notice in a crowd, but with whose mind you are not currently interacting. A guy who happens to derive aesthetic pleasure from many aspects of the world around him, one of which is the appearance of females of his species.
Now, I say all this as a way of explaining that I sympathize with guys who pay attention to women's looks. I do too. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that by itself. But let me tell you a little something about how I look for feminine beauty. To me, it is a kind of puzzle, an exercise in perspective, a challenge. I start from the presumption that there is beauty to be seen in just about everything and everyone, if you look in just the right way. It's very much like the famous optical illusion where you can see the image as a young woman or an old lady, just by choosing to identify a feature as either the old lady's nose, or the young woman's chin.
There is an additional pleasure in trying to solve the puzzle, to find the beauty hidden in plain sight. In many, particularly the women regarded as "conventionally beautiful", it's pretty easy to find. In others, it takes some effort, but it's there, and when I find it it's that much more of a special thrill to see. And if I can't find it (sometimes it's very well-hidden), I realize that the fault is with my imagination, not with her.
It's one of those little joys of discovery that make my life worthwhile, like solving a crossword puzzle. (And sometimes, I reverse the exercise, trying to find a way to see the ugliness in a supermodel. Not very often, though. I don't much care for ugliness, even if I know it's there. It's just a challenge, to keep my on my toes.)
And so, whenever I hear some jerk describe a woman as ugly, quite apart from my disdain for his lack of basic human decency (which I feel in my capacity as a human being), I also feel as a connoisseur some scorn for his flagrant and wasteful ignorance of the finer pleasures of girl-watching, pity for his inability to perceive and appreciate what is right in front of him. It is as if he had flung down a crossword puzzle in irritation, saying "Bah! Six letter word for lack of cash, beginning with P and ending in Y? Poverty has SEVEN letters, you stupid crossword!" I mentally pencil in "penury" and get to feel just a little bit superior.
Note: Apologies for the use of "girl-watching" instead of "woman-watching", but that's the commonly accepted phrase for the pastime, and when I started out as a boy, I actually was watching girls rather than women. Also, this piece is written from my subjective position as a heterosexual male who just isn't as interested in exploring the aesthetic beauty of the male form. In principle, my arguments should apply ceteris paribus to the appreciation of masculine beauty. But ceteris non paribus: no one ever seems to say that a man doesn't deserve to win at Wimbledon because he's less attractive than his opponent.