The headline in last Saturday's Focus section of The Globe suggested the editors knew the story would be controversial. "I can hear the charges now: objectifier, perv ... man."
And feature writer Ian Brown's editors were right. Those charges and others were thrown at the article – a personal essay about wrestling with an irresistible urge to watch attractive women in the summer weather and whether it is right or wrong.
The article carried the different headline: "Why men can't – and shouldn't – stop staring at women" online. It's currently the best-read article on globeandmail.com this month with more than 125,000 readers. It also "went viral" with many readers coming to it from social media or recommendations of friends long after it disappeared from a prominent position on our website.
With more than 1,200 comments online and many letters to the editor, a very high number approved of both the essay and the practice. In fact, the top-rated (by the readers) online comment is from someone who calls herself oldgal67 who is admonished by her son for looking at attractive young men. "Women who object to being admired – or men for that matter – should learn not to fear admiration in its simplest form," she writes.
Yet another of the top-rated commenters said "It is OK to look but not to leer... I agree with the author that women don't mind the looks as long as they are not followed with commentary." This was a theme from the women quoted in the article as well.
It was an innocent question asked and an essay that was almost apologetic in its tone. "The inevitable backwash of guilt arrived, as all men know it does," said the article describing how the writer watched a woman on a bicycle from 10 feet away. He didn't speak to her, but he did wonder if it was right to look at her.
And yet the article also attracted some heartfelt charges that a discussion of looking at women was akin to reducing them to their body parts. Some women are angry or afraid of men looking and what it might lead to. They feel harassed by the attention and likely suffer from much more than glances. It is a very serious issue and one which The Globe and Mail has discussed and will continue to discuss. A recent editorial called on the RCMP leadership to root out sexual harassment.
The essay questioned whether you could discuss the impulse of men (and women) to look. Many of you said yes, looking, not leering or commenting, was fine. For others, the answer was a resounding no and it tapped into a much deeper vein of concern over street harassment of women. It may have seemed like a light discussion, but as with many such topics there are deeper roots that our readers want to debate further.
If you want to ask me a question about this or any other issue, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org