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The High Artifice of Girl Watching

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Dolly Parton has said that it takes a lot of money to look cheap. And it’s true. Women spend a fortune on all manner of things to look younger, thinner, taller, bustier—to get noticed. It’s no secret. We want you to look. That said, there are right ways and there are wrong ways.

  For the Boys

I love nature shows. Always have. I’ve seen countless programs tackling the various and sundry topics surrounding animal husbandry—insect to arthropod, reptile to mammal—and can easily apply what I’ve observed to my own species. What men should observe is that virtually all women have this ability—even the ones whose TV consumptions fall more in the genre best described as “Real Housewives of….” It’s instinctual.

So, when we’re walking down a city street, or into a nightclub, and an excitable male decides we look such an unearthly level of scrumptious that he has to let fly with a “Damn!” or a “Whoa!” or any other loudly delivered crumb of complementary compost, he should know that his subject is most likely aware that this display is the human-male equivalent of a lion lifting its tail to scent a tree in the Serengeti—or, for that matter, a hamster rubbing its ass on the Habitrail.

Its purpose may have something to do with the chicks in an ancillary capacity, but this behavior is clearly the bastard stepchild of the chest thump, rendered somewhat inert by social evolution, but still alive and well in the long-standing tradition of unspoken man-to-man communication.

Roughly translated, you are pulling out your balls for your friends to sniff, hoping they will reel with appropriate admiration and perhaps a small amount of amicable jealousy over your intoxicating masculine confidence. And there is, of course, the off chance that the object of your affection might find this display of self-assurance intriguing or endearing. So really, it’s a no-lose prospect.

Now, back to those aforementioned boundaries … Vulgarity automatically banishes even the best-looking catcaller to the loser bin. It’s a sad sight. Women recoil and friends tend to distance themselves lest the stink of such ineloquence envelop them as well. However, I maintain that most women will be amused, not insulted, by remarks falling within the bounds of decency. And secretly, most will even be pleased.

It may even win you a coy smile, sans eye contact, as she passes. A little something to let you know she appreciates the fuss on an implied level is somehow, subconsciously, appropriate. She’s gotten something of an affirmation too, after all.

  We See You

Traditional girl watching, of course, is more a quiet pastime. Men sit by the park fountain midday with their bag lunches watching the pretty legs around them cross and uncross, their eyes—perhaps masked by sunglasses—taking in the elegantly sexy hair tossing of a nearby blonde on her cell phone, or the exceptional rear end on the nanny as she bends to wipe the nose of her charge. And all these women are blissfully ignorant. They don’t notice at all.

Or do they?

If people watching is a pastime, girl watching just might be an art. Women can be exceptionally sensitive and perceptive creatures. We often see, hear, smell and feel things that men cannot. To that end, we are an exceedingly alert quarry. It’s difficult to observe us casually without our noticing on some level. (There’s a word for those watchers with ninja-like stealth who go to great lengths to avoid detection—and in most states it’s considered a felony.)

You must therefore assume, if you are watching, that you are likely being watched yourself. Other nearby women may pick up on it before your actual subject does. And if you happen to have a female companion with you—be she a sister, mother, friend or significant other—she’s almost certainly going to notice.

In short, if you’re caught, own it. Just like that loud guy by the open manhole or in the club we discussed before. By nature of his overt methods and his choice of location, he’s letting everyone know who he is, what he’s doing, and why. Like him or not, he’s nonthreatening—a trait women find incredibly comforting when subjected to the gaze of an admirer.

Men and women are in agreement: The best places to girl watch are busy public areas. Not simply because there are infinitely more attractive bodies to peruse, but because they’re safe. If the cute salesgirl from the department store catches you staring as she dumps her tray at the food court trashcan, just give her a shy smile and a shrug and she probably won’t think a thing of it. She may even catch herself smiling as she walks back to work. But if you happen to see her in the parking lot, particularly if she’s walking alone, keep your eyes to yourself.

To drive this point home, many of us would probably prefer being blatantly eye-fucked (I use this somewhat debasing language to clarify) by a stranger at a crowded sports bar in the company of our exceedingly jealous and reasonably beer-addled boyfriend, well knowing the various unattractive scenarios that might play out, to being eyeballed by the car as we head out, unaccompanied, to grab the cell phone we mistakenly left behind.

We don’t know who the weirdoes are. Lots of them look normal. Some are even handsome and charming. Surely you’ve seen the news, those cable forensic science shows, or at least Law & Order: SVU. Women have a lot to be suspicious of these days.

Many of the men with whom I conferred on this topic admitted that they rather enjoy when their female companions are admired by other guys. Most called it an ego boost. “It makes you feel good about yourself when you’re with a woman who is so obviously desirable to other men,” one fellow told me—though he admitted his reaction to that kind of attention could easily be dependent on his mood. “If you’re feeling secure in the relationship, it’s nothing. It amuses you. It makes you feel good. If not, I could see myself getting cranky about it.”

And of course, women can enjoy that added boost too, often in the form of some extra attention from her guy. “If my husband and I go out for drinks,” a friend confessed, “and maybe as he’s coming back from the bathroom he notices some guy across the way checking me out a little or the bartender and I are having an animated conversation as he sits back down, it seems he becomes a little more charming, a little more physically affectionate than usual. He touches me while we’re talking. His hand will rest on my thigh or shoulder—maybe he’ll play with my hair. I like it. It’s fun. I feel attractive and sexy, and I think feeling that way makes me that way.”

See boys? The whole girl-watching thing is fine with us. It may seem like there’s a vast distinction between a nice smile from the well-dressed chap across the bar and a boorish wolf whistle from the dusty pit of a construction site as some shapely female sashays past, but really, it’s a gap most women could hop over in precariously high heels. Girl-watching 101 is pretty straightforward, really. Check us out. Don’t creep us out. Play nice. Own it. And you’ll get away with murder.


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