There is a look. It’s a look that I’ve been informally studying since probably middle school. It’s a look that’s somewhere between a joke and a conspiracy. It’s the look that guys give each other when a flirting girl has entered their airspace, has stumbled, drunk or not, into their sacred assembly: shoulders squared, beers in hand, bodies creating a semicircle perfect for Girl Reception.
In college, and I’m sure after college as well, sex is somewhat of a group activity. That does not mean that sex in college tends toward the orgy side of things, although I won’t assume. It means that friend groups are complicit in its pursuit and share its laurels. A victory for one is a victory for all. Apps like Tinder on campus contribute to the sportiness of it all; matching with the same person is a bonding experience, and swiping is a fun game to pass the time for the whole family.
This is not limited to men: my female friend group knows everything about each other’s sex lives, or at least the gist, and the ethos can definitely stray towards that of conquest. That said, I’ve never seen the Look, trademarked for its mocking, outside of the Assembly.
I believe that the Look is a microcosm of a larger culture of commodifying sex. Guys are taught that they should have as much sex as possible. As well-educated or evolved a man in college can be, I don’t think that this standard ever goes away. A college-age guy can respect women in theory to their heart’s content; still, I’ve seen the best of them share the Look with a buddy, usually when the two or three of them outnumber the women who have entered their assembly. The Look, in its smugness at the impending conquest, makes a mockery of a woman who has allowed herself to be vulnerable in her desires. The Look is a power trip, just another element in sexual politics contributing to the gray areas that inspire so much discourse and confusion in activism.
The biggest difference between the Look and whatever teasing and encouragement that girls give each other (whispered conferences that cover an entire content spectrum from “yas queen” to “share your location and text if you need anything”) is that the Look is sinister. It goes beyond harmless fun between friends and enters the realm of the larger issues in the sex and dating world. I can picture the Look as clearly as I can picture my laptop keyboard or my bedroom, because it starts young. From the first kiss, it’s all about impressing the Boys, proving oneself a Big Man. The Look puts the sacred assembly on top when it injects confusion and insecurity into the hearts of sexually empowered women. It is patterns like the Look that continually put women out of the loop and cultivate a sense that women have less of a voice in sexual situations— the sense that a feeling of discomfort isn’t legitimate. The Look fosters a defensiveness that is partially what makes gray areas so gray. The Look can be transparent as a sparklingly-clean glass window, but for some reason, not nearly as easily breakable.
Stephanie Ades, Spring 2018
artwork by Emma Cantor