Take charge of the TV remote, girls, and get ready for some Rugby World Cup ogling
Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30
It's Rugby World Cup time again! Hooray! I'm SUCH a fan of the game. What a proud history it has, born on the playing fields of Rugby school 200 years ago when William Webb Ellis got tired of kicking the ball in his football match and had the much more sensible idea of picking it up and running with it in his arms instead.
What a thrilling execution of finely-balanced tactics a good match is - the creation of space, the pacing, the pile-driving prowess of the forwards, the scrums, the rolling mauls, all done by great big men in tiny shorts, with lovely broken, noble faces framed by huge shoulders that could stop a train or carry you off to...
Ah. Okay. You've caught me. It's not the game. It's the gamers. For a large part of the female audience, the greatest attraction of the Rugby World Cup is not the competition, the Corinthian spirit, the chance to relive glory days or whatever it is that attracts male viewers to the sport, but the chance to ogle big beefy men.
Jonny Wilkinson did sterling work in recruiting a new generation of fans who neither know nor care how many points a try is worth, what the outcome of a drop kick will be or precisely who is tackling who or why - as long as they do it hard and often and give us a glimpse of a well-toned thigh while they are doing it.
Women get so few opportunities for a good ogle. Don Draper in 'Mad Men' has now left our screens. There's George Clooney, of course, but he's only in films - which can often feel like too much effort (see also James Bonds) - and his smouldering Nespresso ads seem to have disappeared.
The Rugby World Cup comes at a good time, basically, is what I'm saying. As does the accompanying calendar so thoughtfully provided by French rugby players every year: Dieux Du Stade is exceptionally, umm, French, ladies, so consider yourselves warned/assured. They also have a video channel on YouTube. I'm told. Bonjour Sergio, Sofiane, Pascal, Hugo, Fulgence, Antoine - et merci. Tres bon effort all round.
We should feel bad about doing this, I suppose. Objectification is - objectively - a bad thing. Reducing a person to the sum only of their outer parts is generally bad practice and when men do it to women, women protest vociferously.
Except, is it really the same thing when the gaze occasionally travels in the other direction? Not quite.
When Kit Harington (the actor who played Jon Snow in Game of Thrones) complained about only being considered in terms of his looks, he was greeted with gales of derision strong enough to blow him off The Wall Snow so tenaciously and muscularly guarded.
Why? Simply because women do it from a position of relative weakness. When a woman objectifies a man - well, it doesn't mean anything very much at all.
It remains just . . . looking. We don't have centuries of physical, political, social or cultural tradition encouraging us or enabling us to follow up on our instincts in the way men do. The way things stand, men are frequently in a position to act on their impulses and often do so in a way that changes playful appraisal into something more active, frequently exploitative and sometimes even quite threatening.
We also (and I think this might be the greater key to the whole thing) have centuries of training in holding more than one thought in our heads at a time, which has the happy effect of making us generally less reductive in approach.
In personal and anecdotal experience, I have always been struck by the way women can look at a man and think "Cor, I'd like to hook up with him, I wonder also what he is like? And also what I shall have for lunch tomorrow, and I must remember to take that book in for Sarah at work" as they walk over to the object of their potential affections.
In a perfect world, sure - of course nobody would be ogling anyone else. We would be immune to the superficial charms of physical construction. Male and female alike would search only for soul-mates, ignoring the mere flesh - be it ever so well-moulded - that houses the truly vital organs of love; a generous heart, a fine intellect, emotional literacy or a wit that could live down the ages.
But until that beautiful day comes, I shall rejoice in one of the few benefits of our imbalanced society and spend the Rugby World Cup-ogling guilt-free. Followed by a little 'Mad Men' re-watch, perhaps.
Yes, I think that'll do nicely. (©Daily Telegraph london)