Thanks William. I like John Berger’s work but not convinced about ‘the male gaze’ idea. Wholeheartedly agree about the reductive nature of objectification, though, male or female. ‘Staring’ is a fascinating topic - seems to sit at a tricky intersection between appropriate regard/adoration and sizing-up/threat.
A few details that may or may not be relevant here: Research has shown beautiful women in advertising sell more products to women compared to beautiful men in ads; the male eye is anatomical different from the female eye making him more aroused by images; women objectify men as, what Dr. Warren Farrell calls, "success objects".
I agree that there is an issue here for Christians. It is one of the running motifs in The Wistful and the Good, in which my heroine, Elswyth, is very much the subject of male gaze. One of the minor characters is a monk who practices the custody of the eyes and refuses to look at her, which often results in him falling over or bumping into things. He is at pains to explain to her that it is because of his own concupiscence, not anything wrong about her beauty, that he avoids looking at her.
And I think it is because of concupiscence, or original sin more broadly, that we find it uncomfortable to be stared at. An innocent would not feel such discomfort. Try to stare down a cat. You will always lose, not because the cat will look away first, but because the cat is indifferent because it has no idea that they are in the game.
But the language of objectification has a trap in it. It plays into the hands of the secular notion that human personhood is located in the mind, not the body. Thus the accusation that to look at a woman because she is beautiful is to deny her humanity because you are not regarding her mind, which, on this theory, is what makes her human.
The view accords with the view of many eastern religions, which regard the body as something corrupt to be put off in the quest to become pure spirit. While the secular materialist does not expect the mind to survive the body, they similarly regard the mind as the essence of personhood. This is, for instance, why they are willing to deny personhood to the unborn.
But the Christian view of the body is different. For us, the body matters. It is as much a locus and expression of our humanity as the soul or the mind. Christ became incarnate in a particular human body, like us in all things but sin. He ascended bodily into heaven. And we look forward not to the liberation of the soul from the body, but the resurrection of the body.
Thus to regard the body is not to deny the humanity of the person. The body is the visible manifestation of the person. It is the person. The reason that we should discipline how and when we regard the body is our concupiscence, requiring both an understanding of how how our regard of the body may lead us into temptation, and for how it may make the person we are looking at uncomfortable.
Thus we have to make the distinction that a thing may be right to look upon in principle, but that it may not be right for us individually to look on it because of the defect of original sin in us. And because we can be different in how this defect affects us, it may be licit for one person to look on a thing and not for another to do so. (For example, an alcoholic may need to discipline how the see or smell alcohol or people drinking, because of the specific defect they suffer from, whereas it would be perfectly licit for other people to see or smell the same drinks.)
So as to not generalize it's important to note how people prefer or intend to be seen. Some women love having attention given to their body. Some don't. Perhaps it's the time or place...or the particular person who's looking. There is that degree of cultural conformity though. There are people who fear being picked off from the pack. Overall there's a lot to think about. And fame is a monster that's opted into or sought out. Who wouldn't like it? To be on top; the one who gets stared at. There's always another model, that aspiring actress, one night on a whim. Don't undersell the men and women of action who do it only and wholly because they like to.