“America’s favorite outdoor sport”
October 8, 2020 11:57 AM   Subscribe

 
Loosely modeled on bird watching guides, The Girl Watcher’s Guide advised men on the best places to spot girls; it categorized women into different types, such as the “brown-backed beachbomb,” the “pubthrush” and the “fortyplus,” and it provided tips and tactics, especially for married men, on how to watch women discreetly.

Probably no mainstream publisher would have touched it, but I wish there had been a competing "tongue-in-cheek" book about how to hunt men called "The Most Lecherous Game."
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:03 PM on October 8 [26 favorites]


Now rooting for the Cuban Missile Crisis to go the other way.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:11 PM on October 8 [8 favorites]


Great link.
posted by JHarris at 12:12 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


As I started reading this, I thought 'eww, this is gross, I am glad this phenomenon went away', but the more I read it, the more I think it didn't go away so much as intensified from street harassment to more targeted harassment -- this all seems like a precursor to Pick-Up Artist bullshit.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:16 PM on October 8 [26 favorites]


I knew the O'Kaysions song from an early age, because my mom loves Carolina Beach Music, but I had no idea of the background. Thanks for this!
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:17 PM on October 8 [5 favorites]


The stinger on that Pepsi ad underscores just how long/pervasive all of this has been and continues to be.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:29 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


The advertising industry has so much evil shit to answer for.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:29 PM on October 8 [27 favorites]


Ugggg. I feel like I've spent the last 25 years of my life unlearning all the gross shit I was taught in the first 25 years.
posted by bondcliff at 12:31 PM on October 8 [51 favorites]


I had no idea this was such an ad-fueled and organized phenomenon. I've seen all sorts of pop culture references to guys whistling at or otherwise harassing women on the street but I didn't realize there was a freaking organized movement that could attract large crowds to a single location. This absolutely strikes me as the precursor to all the alt-right MRA/proud boy/incel shit we're seeing now.
posted by treepour at 12:56 PM on October 8 [26 favorites]


I think men already knew how.
posted by MtDewd at 12:56 PM on October 8 [5 favorites]


MtDewd: Yes, of course, but the question was how it was viewed by other men and how it was actually formalized: "Standing around and watching women had long been widespread, but earlier in the 20th century, middle and upper-class people considered the practice disreputable." And then: "Members [of the International Society of Girl Watchers] received a rating card which they were supposed to fill out and hand to women they spotted."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:04 PM on October 8 [8 favorites]


Back in college, one year at the acting conservatory we had a voice teacher that would sometimes grab groups of us and assign us group songs to work on; I was one of a trio that did At The Ballet from A Chorus Line, two other students might get tagged for Anything You Can Do, stuff like that.

One day he grabbed the four guys to do Standing On The Corner. At the time I thought it was funny - because these were four guys in our acting conservatory, so they were dressed as sloppily as possible, singing with all different levels of enthusiasm for the lyrics - a couple with looks on their faces that betrayed how corny and silly they thought the song was. They were clearly idiots, and the song seemed innocent.

Now....I'm regretting that I didn't demand to team up with some of the girls after and do "Sisters Are Doin' It for themselves" or something afterward.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:15 PM on October 8 [6 favorites]


The ad-fueled stuff is when it went from being rude to being funny, and the ads were profiting from the assumption that norm-breaking is admirable as long as you can get away with it no matter what the norm is. I hate, loathe, despise that belief, which has been really useful to backlash operations of all kinds. It isn't just from advertising, of course, but wow advertising co-sponsors it.
posted by clew at 1:24 PM on October 8 [12 favorites]


The misogyny of this is depressing but unsurprising, what always gets me is the time and effort involved. I guess this is what people did to kill time before phones and cable tv and every other distraction out there. But for several thousand guys to just go hang out all day to ogle one woman? What? How deeply bored were these guys?
posted by GuyZero at 1:26 PM on October 8 [5 favorites]


Homophobic homosociality.

(IIRC Freud only hit pop culture in the US in the late fifties, sixties.)
posted by clew at 1:32 PM on October 8 [3 favorites]




I can think of at least one song that could do with a re-titling. Shouldn't be too hard.
posted by philip-random at 1:39 PM on October 8


Jesus, that poor woman in the first couple of paragraphs! 10,000 people gathered to watch her walk from the office to the subway! WTAF.
posted by suelac at 2:21 PM on October 8 [16 favorites]


> I can think of at least one song that could do with a re-titling. Shouldn't be too hard.

When we were kids my brother loved to sing "I'm a squirrel watcher, I'm a squirrel watcher, watchin' squirrels go by, hey, my my..." when he saw a squirrel, complete with a pantomime of using binoculars, so that's one good thing that came out of that stupid song.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:50 PM on October 8 [11 favorites]


Thanks for posting. Enlightening. Disgusting, depressing, but ultimately enlightening.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 2:59 PM on October 8


Yeah...this nonsense goes waayy back.

The 18th Century play The Country Wife centers around a character named "Horner" who pretends to be impotent in order to get close to married women.
posted by brookeb at 3:02 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


I had no idea this was such an ad-fueled and organized phenomenon. I've seen all sorts of pop culture references to guys whistling at or otherwise harassing women on the street but I didn't realize there was a freaking organized movement that could attract large crowds to a single location. This absolutely strikes me as the precursor to all the alt-right MRA/proud boy/incel shit we're seeing now.

Yeah, this is what stuck out to me. For a brief period of time in the early 20th century, street harassment was looked down upon and even criminalized (although this also presents its own problems in terms of racist policing).

And then there was a reactionary backlash, powered by the engines of patriarchal capital and completely predicated on the idea that no, actually, street harassment can be classy and should be encouraged *and* monetized.

While the term "girl watching" itself no longer exists, it is depressing to consider how much of that entitlement and violence still remains as the worst kind of cultural inheritance.
posted by Ouverture at 3:09 PM on October 8 [5 favorites]


The advertising industry patriarchy has so much evil shit to answer for.
posted by Thella at 3:13 PM on October 8 [11 favorites]


For a brief period of time in the early 20th century, street harassment was looked down upon

Everett True was not a fan.
posted by StarkRoads at 3:15 PM on October 8 [9 favorites]


There was even old-school lounge music on the theme. (Who was it that did the song about “watching girls go by”? That song was the distilled essence of the Playboy era, alongside the idea that smoking cigarettes is elegant and classy.)
posted by acb at 3:40 PM on October 8


I doubt this practice needed an ad campaign. Empress Callipygos mentioned "Standing On The Corner" from the musical Most Happy Fellow, covered by the Four Lads in the 1950s. (I think this is the song you're looking for, ACB.) But I believe similar songs go way back.
posted by CCBC at 3:47 PM on October 8 [2 favorites]


I feel like I've spent the last 25 years of my life unlearning all the gross shit I was taught in the first 25 years.

You and me both. A brief look at facebook will reveal all sorts of people who have doubled down on the gross shit, and now rely on the Haha emoji to do their heavy rhetorical lifting.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:55 PM on October 8 [5 favorites]


This made something from way back suddenly make sense. Isaac Asimov (who I've cube to recognize as a noted creeper) wrote a short story called The Holmes-Ginsbook Device. It's a shaggy dog story written as a parody of The Double Helix. (The story end with the invention of a geometric structure for portable reading, the aforementioned device, which is shortened to "book.") What starts the story off is the lamentable fact that when one uses a microfiche machine to read, one cannot engage in girl watching.

I had initially ignored this, and later came to view it just through the lens of Asimov being a creeper. It's weird to realize that this was an actual thing that occurred during the time he wrote this story. And that it was widespread enough that it made it into the writings of a major sci-fi author of the time.
posted by Hactar at 3:59 PM on October 8 [5 favorites]


I forget whose dad it was, but I was riding with a girl friend of mine when we were maybe nine, and I remember her dad teasing us with: "you gonna watch some boys? 'I'm a boy watcher! I'm a boy watch-er'! Watchin' boys go by!'" It wasn't a scarring moment or anything, but it was so gross, because I remember thinking that for some reason I couldn't put my finger on, it didn't work that way.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:10 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


The Four Lads, 1956...
posted by jim in austin at 4:42 PM on October 8


Holy crap that zoom in on the Whitehouse at the end of the Pepsi ad.
posted by Mitheral at 6:44 PM on October 8


Compare the diet pepsi ad to the scene in “Cuties/Mignonnes” when Amie is standing in the lobby of her apartment building watching women come and go, and the camera (her eye) focuses on all the butts, bouncing, jiggling, straining their clothes, just like in the videos she’s watching on her phone. The women are living their lives, carrying laundry, talking on the phone, going to work, but the eyes of the world are separating them from their butts, and only the butts matter.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:13 PM on October 8


I was born well after this. I’d encountered some of these in older books (thanks, Hactar for digging that cite up – Asimov was the first name which came to mind when I read this) but hadn’t realize that it was so widespread or accepted in mainstream life – that Pepsi commercial! – and it certainly explains a lot of odious behavior by my dad and others of his generation.

I’d like to say we got better but there are plenty of public figures who’d love to go right back, and it’s definitely not healthier that these days those guys would be posting covert pictures on social media with even wider reach and worse comments.
posted by adamsc at 8:55 PM on October 8


There was even old-school lounge music on the theme.
Tall and tanned and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking...
posted by Thella at 9:03 PM on October 8 [4 favorites]


yeah, hactar. i had to just stop outright with the classic science fiction when (i think it was) clarke spent a bit too much time on the salutory effect of zero-g on some female character's appearance, and all the gratuitous descriptions of some of the body parts of female characters across thousands and thousands of pages of heinlein asimov clarke and dick books collapsed together into a great lingering revulsion. (except, i don't recall dr. calvin ever being so objectified). judging from the routine reports from non-pickup artist/non-MRA coworkers about the body parts observed on the way to work -- yes, dear reader, even unto 2020 -- we are not past this at all.

anyway, i'll be in my bunk.
posted by 20 year lurk at 9:24 PM on October 8


That poor woman Francine. Guess those were the good old days?


For guys saying it's not a big deal...imagine this staring at you, every day, forever.

(it's mugshots of the LARP soldier wanna-bees who talked about attacking Michigan's capital.)

https://i.redd.it/zatmb8cvgyr51.jpg
posted by lon_star at 9:26 PM on October 8 [2 favorites]


I remember a drawing of a beach in a school French textbook. All the cartoon beach-goers described what they were doing in speech bubbles. 'Je joue au volleyball' etc. One boy was sitting facing a group of girls, had a pair of binoculars and was saying 'Je regarde les filles'.

I would have been about thirteen, full of hormones, definitely interested in girls and deeply fascinated by the idea of sex. However, I clearly remember being taken aback by the idea that looking at girls might be a... recreation. Of course I had occasionally noticed something exciting about a classmate but actively looking for my own pleasure didn't seem like something I should do. Was I simply ignorant? Maybe it was fine to stare at girls.

I've heard it said that it's natural for young guys to look at girls. Sexual attraction is natural, but the ways this is manifested are chosen and cultural. Leering is not inevitable.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:50 AM on October 9 [3 favorites]


Well, this explains a lot. Good historical dig.

I still love the Ernie K Doe song, it seems slightly less self-involved, if steeped in this trend. A bit more reverent, perhaps. The Girls Rock New Orleans group (summer musical education for kids) re uses it as their theme.
posted by eustatic at 5:43 AM on October 9


I feel dirty after watching that Pepsi ad.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:53 AM on October 9


And I can't help but think this is all happening after Emmet Till...like, what weird deflection powers were swirling around in the late 1950s?
posted by eustatic at 6:02 AM on October 9


except, i don't recall dr. calvin ever being so objectified

But even as Asimov doesn't spend much detail describing his characters (except of single details like Powell's mustache and Donovan's wild shock of hair), Dr. Calvin is specifically described as plain and unattractive along with brilliant. Interestingly, in the story "Liar!," which concerns a robot that accidentally develops the ability to read minds -- and then, complled by the First Law, to tell people exactly what it knows they want to hear -- it tells Calvin that a co worker she's infatuated with returns her feelings, and she suddenly starts acting much more "feminine" -- maybe even going so far as to wear makeup? -- to the point that people remark about her "strange" behavior.

Even as a child, the fact that Dr. Calvin was not presented typically of women in science fiction -- important for her mind, and therefore almost sexless -- made an impression on me I couldn't articulate until much later.
posted by Gelatin at 6:33 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


Barney Stinson
posted by Billiken at 6:57 AM on October 9


Interesting that soda ads in the 1960s became beer ads in the 1990s, and fashion ads in the 20XXs.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:31 AM on October 9


Who was it that did the song about "watching girls go by"

I think this is the song you're looking for, ACB.


No, it's not "Standing On The Corner" -- what you're talking about (and I'm surprised the OPs article didn't mention) is "Music To Watch Girls By." It's the soundtrack of the Pepsi ad, and it was a big (instrumental) hit for The Bob Crewe Generation. There was also a vocal version, by Andy Williams, but that wasn't the Top-40 hit.
posted by Rash at 8:52 AM on October 9


There was even old-school lounge music on the theme. (Who was it that did the song about “watching girls go by”? That song was the distilled essence of the Playboy era, alongside the idea that smoking cigarettes is elegant and classy.)
posted by acb at 11:40 PM on October 8


Andy Williams - Music to Watch Girls By.
posted by essexjan at 9:32 AM on October 10


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