Last week’s Dear Prudence featured this letter:
I’m a happily married man in my 20s with a gorgeous wife, whom I adore. We live in a big city in an apartment building. In order to let in light, we keep the curtains open in our bedroom (sans naughty time). I’ve recently noticed that the female who lives in the apartment directly across from ours and the female in the apartment one floor below also leave their curtains open as they walk around half-naked. I’m not sidling up to the window for hours upon end, but on occasion I catch a glimpse of skin, and I’ll admit that I don’t turn away. I don’t know whether my wife has noticed the neighbors, but I haven’t told her that I have. I feel as if I’m hiding a secret from her and even committing a form of adultery by not walking away when I see them. Should I tell my wife so we can make a decision about what to do together (and hope she doesn’t divorce me)? Or should I unilaterally reach out to the neighbors, telling them that my whole building has probably been getting a show for several months and they should be more aware of their actions?
—In the Window
Now, how do you think that you might respond to this? Imagine it’s a friend telling you this. When you’re done rolling your eyes at “female,” what do you say?
Personally, I would be inclined to say “yes, you should tell your neighbors.” And here’s why: Watching women while naked or half-naked when they are not aware that you are watching is creepy. Indeed, one might argue that it’s a pretty profound violation. I know that I would be upset to learn, for example, that my blinds aren’t as good as I think they are and my neighbors have been watching me naked for months.
Indeed, the writer seems to recognize this on some level, because he feels like his actions are bordering on adultery, which implies that he feels a sexual component. If you’re watching women naked without their express consent and you are deriving sexual pleasure from it, that is pretty skeezy. In fact, I’ll go a step further: It is straight up wrong and not OK to do. Period.
Now, if these women are aware and they’re choosing to be a bit exhibitionist, that’s a bit different, although I am honestly uncomfortable with people forcing their naked bodies on people who may or may not want to see them. (I have a neighbor who does this, and is well aware of it, and it is upsetting.) If the entire neighborhood would like to work out a fully consensual agreement in which everyone is ok with seeing the naked people and the naked people are ok with being seen, by all means, go ahead.
How did Dear Prudence respond?
Dear In the Window,
Virtually any heterosexual man finding himself in your situation would conclude he’s got a Donald Trump-like gift for picking real estate. Since we’re making comparisons with The Donald, who is also an expert on adultery, let’s narrow the definition of it to actually having sexual contact with a woman other than your wife. As for your plans of attack, let’s take the second option first. If you secretly make the rounds of the Victoria’s Secret models across the way and explain to them the distress their dishabille causes you, that will surely be the day your wife does glance out the bedroom window at the neighborhood lovelies and wonders what in the world you’re up to. So forget the friendly lecture. But since your voyeuristic impulse and subsequent guilt are bothering you, go ahead and mention the peep show to your wife. She may surprise you and suggest the two of you discreetly catch a Saturday matinee. If, however, she (ridiculously) gets all huffy that you didn’t run in horror when you realized the neighbors were scantily clad, you should point out that while you two draw the curtain for your own “naughty time,” that leaves a lot of your own half-dressed lives on display. It’s possible your entire neighborhood is engaged in an endless round-robin of Rear Window. You could suggest that you get some sheer bedroom curtains so you continue to get light but don’t put yourselves on view. And if it happens that when you’re alone in the bedroom, the sheers somehow get nudged open a crack, and you see that next door the show goes on, consider it a freebie.
No mention, at all, of how problematic it is to derive sexual pleasure from watching nearly naked women without their consent. No, it’s all about how this guy should maintain his relationship with his wife, and not only that, Prudence goes a step further. She suggests that this man’s wife might enjoy joining him in the sexual exploitation of their neighbors.
That’s the best advice you’ve got, Prudie? “It’s quite all right that you are violating the bodily autonomy of your neighbors! In fact, go ahead and bring in the wifey! It will be fun for the whole family!”
Prudence is referring to women walking around in the presumed privacy of their homes as “a show,” as though these women are knowingly doing this. She might be mirroring the language this sleezebucket used in his letter, but that doesn’t make it ok. Isn’t it equally possible that they are walking around in dishabille because they are assuming that, since they are at home, no one is going to be violating them by watching them from across a courtyard or street?
In my opinion, this is one of the crappier advice columns I’ve seen lately, and I make a bit of a hobby out of seeking out crappy advice columns. This isn’t quite as bad as Dear Amy’s recent “advice” to a rape victim, but it reinforces rape culture and the idea that women’s bodies are public property just as effectively.