Why isn’t it creepy when women phwoar at Poldark?

For women, sexual desire has a comic edge. And that makes all the difference

3 October 2015

9:00 AM

3 October 2015

9:00 AM

Stand by your remotes, girls: the second series of Poldark is under way. Filming has started — yes, he’s out there somewhere, wearing those trousers, not wearing that shirt, swinging that scythe. You’ve only got to wait for someone to edit it all together and then Sunday nights can be special again. You’ll be able to gaze and sigh and imagine. Us blokes, meanwhile, will be considering an anomaly: why is that women can express lust without sounding seedy, but men can’t?

I didn’t watch the first series. About three weeks in, when the Twitter drums had really started beating, I asked a female friend if it was that good. ‘He’s good,’ Catherine replied, so quickly and insistently that she might as well have just said ‘phwoar!’ Later I told my partner what had happened. ‘He is good,’ said Jo, with an excited shiver.

‘Hang on,’ I protested. ‘If I said I fancied a woman on the telly, you’d go spare.’

She denied it, but we both knew this was at least partly untrue: Jo wouldn’t go spare, but she would point out that I sounded like a dirty old man. For a while I mused on the injustice of this. How come Jo was allowed to lust after Aidan Turner and I was expected to laugh about it (which I did — there was something very funny about her response, as there had been about Catherine’s), but were I to convey my keen physical admiration of an actress the conversation would get closed down pretty smartish? (See — I’m not even naming a particular actress. I wouldn’t want the grief next time she was on TV.)

After a bit of thought, however, I realised there was no injustice. Males expressing lust do sound like dirty old men. You’ll note that ‘dirty old woman’ has never become a phrase. Somehow female desire comes out sounding clean. The woman might sound silly — in fact something about the way they lust shows that they know they sound silly. This in itself takes the sting out of proceedings. Down the years, when women have said they fancy Omar Sharif or George Clooney or Benedict Cumberbatch, the ‘shooting for the moon’ element has come as a given. Even when they comment on a guy in the street, women retain a lightness of touch, a sense almost that they don’t really mean it.

But point a bloke in the direction of Raquel Welch or Scarlett Johansson and he sounds sordid. It’s even worse when the woman is a passer-by. There are grunts and growls and muttered phrases ending ‘… the arse on that’ (or indeed ‘… the arse off that’), and all in all you get the impression of something barely out of the Stone Age. Embarrassing at best, and if the age differential is in the wrong direction, downright unpleasant.

Why should this be? How are women able to express their lust in a non-sleazy fashion? They even go to see the Chippendales in mother-daughter pairings — it’s almost as though sex isn’t about sex for them, it’s about comedy. And here, when men stop to think about it, we see that women have a point. When you consider the sexual act itself, you realise just how absurd it is. You put that in there? And do what? Which design team came up with that then? Steve Jobs would have had the lot of them fired on the spot. The mechanics of sex, and the positions you have to get yourself into, and the sounds you make and the faces you pull — all of these explain why pornography is as much a source of amusement as of arousal. The gap between the way sex looks and the way it feels is the widest in nature.

Deep down women never forget this. They remain aware not only that sex itself can make you appear foolish, but so can your statements of who you’d like to do it with. What’s more, women know that sex is fundamentally in the head rather than in the pants. This means that their lusting has a theoretical, almost intellectual quality to it. Of course women must have a sex drive, otherwise none of us would be here. It’s just that they don’t end up letting that drive make them sound obnoxious when they’re talking about Sunday-night TV programmes.

The Greek poet Sophocles is one of several men credited with the statement that the male libido is like living your life chained to an idiot. Over 2,000 years later we’re still making the mistake of introducing that idiot to our friends.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • XH558

    Yes. In the vast majority of cases women simply are not creepy. They have no power to coerce, even in the imagination, only to seduce, and that takes away the foundation of most male creepyness (thank heavens).

    • Clive

      That’s right, I think. The key point is in having power and therefore the capability and possibly the history of abusing that power.

      It’s behind racism and sexism. It will be a great day when I can call someone a black bast*rd because it doesn’t matter. It does matter now, because there is a history of discrimination and by using such an expression I am a reminder of it and therefore complicit in it.

      • XH558

        Absolutely. I know that there are cases of real abuse and I don’t seek to excuse them, but I confess that it seems rather ungentlemanly when young adult males come forward to complain that some older woman seduced them. Big deal.

  • Yusuf B

    What a load of BS!

  • JoeDM

    And why was it ok for my wife and adult daughter to go to see the Chippendales “for a laugh” but if I were to say I was going to Spearmint Rhino there would be blood on the walls ?

    • MrsE

      Did you not read the article at all? Give it a go.

    • Atlas


  • rotekz

    Because women are incapable of wrong-doing. Just look at the paedophile teacher that escaped jail this week.

    • ohforheavensake

      And some of us are not just chained to an idiot, we’re actually idiots.

  • Isabel Hardman, phwoar!

    • Vinnie


    • Atlas

      I prefer “giggitty” but the sentiment is the same.

    • Peter Shaw

      You do need glasses my friend….

  • Hilary

    Spectator, you need a new subheading: “A terrified, beta male writes…”

    • To the contrary. Real Men Speak Truth, Or Write It.

    • Felixthecat

      Haha – true, all male lifestyle journalists are essentially pets. Like a neutered Labrador.

      • It seems that you and the other men that voted Hilary up can’t take the truth. It’s as simple as that. You have to imagine that you are gods while doing It, that you look glam and that all your fantasies (starring yourself, of course) are somehow real. It’s not the author of this article that looks silly, chum.

        • Michael85

          Project harder, Calli.

          • All so silly. Mr Mason is not a ‘beta male’ (whatever that is) because he sees the absurdity in life. His wife loves him: presumably she appreciates that quality in a man. I know I do.

          • Felixthecat

            Are you Mark’s mum?

          • Devastating.

      • balance_and_reason

        BBc men….a middle gender.

  • wudyermucuss

    It is creepy being the object of female phwooaarring,although they tend to,usually,not always,be quite subtle about it.
    As are most men.

    The article is basically male objectivizing,no,female objectivizing,cool.

  • Stumps

    Sexism only works one way,didn’t you know?

    • Atlas

      It’s Guardian logic, in the hierarchy of evil white men are at the very pinnacle.

  • rotekz

    Newsflash: It’s not creepy when men Phwoar! at fit women.

    • Ursula

      Depends on the man.

      • rotekz

        No more than it depends on the woman.

  • Rita lopes

    Call me crazy but it might have something to do with the 1000s of years of systematic oppression of female sexuality by men. Nobody – including women- takes female expression of lust very seriously

    • ViolinSonaten b minor.

      Not in the slightest and by the way we’ve never been ‘ oppressed’ just to the middle east to
      see what that word means. The world was just different. Would you like to have fought in the
      Crusades and our many wars as the past is a violent place.
      And women are generally more discrete about those who they find attractive, to phoar out
      loud is just wrong for a woman, we are after al different to men.

  • Do men ever stop moaning?

    It’s simple: Men penetrate. That changes everything.

    • balance_and_reason

      yes that 11 year old boy was really up for it.

    • Ralph

      So as long as there is no penetration everything is good? Oh joy.

    • Atlas

      So do some women, I can assure you of that.

    • Peter Shaw

      Well that was a gem of wisdom there….That’s the most profound thing anyone has ever said…there was me thinking that all women were vacuous…

  • John Samson

    It’s a simple matter of active versus passive.

  • Dogsnob

    It’s not creepy simply because we don’t hear them. We’re out doing stuff.
    And really, what this all boils down to, is the fact that we would all – women and men – like to shag something a bit better than what’s at home.

    • I don’t think so, D. Women can be unappealing but in general they’re better-looking and better-maintained (they make the effort) than the male of the species. I can’t remember the last time I looked at a man and thought ‘hello, handsome stranger’.

      • Dogsnob

        Don’t talk to me about effort. I’ve had a wash twice this week.

        • njt55

          Yeah, and I shower every month whether I need it or not.

      • balance_and_reason

        a substantial portion of female grooming is not for the benefit of the men.

        • It’s true that women are generally more noticing types than males….

  • Ehm… the question is rather obvious.

    Because for women, sex is about love, joy, playfulness and intimacy.
    Whereas for men it is tainted with domination, shame, violence, force.

    Of course men can choose otherwise (and be healthier in the process), but it would be breaking with the “convention” set up in a patriarchal culture.

    • J777

      I think your comment is rather sexist. Here’s why: you readily describe sex for women with purely positive words and then accuse men of having a ‘tainted’ relationship with sex. The implication is quite strong, that for women sex is only ever a wonderful thing because women never bring any negative emotions or traits to the bedroom and for men, well they have to choose to be more like women, and thereby be ‘healthier.’ Are you really suggesting that the ‘taint’ of sexual shame is not present for women? And what about the many women who use sex as a form of manipulation? Is that not a tainted way of going about love-making?

    • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol
    • Umaru

      Your view on male sexuality is disgusting. Your mind is the one that’s tainted.

  • Or their anti-lust, when they realize there’s no one they would like to be absurd with. And thank you, Mr Mason, for being so astute, insightful, and frank. I’ve never known anyone but me to put the situation quite as baldly.

    This, by the way, is why h m s xuality is the zenith of absurdity: it is weird behaviour directed to the wrong end, quite literally speaking.

  • Sean L


    • What’s pitiful, Sean? That he sees through the veil that lets you cope with your own lust, day by day? The world is divided into believers and philosophics, etc….

  • hedgemagnet

    I don’t get the premise of this article*. Women sound just as seedy as men when they do all that phwoaring.

    *A lie. Actually I do. It’s clickbait.

    • Hugh Jeego

      I’ve just come back from sitting next to a table full of women in a restaurant, and they were all leching over a book full of naked and semi-naked men (I know, because they were waving it around). Not sure how that was romantic, or whatever. Seemed pretty much as animalistic as a bunch of blokes doing the same thing. But maybe I’ve missed the point

      • I don’t think men realize how unattractive they are.
        Ask yourself a question: if you were another human being, would you want to **** you?
        Right. That’s the woman’s predicament.
        No wonder she phwoars when an actually tasty specimen hoves in view!

        • Hugh Jeego

          They seemed pretty attracted to pictures of a bunch of blokes they’d never met, You are a pretty unpleasant little girl yourself. Being male, and not gay, I wouldn’t want to **** me, but I can tell you, judging from your attitude, I wouldn’t want to do anything at all with you. I was just telling you what happened, and you come out with a load of bollocks. I’m sorry you seem to be surrounded by unattractive men, maybe you should get out more. But the again, maybe your unattractive personality dooms you to be forever surrounded by grotesques. You’d have my pity, if you didn’t deserve everything that you seem to experience.

        • Hugh Jeego

          I don’t think women realise how unattractive they are. I wouldn’t want to **** you, that’s for sure.

          • Why? Because I have standards and you need ’em undiscerning?

          • Hugh Jeego

            No, because I have standards, and I wouldn’t want to catch anything nasty.

          • Charmer.

          • Hugh Jeego

            You love it really. At least you’re getting some attention. I’m doing you a favour.

    • Another one on this thread with more nuts than brains.

      • hedgemagnet

        Jeez. You ain’t ‘alf up yourself.

  • ed t

    Oh what a minefield, or quagmire, or whatever… It seems to me that we (males) get into trouble if we comment as described partly because our lust sounds like a credible threat to the affections that bind us to our other halves. I recently got into a lot of trouble for much milder behaviour and consequently the other half and I are no longer bound… She connected it with flirtation and flirtation with unfaithfulness and unfaithfulness with genocide… etc. For my part, I was rather miffed by this overreaction.
    One factor to keep in mind though is the background of this ‘word’ ‘phoar’ (however you spell it). It certainly became popular from the Carry On movies and Sid James was famous for it. Those movies were the pinnacle of British sexism I think (70’s nurses in micro-skirts etc), repeated for decades afterward, and we can see ‘phoar’ from women as an ironic revenge for ‘micro-aggressions’ imposed on their girlhoods by the Carry-On crew and their related male-ieu. Basically, they (the girls) know it gets up our noses, and so is a useful new tactic in (I suppose) an age-old baiting game.

    • She left you because you left out the W in ‘phwoar’.

  • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

    #Femsplaining why women can leer at semi-naked men but men can’t do the same? Oh dear, how cowed we are….

  • judyk113

    Some of us think it is totally creepy, and promoted by the BBC as they used to promote Savile and Rolf Harris– simply to push up their audience ratings.

  • Clive

    Women are brought up to trade sex for things. It makes them more realistic about the process. For that reason, men are generally more romantic than women.

    Men have power in the physical sense and it means a history of sexual wrongdoing

    To each their burden

    • I was not brought up that way. You’re living in a dream world.

      I have never met a man more romantic than I am, in the sense that I wanted the whole package and they were content with mere compartments.

      ‘Men have the power’ is both an admission of coercion, which is deeply anti-sexy and is frightening for a woman (rape and murder very often go together), and is at the same time a paint-by-numbers stupidity: the power of women is precisely why the fathead Arabs are — or claim to be — so stupefied by them.

      • Clive

        So, no uptick then

      • EasyStreet

        There’s no admission of coercion in what Clive wrote. Coercion is the combination of capability and intent, and he referenced only the former. The latter is surely the factor which frightens? If women are frightened of men simply as a result of mens’ greater inherent capability to rape, then we really do have a problem, as there’s nothing men can do about it.

        • I think there’s a straw man in here somewhere, as I’m not talking about frightened little women that think all men are potential rapists (do such people exist?). I just felt that his attitude was far too casual and it’s true that crimes against women are very frequent outside of the West and by non-Westerners (Muslims in Scandinavia, for instance).

          • EasyStreet

            The straw man was your assertion that Clive’s statement ‘men have power in the physical sense’ was an admission of coercion. I merely pointed out that this was not true. I wasn’t saying ‘frightened little women’ actually exist (note, the relevant sentence began with ‘if’); I was illustrating a logical consequence of your argument and showing what a fundamental problem it would pose for social interaction between the sexes.

  • Jules Wright

    There’s actually nothing new here; it’s been like this for ages. Male action > female reaction: female sexuality good; male sexuality bad. There’s an equalisation process going on here.

    I have a dream. Within a few years, maybe we’ll have the equivalents of Eva Herzigova displaying her fantastic embonpoint and Beckham in skin tight designer kecks living side by side in perfect billboard harmony and nobody (at The Guardian in particular) will give a toss other than to admire and think: “that’s nice, I could/should do something like that if I exercised/ate well/used my brain/took care of myself” etc etc. That is, if the militant element of the feminist block can ever recognise a happy score-draw when they see one …

    • I think you haven’t read the article, dummy.

  • global city

    why hasn’t it been deemed creepy…. that’s the question, to which we know the answer. There is not a war against women.

  • By the way, Mr Mason, your comment about ‘must have a sex drive’ is not strictly speaking factual. The human race could continue if all men were walrus ‘beach-masters’ and females were unable to get away. And in fact, men do rape, and I wonder how many rapists are in my ancestry (there must be some). To the extent that s x is unreasoning, it lends itself to force where force will achieve it. Most men aren’t apes, of course. But all s x is apelike which is the problem I have with it. Once one establishes a rational distance and self-consciousness — so that you view it somewhat as you did as an aghast pre-pubescent (‘are adults insane?’), one can never be an innocent Juliet again.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I’ll tell you want really is creepy: When those a dog-collar vampires say, “I’ll pray for you.”
    Now that really is creepy.

  • uberwest

    You invited their opinion and they gave it, that’s one difference.

  • justejudexultionis

    It’s not creepy, it’s pathetic.

  • MrJones

    The BBC attacks one but not the other – that’s how they manipulate the culture.

  • Hepzibah

    As Margaret Atwood once said, men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them.

    • balance_and_reason

      or laugh at them…women really hate that.

      • Any man that laughs at me is either my husband or below me.

  • balance_and_reason

    it is creepy when middle aged women phwoar at young men….discussion over.

    • Why?

    • Viningsgal

      Its more creepy when an old man goes after a young girl. Nasty.

  • njt55

    I think Scarlett Johansson is very sexy. There! I’ve said it.

    • She isn’t. She’s a narcissist with tits that will go south unless she gets fat. It’s the same old story.

  • hobspawn

      “Of course women must have a sex drive, otherwise none of us would be here.”
    No, we are here because most men have a sex drive for two. It’s only after the menopause that women get reet pervy.

    • What do YOU know about it, @rsehole?

      • hobspawn

        Have an upvote, dear.

        • Sorry. I shouldn’t be on the Internet calling people @rseholes; I should reserve that sort of rudeness for the car.

          • hobspawn

            Do you know who I am? I’m Ronnie Picking Fuckering. That’s me!

            For the record, you called me @rshole 😉 Don’t worry Calli, I think I can handle it. You’re mostly right, in fact. No hard feelings.

  • davidshort10

    Meanwhile, in the serious world….

  • babco

    Guilty as charged. I had the discussion with my husband (except it was about rugby players).

    My only justification to him was: on TV/media, you see 10,000 more attractive females with phwoar factor than attractive males with phwoar factor.

    Most women on TV/media are “phwoar” or close, model or supermodel material.
    On the other side, most guys on TV/media are “cuties from the supermarket aisle”, “no great looks but great charm” and very few “phwoar”. Attractive but not mind-blowing.

    Therefore, in the media and entertainment industry, I don t have the chance to see powerful objects of sexual attraction. I have not had the chance to become blase. So, when I see one, sorry, I can t help…

    Other example: just last night, watching the news, my husband made a remark about how ugly a female politician was. He would never think of noticing this in real life.
    Why had he reacted like that? On tv, most females are good-looking and expected to be, so she was standing out in this particular environment.

    • I think you are far too generous, frankly. Most men are dogs. I don’t know how they get attention. I know that they do, and I have given them such attention myself, but I was selling myself short, frankly. The problem of my teens turns out to be an existential one: males never get more attractive, just older.

  • Peter Shaw

    Quite simple Mark it is because the metropolitan elite of this world…have decided that the only people that can be racist or sexist are native white English males…even more so if you are working class or lower middle class…

    • Jimmy Brigham

      you are weird