Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Checking People Out

Is this woman objectifying you?

You’re walking down the street. In the opposite direction comes a person whom you find very attractive. As he or she passes by, you feel tempted to turn your head so as to, well, check them out. I assume that you have felt this temptation. I, at least, have felt it many times. I have resisted turning my head, however, since doing so is supposedly a bad thing.

But what, exactly, is so bad about turning one’s head to check someone out on the street? What is the bad-making property (or properties) of such actions? Let’s consider a number of possible answers.

Privacy and consent
One answer might be that if one turns one’s head to catch an extra glance of an attractive person, one invades their privacy. In assessing this suggestion, let us grant, for the sake of the argument, that invading someone’s privacy is indeed a bad-making property. The relevant question then becomes whether one invades someones’s privacy by turning one’s head to check them out.

No matter how inappropriate it might be to check someone out this way, I cannot see how doing so could count as a privacy invasion. The reason why is that in turning one’s head to look at the person, one doesn’t come to see anything that isn’t already public. The person in question is walking down the street and is seen by everyone passing by. The specific perspective that one gets by turning one’s head, moreover, is almost identical to the perspective available to whoever is already walking behind that person (and while those walking behind the person might have this perspective for several minutes, the one who turns their head would only have it for a few seconds.)

A somewhat different explanation might be that by turning one’s head to check someone out — even ever so briefly!

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.