It seems like a pretty simple issue to me. If I find someone attractive and approach them, then it is perfectly reasonable that I might cause them some level of distress when I do: awkwardness or annoyance or creeped-out-ness. I don’t presume this level of distress would be large, nor do I think it’d necessarily happen 100% of the time. But the moral calculus here seems very easy: I can do something that is reasonable to cause some level of distress and have no positive outcomes, or I could refrain.
Furthermore, as I said, I’m a man. I believe that men have a moral responsibility to keep from doing anything that causes sexually relevant distress in others. (It’s not that other genders LACK this responsibility, but for men in our society it’s especially important.) With this in mind, I can’t imagine any possible justification for me possibly ever approaching anyone in that way, in any context.
This also applies to finding someone attractive. If I see someone I think is hot, I’m likely to show a bunch of nonverbal, subtle signs of this, even if I try not to. The object of my attraction could very easily pick up on these behaviors and feel that same distress. I consider this slightly more forgivable than approaching someone, since it involves behaviors I can’t directly control. But since I’m aware of the possibility, don’t I have the responsibility to cut these feelings off at the at the pass as much as possible?
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The thing you’re arguing is that approaching someone might cause them distress, with little chance of a positive outcome. With your utilitarian outlook, where one should attempt to cause as little harm and promote as much good as possible, it is more ethical to not approach someone.
I see where you’re coming from and if you were right, I’d totally agree with you. But here is where I think you are misguided
This isn’t a one-sided equation. You’ve essentially erased the potential interest and agency of every woman out there. You are starting from the presumption that women are merely receptive to people who may or may not approach them.
While women may not be doing the approaching as often as men do, that doesn’t mean that they’re standing around doing nothing. Women who are interested in being approached put quite a bit of effort into being approachable. From the way they dress to the way they signal to people they’re interested in that they’d appreciate someone coming to say hi, women are as active in the ol’ mating dance as men. Their work may not as be obvious to an outside observer, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Many women are painfully shy. They may well be dying for someone to come talk to them but are absolutely terrified to make the first move, so starting a conversation would be a net positive, while leaving them to quietly kick themselves would be increasing the amount of distress in the world.