Savage Love Letter of the Day: Secret Perving—Permissible and Impermissible


Totally agree.

Renting a hotel room doesn't just carry a reasonable expectation of privacy. It carries a legal expectation of privacy. Nobody can secretly watch what I'm doing in my hotel room without a warrant. If Foos did that to me, I could sue the shit out of him, and he would have no legal defense at all. The only thing that is preventing it is that it happened decades ago.

The foot fetishist is not invading my privacy if I'm trying on shoes. I have no reasonable or legal expectation of privacy when I am in a shoe store at the mall, trying on shoes in front of a half dozen other customers. Same if I'm walking down the sidewalk wearing a pair of earrings some perv has a fetish over, or if I'm at the beach wearing a particularly revealing thong. Again, I'm in public; I have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

But if I'm in a hotel room wearing those same earrings or that same thong, the Foos is morally and legally in the wrong to secretly perv on me through a hidden vent.
Now, now, Mr Savage. We all know you don't believe in misandry.
OK, now do the security guard who monitors fitting-room cameras.
Female foot fetishists can't work in high-end shoe stores?

Women can't wear trashy lingerie under their business attire?
@4 I fink you missed the joke.
Dan's right, of course. It's the only socially and politically correct answer one could give.


There is a certain "if a tree falls in the forest..." principle under scrutiny here. If a perv spies, and the "victim" never learns about it, who is harmed? Foos blabbed, and in so doing, created the potential for people to feel retroactively violated, etc.,etc. But what if he hadn't? Where is the harm? It's floating around in the ether somewhere - an abstract principle.

Just food for thought - not endorsing privacy violation. Don't do it, kids.
There is a difference between a fetish and a paraphilia. A foot fetish is not the same as what this disturb motel owner did for thirty years..
"I'm interested in it as a limit case for your theory of the Secret Perv. Is it ok for a motel owner to systematically invade the privacy of his guests for some twenty years so long as he takes adequate precautions against their ever finding out?"

Even as a "thought experiment", which this doesn't sound sincere since it requires zero curiosity, creativity, or empathy, it falls short. Landlords put cameras on tenants, people install secret cameras in restrooms. This is not common, but it is an extreme violation and thus not "okay" by any means.

This seems more like a letter "Just Asking Questions", and JAQing off isn't about learning but trying to introduce an ideological point through the least sincere or interesting means. If they had a point, they could just out and try to make it without this dumb attempt at a zing.
Lance @6: Foos blabbed, and in so doing, created the potential for people to feel retroactively violated, etc.,etc. But what if he hadn't? Where is the harm?

There is some doubt about whether or not Foos' account to Talese was accurate, but if you read the Talese article, you'll learn that Foos' fetish possibly led to a murder... Which he didn't report because he was scared of being outed for his crimes (and his actions were criminal).

Some perving might be harmless, but Foos had victims.
A question for those that shop at "high-end shoe stores" (as I have no experience in this arena): are there actually salespeople that fit shoes on the customers' feet? Is this still a thing? When I was 8 the shoe guy measured me with that sliding metal thingy and put a new pair of Buster Browns on my feet. That's the last time a salesperson has handled my feet. Just curious, not judging. Rock on, pervs.
Nordstrom's still has salespeople who wait on you hand and foot. (Cheap pun, I know.)
@6 Lance_Thrustwell - the perv still knows he/she's doing it, and that it's wrong (hence all of Foos's precautions). That he/she (and, in this, case, [i]they[/i] - both of his wives were okay with helping him and even watching with him and having sex to it) is okay with actively doing something wrong is disturbing in and of itself. To me, it's somewhat akin to kicking your dog when no one's around - no one's going to know, and the dog will most likely still love you anyways because that's how dogs are, so what's the harm, right?

Plus, this guy went out of his way to spy on his guests, especially the younger, attractive, "more appealing" ones. One of his stories mentioned he got upset when a couple turned off the light to have sex, so he went and parked his car by their window with the headlights on, just so he could watch.

Foos's motivation in going public seems to be that he wants "recognition" and, I suspect, justification for what he did. After all, if people agree that his "research" and "observations" are worthwhile and not just plain ol pervy and illegal, then he's not a perv after all! Heck, he was [i]right[/i] to do it for all those years! I only skimmed through his writings (his dodgy self-justifying style irritated me), but he really comes off as desperately trying to justify his disgusting hobby as "harmless" and "it contributes to science, really!" when in reality, it doesn't really tell you anything that numerous scientifically- and ethically-conducted studies couldn't have told you already.
This LW sounds like (s)he's asking permission to do something akin to what Foos did. Stop it LW. Other people do not exist to fulfill your fetish. Perving on people without their knowledge or permission is fucking gross and I highly doubt you possess the restraint to do it without revealing your true intent. FWIW adult men started looking at me 'like that' when I was nine-it fucking terrified me.
@Lance_Thrustwell: "if a tree falls in the forest..."

I think there's something to this. The Peeping Tom who is never noticed, the cheater who is never caught - they don't actually harm anyone, so in what sense is their behavior wrong? From what I've observed, it's mostly idiots and assholes who run around wagging their fingers and calling harmless things "wrong".

The problem is that neither the Peeping Tom nor the stealth cheater can guarantee they won't get caught. They are taking a gamble with an unwilling participant, and if they lose, that person is harmed. Risking the welfare of others, I think we can all agree, isn't a very nice thing to do, even if the dice happen to roll your way.
I don't particularly have an opinion about the secret fetishist shoe salesclerk, but it reminds me of a little episode from growing up that's got to be in the grey area at least...

When I was about 11 years old my family was shopping in the nearest city from our small town, and I needed a new pair of shoes, so we stopped at some big chain store. The sales clerk just happened to be a former student of my dad's (from middle school, & probably in his 20s when we ran into him.) While I don't remember any particular comments, etc., there was something obviously weird about the way he helped me try on my shoes. Mainly I just remember that he laced them up tighter than I'd ever seen shoes laced up before and tried to tell us that was the proper way to do it. Back in the car, I remarked that it was pretty weird the way he tried to lace up my shoes so tight, and my dad mentioned that even as a student, probably about my age, the guy had just been fascinated with feet, like for some reason he was always measuring other students' feet, etc... Pretty sure at the time I'd never heard of a foot fetish, but it sure seems clear now.

I don't really feel too weird about it, I guess, but I hope the guy found work doing something other than helping kids try shoes on since then...
@13, Yep!

@15, a foot fetish AND a bondage fetish, perhaps?
@16, eesh, I never thought of that.
@14 - Seandr, your analysis is solid, and is a pretty good articulation of probably the best reason for why this sort of privacy violation should never be undertaken. One could stipulate a condition that the cheater never catches an STD, or the voyeur is never caught, etc., but then, of course, one has left the real world and entered the realm of 'thought experiment.' I think that's kind of where the LW is.

I happen to love thought experiments, but I also sympathize with people who see them as interfering with the giving of practical advice or the formation of workable policies. They certainly can, if one forgets that they are perfect-world-based. I've made that mistake before.
seandr and Lance_Thrustwell, are you saying that so long as no one is "hurt" by someone's actions, those actions aren't wrong in themselves?

People have a right to privacy--wouldn't you agree? You don't see anything inherently unethical about spying on people, let alone spying on people in their most intimate moments, when they have every legal and ethical right to assume their privacy is intact. Further still to violate someone's right to privacy for your sexual gratification? And to top it off, to stroke your own delusions of grandeur by pretending that what you did has some sort of sociological significance?

Is there ever a moral absolute for you two, or do you see everything in relative terms and brush off those who are upset about this as narrow-minded, finger-wagging scolds?
@14: "I think there's something to this. The Peeping Tom who is never noticed, the cheater who is never caught - they don't actually harm anyone, so in what sense is their behavior wrong? From what I've observed, it's mostly idiots and assholes who run around wagging their fingers and calling harmless things "wrong"."

Idiots and assholes don't want to be surreptitiously videoed?

Youre sure going out of your way to unempathetically defend creeps and feeling very smug about it at the same time. If I don't know, that doesn't mean that a wrong isn't being done to me, and that someone shouldn't be discouraged from creeping in the first place.

"They'll never find out" is fine if you're violating someone in your head, take it outside into violating their rights and you're a creep, smugface libertarian feelings of entitlement or not.
But again, it's likely just kneejerk devil's advocacy. A fetish for insincerely taking a dull, nasty perspective to rile people up.
I would posit that it isn't so much observing an unknowing person that is the thrill for a voyeur; it's the violation of that persons privacy, & a feeling of power over them that the voyeur is getting off from. Stated more bluntly: it's the non-consensual aspect of voyeurism that drives the behavior. I don't believe it's a coincidence that more than a few serial rapists/murderers started off as peeping toms.
If voyeurism is existing side-by-side with exhibitionism symbiotically it's pretty harmless. If voyeurism is perpetrated on someone without their knowledge or consent it's pretty harmful (or at least has real potential to be). If obtaining consent is the gold standard for other kink forms of sexual self expression, why shouldn't it be the same for voyeurism?
Where would you draw the line on non-consensual fetishes?
Dan, your example of the hypothetical shoe salesman translates perfectly to Creepy GWCs. (Guys With Cameras) I'm going to save this to show to anyone who has questions about what a model means when she says that some photographer she worked with creeped her out. Thank you for putting it so succinctly.
@22, spot on. In his writing, Foos says:
I had a feeling of tremendous power and exhilaration at my accomplishment. I had accomplished what other men had only dreamed of doing and the thought of superiority and intelligence occupied my brain. . .

The guy is really sick. From his perch in the attic, he felt like a god.
@10 Dan's shoe salesman is a good hypothetical example, but you're right—ask for a size at Barney's; they'll return and, at most, take the shoes out of the box and hand them to you. The picture darkens a little when I can't remember actually being physically helped into footwear since I was a child shopping at Payless Shoes.

Also, philosophical exercise or not, a tree totally makes noise when it hits the forest floor.
"If obtaining consent is the gold standard for other kink forms of sexual self expression, why shouldn't it be the same for voyeurism?"

@22: THIS. But then that would mean that perhaps a foot-fetishist should not be a shoe salesman or a podiatrist, as few people would want some dude getting off on their feet, even if he hides it well in public.
Seandr @14
Let's extend your "no harm, no foul" principle. What about drunk driving? If you make it home without hurting anyone, have you done anything wrong?
Another little thought experiments: two people leave their window open (they just forgot to close it or they did it on purpose) and have sex in front of it. A neighbor hear a noise, look out from his/her window, sees them and decides to watch them and masturbate. Is this more similar to the discreete clerk or to the motel perv? Licit or illicit?
I'm for licit, because the couple DID leave the window open, but it's a licit that is very very near to borderline.
What I find illicit is to go out of someone's way to observe someone else's private acts (acts conducted in a closed motel room, where people think theyr privacy to be safe) like this creep did.
@19 - One can recognize that Foos' actions are wrong, and ask questions about the origin, location and nature of that wrong, at the same time. Analysis and curiosity do not constitute endorsement.

P.S. I haven't read the article, btw. But from what people are saying, dude does sound seriously creepy.
It's inconceivable that Foos wasn't creepy. Don't you think in all those years, some motel customers thought "Gee that hotel clerk creeped me out. I'm never staying here again."?

" The secret pleasure he takes in his work shouldn't disqualify him from being a shoe salesclerk. Or a podiatrist." Or a gynecologist? I recently changed doctors because I thought my 60 year old Doctor liked me a little too much. I was considering changing anyway because he didn't take Medicare that I soon would qualify for. But why did he not have a nurse in the room for gynecological exams?

Did anyone else think "Foos Fetish"?
@29: "Analysis and curiosity do not constitute endorsement. "

Tacit support for his actions by yourself and Sean does, however constitute an endorsement.
@31 It's not support, tacit or otherwise. Of course, I have a feeling I could say that any number of times and you would still choose to believe that it is. I believe that's sometimes called a 'conversational impasse.'

See you next comment string.

I want Dan to start trying to contact professional ethicists again, if only because it was funny how frequently they rejected him.