'Look At Me' - Feminist musings

August 11, 2014

(Beautiful 'selfies' I took of a beautiful friend)

This extract is from the essay 'Ways Of Seeing' by John Berger

Despite being written in the 70's and feeling dated it still raises some really important questions. I'd like you to take the quote below with a pinch of salt, Women's liberation has come on a long was since the 1970's but I still feel the idea of 'being looked at' is incredibly relevant. 

Perhaps even more so with the rise of beauty and fashion blogs, Instagram and Facebook where we are constantly photographing ourselves. Often the images are staged and their is a fine line between objectifying ourselves and celebrating ourselves.

“To be born a woman has to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women is developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another....One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
― John BergerWays of Seeing

When I first read this it infuriated me, because unfortunately I could feel the truth in it. It reminded me of how painfully self conscious I was growing up. I was not the perfect image of girlhood. I resisted becoming a 'woman' at all cost, bra shopping was incredibly embarrassing, dresses were a no go, I felt like everyone was looking at me. Even now that I'm confident and have embraced my femininity if a stranger makes eye contact with me in the street I feel awkward, aware, do I look okay? One of my closest friends revealed to me that she used to constantly think about her weight and appearance. She said it was exhausting.

The quote 'she turns herself into an object' is equally infuriating I think it should be rephrased that our society has turned us into objects. The objectification of women goes so far back, before lads mags, before advertising. John Berger quotes part of the creation story from the Bible ''thy [Eve] desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee. '' Eves punishment for eating the forbidden fruit is to be subservient to man.

Berger also writes about how traditional oil paintings objectified women...our modern day oil paintings have become advertisements. That sell the perfect image of women and men. And sometimes we are guilty of being complicit, showing ourselves off in photos by mirroring advertising, but the difference is we have nothing to sell or advertise. I can see why some girls do this for a confidence boost, more likes = better self esteem but I think we should remember what John Berger wrote, and prove his idea wrong.

But lets be clear, Im not condemning the joys of selfies and self appreciation! I love this quote from Lindsay Bottos -

''The act of women taking selfies is inherently feminist, especially in a society that tries so hard to tell women that our bodies are projects to be worked on and a society that profits off of the insecurities that it perpetuates. Selfies are like a ‘fuck you’ to all of that, they declare that ‘hey I look awesome today and I want to share that with everyone’ and that’s pretty revolutionary.''

 I think feminism is a way of thinking, refusing to carry on 'watching ourselves' - this is not about change your appearance or ditching the lipstick, Its to do with the attitude we have with ourselves. You know the phrase 'dance like no ones watching' well maybe we should ' Live like No-ones watching'.

Let me know what you think,
Becca x