Ways of Seeing

I stumbled across something on the net today, following links from one blog to the next, which seemed not precisely on-topic for Hathor. It was from a book by John Berger, called Ways of Seeing, and it was about the visual medium of painting, not television or film. But as I read it, I realized it expressed something that’s absolutely fundamental to the understanding of this site and its mission.

You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.

This quote alone sums up why I started this site. An industry largely comprised of men has created a crowd of female characters largely depicted as incompetents, deserving victims, betrayers, submissives and bits of decoration. This says more about the men who depict the characters than it says about me, but unfortunately most men that I date will not see it that way. Most men who hire me will not see it that way. Even worse, most women with whom I might have accomplished a great feat will not see it that way. Most women who write TV shows will not see it that way.

I’ll be lucky if I see it that way.

Because we are all conditioned to accept White Straight Boy’s view of the rest of us: perception is reality, and in a society where only His perceptions matter (as exemplified by the “young, white male” target audience phenomenon), the reality we attempt to generate by our actions and worthiness is obscured by whatever He projects onto us. The successful woman – with rare exception – is one who has internalized His vision, and is content to represent it to the rest of us.

Even if we don’t accept His vision of us internally, we spend precious time and energy fighting that vision externally, in the eyes of others. Berger has something to say about this as well: in our hierarchical landscape, a man’s presence is derived from your sense of what he can do to or for you, while a woman’s is derived from your sense of what she will allow you to do to her. And so women are forced to view the world not in terms of what we can do to or for you, but what we will allow you to do to us. The time we might have spent contributing to a better world must instead be spent on the defensive, running to stand still:

A woman must continually watch herself… She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately 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…

The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed, female.

In this world, in practical terms, all that counts is how we appear in the eyes of White Straight Boy. This misery may be mitigated by our ability to see past his fantasy of us, by our relationships with individual White Straight Boys who see past their own fantasies, by our relationships with each other and with other groups who find themselves defined by the vision of White Straight Boy. But that vision, that watching other, will never stop hounding us until more people decide to see us for what we make of ourselves.


  1. scarlett says

    I volunteer my own opinion for why no-one’s commented…

    It’s such a profound, honest, to-the-bone truth that no-one has bothered to.

  2. SunlessNick says

    I hadn’t commented because I hadn’t seen it yet. But I think Scarlett’s assessment of it is right on the nail. Hell, even my saying that illustrates the point – if we’d been the other way round, Scarlett would have been supporting me or at least agreeing with me – this way round, how much of my mind sees it as validating or at best confirming, and how much of Scarlett’s mind suspects the same?


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