A few years ago, John Berger did a BBC series called ‘Ways of Seeing’, which considered amongst other things,how arts and the media depict men and women in different ways. In this section he’s considering the way in which men see women and how they view themselves.
I don’t agree with his argument that feminine identity is constructed purely as a response to misogyny, – but there are some interesting observations…
‘the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man. A man’s presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies…(it) suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you…a power which he exercises on others. By contrast, a woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her…
…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….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…she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.’
This is a brilliant description of what does happen. Beautiful women are on the cover of both men’s magazines and women’s magazines. Why? Because men watch women and women watch women. But while Berger describes the problem, he can’t offer us a solution.
Berger blames centuries of patriarchy for the oppression of women. But gender is not constructed by the struggle for survival. It has been given in creation. The issue is that good, God-given distinctions have been distorted.
The man is meant to step out in strength towards his woman. The woman is meant to warmly receive the advance of her man. The man is meant to see and the woman to be seen. But in our fallen state, the man either retreats in cowardice or approaches only to harm. The woman either clings or closes down.
It is in this perverse relationship that fallen men and women seek identity. Yet by looking for the answers in each other or in the mirror, we do so in the wrong place. Often men seek identity in independence, women in human dependence. We are both wrong.
It’s not wrong for a woman – or a man – to seek a sense of self in the appreciation of another. And this is where I disagree with Berger. Where he sees this as a problem for the female, I would argue that our sense of self does need to be ‘supplanted…(by) being appreciated (by) another’. However, the Other can only be Christ.
What do you think of Berger’s analysis? Do men and women get their sense of self in different ways? What is the answer?