In the 1972 book “Ways of Seeing” based on the television series of the same name, John Berger (and perhaps the four other collaborators) prefaces the second essay with these words:

“According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome, the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man.”

The television series starts form another place and can be seen here.


My concern when discussing this with others, and pointed out by the only two women in the discussion, was that I had missed a central concern from these women; that Berger had described a situation that women were in (and perhaps with too much visual imagery), but had not described a way out. My concern is now twofold:

Had I misread Berger? And; secondly, even if I had, has the intervening forty years taken any of his rhetoric and acted on it i.e. is there a likelihood that an answer is forthcoming, and if so by whom?

I have again read, reread and watched the video, but I must be missing something very basic. My understanding is that Berger was describing – albeit forty years ago – a situation that reflects societal attitudes towards women – and their concomitant rehearsed responses. By very numerous examples Berger presents the depiction of women as objects for the male gaze – no matter how, no matter where, no matter when depicted these are all, with very few exceptions, portrayed for the satisfaction of the male gaze. This disreputation of the viewer’s engagement with the objectified image is only made worse in my mind by the realization that the objectification, that Berger had described all those decades ago, hasn’t improved, rather the reverse; it is a situation that has become more widespread with the growth of the media to transport those images and the developed consumerism/globalization. Since Berger’s writing, this same means of objectification has moved to encompass not only the European (and by consequence the North American) societies, but also the Asian cultures that have been drawn into the same market led consumerist society.

The call was that Berger didn’t provide a way out, a solution; but I wonder if he would have been damned by offering one as much as he seems to have been by not offering one? Hegemonic positions aren’t altered, usually, by voluntary repatriation of power and position and perhaps Berger, from his Marxixt position, deemed that proffering ‘the solution’ would have undermined the very offering he might have posited?

My tentative research on feminism has been wholeheartedly disappointing by the lack of engagement by women, for women in the argument. And I think this issue is a societal issue that reduces the life experience for both sexes and therefore should be one that is engaged by both genders. But where should I, as a feminist, look to find engagement in the process of deconstructing the apparatus that codifies one gender over another as a form of commodity? I think the answer is not in another re-issue of Spare-Rib, the demise of which due to the lack of appreciation of the brand-worth, nor another facile argument over the burning of undergarments; but, perhaps, by the very source of the problem which had it’s origins in the pre-Beauvoir, pre-Pankhurst events in the Industrial revolution. Well that isn’t going to happen, given the current state of the position of women in Government – present almost by their absence

Berger says in his introduction “…which are at last being questioned…” my italics – Greer published “The Female Eunuch” in 1970, was this one of the questioners, almost certainly? But who is questioning now? Who has the baton? Well I would say that the ‘need’ for women to be in the marketplace has reduced the availability of volume to enable questioners to be listened to, let alone heard. The most recent rhetoric from this Government is how to ‘get women (back) into the work place’! This need is one of course to foster ‘growth’ in order to heal the ills caused by the previous administration. And what jobs one might ask? But leaving the issue of whatever employment opportunities exist for women, or men come to that, the disenfranchisement of the electorate as a whole in the process of social change which might possibly provide a discourse on women’s rights and expectations, will surely not happen – at least not with this administration and probably not the next whomever is chosen. Our issues, we are told, are due to our profligacy, but here Berger’s final essay comes to the fore; our issues aren’t to do with gender related issues nor, remotely, feminist rights if the zeitgeist is to be believed.

I have notes about feminism on these blog posts: http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/f4/http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/feminism-three/ ,http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/496/http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/art-and-feminism-edited-by-helen-reckit-with-a-survey-by-peggy-phelan/ , Judy Chicago, and here http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/w-s-p-u/




2 thoughts on “Feminism

  1. I keep going backwards and forwards on this. Objectification/the male gaze appears to have been with us since the beginning of time. Are you just thinking of nude/naked or images of women in general? There are gender differences to consider and the sexual urge. Men appear to need external stimulation as opposed to women who need internal stimulation (I’m obviously generalising here, but this does seem to be the norm). On the other hand, women/girl do gaze at men – you only have to look at some Facebook pages to see how (particularly adolescent) girls idealise young men and want to see their image. This fantasy idealisation this is said to be preparation for ‘the real thing’. ?? re men.
    It’s happened since whenever so ‘commodification’ is just cashing in on that.
    If you take away the concept of commodification – what are you left with? Is it that men have more of a need to ‘gaze’ upon women than vice versa?
    I’m not clear on where your last paragraph fits in with all this though. Guess I needed to be there in the discussion.

    • This is about how I missed something fundamental in Berger’s text, and I’m annoyed with myself for doing so. In all other aspects I think Berger’s text, apart from the period of delivery, is very relevant – though not, it appears, universally liked!

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