Berger, Butler, and Waring provide unique and distinct perspectives on gender, sex, and power. Feminism is almost by definition a study of power and inequality, given the prevalence and pervasiveness of patriarchy worldwide. To dismantle patriarchy, it is first necessary to recognize and articulate its many manifestations. Bergerâ€™s analysis of the visual arts touches on the concept of the male gaze, central to the perpetuation of patriarchy. The male gaze is only one way of seeing, and yet it has come to dominate verbal and non-verbal discourse. Moreover, Bergerâ€™s analysis shows how the male gaze impacts individual and collective female identity construction. Women have come to see themselves through the male gaze, and need to take back control of their own self-concept in order to completely shed the shackles of patriarchy. While Berger focuses on the female nude in visual art, the principles discussed in the documentary are equally applicable to popular culture, marketing, and the media. Women aspire to be like the images that men have presented to them: a female in idealized form, constructed to suit predominant male appetites. The objectification of the female body also reinforces the double standards established for women.
The bridge between Berger and Butler is the concept of performativity. Berger shows how the male gaze stimulates gender performativity, in that women viewing the constructed images of feminine identity perform or re-enact that identity for societal approval and indeed, self-approval. Ironically, even subversive gender identities can involve a degree of performativity. In â€œImitation and Gender Insubordination,â€ Butler shows how gays and lesbians also participate in performativity, albeit in differential and perhaps more complex ways than the gendered heteronormativity that Berger discusses. For example, drag is the performance of stereotypical gender. Yet drag is social commentary, a politically empowering act of re-owning gender tropes and re-communicating those tropes in subversive ways. Drag is one possible solution to the trap set by the male gaze. However, Butler also warns against the construction of either gender or sexual orientation that recognizes or values the power of heteronormativity. Butler also refers to the concept of â€œpsychic mimesis,â€ the subconscious acting out of gendered or sexualized roles, norms, and identities. Insofar as personal identity is always going to involve some degree of relativity, it is extremely difficult to develop a self-concept (whether gendered or sexual) that is not relational.
Whereas Berger critiques the male gaze and Butler analyzes the implications of â€œcompulsory heterosexuality,â€ (318) Waring shifts the focus to macro sociological issues in a discussion of gender and economics. Waring recognizes that womenâ€™s labor is systematically and deliberately devalued in ways that perpetuate patriarchal political, social, and economic institutions. Devaluing female labor makes it possible to maintain power over women, who become painted as dependents and infantilized. Also, devaluing female labor essentially devalues women, entrenching their subordinate social statuses. Political decisions are also made within a patriarchal framework, with male values prevailing over female ones. Patriarchal discourse dominates decision-making processes at every level of political and economic institutions, with long-term repercussions for global security, stability, public health, and social justice. Waring also draws attention to the pattern of devaluing anything that is not traded on the global marketplace, which impedes fruitful discussions of issues related to human rights, social justice, or ecological ethics. Waringâ€™s perspective demonstrates the pragmatic, concrete effects of sexism not just for women but for all people.
Berger, Butler, and Waring each approach gender, sexuality, and power differently. Taken together, their approaches help to clarify a way forward. Waringâ€™s economic analysis shows why feminism must be understood within the context of intersectionality. It is impossible to talk about patriarchy without simultaneously acknowledging other forms of oppression. Patriarchy is about power, and so too are other systems of injustice and inequality. Berger, Butler, and Waring also urge women to take back their power by recognizing how power is wielded in a patriarchal society and then by taking action to subvert, redirect, and redistribute that power. Refusing to perform for the male gaze is only one method whereby women can re-own their identities. Women and men can both resist gender performativity by refusing to conform to outmoded gender norms and roles. Mutual respect and empowerment are necessary to overcome systematic oppression, not just of women but also of the poor and disenfranchised. Fairy tales teach that females need to be rescued, making it hard for some women to be their own heroes. To overcome prescribed roles, women need to have the courage to resist and to constrct new ways of being in the world.
Both personal and collective action will be necessary to reverse injustice. Both men and women need new â€œWays of Seeing,â€ to broaden perspectives and points of view. Both men and women need to practice expressing their authentic selves, rather than fall pray to the pressures to conform and imitate, as Butler suggests. Authenticity and honesty precludes reflexive action in all areas of life. Finally, the large-scale and seemingly insurmountable institutions of oppression can be changed from the inside as each person takes personal responsibility for their role, reckoning with the truth, as Waring puts it. Finally, these readings show that gender studies is as much about masculinity and male gender roles and norms as it is about women. As much as women need to reckon with and take responsibility for their own complicity in patriarchal institutions and structures, they also need to cease apologizing for being subversive and create new norms objectively and matter-of-factly.
Berger, J. (1977). Selection from Ways of Seeing
(British Broadcasting Corporation
Butler, J. (1991). Imitation and Gender Insubordinationâ€ In The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (Routledge, 1993) pp. 307-20
Waring, M. (1988). A Womanâ€™s Reckoning. In If Women Counted. HarperCollins, pp. 14-45.
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