Friday, 17 June 2016

Men act and women appear - John Berger

When talking about representation (and especially the representation of men and women) John Berger is a useful voice to include in your discussions and essays.

Berger made four 30-minute films for the BBC in 1972 which later became the core of his book Ways of Seeing. In it Berger writes:

"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." (Ways of Seeing, p.47)

In your MS3 research investigations or your MS1 discussions of representation, you will find Berger's position here has been absorbed into most cultural and feminist criticism to the point where it is assumed or taken for granted (see for example, The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf for an example of this).

You should be aware though, of the limitations of Berger's perspective. Although wide-ranging in its references and survey of the visual arts, and a really useful starting point, Berger's work is perhaps not as useful as Laura Mulvey's multi-layered and more comprehensive 1975 essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema".

We'll examine Mulvey in more depth in another lesson and blog post, but there's nothing stopping you from reading her work and making up your own mind.

Further References:

John Berger

John Berger and Laura Mulvey

This Is Not Sex: A Web Essay on the Male Gaze, Fashion Advertising, and the Pose


Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1972.

Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures. New York: Macmillan, 1989.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. New York: Harper Perennial, 2002.

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