Friday, October 20, 2006

On the act of seeing and forms of respect

Since my original post I have added some more lines in italics.

Another book which really influenced me whilst I was formulating my philosophy or outlook on life was John Berger's Ways of Seeing.

Basically, it posited the notion that things or ideas do not have meaning inherent unto themselves, but rather are given meaning by the individual who "sees" them.

When I say see, I am not referring to the act of looking and registering visually, I mean "seeing" as in understanding, acknowledging. Like when someone explains something to you and asks you, "do you see?"

One of Berger's topics was about the nude in the arts. He suggests that there is a difference between "nude" and "naked". The nude, as specifically referred to in pre-Raphaelite paintings, or other paintings of women unclothed, has different connotations attached to it that a naked form (an image of an unclothed dead woman on a slab, for example) would have. The nude is the subject - and even here Berger gives the word another nuance in meaning - subject, as in "subject to", or having meaning imposed onto itself by another, outside force. The nude is "subject to" the male gaze, therefore is given meaning that is predominantly male and chauvinist. Basically, the nude is a woman who has been painted naked for the voyeuristic pleasure of the male eye and its ownership.

Paintings of nudes always have the woman poised to show off her best assets (legs, bum, breasts, stomach, neck, hands, lips, hair and on and on - I don't add crotch because she is always demure) and usually have the woman gazing back at the viewer (presumably male) in some sort of complicity (that is, she is a willing "subject", or in the male viewer's eyes, she's into being objectified).

I suppose now that gender is a blurred line in most societies (yes, even here) this argument is a little dated but it still has relevance in relation to say, some of the Old Masters of Art (my caps).

However I am really concerned with the idea of "seeing" as Berger has described it, because it has such relevance to the way men (and women) treat women (and men) today.

Girls, if you've ever walked past a guy who gave you an unwanted stare nonstop and burned with embarrassment or anger, and yet not really known why, then you were living the experience of being "subject to the male gaze". In other words, although you may not be a whore, you may not have been showing off your tits, arse or legs, or may not have been flirting or shown any outward sign of desire for that man, he still looked at you as if you were. So whether you liked it or not, he was treating you as a sexual object, a thing he could derive some use of for his own pleasure (in this case, staring).

Basically even at this tiny level of personal harrassment, he is committing an act against you - which is simply an act of force. Nothing much to cry about, and most girls have learnt to handle this by blowing it off - wise to leave fools to themselves, I say.

However, when this act of force escalates into something more brutal, more violent, it is the same underlying principle which fosters the perpetrator's belief in his right to do so.

So when men feel they have the right to "assign meaning" to others (for example, "all girls who don't cover themselves are simply asking for it"), they risk allowing themselves to cross the bounds of moral behaviour, and are frighteningly incognizant of the fact that they are doing so.

This is why the oft-repeated and foolish statements about girls "asking for it" because of the way they looked or behaved is so mind-numbingly boorish and disgusting. What girl in her right mind would want to be forced to do anything? (Don't bring up bondage and S&M - that is all consensual)

Rape and any other sort of physical and sexual harrassment is about power and force, and not much to do with sex or attraction. The intention is to hurt and to cause the victim to submit and be made powerless in order to elevate the perpetrator's feeling of capability and power.

What about all those little girls completely covered up in tudungs who were raped, murdered and some mutilated? They could hardly be accused of asking for it. They were victimised by men who felt so powerless and degraded morally that the only way they could assert themselves was on a victim too powerless to defend themselves.

And those men "saw" women as objects, non-human and without feeling. I am sure the perpetrators also had other psychological ad behavioural issues which were to do with control, but that is by the by in this particular discussion.

So, until individuals and society stop viewing women as inferior and subject to men, family, culture and society, there will always be some form of violence (not necessarily physical, as I outlined above) against women.

And the sooner the leaders of the Muslim society both here and in other countries (let's not forget the embarrassment caused by our Australian Muslim leader's recent statements) learn to make the distinction and to stop accusing all women of wishing upon themselves and causing themselves harm, when really, the crimes committed against them are neither forced nor wanted, the better for our young women to develop a sense of self-worth that is not dictated by the mores of a malecentric point of view. I would really like to talk to that Aussie guy's mother and ask her why she brought him up to villify her kind.

This applies not only to women and in sexual terms, but also to other races, religions, nations, men, children and animals. As long as we keep labelling others and acting according to those labels and their connotations, we will never really respect each other or anything.

Of course, it is totally idealistic to believe we could ever really achieve that state of affairs. But we can still strive for it and put into practice our belief in the equal rights of every living thing.

Still, if we all stop to consider another's point of view before acting or saying something that betrays our totally subjective view on life, perhaps we might see at last that we are all the same and all in this together for the long haul.

Selamat Hari Raya, Happy Deepavali and Maaf Zahir Batin.

PS Apolgies to Anonymous who has since identified himself and put me to right..


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