Men’s Ways of Seeing Women

Surprise, surprise, I’m talking about something feminist for my presentation, what else is new.

I thought Berger pointed a lot of very profound things in the book, but chapter 3, the chapter in which he evaluated women in paintings, struck me particularly. Firstly, it was the voice that it was written in. It was surprisingly full of conviction, especially considering this is written by an elite-educated, privileged, white male. In fact, it was almost an awkward reading experience as I couldn’t stop remembering that what I was reading was wr

By MarcusObal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

By MarcusObal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

itten by a man. But so many parts of what he said made me have those “oh DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMN” moments.

And yes, men can be feminists. I don’t doubt that. I wish more were. I’m just saying, I was pleasantly surprised.

While he does point out many, many things that I agree with and also felt strongly about, one thing that I wish he could have gone into was why. Why are men the “ideal viewers”? Why are women posed in these paintings to appeal to men? Why are women portrayed so submissively in European art? I realize that this text is meant to be art criticism, but I think it’s still important to think of what he says and question some of it.

Alternatively, we can think about art that portray men in the nude. For example, consider Michaelangelo’s David (yes, it’s a sculpture, not a painting. Whatever.) Are men still the ideal viewers in this context? Is this sexualized in the same way that nude women are? Why or why not?

And then what about the notorious Abercrombie and Fitch ads featuring chiselled, tanned men on the beach? (I was going to include one here but I didn’t want to go into citing it somehow.) How do we see those differently? How is that more or less violent than seeing women in those positions? Why are women sexualized to the point that their nipples are taboo and censored while men’s aren’t? Who are those ads supposed to appeal to?

One Comment

  1. Excellent questions here, Helen!

    The first question, about “why,” is probably difficult to answer. At least, it’s difficult for me to try to answer. All I can do is guess that it might have something to do with how, in the history of many human cultures, it has been men who have been dominant in social, political and cultural activities, and so the “audience” for those activities, and thus the viewer if the activities are visual, would have mostly been male. For oil paintings, the people paying for them would have been male, so they would be the spectators, for example. And then the prevalence of opposite-sex love and relationships (and heteronormativity to boot) would explain that if men are the common spectators, then women would be what they would like to (or think they should like to) look at. Though, of course, there are still many visual artifacts that feature men, that spectators would look at an image of themselves for…and I suppose those would then be most likely (under my guessed theory here) to show men doing things that would fulfill the typical sense of what the male nature and role should be at the time (standing proud with their wealth, their land; sitting regally on horseback, fighting in wars, etc.). Women would be portrayed submissively, then, because that is how they were supposed to be at the time. I don’t know…this makes sense to me but I’m not sure it’s right as a historical theory (and would need historical evidence to back it up!).

    I’m curious to hear what the groups thought about your other questions!

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