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Gender query: Self-consciousness of image

I read a blog called The Beheld.

In this post, "Recommended Reading," Autumn Whitefield-Madrano discusses Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth and recommends some books that "go beyond" and "work alongside" Wolf's book. One of them is Ways of Seeing by John Berger. Whitefield-Madrano includes the following quote from the book:
A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. … And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. … Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.
Whitefield-Madrano says that she relates to this quote.

I don't. Sometimes I dress to look and/or feel a certain way, but once I'm dressed, I don't go around constantly surveying myself. And when I do feel that way, I hate it.

So I'm trying to figure out whether this is in fact a part of being a woman or identifying as feminine (and thus my not doing it is part of my being genderqueer) or whether the author maybe doesn't know what he's talking about or is exaggerating what he's talking about (by using terms such as "continually" and "scarcely avoid").

I'd love for people of all genders to comment on this. What is your gender? Do you constantly watch yourself and feel aware of your image of yourself most of the time? Do you think women or people who identify as feminine usually do that?

Ways of Seeing was published in 1972. In what ways do you think enforced image self-consciousness for women or people who identify as feminine has changed since then?

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/765199.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 11th, 2012 10:36 pm (UTC)
I identify as genderqueer, and don't usually feel this way unless I'm "dressed up" in some way, especially any kind of femme drag. A lot of it has to do with how the rest of the world reacts to me, too. I feel much less observed when I'm not in girl-drag.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 12th, 2012 12:22 am (UTC)
*nod* I have dresses that definitely aren't girl-drag for me. Then again, to assuage my own genderstuff I tend to refer to them as "utiligarments".
Mar. 11th, 2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
I do feel that way all the time, but I have no way of telling whether that's because I'm a woman, because I'm femme, or because I'm a recovering bulimic.
Mar. 11th, 2012 11:52 pm (UTC)
I identify as "mostly female" and "geek girl". In my usual state of being dressed like an engineer (i.e. clothes that are comfortable & practical & cover the parts that make people scream if seen in public), definitely not. If I'm dressed up in girl clothes, especially traditional middle class woman clothes (e.g. at a family wedding) rather than my own preference of lolita-goth, absolutely. The more uncomfortable I am (both physically & socially), the more I feel like I have to watch myself.

I think I've established that the constant vigilance needed for traditional smart woman clothes is so bad for my mental health that I shouldn't ever do a job that requires them. Which is interesting, because I hadn't ever put that into words before now.

Does this answer your question?
Mar. 12th, 2012 02:10 am (UTC)
As a cis-male software engineer, it’s much the same for me— my daily wear is jeans and aloha shirts and I only worry about keeping the shirt tucked in and not spilling things on myself. If I’m in a tux, I pay a lot more attention to these details. The cut of the suit tells you how to move while wearing it, which gives a constant feedback that maintains that awareness the way something more comfortable wouldn’t. (I’m always surprised when I see people slouching while wearing a suit jacket, because you can feel the cloth tugging you the wrong way if you slouch.)
Mar. 12th, 2012 12:03 am (UTC)
I identify as cis-female, and I have worked very, very hard to get past and beyond that sort of self-surveying and focus instead on actually experiencing the moment.

I credit a lot of therapy, fat-acceptance work, and, ironically, a brain injury, with my no longer engaging in that behavior.
Mar. 12th, 2012 12:27 am (UTC)
I identify as female (cis), and I do the self-monitoring thing quite a lot, although I won't say "constantly."

I really can't tell, however, if I do it because I'm female, because I'm fat, or because I'm fat-female.

Probably "yes."
Mar. 12th, 2012 09:45 am (UTC)
Actually this sounds more like an age than gender thing to me -- when I was younger I was very concerned about how I appeared to others and self-monitored a lot. At half a century, I frankly don't give a damn and therefore don't.
Mar. 12th, 2012 09:46 am (UTC)
And my gender identity is cis-female.
Mar. 12th, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC)
I am a cis-gendered straight woman, I guess. Dressed certain ways (for warmth and comfort, not gender presentation) I have been taken for a man a handful of times in my life, but overall I think anyone who sees me would say "female." However, when I think of "who/what am I," the first thing I think of isn't generally "a woman," and whenever someone says, "Women are this and men are that" or makes a quiz/test about it, I am as likely to fall into one category as the other.

I do not relate to the quotation, and to the best of my memory (I am almost 65)I never have. I have had situational concerns: Am I dressed appropriately for this potential employer? Will this boy I like think I look good? Will the nuns say my skirt is too short? and so on. But what the quotation describes? No.

ETA:I have never identified as "feminine." How much of that is just me, and how much is that from 1st through 12th grades I was the tallest girl in my class and I always thought of "feminine" as describing the petite girls, I can't say. Female, yes, to some extent; feminine, never.

Edited at 2012-03-12 04:33 pm (UTC)
Mar. 13th, 2012 06:47 am (UTC)
I identify as female (cis), and I don't self-monitor much at all, nor do I tend to monitor others, so maybe it's simply that I don't much notice how people present themselves, as long as it falls within a fairly broad norm.

I am most comfortable in jeans and a tshirt, but wear buisness casual to work; I tend to ignore my clothes once I'm dressed. I notice if I've slopped something onto myself, but that's about it.
Mar. 14th, 2012 01:18 pm (UTC)
(I am writing this without reading any of the other comments so I won't be influenced by them)

I am a cis woman who isn't particularly "feminine" in how I present myself. I have started to discover in the past several years that there are a lot of people who pay this kind of attention to themselves, and I find it astonishing. I am very aware of my body, but of how it feels from the inside, not what it looks like from the outside. I do look at myself in mirrors (and I like what I see) and I'm rarely surprised when I see photographs of myself, so it's not some kind of disconnect from the visual side of myself, but I just don't think about what I look like. When I'm going into a situation where I'm expected to do so, like appearing on stage, I find that I don't really know how.

I've also wondered if it's part of why I've failed to find a partner, the most painful failure of my life so far. Maybe if I knew how to be aware of what I look like people would find me more interesting or valuable or sexy..but that might mean I would be a very different person, and there are people who find me very interesting, valuable, and sexy now.

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