Thursday, March 10, 2016

Men Act and Women Appear

Although the United States would like to think that sexism in an issue of the past, the imprint of misogyny is ingrained into Western culture. Women in the United States, today, are no longer denied the right to vote or prohibited from participating in sports, but twenty-first century sexism is much harder to detect. Gender inequality, however, pervades every aspect of Western culture. According to John Berger in his Ways of Seeing, "men act and women appear." Berger was not undermining the achievements of women, but, instead, describing how women are viewed compared to their male counterparts. Because the importance of appearance is instilled so strongly in women, society impedes women from asserting authority over men. This impediment leads to the objectification of women in media that sets unattainable standards of femininity masculinity.

The feminine ideal of passiveness affects women in the job market and their ability to exhibit their achievements. A main point of Bernie Sanders' campaign in this presidential election is the wage discrepancy between men and women. According to studies, women make 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. This fact is often misunderstood, however. Generally, men and women are paid the same income for the same job. The income disparity comes from the higher likelihood of men to negotiate for raises or better benefits. These facts are not indicative of intentional sexism from business owners, but of the expectation of female passivity. Women are not expected to negotiate, debate or counter, but to idly agree with their male colleagues. In my experience in elementary school, if a girl was to assert her opinions, she was described as "bossy." If a boy took the same action as a leader, he would not experience negative repercussions. From a young age, therefore, women are conditioned to refrain from assertiveness and to value silence over sharing their true opinions. A woman, instead of exhibiting her intelligence, is concerned with the way she will be perceived as a leader.

Women are not only expected to be passive, but also are treated as objects in various forms of media. In almost all action movies, the lead character is a man who has seemingly superhuman abilities. These heroes are contrasted by a stale female character whose primary role is to exhibit her ideal female body. She lacks any depth or noticeable talents besides her sexual allure. This portrayal of women, that garners millions of dollars in box offices, represents how women are seen in society. Additionally, women are not allowed to be old in movies, television and other forms of media, because they lose their sexual appeal with age. Men, however, are valued for more than their appearance, and can still be renowned actors in their advanced age. This inequality was shown in Star Wars: The Force Awakens when many people scrutinized Carrie Fischer's looks. Yet, this scrutiny was hypocritical because Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill also returned as older characters, but were not subject to the same criticism.

The sexual appeal of the female body in media pressures women to alter their natural appearance. To be a socially acceptable Western woman, she must shave, wear makeup and exercise frequently to stay thin. My sister told me that at her college, the University of Washington, the school recently created a separate weight gym for women. My sister had conflicting opinions on the new gym because she did feel intimidated when she was in the weight gym that was dominated by men, but she wished more women would lift when they exercised. She said it annoyed her that while men work out to bulk up and gain muscle, women just work out to lose weight and stay thin. I never realized the implication of comparing how men and women exercise to gender roles in the United States. As John Berger said, "men act and women appear."

The idea that "men act and women appear" is not to undermine the accomplishments of women, or to say that all women are passive to their own oppression. Women have always actively opposed sexism, from George Sand to Frances Perkins, but surreptitious forms of misogyny is prevalent in the representation of women in Western culture. 


  1. I agree that the society does restrict women and teaches women to follow what society inflicts upon them. You provided very interesting and in depth examples, I thought the example you used about your sister and the separate weight gym was striking. Well done!

  2. I love how you broke down Berger's comment not as an insult to women but instead a criticism to society. I agree with you and believe that Berger's comment is really criticizing the way our culture portrays women, not how the women actually are. Your perspective was very insightful regarding the pay ratio between men and women. I think a lot of people do not understand how that statistic came to be and you explained it well. What do you believe is the way to change the way women are perceived in western culture? Whom do we target to change culture? Great post.