It seems that the movement for gender equality has made impressive gains in the past century through the 19th Amendment in 1920, through which women gained the right to vote. It also seems, however, that gender inequality continues to be ingrained in American culture and society. John Berger, author of Ways of Seeing furthers this view. He writes, “men act and women appear.” By this statement, John Berger means to show how men still play a dominant role in American society, in that men act towards women in a certain way, and women act as passive subjects to this action. In this way, women are forced into a certain passivity by various facets of society, and placed in an inferior position in comparison to men, who able to act with much more agency.
One way in which women are seen to “appear” is society is through the media and entertainment. There are countless examples of movies, especially action movies, that only portray women for their sexuality and body, while men receive much more substantive roles. Some examples include the James Bond Movies and Scarlett Johanssen as Black Widow in The Avengers, to name a few. Furthermore in movies such as Sicario, the female character is constantly making mistakes and always seems to have a feeling of uncertainty, while the male characters are the ones who are portrayed as certain and ultimately tell the female character what to do. In this way, women do “appear’” but do not “act” in way that would make them equal to how men are portrayed. While it might be a little extreme to say that women are entirely robbed of their agency in movies, although this may true for a few films, women characters are usually portrayed as inferior and passive objects in comparison to the male characters that they interact with.
The passivity to which women are subjected to by American society is also apparent in social media and popular culture. Most people have probably seen the line “Go make me a sandwich woman,” paired with some sort of picture. Although, admittedly, this phrase is probably intended as a joke, it still shows evidence of what should be seen as antiquated thinking about the roles of women in American society. Phrases like these are common throughout social media and underscore the blatantly false idea that women serve men. Furthermore, advertisements that we are bombarded with everyday, promote the view that women are merely passive subjects of a man’s actions by portraying women as objects, robbing them of agency, and giving them only appearance.
Outside of entertainment and popular culture, the idea of “men act and women appear” is also apparent in the discrimination of women in the workforce. Besides a wage gap between men and women of 21 percent, most fields seem to be male dominated, which makes it much harder for women to secure a job. Furthermore, the social stigma that women are to be bastions of the household and take a leading role in taking care of children add another dimension to finding a job that men do not usually encounter. With this in mind, it can be seen that women are placed in an inferior position to men when it comes to the workplace.
John Berger seems to have correctly described the way American society still holds, less obvious, but equally injurious inequalities concerning gender when he wrote “men act and women appear.” Time and time again we see the pervasive realities of gender inequality in this country. We need look no farther than our own school and the debate concerning the graduation dress versus the cap and gown. Whatever the case may be, it is important that we be cognizant of the existence of the inequality and attempt to understand it, so that we may work to fix this problem that is so deeply rooted in American culture and society.