Friday, March 11, 2016

Why Men Act and Women Appear but Neither Do it Perfectly

John Berger's claim that "men act and women appear" is true in the sense that it takes autonomy from women and gives freedom, along with imposed responsibilities, onto men. The trade is naturally unequal in man's favor, but it fails to articulate the metaphor even further to argue that it's not a completely one sided issue; some men suffer from being looked upon to act and most if not all women suffer from being expected to appear. These duties are expected due to tradition, reinforced through media, and only completely understood by experience.
The expectation of women to present themselves without contributing to any topic at hand has been around in many cultures since the beginning of modern society. In the U.S, it was already established by the time Europeans first set foot on American soil. Without voting rights, which were only given less than 100 years ago, women lacked a voice in government. Before then, during the 19th century, the cult of domesticity was created which is essentially Berger's thesis at its strongest, put in terms that make sense given the conservative social climate of the time period. Although women were not expected to appear sexy, there was a high standard for what made a women pure. Women during this time had no part in economic or troubles involving jobs; those were jobs for men. A woman also was not considered decent if she had sex outside of marriage. Women's role in society was to stay at home as a beacon of purity for men to return from the gritty outside world to and regain their strength.
Over the times this notion has evolved to where the same dynamic exists but the expectations have changed slightly. The sex-crazy times of today are enforced by music about the importance of sex, fictional works displaying the importance of sex, and even the ironically unimportant school-age competition of having the most sex. In these conditions, women are expected to appear suitable, attractive, or capable, while men judge their ability to have these qualities by looking at them. Women are no longer expected to appear pious and moral. Instead they are supposed to appear desirable in any way. Since sex is such a hot topic at this point in time, attractiveness is really the key factor, when this claim proves true, for determining whether a woman is desirable for sex, a job, a conversation, a friend, and more. I once asked my female friend what girls look for in guys and she responded with personality characteristics when I was expecting physical ones, as that is typically what men talk about regarding what they look for in women. Men can do whatever they want to get your attention but if a woman sits still, looks pretty, and doesn't open her mouth, many times these two are seen as having equal footing.
Obviously this hurts women's ability to think for herself. I can infer that after being viewed as an object for so long the average girl begins to see herself as nothing but a pretty face, making the "women appear" phenomenon a sad self-fulfilling prophecy. However, being male, I cannot elaborate on this claim without assuming too much about the culmination of thousands of unique experiences of women in the United States. What I can do is provide examples from the male perspective of why, although being allowed to 'act' is a good thing, men are sometimes subjected to high expectations as well.
I'm not suggesting that the male experience is as bad or worse than the female's, simply that neither side wins in this issue. Berger phrased his thesis as if men are given freedom and therefore "win" over women who aren't given it. However, in the experiences of myself and some of my close friends, while women sit and look pretty, men have to do all the do-ing, mainly when it comes to sex and success. One friend I have complained on a regular basis to me about how little he cares about sex despite how much his girlfriend did. Every time he went to her house he would show her some movie he wanted to share with her but she was only interested in appearing desirable to him. Once or twice he openly stated that he didn't feel like having sex and his girlfriend kept prodding him until he gave up. When discussed with our other friends they responded thinking he was joking, thinking it was ludicrous that a guy would ever opt to not have sex. Men are also expected to be successful. This is in one way a good thing as it implies that men are capable of becoming successful. When a women doesn't become rich and famous it's seen as normal, which is a sad truth in itself, but when a man fails to do so, he's seen as a failure of the gender. Of course not all experiences fit perfectly into the mold, but the claim that "men act and women appear" would be more accurate if it made the argument that men are seen as tools in addition to the argument that women are seen as objects.

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