Tag Archives: John Berger

The Punk Singer

The documentary “The Punk Singer,” which chronicles the life of Kathleen Hanna, explores the stage as a feminist space. As a young artist, Hanna sought to combat the violence and the sexism that usually rules punk rock music shows. She did this by ensuring that her concerts were targeted to a female audience both figuratively and literally. Hanna would call women to the front of the stage protecting them from the dangerous mosh pits that were known to erupt. Hannah’s supporters explain that this small request was actually revolutionary for gender relations as men are accustomed to dominating a room. In addition, the content of the music focused on women’s issues, such as rape and gender prejudice. Instead of music normally acting as escapist, it forced listeners to confront the issues head on; Hannah “screamed what was unspoken.” Concertgoers expressed that Hanna’s stage presence was that of a man’s; she was known to act aggressively and crudely. In “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger asserts that women behave according to how men will perceive them. However, Hanna destroyed this idea by rejecting a man’s idea of how a woman should act through her behavior and through the content of her music. It was difficult for me think of an analogous figure in music today that approaches feminism with Hanna’s aggressive approach. Has this type of feminism died in today’s culture?

Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. London: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

What is Beautiful?

Reflecting on the female obsession with weight loss, and the unrealistic images of woman as very skinny, perceptions of beauty in the United States are extremely skewed. It makes me wonder how we arrived here. Is it the media’s fault for projecting these images, or the consumer’s fault for enabling them? As we’ve read in “Can’t by my Love,” the advertising industry is worth billions of dollars exerting enormous influence over what is portrayed in the media. However, advertisers attempt to please their audiences by selling what they want. Therefore, what makes women crave the ideal body and perfect face? Not only do they crave this type of beauty, they spend millions of dollars attaining this ideal through surgery. They spend exorbitant amounts of money on dieting and weight loss regimes desperately hoping to reach this nearly impossible goal.
In “Reading the Slender Body,” Susan Bordo explains that although elective surgery is considered at least a bit more extreme, “…Preoccupation with fat, diet, and slenderness are not abnormal” Indeed, such preoccupation may function as one of the most powerful normalizing mechanisms of our century, insuring the production of self-monitoring and self-disciplining.” But still, it leaves the large question unanswered. Where does this preoccupation originate from? I believe that at least partially it stems from the way women construct their self-identity. In “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger asserts that women present themselves in the way that they want men to view them knowing that men are constantly surveying them. Consequently, at some point, a man’s ideal beautiful woman became extremely skinny with large breasts, and in response to this, women torture themselves in order to emulate this conception of beauty. With this norm present in society, women and men will continue to perceive beautiful in this way until culture gravitates towards a new standard of beauty.

Bordo, Susan. Umbearable Weight. Berkeley : Univ of CA Press, 1993.

Kilbourne, Jean. Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Thing and Feel. New York: Touchtsone, 1999.Print.

Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. London: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

Ad Critique: I’m Beautiful the Way I Am


I was impressed to learn of a new ad campaign that New York City is running directed at young girls. Meant to tackle issues of self-esteem and body image, the posters depict girls of many different races, ages and sizes, engaged in a variety of activities. They’re accompanied by variants on the slogan, “I’m a girl. I’m smart, a leader, adventurous, friendly, funny. I’m beautiful the way I am.”

The diversity of representation in the ads is clearly unusual; the depiction of . The girls are portrayed as dynamic, multivalent individuals. In contrast to many representations of little girls in advertisements, these girls aren’t hyperfeminized; they aren’t wearing tutus and playing house. These girls, in short, can grow up to be anything. The ads’ text refers to the girls’ many attributes. They aren’t exclusively valued for their appearances, an issue John Berger discusses in “Ways of Seeing:” women are typically regarded as exclusively ornamental, not instrumental. In this campaign, their intangible qualities and abilities are emphasized.

Or so it seems. In each ad, the dominant sentence–in a large font, below the rest of the slogan–is “I’m beautiful the way I am.” This is meant, of course, to refer both to “inner beauty” and to the affirmation of beauty across various body types and races. But should this be the takeaway? Is it enough to expand the definition of beauty, if only to continue insisting that women embody it? This campaign does well to broaden how “beauty” is construed, but it still shouldn’t be a determining factor in how we affirm girls’ worth. Girls should be affirmed as smart, as leaders, as adventurous, friendly and funny. They should be reminded that their worth doesn’t depend on how beautiful they are. They should be reminded that they don’t exist to be looked at.

Works Cited: Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” From Jones, Amelia, ed. “The Feminist & Visual Culture Reader.” New York, Routledge: 2003.

Is there such a thing as free choice?

After being slapped in the face with the reality that I as a woman am being oppressed, I find it disheartening, though necessary, to say that free choice may not actually exist for me and others alike.  This is not because someone has come in and forcefully taken my free choice away, but because the underhanded manipulation tactics at play have robbed me of it.  I will not argue that certain industries go to great lengths to “keep up appearances.”  Whether it is an ad selling clothes, perfume or entertainment, the greater picture is that they are selling a lifestyle.  One in which I have blindly walked into and sold my soul to.  The amount of power the mass media outlets yield is so vast, that even when I think I am being original and beating to my own drum, I look up and see that my current look is this season’s hottest trend.  Could everything that I once thought about my originality and spunk, really just be a product of mass media’s influence? How do I know if I cut my hair because I wanted to or if it’s because society wanted me to? I find the need to step back and analyze these decisions, as a crucial part of my discovery.  As John Berger exclaims in From Ways of Seeing, “She has to survey everything she is and everything she does…and so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed” (Berger Ch. 7).  So is there such a thing as free choice? My answer to that would be; depending on how strong your individual will power is.

Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.


Get caught doing what? Eating lunch? Why would I be eating at a diner in fine jewelry? (Ad Critique)


 A woman must be thin. A woman must be delicate. A woman must be disciplined. “A woman must continually watch herself. She is continually accompanied by her own image of herself… The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female.” (Berger 37-38) And goddammit, a woman must not eat a cheeseburger at a diner. Or at least, if she does, she better look fucking fabulous doing it. This is a billboard I have seen passing between Center City and University City. It is problematic on multiple levels.

This woman is obviously posed, but the text in the ad suggests she has been ambushed. This is a popular advertising technique. It shows how women embody Berger’s idea of being both the surveyed and a surveyor. She is cognizant of the image she is presenting, and according to the text, she knows it’s shameful. As per societal standards, a glamorous model like her surely doesn’t eat, or at least eats something else.

Even further, a woman who is bad (she had to be “caught”) is a woman who is sexy which means she’s asking for attention; she is  posed and looking at the screen after all. As Sut Jhally of Dreamworlds 3 puts it, women in media are portrayed as “desiring the look.”

In approach, this ad models a trope discussed in Jean Kilbourne’s documentary Killing Us Softly 4. Which is: you may have slipped up in your presentation of yourself in this aspect, but you can make up for it by buying this unrelated product! You may be breaking your diet, but at least you can look (sorta) classy in our jewelry!

  • Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.
  • Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video. By Sut Jhally. Media Education Foundation, 2007. Transcript.
  • Killing Us Softly 4. By Jean Kilbourne. Perf. Jean Kilbourne. 20010. DVD.

Why Do We Care About The Number On The Scale?

Society has consistently had a fascination with weight. Whether the fascination be that the weight is too high or too low can change, but weight is a constant factor in how society perceives a person. Fat has become a modern disease, a condition of ugliness in contrast to the condition of beauty that is thinness (Wann ix). When did weight become the defining factor in how a person is treated in life?

Women and men everywhere are treated differently because their weight is not congruent with what society thinks is the norm: they are discriminated against, under paid, and less respected. In the job market, “fat women earn nearly 7000 dollars less than thinner women” and a worker might even be fired because their weight is a problem for the employer (Wann xix).

Slenderness has become the “contemporary ideal of specifically female attractiveness”, an ideal that is irrational and limiting to any person (Bordo 205). But a person is so much more than their weight; he or she is who they are because of their “gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, surrounding, and tastes”- things that cannot be defined by an arbitrary number that has no true meaning other than that which we as society give it (Berger 37).  A BMI does not make a person good or bad, a scale should not incite fear and panic, and a person should be able to walk through the streets without getting strange glances or faces because of what shape they may be.

For I am Fatacus, and I am proud.


Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” Trans. Array The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Slender Body.” Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 185-212. Print.

Wann, Marilyn. “Foreward: Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution.” The Fat Studies Reader. By Esther D. Rothblum. New York: New York UP, 2009. Ix-Xxii. Print

Selling Jeans?


I remember driving by Joe’s Jeans billboards when I was younger (before I even considered issues such as women’s objectification) and being puzzled. Isn’t this a jeans company? Why is this a picture of bare butts? I think this particular ad captures some of the music video/advertisement conventions touched on in Dreamworlds 3. Of course there is the emphasis on a single part of her body, while the piece of clothing Joe’s is selling is minimized. Also significant is the point of view – the photographer captures the man’s perspective as he stares at the woman, and therefore the audience takes his view. This billboard also captures John Berger’s concept of the woman being both the surveyor and the surveyed. Here the woman is highly conscious of the man watching her, and the viewers of the ad see her being watched; similar to music videos, she is portrayed as wanting to be watched. This ad seems to sell a heterosexual male fantasy more than a pair of women’s jeans.

Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” Trans. Array The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

Jhally, S., Killoy, A., Bartone, J., & Media Education Foundation. (2007). Dreamworlds 3: Desire, sex & power in music video. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.

The Sandwich That Makes Men Cry

This commercial was released by fast-food restaurant Carl’s Jr. to promote their new Jalapeño Chicken Sandwich.  The ad portrayed sexist, stereotypical analysis of both men and women’s societal normative behaviors, as well as objectification of the female body in order to sell their product.

A white male is seen eating his sandwich as a solitary tear drops down his face, a result of the sandwich’s spiciness.  When his skinny, bikini-clad girlfriend begins to chastise him for only wanting to “watch the game,” she notices that he is crying and her face immediately twists into a look of disgust before letting him off the hook.

This ad is overflowing with harsh, gender specific stereotypes.  The woman’s positioning in the commercial allows for the man (and the audience) to shamelessly stare at her from behind as she leaves the patio, an illustration of John Berger’s notion that “woman is naked as the spectator sees her” therefore “turning herself into an object of vision- a sight.”  This uses a sexualized female body as an attention-grabbing method to sell an (unrelated?) burger, as well as enforcing the negative stereotype that women are “nags.”  The men watching this commercial are offered the perspective that it is sometimes okay for a man to cry, but only if they are eating this macho burger.

I believe that the woman’s fleeting look of disgust is a silent yet sharp reminder to the male audience that, as Bell Hooks points out, the “patriarchal macho image” is expected from all men, so they must constantly defend their masculinity.  This disappointing commercial rejects man’s natural right to show emotion, only allowing it if there is a manly reason or prize behind the tears, such as a spicy burger or a newly a compliant girlfriend.  It makes me wonder: how long will it be until masculinity itself is defined by no emotion at all?

Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” Trans. Array The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

Hooks, Bell. “Seduced by Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Ad Critique: Equinox Fitness’ Surveying and Surveyed Women

In this advertisement, shot by fashion photographer Terry Richardson for Equinox Fitness, a woman is being “filmed” by a man as she spreads her legs and gives a “come hither” look to the viewer. Thus, the woman fulfills her role as both the “surveyor and the surveyed,” for she must “survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance…” (Berger 37). That is, it is not the woman herself who is the central feature of this ad, but rather what the woman represents to the male viewer. She makes direct eye contact with what bell hooks calls the male “gaze” (115) to affirm that her target audience approves of how she is presenting herself. Additionally, the woman in the advertisement is blatantly made a “sexually viable commodity” (Cornell 3), as the brand relies on the fact that female hyper-sexuality will always sell. The advertisement also subtly implants the viewer with the belief that fitness and general maintenance of one’s body lead to “self-containment, self-mastery, [and] control” (Bordo 209)—and in turn, a body like this woman’s that in reality is an “impossible standard” to achieve (Nagy Hesse-Biber 63).  In this way, the advertisement is a definitive representation of the way in which women are portrayed in the media.

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-9. Print.

Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Slender Body.” Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 185-212. Print.

hooks, bell. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End, 1992. 115-31. Print.

Introduction. Feminism and Pornography. Ed. Drucilla Cornell. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2000. 1-15. Print.

Nagy Hesse-Biber, Sharlene. “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery.”The Cult of Thinness. Second ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. 61-90. Print.

Sexuality and Sexual Display: Reflecting on Miley Cyrus’ Behavior

As a fan of Miley Cyrus, I (unashamedly) follow her whereabouts on the tabloid site perezhilton.com. I recently came across this article, which included a conversation between TV personality Carson Daly and Perez Hilton discussing Cyrus’ “oversexualized image.” In fact, the newest issue of Rolling Stone features Cyrus in a pool, with slicked back hair and no clothes on. While Daley criticizes Rolling Stone for “rewarding” Cyrus’ (supposed) poor choices, Hilton argues that the magazine is simply trying to boost sales. I found Daley’s perspective on the subject quite problematic: since when is a display of sexuality synonymous with “streetwalker”? And more importantly, why is Cyrus’ recent behavior taken so offensively? Can society not handle a young woman in control of her body? Perhaps it relates back to Berger’s theory on nakedness v. nudity that he offers in “From Ways of Seeing”: “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself” (39). Placed in this context, it seems that society is unable to accept Cyrus for who she is–either because they do not believe in who she is, or because they do not want to.

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

Hilton, Perez. “Did Miley Cyrus Deserve Her Rolling Stone Cover? Carson Daly and Perez Hilton Fight It Out On AMP!” Perezhilton.com. N.p., 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. <http://perezhilton.com/2013-09-24-miley-cyrus-rolling-stone-carson-daly-perez-hilton#sthash.qre4PyDC.dpbs&gt;.