Haunted by the invisible gaze
Photo courtesy of Laurenellen McCann
by Yasmine Sandholm
“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it's all a male fantasy: that you're strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren't catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.” – Margaret Atwood
It is sometimes true that the best reading experience comes from reading something you already know. I believe Margaret Atwood has managed to write something so intrinsically accurate that it is hard to read and accept as your own truth. It is not a universal truth that applies to all women, but I can say that it certainly applies to me.
I give myself a little pat on the back for leaving the house without make-up on for the third week in a row. I feel proud for wearing a dress when I have unshaven legs. If I wear make-up and say it is just for me, I sometimes catch myself lying. If I wear a shirt without a bra on and my nipples shine through, I feel like I am making a political statement. If I have dressed in a provocative way and do not catch anyone looking my way, why do I feel disappointed? Why do I simply care so much?
Some people will suggest you should stop caring. Simply stop shaving. Simply stop wearing make-up. Simply stop. How can I stop thinking about my aesthetic appearance, which is so deeply incorporated into my whole being? To be a fantasy, someone’s ideal and someone’s preference. Why am I still building this cell around me? Just stop feeding the fantasy. I was inducted into this fantasy as a little girl, and since then I have felt the weight of its gaze grow. I wish it could be possible to find an easy explanation for all of this, someone to blame. I want to put blame on everyone else or just society in general, but never on myself. It never seems to be just that simple.
I walk into a Sephora and see young girls spending their money on expensive make-up and hear this advertised as something empowering for women. I do not feel empowered. I feel sad. Being there for aesthetical pleasure for others is not in our job description anymore. Women can, have, and do achieve greatness on a daily basis, so why do I still feel like I do not always have a choice? Why do I expect myself to be aesthetically pleasing in order to feel good and be appreciated?
The feminist movement is all about choice. The choice being: we can be anything we desire. We can care about the way we look or not. We can become mothers and have careers or choose to do neither. We can choose who we want as our partners; but do I then still feel like I have no choice but to play a role I don’t think I even assigned onto myself?
How did we get here and how do we escape? How do you change something that is so normalized in our society that most of us do not even find it to be an issue? Before we start unraveling this mess, we must understand how we as a society ended up here; we need to understand how a culture we inhabit has allowed 50% of its population to become trapped in both the fantasy and the interpretation of said fantasy. We should also question whether or not this fantasy only applies to the fairer sex. The only way we can start to untangle ourselves from this confusion is to open up an honest dialogue with each other. Being a fantasy is a fulltime job, which most of us did not realize we signed up for.