Looking at Women
“Looking at Women” by Scott Sanders was first published in spring of 1989 in the Georgia Review and was later reprinted in Sander’s essay collection titled “Secrets of the Universe” (1991).
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In this work, Sanders tells us his thoughts on how men look at women, hence the title; he explains to us that he feels that men turn women into things rather than people by objectifying their bodies. He goes into great detail about how a lot of women feel their role in today’s society is to exist for the pleasure of men and he questions how simple minded creatures we must be to fall for such things. Although I agree with his argument, I also see the other side of it.
This could be the subject of a long drawn out debate, there is a much simpler way to approach it in that we get used to a certain way of thinking and it eventually becomes habit to look at a female and judge her, to make her feel as though she has to fit a certain image because she knows people expect that much of her, to make her want to dress and act a certain way for people to actually see her and so when she does a good job at it, she feels good. When a person is young, they look at things in an innocent manner. As they mature over time, they start to look at things in a different way.
A guy for example, will start to notice things he didn’t before such as the way a girl walks, how tight her clothes are, the curves on her figure, and other things. And these of course, are all things he has seen before, just never in this light. So he continues to look and as that happens over time he get in the habit of searching for these fine details, even if he isn’t necessarily interested. Sander’s addressed that thought in Looking at Women when he stated that “what attracts our eyes and rouses our blood is only partially instinctual” (187) which implies that some of it is learned.
The way men look at women over time has reached a point where it has become degrading and on some level can be disrespectful. The things we do as women to get men to look at us are not required to get the same end result, and this is also approached with in the text where it says that “The fraction of desire that leads to procreation is … irrelevant” (Sanders 180). Sometimes men do look because they’re interested in the woman herself.. However most of the time, he will look and in his mind he has already have graded this woman on a scale of 1-10 without even realizing it because he’s so used to doing it.
I think a lot of people would agree that females have always been painted as submissive, delicate things who are there to be dependant and cared for. We’re supposed to do “girly” things like paint our nails, cook, clean, and wear high heels while the men go out and get all the attention. We are portrayed as a “fluff pastry … plastic figurine … to achieve the status of art” (185). We are works of art though, we do not wake up with our faces painted and hair perfect – we have to make it happen and like true art, it takes time and effort.
We are to be delicate and beautiful, something worth bragging about, a thing to look at and admire. With this type of thinking, we slowly become objects, instead of people. Scott Sanders poses the question, a few times in the story “Why … do so many women decorate themselves like dolls?” (184). Upon further reading, we will come to see that the answer (qtd. in Le Deuxieme Sexe) lies within the text: we do it simply because “it is the most potent identity available to (us)” (Sanders 184).
While it might be nice as a man to have a woman to take of you or even to have one dependant on you, it’s not what defines us as a species and it certainly isn’t the only role we are capable of playing. As this is the role we identify most with, we feel this need to be good at it.
It is typically viewed as an immoral, degrading thing (trying to be sexy) but with a little bit of tweaking and experience (also stores such as Victoria’s Secret help), we can perfect it to where it then becomes a tool, a weapon, a trap. “Women need not make spectacles of themselves in order to draw the attention of men” (186), in other words we don’t need to dress up and put makeup on our faces or wear shoes with heels that prevent us from walking.
We know we don’t and that if men really want to look, they will do so regardless of what we look like or what we’re wearing. Although, it’s easier to just conform to the role society as created for us. For some women it can even be fun, if they happen to be bored or insecure enough to crave that type of attention. They don’t see themselves as a pretty damsel in distress, rather a lion or a tiger with the strength, cunning, and speed needed to hunt and capture its prey. They can entice a man, and make him want more, make him crave it.
She’ll draw him in with a false sense of security, because as a man, he naturally assumes he is in control. But he’s not, he’s just flying along and suddenly caught in a web. And just like that, like the lion pounces on the gazelle, he has fallen victim to “put-ons whose only purpose is in being taken off” (184). And just like that, the roles are reversed. Two spiked heels, a ton of lace, and one tube of bright red lipstick later, she is on top and he is an object she is toying with. He then becomes a trophy of what she is capable of, and what she has accomplished. She is proud because she has done so with the role society designed to diminish her.
As time goes on, these social roles with change and hopefully everyone will be seen for whom they are not what they look like. Sanders made many interesting points in his story about the way society views women and we take that idea and run with it. Society took us and tried to turn us into an object that can’t be feared, an object simply for admiration and we became works of art that we too can be proud of.
However, we should not be proud of the fact that this has become a habit and that we insist on making people feel like they need to fit a certain image in order to be proud of themselves. While society may not like it, we are strong and independent and can handle anything they throw at us. We’re champions and they’re going to hear us roar.
Sanders, Scott. “Looking at Women.” The Norton Reader. 13th ed. Eds. Linda Peterson. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2012: 179-189. Print.