Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a fancy-pants writer with an office, a secretary and an income by going to cafes, ordering a latte and wedging myself in the corner by the window to write and avoid eye contact with the staff, who don’t fully appreciate my attempts to stretch a single coffee over two hours. (“No, no, I’m still drinking that…I know it’s cold. And moldy. Yes, the fly is meant to be there. I’m going to drink the fly…See?”)
So I’d been sitting conspicuously in the corner nursing the dregs of my cold latte and working on my latest work of staggering genius (aka my Solitaire score) when I noticed something: The cafe is located on a busy Melbourne street and as the morning’s foot traffic passed by nearly every female checked her reflection in the floor to ceiling window I was seated behind. (Highlight: A particularly immaculate lady glancing into what should have been her reflection but was actually my bedraggled morning-face peering back through the window and her momentary distress as she thought she had somehow gone from catwalk chic to, well, me.) She, just like a majority of ladies strolling past, used that shop window for a quick visual once over to make sure everything was fine and dandy.
One of the recurrent concepts in feminist theory is the idea of women as objects – that women are the subject of constant visual scrutiny. That men watch women, women watch women, and, by extension, women watch themselves. That a lifetime of being watched conditions a women to constantly be aware that at any given moment a thousand pairs of eyes could be glued to her and that by gosh she better not have eye-boogers. Check yourself next time you walk down the street – how many times do you steal a quick look in shop windows to see how your makeup/outfit/Britney Spears weave is faring? I know I do it constantly, just in case my face has totally rearranged itself since I last checked (ten seconds ago.)
Because I fancy myself a bit of an amateur sociologist (I believe the term is ‘quack’…) I conducted a completely scientifically valid experiment which I expect will one day be published in a noted scientific journal and will win me at least four of the top science prizes. I watched to see how many men checked out their reflection in the window. Do you know how many men took a sneaky glance? Zero. Zilch. Not even the guy who probably should have because he had tomato sauce all over his chin and his t-shirt tucked into his undies.
Because I’m a top notch social scientist who always double checks her results, further research was undertaken. I asked my teenage brother if when walking down the street he checks himself in shop windows. His answer was a definitive yes, which may or may not count for much because he is, after all, a teenager and most teens wear self-consciousness like a clammy hormonal second skin. (This was evidenced by his follow up response to my question of why he looked – ‘To see if I look cool. Which I always do.’)
So I’m stumped. Are we ladies doin’ all the checkin’ and the lookin’ and the droppin’ of the n’s? Or are men just as self-conscious of what they’re putting on display to the world?
Claire Varley is a writer and community development worker. Check out her blog here.
How many times a day do you think you check your reflection?