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?