As soon as I finished Ruth Barrett’s Female Erasure, I began reading Marilyn Frye’s The Politics Of Reality. I love this text and will probably blog about several distinct aspects of it over the next couple of months. One of the ideas I found particularly intriguing was Frye’s juxtaposition of what she defines as the arrogant eye and the loving eye. Some thoughts on this:
The Arrogant Eye vs. The Loving Eye
The juxtaposition of the arrogant eye and the loving eye transpires in the chapter entitled “In And Out Of Harm’s Way: Arrogance And Love.” In contextualizing the concept of the arrogant eye, Frye first notes that the Bible defines women as entities created to be man’s helper. She then goes on to assert that “This captures in myth Western Civilization’s primary answer to the philosophical question of man’s place in nature: everything that is is resource for man’s exploitation. With this world view, men see with arrogant eyes which organize everything seen with reference to themselves and their own interests” (67). She goes on to note that “The arrogant perceiver does not countenance the possibility that the Other is independent, indifferent” (67). I view this interpretation as accurate and the veracity of the assessment becomes plain upon considering things such as the etymological underpinnings of words like “woman.” As many feminists have pointed out, the term has been used to reference both a female servant and a wife. Both terms define women in relation to men, and each one positions the female subject as servile to one or more men.Within this framework, women are not independent beings whose own needs and values render them indifferent to the world of men. Rather, their lives are structured such that the whims and will of men are central to their thoughts and actions.
I think it’s important to note that in addition to ensuring that the arrogant eye impacts not only the lens through which women see men, but also the way they perceive themselves. This reality becomes plain when the reader considers how the arrogant eye imposes a system of objectification on women. Frye references this reality upon noting that “Women experience the coerciveness of this kind of “influence” when men perversely impose sexual meanings on our every movement” (68). The ongoing objectification imposed upon women frequently causes them to eventually naturalize the imposition such that they become objects in their own eyes. Artist/philosopher John Berger draws attention to this upon noting that:
“men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object-and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” (Ways Of Seeing, 47).
As Berger demonstrates, the reality of men objectifiying women results in members of the latter group internalizing the objectification and subsequently altering material reality such that their self-presentation draws attention to the corporeal form. Monique Wittig references this by-product of phallic power by pointing out that “Wherever they are, whatever they do (including working in the public sector), they are seen (and made) sexually available to men, and they, breasts, buttocks, costume, must be visible” (7). The reality of the male gaze perversely altering a woman’s self-concepts and self-representation such that she is reduced to a sexualized object is just one ugly outcome of the arrogant eye’s existence and agency.
After discussing the arrogant eye, Frye goes on to explain an alternate system of relations: the loving eye. She begins by noting that “The loving eye knows the independence of the other…It is the eye of one who knows that to know the seen, one must consult something other than one’s own will and interests and fears and imagination. One must look at the thing. One must look and listen and check and question” (75). Thus the difference between the arrogant eye and loving eye becomes plain. While the former defines reality and relationships in context of the self while refusing to recognize that the Other has an identity independent of this system of relations, the latter recognizes and continually responds to the fact that the Other has a distinct will, proclivities, and inclinations that may not parallel one’s own. In elaborating on the operations and import of the loving eye, Frye notes that it “does not make the object of perception into something edible, does not try to assimilate it, does not reduce it to the size of the seer’s desire, fear and imagination, and hence does not have to simplify. It knows the complexity of the other as something which will forever present new things to be known” (76).
Exactly. I would elaborate on this assessment by arguing that a juxtaposition of the arrogant eye and the loving eye reveals that the distinction between the two is nonrecognition vs. recognition. Specifically, the arrogant self refuses to acknowledge the Other as anything except an appendage to its own will, which is ultimately objectification. On the other hand, the loving eye ensures that the Other is placed in the sphere of subjectivity through a process of recognition which involves identifying and acknowledging aspects of the individual which are unique and distinct from the self.