john berger on being born a woman

To be born a woman is to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women is developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split into two.

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to men is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another…

One might simplify this by saying: 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.

― John Berger, from Ways of Seeing.

jolie holland – alley flowers

From her debut album, Catalpa (2003). It’s my favourite album of hers, I think – gorgeously hypnotic, and impossible to place in space and time. It’s like she’s channelling the voice of a ghost out of early 20th century America’s Deep South… The words from her milk-white throat weave an occult journey, harking back even further – the lolloping, liquid rhythm of this song could be straight out of West Africa.

Quote from
“If you didn’t know what it was, you’d swear it was recorded in the field 70 years ago. The outright primitive audio quality, acoustic instruments, the little mistakes and coughs left in… it’s a diamond in the rough, left uncut because there’s so much beauty in the imperfections.

“Then you notice the opening track’s [“Alley Flowers”] muffled frame-drum percussion is playing a “cabalistic” 12/8 against the guitar and vocal’s 4/4, the lyrical fantistical concreteness reminiscent of Syd Barrett or Hank Williams, the fluid soprano that sounds utterly self-taught, and you know it’s not an ordinary folk album at all.

“This is very, very different music from almost anything you’re likely to hear, especially in this day of cheap semi-pro equipment and easy software editing. But it’s truly miraculous.”


What makes you sing so sweetly in the dark, White-eyes, hours before dawn? I want to know. Is it your sureness of the imminent arrival of the light? Or is it to wake the sun, in case it’s forgotten its appointment with the day? I want to know, because right now things are cold and dark here, and your song is puncturing the silence with a conviction I do not share.