Expository Writing The relationship between language and image provides us with the means to seek the roots of our own ideas. In the essay, When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision, written by Adrienne Rich, she uses varying images in her poetry to describe women and the voice open the window into her self-perception and how cultural ideologies change. John Berger writes in, Ways of Seeing that the relationship between the image and the person is an individual interpretation. Hunger as Ideology, by Susan Bordo, tells how the image is used to show cultural ideologies, especially for women. In art, literature, and in the media, images that are perceived visually or through the images produced by language are used as a form of expression that quite unavoidably reflect cultural ideologies that impact us in intentionally strong and deliberate ways.
Cultural ideology affects how we perceive images; both visual and those produced by language. These images impact our perception of reality. The images that infiltrate our lives appear to focus on maintaining the status quo or the norms of society. They are designed to show what is expected in life. Berger states, Images were made to conjure up the appearance of something that was absent(107).
Berger argues images are conjured up or imagined to represent what is absent or what the individual wants to see as reality. There used to be a tendency to over exemplify the way in which women were thought to be, but today, that opposition no longer seems to hold quite as rigidly as it once did (women are indeed objectified more than ever, but, in this image-dominated culture, men increasingly are too) (156). Regardless of society’s attempt to be politically correct, and despite the changes that have occurred in rigid gender identity, our society still maintains many of the old stereotypes that have always been a part of established culture. In order to assist in the destabilizing of images Rich states, A change in the concept of sexual identity is essential if we are not going to see the old political order reassert itself in every new revolution (605). Rich believes a change in the concept or the way people are viewed is essential if the past is not going to reassert itself in the future. The images imagined is the change needed to be taken in the future.
However, the images that surround us seem to do nothing more than maintain and sustain the traditional gender ideology. Although Rich tried to have Aunt Jennifer in Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger, be a person as distinct from herself as possible, she portrays Aunt Jennifer as being oppressed by her marriage. Rich reflects the same oppression through the use of images such as, The massive weight of the Uncle’s wedding band (608). The massive or extreme burden caused by the wedding band or the marriage to suppresser. She is being oppressed by her husband.
The image of Aunt Jennifer portrays the traditional ideology of the women under the control of a man. Bordo discusses the ideological construction of service as a woman’s natural role, states, It is this construction that it reinforces in the representations I have been examining, through their failure to depict males as ‘naturally’ fulfilling that role, and – more perniciously – through their failure to depict females as appropriate recipients of such care (161). Women have an ideal role of subordination to men, and men have the oppressive role to be in charge and to provide for the female, though how ideal that role may be is questionable. Bordo means Rich’s poetry depicts the current role of women in society and strives to express the need to fight the oppression and victimization of women. Her poetry creates a strong image of the position of women in society.
Berger claims that, Every image embodies a way of seeing (107). Because of our own personal history, we may or may not recognize the image of Jennifer as negative. It is possible to look at Jennifer as living in a way that is the accepted function in our culture. This is an image, however negative that it may be, that is culturally accepted as how gender roles should be and therefore reinforces its stabilization. Berger considers that The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe (106).
Our beliefs often have subtle and unconscious basis and influence how we see or interpret images. When we look at an image, we bring our background, past experiences and beliefs to that image and see more than what is there. As a result of what we bring to our perception of images, the media can use images to influence us in very subtle ways. In constructing the images, of course, continual use is made of knowledge (or at least what is imagined to be knowledge) of consumer’s lives (Bordo143). These images of what we are, what we should be, what we are expected to be bombard us daily. We are surrounded with expectations that we somehow must try to achieve.
These expectations however are in actuality no different than the expectations or cultural identity that has been placed on us, both male and female, through history. Rich says that A lot is being said today about the influence that myths and images of women have on all of us who are products of culture (607). The essential phrase being products of our culture. We do not live in isolation, therefore, we are all products of our culture regardless of how individualistic or independent we may believe ourselves to be. We can slowly attempt, through our own personal growth and development, to rise above this cultural ideal and to develop an equal living environment, and as a culture rise above the oppressive nature that is presently in existence.
The effects of the influence of our culture are so deeply ingrained that it is difficult if not impossible to remove ourselves from this influence. Images can be so powerful in inducing emotions that they can Seduce us into believing whatever the creator of the image may want us to see (Berger 111). Rich is very aware of this when she states that, Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves (604). She uses the rich language of her poetry to create powerful, distinct images of women that are living the roles and the life that society has not only created, but preserves. In her poem Orion, the final line you with your back to the wall produces a strong image of despair. This is how Rich sees women in our society.
Unfortunately, our society is not so different today than it was in the past. Bordo believes that Even more examples could be produced, of course, if we cast our glance more widely over the globe and back through history (142). While we believe that we have evolved and are more liberated now than we were in the past, we are still as strongly influenced now as people were in the past by in the way women are seen and the way in which we see ourselves. Our knowledge, beliefs, and expectations are the outgrowth of our interaction with our society. Berger professes that The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe (106).
A great deal of this interaction is through the images produced by language and the images that we react to visually. Whether we acknowledge that society has placed limitations on us or that we have placed limitations on ourselves, the limitations are there. It is the created image that has the hold on our most vibrant, immediate sense of what is, of what matters, of what we must pursue for ourselves (Bordo 143). What women can pursue is often with its limitations because of the established culture. Rich states that Both the victimization and the anger experienced by women are real, and have real sources, everywhere in the environment, built into society, language and structure of thought (615). These limitations are seen in the culturally ideal images that are used in so many aspects of life.
One of the strongest sources of the victimization of women is the media. When referring to advertising, Bordo claims that They must also be considered as gender ideology – that is, as specifically (conscious or unconscious) serving the cultural reproduction of gender difference and gender inequality, quite independent of (although at times coinciding with) marketing concerns (148). Advertisements are there to serve not only a commercial aspect, but a cultural ideal as well. The media through its use of images maintains and supports society’s view of women and their place. Advertising may not have dictated gender ideology, but it uses it to present and sell their product.
These ideas of gender roles are presented and repeated images that we encounter continually. Berger believes that, there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language and for what purpose (127). It is important to use the image, as well as the language associated with it to promote a personal statement. This is what makes poetry so effective.
The language can instill an internal image that can make the message so meaningful and effective. While describing a poem of hers, Rich explains that I thought I was creating a portrait of an imaginary women (608). Her goal was to show a unique women, yet is the end she is simply showing how all women are suppressed. Unfortunately, the language of images is used to maintain the idea of gender roles. There is also the possibility for images to change our perception of the ideologies that have been attached to women for years. Berger feels that If the new language of images were used differently, it would, through its use, confer a new kind of power (127).
That is if people were to rework the images in a way to project a need for individual standards of acceptibilty for what it best for the individual. With that in mind, instead of maintaining cultural assumptions, it is possible to use the images that bombard us daily to change our theories of the position of women in our society. While Rich questions whether an oppressive economic class system is responsible for the oppressive nature of male/female relations, or whether, in fact, patriarchy – the domination of males – is the original model of oppression on which all others are based (604). Using images to change the perception of gender relations and gender roles poses an interesting possibility. Using the images may be the only way to shape any change at all in our society. Rich has used her experiences to grow and evolve.
Her poetry gives voice to her pain, to her victimization, to her past and to her future. She uses the images in her poetry to shape awareness if not change. This all may be very difficult because, We have inherited some of these representations from of former era (Bordo 156). The timelessness of these images may be hard to eliminate or alter. There is hope though, because if images have been used to maintain cultural ideology, then images can also be used to change our perceptions. This would have a destabilizing effect and as a society, we are resistant to such a drastic change.