“Ways of Seeing” by John Berger is a book that was recommended to my Journalism Masters class back during the good old college days. The days of very low bank balances, much cous cous and even more cheap cider.
I am reminded of this book because my mom was going through my bookshelf to find something to read and found it. Ways of seeing was revolutionary for it’s time it spoke about the inequalities that exist between men and women in 1972.
John Berger opens up his cultural analysis speaking about men and women’s place and purpose in the world, and how they are expected to carry out their place and purpose. More so, it speaks to the different gazes that men and women take on the world, because they are coming from a different place and culturally they (are told to) have a different purpose.
I thought it would be nice to take a break from my own ways of seeing, so I decided to spend an hour thinking about how my cat, Amber Kingston sees the world. Have I lost my mind? I don’t know. Let’s just go with it.
5.00am: On waking, I start my day with a manicure. My humans dislike this practice so I make sure to do this while they sleep. I go to my favourite salon (the side of the couch) and file my nails vigorously to start the day.
6.00am: Aerobics class. Ideally, the bedroom door of one of my humans is open. I chase a pencil or random piece of plastic under the bed. Fun! I hope they wake up, I know they miss me when they are sleeping.
7.00am: It is time for my first Whiskers. I am so hungry after my class. I must eat now. I will make the I’m hungry meow. Meow, meow, meow. Wake up human! I am hungry. If the meows do not work, I mount their chest and show them my new nails. I dig them into their chest for a gentle nudge to feed me. I make sure that I am staring them in the eyes for when they wake up for a fun surprise.
7.15am: Delicious snack. Yum!
10am: Mid-morning snack. I must snake in and out of the human’s leg to let them know that I am starving!
10.05am: Delicious snack. Yum!
Noon: Midday mindfulness. My fringed human is home a lot more. I love it! More rubs and Whiskers as soon as I want it. My other human, always in active wear is not here. I do not miss her, she was always following me around with a camera. I am not on Instagram so I do not know why she insisted on these photographs.
1pm: Lunch! I am so hungry! It has been a busy day! I must activate my strangled meow so that the fringed human knows I must be fed as soon as possible. Meoooooooooow.
2.00pm: Bird-watching. There seems to be far more birds in the garden, it is fantastic. We love to see it. Nature is healing. I will chase the birds, for 30 seconds, then I must rest once again.
3.00pm: It is time to supervise the fringed human. I take my position on the back of the couch. She is watching a show with another fringed human and some male who is wearing a silver chain. They seem to have a complicated relationship. I like the premise but the show needs more cats in the narrative.
4.00pm: That was intense. Two episodes with fringed human and handsome country male in one sitting! Now the active wear obsessed human has somehow contacted the fringed human through the telephone. Her face is on the screen! She needs to do her eyebrows, goodness grief. They are talking, face to face, through the telephone. What witchcraft! Oh christ above, now the active wear human is making noises at me through this technological portal. How degrading! I strut away at once.
5.00pm: Late lunch. The fringed human is listening to a pop culture podcast that she was discussing with the active wear human. The podcast is about books, television and movies. These humans, they need so much to be entertained. Why can they not just take a nap, or scratch the carpet or chase birds. Much more fun, far less complicated!
6.00pm: Fringed human is taking a bath. I must supervise. I take my position and stare at her intently to make sure she knows that I will require my dinner in one hour.
7.00pm: It is time for the dinner notification, I frantically snake in and out of bathed, fringed humans legs. I am so excited, my last Whiskers of the day! This is my favourite one. The wind down whiskers. In controlling your humans, it is very important to appear aloof and distant at all times, so while I am feeling extremely excited, I appear cold and icy.
7.15pm: DELICIOUS DINNER.
7.17pm: I am exhausted and slightly bloated. I do not require affection, I am tired. I will pretend to be asleep infront of the stove for the next two hours to ensure that I am not disturbed. Fringed human reads.
9.15pm: Oh no, I actually need the loo. I will sneakily find my patch in the kitchen. The humans get so angry when I do my business here. Have they no respect? This is my home too.
9.17pm: Ah ha! I got away with that one. Now, it is time to rest.
9.18pm: *The feline paw twitches as she dreams of scratching the couch in the coming hours
Back to the book. For me, Ways of Seeing spoke to equality but it also spoke to a wider theme, a theme of perception. Many coronavirus commentators describe the pandemic as something that is levelling the playing field, something that is putting us all into the same boat. My perception is that this is simply not the case. While we may all be in different stages and phases and roadmap to recovery plans of coronavirus, I believe that there are large groups of us that are obviously not in the same boat.
I fear that I will not see large groups of us entering the same boat in my lifetime. I believe that the murder of George Floyd has highlighted how important it is to recognize our privilege more than ever. I am not just talking about your colour privilege or your gender privilege or your financial privilege or your educational privilege. I am talking about your privilege to feel safe and happy in this world, because now more than ever we are more prone to feeling helpless, and at a loss. I am talking about your privilege to have the ability to view the world through a lens that has not been dirtied by the injustices of the world. I am talking about having the privilege to be able to educate yourself and make a difference in the world, knowing that there are so many people out there who cannot.
I can imagine how my cat sees the world because we’ve been great friends for almost 18 years. I can even try to perceive what she perceives but I am not a cat so I will never know what the world feels like for her. In the same way, I will never know the depth of pain and horror that so many people who are less privileged than me experience.
So, what can we do? We can educate ourselves and try to get into the heads of those less fortunate, because until we understand their ways of seeing, we will never feel motivated enough to make a worthwhile difference. I am not an expert on the topic of racism, but for those who are unsure of what to do right now, I recommend reading the following for a start: 11 Things You Can Do To Help Black Lives Matter End Police Violence
10 things I’m grateful for this week:
- My privilege
- Increased face to face human contact
- Culture call
- Broad city
- Trivial Pursuits
- Google photos
- Palmers cocoa butter
- Strong flat whites
- Google docs
- New notebooks