Posted inOxford News

No context notes on smashing the patriarchy

Title image illustration by Ben Beechener

Collected by KL Winters with illustrations by Toni Fern, Dali Dunn, Gaia Clark Nevola, Daisy Day Fawcett and Lili Herbert. 

Vigil – a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray

Vigilant – keenly watchful to detect danger; wary; ever awake and alert; sleeplessly watchful

“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 others, and ultimately 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 […] Thus, she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” 

John Berger (contemporary British art critic)

and have not we affections,

Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?

Then let them use us well: else let them know,

The ills we do, their ills instruct us so” 

Emilia (character in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’)

I never look behind all the time

I will wait forever

Always looking straight

Thinking, counting all the hours you wait

Grimes (contemporary Canadian musician)

I’m a dynasty

The pain in my vein is hereditary […]

Won’t you break the chain with me?

Rina Sawayama (contemporary British-Japanese musician)

“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity”, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”

John Berger (contemporary British art critic)

It is we who continually create sin with our sickly imagination, and then invent laws to make it more comfortable. It is our imagination that needs to be healed

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman’s presence . . . defines what can and cannot be done to her. 

John Berger (contemporary British art critic)

I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will. I could use it to run, push buttons, of one sort or another, make things happen. There were limits but my body was nevertheless lithe, single, solid, one with me…  now the flesh arranges itself differently […] It transits, pauses, continues on and passes out of sight, and I see despair coming towards me like famine. To feel that empty, again, again. I listen to my heart, wave upon wave, salty and red, continuing on and on, marking time.” 

Offred (narrator of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’)

Woman, then, stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of a woman still tied to her place as the bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.

 Laura Mulvey (contemporary British film theorist)

The spectacle is a social relation between people that is mediated by an accumulation of images that serve to alienate us from a genuinely lived life. 

Guy Debord (20th century French philosopher)

A woman’s work

A woman’s prerogative

A woman’s time to embrace

She must put herself first

FKA twigs (contemporary British musician)

I’m going to smile, and my smile will sink down into your pupils, and heaven knows what it will become. […] Hell is — other people!

Estelle and Garcin (characters in Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘No Exit’)

Perhaps she allowed him to photograph her gaze because she trusted him. Perhaps he abused her trust, perhaps not. […] Theories of the gaze attempt to address the consequences of that looking. Sometimes, however, it is important to look at ourselves looking.

Margaret Olin (contemporary American research scholar)

Dreams have a terrible will to power and each one of us is a victim to the other’s dreams. Beware of the other’s dreams, because if you are caught in the other’s dreams you are done for! 

– Gilles Deleuze (20th century French philosopher)

It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. 

W.E.B. Du Bois (20th century American sociologist)

Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now. We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantly: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. 

Offred (narrator of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’)

Human beings are magical. Bios and Logos. Words made flesh, muscle and bone animated by hope an desire, belief materialised in deeds, deeds which crystalise our actualities […] And the maps of spring always have to be redrawn again, in undared forms. 

Sylvia Wynter (contemporary Jamaican novelist)


Mr Cogito never 

trusted tricks of the imagination […]

Mr Cogito’s imagination

Has the motion of a pendulum

It crosses with precision 

From suffering to suffering

There is no place in it 

For the artificial fires of poetry

He would like to remain faithful

To uncertain clarity. 

– Zbigniew Herbert (contemporary Polish poet)

People have to be atomized and segregated and alone. They’re not supposed to organise, because then they might be something beyond spectators of action. They might actually be participants if many people with limited resources could get together to enter the political arena. That’s really threatening.

Noam Chomsky (contemporary American linguist)