Being Watched


“The only thing that Orwell failed to predict was that we would install the telescreens ourselves and that our biggest fear is that no one would be watching.”


Our children’s insecurities are mounting, magnified in part by their use of social media. They fish and maneuver for compliments and reassurances in the forms of “likes” and “followers.” They grow more and more comfortable spinning and marketing themselves. They remain ever-vigilant for feedback. They spend their precious days ruminating over getting their words just right, or their picture “flawless;” desperately needing others to see them as they most want to be seen.

I once read, “Men watch women and women watch themselves being watched.” This pierced me all the way through the first time I read it in ways that are not easy to articulate. Suffice to say, it spoke directly, acutely, and poignantly to my experience of growing up female in this culture.

I know what it is to watch myself being watched. To watch myself being watched through the eyes of a culture whose expectations, standards, images, accepted behaviors and social norms, of and for a woman, are degrading, disrespectful and dehumanizing. I know what it is to watch myself through the eyes of misogyny that is candy coated in layers of denials, justifications, and projections, and then rolled out as something I should want, even count myself lucky to be on the receiving end of.

For too many years, it left me unnaturally oriented to and even “at home” with being watched in all the wrong ways. It left me at home with being seen in ways that shattered my spirit, denigrated my sense of self, and sacrificed any ease or well-being I might have experienced in my female body. It taught me that my very existence, my right to be here, to be loved and appreciated, was conditional, always, upon what another saw in me. Men most especially. It felt to me like what they saw in me and wanted from me was who I was, and who I needed to be. Whether that was good for me or not. And whether what they saw was true or not.

It felt like all that it would take for me to be banished or reduced down to nothing, was one bad picture of me posted for all to see. A picture deemed so hideous in the eyes of another that it could only mean that that was the truth of me. Because of this, part of me could never, ever stop checking. Could never, ever stop posing and positioning myself in ways that I believed others would like. It felt as though my very existence depended on me knowing precisely what others wanted of me. I worked very, very hard to line up with this.

After I had been doing this long enough, all of the monitoring and the feedback that I had been receiving from outside of me, got installed inside of me. It felt necessary to my survival. I did not trust myself; only those watching me. I did not see myself as separate from being watched. To do this would have required me knowing that I was not what others saw. Since I did not possess that knowing, well, it was anybody’s game. Except mine. It is deeply disturbing to witness how much a woman will go against herself when she is wedded to watching herself being watched; bound by what they “see.”

What is it doing to our children to grow up needing to be watched to feel as though they deserve to exist?