(It's been a while since I've posted anything. But now I'm back to writing regularly, which feels great.)
From John Berger's Way of Seeing:
This is my attempt to understand women; in the process, it's given me a possibly deeper understanding of "otherness".
“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.”
When you are a white, heterosexual male, chances are you don't walk around feeling like you're being watched, observed, or looked at. When you look in the mirror, you see some approximation of yourself. This freedom frees the white, heterosexual male to observe the world without fearing it. Of course, there are exceptions, but this appears to be the default.
When you are a woman, or brown, or gay, there's a different dynamic at play.
You look in the mirror, and you don't just see yourself. You see something to be beholden. You are primarily an object of someone else's vision.
How does this happen? It starts the first time you walk through an airport security check and realize you're being treated differently than others. It starts when you and your friends are going out in the city and get catcalled and followed by a group of men. It starts with one cop pulling you over for a rolling stop at a stop sign, or a loved one looking at you weird for how you dress, or an epithet screamed out of the window of a passing vehicle.
So when you look in the mirror, you aren't even gazing at yourself with your own eyes. It's a bit dissociative where your gaze becomes the gaze of the person who will be looking at you.
The strange thing that happens is that, over time, you may begin to similarly objectify anyone who looks like you. When you see your own "kind", you instinctively objectify because that's what you do to yourself. It creates this weird self-limiting behavior at the scale of entire communities - blacks/browns/women all judging the hell out of each other silently and then feeling judged silently by their own. It's why we see our own "kind" giving us side-eye, but then we realize we're very unconsciously doing the same thing to them. And if we aren't careful with our sense of self, we very naturally conform or force others to conform to a narrow set of expectations.
Meanwhile, observe a random white dude walking by on the street- he has the freedom to blend into the background. He isn't regularly the object of anyone's constant eye, especially not yours, and so you can choose to see or not see him, it won't matter much to him. (Of course, this dynamic flips to some degree when the same white dude finds himself in Japan or in Zambia.)
When you're so conditioned to the feeling of being looked at, you change the way you behave, and you change the way you view yourself. This all happens so subconsciously that either you're actively fighting/overcoming it, or you're passively succumbing to it.