“To be born a woman has to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women is developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split into two. 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 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….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.”
― John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Artistic creativity offers women an escape from the self-objectifying bind. The act of making or inventing emphatically asserts a woman’s autonomy, her existence as a subject, not an object. When a woman is creating — writing, making art, composing — it is most unlikely that she is giving any thought to what she looks like to any real or imagined observer. (Things get more complicated, obviously, in the area of creative performance, such as dance; I’m only talking about non-performative creation.) Her self, while she is engaged in this work, is not split. The work is the object, and she surveys it.