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A question about male gaze

Last night, when I was falling asleep at my keyboard and did not want to sleep, I went off to the internet to read about books. (Not my books, though, because that frequently wakes me up in the Bad Way, because - author.)

One of the books was a novel called Stormdancer. It is the first in a series that is set in not-Japan but which makes use of elements of Japanese society in a kind of “this is cool, let’s use this” way. This is a book, according to quotes in reviews, which is firmly anchored in the male gaze.

The protagonist is a woman.

I’ve been thinking about books, written by men, in which women are handled well. Or, to be more specific, in which I think women are handled well. It’s a question I used to be asked while working at the bookstore, and therefore a question I’ve turned over on the inside of my head, time and again.

And this morning, because I am writing and my creative writer brain has slowed, I have returned to this, having spent an evening reading about male gaze.

All of the male authors I’ve recommended or cleared as “writing women well” (Sean Stewart for example) are entirely absent male gaze.

(I once asked Sean Stewart how he handled his women, because he was one of the few male authors whose viewpoint felt so natural to me I would have believed he was a woman if I hadn’t met him, and he said “It’s not magic; I just write about them as if they’re…people.” One of the ways he achieved this, I realize in hindsight, is jettisoning male gaze.)

Male gaze irritates the crap out of me. Most of the women I know who notice their bodies are likely to say “I need to lose weight around my thighs” or “my stomach is so flabby”, so if you really want to write from a female viewpoint, you don’t have your character notice her fabulous perky breasts or creamy skin or etc. Because. Well.


Is there a female gaze that has the same weight, and is irritating or reductionist in the same way? Do male readers feel reduced to uncomfortable margins by female gaze?

I realize that this is a touchy question. I am actually interested in the answer and will accept any answer that is given that does not constitute a personal attack on any other answer that’s given - but I want people to answer without fear of censure.


( 131 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 10th, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
male writers 'handling women well'
Charles deLint is another writer who, in my own works, like women as people and it shows. I actually have you and Tanya Huff to thank for turning me onto Charles many, many, many years ago in Bakka.
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Mar. 10th, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC)
Not being male I don't feel qualified to answer directly, but Sartorias recently did a review on Goodreads of a self-published and quite popular m&m fantasy, which seems to have started in fanfiction - to her it seemed to be titillation for the female gaze - and I think a lot of m&m, whether in manga or in books is expressly written for the female gaze.
Mar. 12th, 2013 04:48 am (UTC)
That was my first thought, actually, to point out M/M fiction.
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Mar. 10th, 2013 09:04 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what you mean by "male gaze." Could you clarify?
Mar. 10th, 2013 09:14 pm (UTC)
“Male gaze” for me is the constant sexualization of female characters and their roles in story. If you’re writing from an ostensibly female view and the first thing you notice is the shape of another woman’s breasts, lips, hips, you are viewing all women in text sexually first.

There are subtler things that for me are evocative of male gaze, but on the face of it, that’s enough to throw me out of a book.

ETA: It doesn’t always throw me out of a book. If the viewpoint is male, for instance. But if you’re writing from a female viewpoint, it often does, because it wrecks my ability to suspend disbelief.

Edited at 2013-03-10 09:47 pm (UTC)
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Mar. 10th, 2013 09:07 pm (UTC)
kateelliott wrote about this a while ago, in particular mentioning a male reader who was absolutely convinced she had a homosexual agenda in her books. Eventually she realized that what he was reading as homosexual was her (deliberate) female gaze upon the male characters as sexually interesting (or not). The reader was so locked into the subconscious idea that only a male could look on someone with sexual attraction that he could only see what she was doing as having a homosexual agenda.

To his credit, Kate said, the *moment* she pointed this out to him, he understood what he'd been doing and restructed his mental stance.

So: yes, I think men can be made uncomfortable by the female gaze, but it doesn't happen all that often.
Mar. 10th, 2013 10:07 pm (UTC)
So, is male gaze just objectification, then? Or rather, is the inverse - female gaze - the same type of objectification, but of men? I’ve been thinking about whether or not there is a female gaze, or perspective, that elides or shuts men out in the same way; if there’s a way of handling male viewpoint that smacks them in the face and makes them throw the book across the room because it so violates the sense of reality.
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Mar. 10th, 2013 09:19 pm (UTC)
I have heard men disparage certain types of romance and fanfic, the way the female writers sexualize the men. Most of the time I ignore them, but I heard it from someone I respected, once, and in the discussion discovered he felt uncomfortable, as if females were unclothing him mentally and finding him wanting because he didn't have long eyelashes, beautiful hair, a lean, sexy body, and the other attributes he kept seeing. (He also comments about feeling uncomfortable with how much physical abuse they put these characters through, yet it seemed the writers were careful to never mar their males' beauty, even after floggings and male rape.)
(no subject) - alleypat - Mar. 10th, 2013 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 10th, 2013 10:11 pm (UTC)
The "female gaze" certainly happens in books, but the most common place for it is in "women's fiction" where the audience is not presumed to be male. The men who avoid women's things on the unquestioned cultural principle of "Why would I, a man, be interested in that?" probably never see it.

This avoidance helps reinforce those men's perception that women aren't actually interested in sex, but are merely willing to put out in exchange for financial security, or perhaps because he is just such a stud, he has overcome her natural female reluctance. You can always identify guys who have no female friends, because they say stupid shit like this.

Women, of course, know better, because we actually talk to other women about sex.

I have had the following conversation:

Guy: Women aren't as interested in sex as men.

Me: Did you miss the part where romance genre represents half of all fiction sales?

Guy: Well, yeah, chicks like romance and love and that crap.

Me: Have you read any of it? Holy shit, dude, a lot of it puts Penthouse Forum to shame.
Mar. 10th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC)
I'll be honest in that I don't really notice female gaze very much in what I read. (Or in what I read when I actually get a chance to read fiction these days.) As for male gaze, it's less and less present in the fiction I read, but I suspect that's more due to having a lot of female authors in my TBR pile than anything else.
Mar. 10th, 2013 10:45 pm (UTC)
As the others have been saying, romance is full of what I think you're referring to as female gaze. The heroines of romance novels are extremely conscious of the heroes' bodies and (mostly) how sexually beautiful they are, and aren't afraid to think about it.

But then I've always thought of romance novels as having a more equal balance of power between the sexes than most fiction, although since it deals almost exclusively with romantic relationships (duh), it doesn't take that balance as far out into the wider world as it should. IMHO.
Mar. 10th, 2013 11:25 pm (UTC)
And, further: I am quite convinced that being viewed as an object is quite disconcerting for heterosexual white men. Not irritating or reductionist, though, and certainly not in the same way. Being viewed as an object (*especially* as a sexual object) is emasculating and threatening to such men. Because of the unfamiliar loss of agency, and because of the concurrent perceived threat of sexual violence and violation.

Edited at 2013-03-10 11:26 pm (UTC)
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:53 am (UTC)
Speaking as a heterosexual white man, I would say, "Not always." It's disconcerting in many, probably most, cases, but there are also times it's flattering or amusing. It all depends on context.

As for emasculating, no. It isn't, not for me. Threatening, maybe sometimes, just because it is so unfamiliar, but I'm over six feet, over two hundred pounds -- I don't find either a lone woman or a single homosexual male to constitute a real threat of sexual violence. I'm well aware this is a luxury 90% or more of women don't have.

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Mar. 10th, 2013 11:27 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I've encountered the female gaze in fiction that often. The closest I might have come might have been Bujold's The Sharing Knife series, during the sections from Fawn's POV. But that's generally brief bits, and from the point of view of a young women just discovering sex could be something to be enjoyed, so it's understandable.*

I've actually used the male gaze deliberately in a couple of my stories, but the protagonist in the first is observing a female deliberately upping her sexual presence as a distraction**. In the second, well the POV character is supposed to be a sexist jerkass to make his eventual fate satisfying to the reader.

* What's a little less forgivable is Dag's taking note of Fawn's breasts while he's in the middle of stopping a rape attempt. I'm not sure what LMB was thinking when she wrote that.

** SPOILER so when he sees her in her true identity, he doesn't recognize her at all. When he meets her the first time that identity, I left the male gaze out.
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:57 am (UTC)
What's a little less forgivable is Dag's taking note of Fawn's breasts while he's in the middle of stopping a rape attempt. I'm not sure what LMB was thinking when she wrote that.

I haven't read the book in question, but I've known guys who notice a woman's breasts in any circumstances whatsoever, no matter how inappropriate, and I suspect Lois has, too. The trick is to not show that one's noticing.
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Mar. 10th, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
I think that there are at least three female gazes
One is towards children, especially babies, infants, and toddlers. Many times women will think that such a person is "cute", "adorable", etc. and oftentimes that thinking is not in any way derived from that young person's personality or uniqueness as an individual, but instead comes from their appearance. Their soft skin, big cheeks or eyes, new infant smell, or similar such attributes. Are these youngsters in any way harmed or made uncomfortable by such attention? I'm no expert, but I would guess not. Still, I think it useful to keep in mind that many females do exhibit this behavior or gaze, that can, in several key ways, be characterized as exactly the same as that which men are so often criticized for.

It can be said that many females look favorably upon youngsters due to biological impulses, but is that not, ultimately, why many men gaze upon females? After air, food, water, and sleep then I think it inarguable that many people are influenced by their sexual drive, which in a fair portion of men translates, consciously or not, as a desire to reproduce. For those men, appearance can answer several key questions, such as, is the female too young or old to bear children? Does she look like she would bear children successfully? It is not at all nice to think upon, but hundreds of thousands of women or infants will still die due to childbirth this year and the percentage must have been much higher thousands of years ago. In such times, was there any sense in "gazing" at women to try to determine the chances that they and/or their children will get through the process successfully? I would say so, that it is a greater kindness to "gaze" than to impregnate a woman and then watch her and/or the infant perish in childbirth. If a woman appears "too thin" then it seems possible evidence that either she or that environment (the land) are not conducive to supporting a baby and that it would be a kindness to wait before trying. It seems logical that such thinking was ingrained into many, and that such impulses are not so easily switched off. Still, many females in recent years have made their displeasure with such thoughts clear and many men, with a varying degree of success, have attempted to comply. However, I do not think that the same is true in reverse and that brings me to the second of the female gaze's.

Females often judge a male by power and wealth and it's trappings. If men should not "gaze" upon a female to assess her attractiveness then how can females claim it acceptable to judge a man by his ability to provide? As with men's gaze's, I doubt that many women think in those terms, but why else would a male's ability to accumulate power, wealth, riches, etc. matter? What do such things *really* have to do with the content of a male's character? If men should not judge women at all by their attractiveness then does not the reverse biological impulse hold true? Should not females everywhere seek to throw off the shackles of these impulses and work to ignore whether or not a male has a job, income, property, nice clothing, etc.? Shouldn't a male who is homeless be considered exactly as viable a potential partner as one who has a mansion, and an adult male who lives at home might perhaps be considered the best potential mate of all, with proof that he holds family in high esteem. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, such has not occurred and judging males by traditional standards has not fallen out of favor, at least by the majority.

Mar. 11th, 2013 01:36 am (UTC)
Re: I think that there are at least three female gazes
Men pursue power and wealth and its trappings not to impress women, but to impress other men. It's not about getting sex; it's about getting admiration and status.

If men really were interested in getting sex, they would read romance novels, or at least Cosmo, and try to learn lessons from them. Either men really suck at research, or "sex" is actually below "status" on the list of things they want.

Status can lead to sex, but guys who wear the power suits aren't doing all that just to get something they could easily pay for. Sex is easy to get. Status, not so much.
Re: I think that there are at least three female gazes - (Anonymous) - Mar. 20th, 2013 03:22 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 10th, 2013 11:39 pm (UTC)
There are many women, especially in my experience those over 30, whose first question is one of "Do you have a job" or "How much money do you make"? Do such questions matter much at all to who I am as a person, whether I'm kind or loyal or thoughtful, etc.? I do not see how, and yet time and time again females seek to judge me first and foremost based on my ability to provide for them and their potential and/or existing offspring. While I certainly understand such thinking, is this not the reverse of the male gaze? Many males gaze at females to assess their ability to bear healthy infants and many females gaze at males to assess their ability to provide, even if we know not exactly why we assess. If this is true, then should not we condemn this female gaze with the same passion that we do the male one?

Further, one thing that puzzles me is that many females who decry the male gaze continue to put stock in a variety of things to enhance their attractiveness. If females should not be judged by their looks, then what need for makeup, jewelry, clothing that matches and is clean (to say nothing of greater finery), hair that is washed or brushed, the removal of hair from face or body, etc.? The need for a certain amount of washing of hair, body, face and clothing is necessary to prevent disease, but beyond that, why do more if the desire to be judged by attractiveness is considered a negative that needs be done away with?

The third female gaze would be judging males by their physical attributes, and I have seen evidence of this. Personally, I have seen females react favorably to me in the past based upon my looks, with a rare few even going so far as to pat, stroke or pinch my bottom, and sometimes continue to do so even after I've asked them to stop. Generally, why else would some women celebrate shirtless men, or men's posteriors, if there was not some interest in their attractiveness? I think that females, generally speaking, are less interested in appearance than are males and also hide it better in person, but I do not believe that such impulses are absent and to the extent that they exist then I do believe that they constitute another female gaze.
Mar. 11th, 2013 12:39 am (UTC)
Re: continued
So many possible responses to this.

When I was discussing this with my husband, he said “power and status” are the equivalent of male gaze for women.

I pointed out that the male-centric things I read: comics, books with male-gaze that are clearly written entirely *for* male readership - the male protagonists & their circle of friends are pretty much the same: they have power, status, are usually the Very Best at what they do; they just think a lot about sex when women are involved, and never anything else about women. They have their circle of losers, of invisible men - but it’s to my mind the same circle as what you are now calling the female gaze.

So...to me the power and status thing can’t intrinsically be *about* the female gaze if in the estimation of men who aren’t writing for women the same things count. The difference to my mind is that in books that are written with women in mind, those men actually want love as well as sex.

ETA: He thought about this for less than a minute and then said: you’re right; it’s not exclusively a female attribution, so it can’t be attributed to female gaze.

Edited at 2013-03-11 12:40 am (UTC)
I have to think about this further - alwaysoptimistc - Mar. 11th, 2013 01:19 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I have to think about this further - lyssabits - Mar. 11th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I have to think about this further - msagara - Mar. 11th, 2013 06:22 am (UTC) - Expand
It's definitely important to consider - alwaysoptimistc - Mar. 12th, 2013 12:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I have to think about this further - barbarienne - Mar. 11th, 2013 02:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Thank you for the advice - alwaysoptimistc - Mar. 12th, 2013 12:37 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: continued - msagara - Mar. 11th, 2013 12:52 am (UTC) - Expand
That absolutely makes sense - alwaysoptimistc - Mar. 12th, 2013 01:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: continued - barbarienne - Mar. 11th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC) - Expand
A date - alwaysoptimistc - Mar. 12th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2013 12:24 am (UTC)
(I once asked Sean Stewart how he handled his women, because he was one of the few male authors whose viewpoint felt so natural to me I would have believed he was a woman if I hadn’t met him, and he said “It’s not magic; I just write about them as if they’re…people.” One of the ways he achieved this, I realize in hindsight, is jettisoning male gaze.)

I remember when I discovered Sean Stewart, I read Mockingbird, oh, maybe eight years ago now? And I felt like underlining the whole thing in red pen, with the note, "YES, THIS." He writes women so well, and until I read Mockingbird I hadn't realised just how different it felt to read women written that way, because I'd never read anything like it. All the other authors I'd ever read wrote a version of women as viewed by men.
Mar. 11th, 2013 12:57 am (UTC)
He wrote Clouds End, which is possibly the definitive feminine coming-of-age story for me. You could have told me he was a woman and I would have absolutely believed it.
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Mar. 11th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
So basically, if I were to write stories with characters who are people and I don't spend a lot of time on what they look like, I would be avoiding this male or female gaze thing? Or is there more to it?
Mar. 11th, 2013 12:56 am (UTC)
I think there’s more to it. There’s a sexualized way of describing things; specific physical traits are by default sexualized. I think you can describe someone physically without sexualizing them.
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Mar. 11th, 2013 01:40 am (UTC)
There's a disconnect I'm noticing in the discussion here that's interesting, assuming I'm seeing it correctly. "Male gaze" often involves 1) men writing women but 2) having the women describe themselves as the men would see them (boobs, butt, and hair, basically).

But the "Female gaze" keeps getting described as 1) women writing women who 2) judge the sexiness of male characters.

I would think a closer analogy would be a woman having a male POV character think about his "lion-like tresses and strong hands," or some such nonsense.

I've certainly read my share of unconvincing guys-written-by-women, but I'm not smart enough (apparently) to spot a pattern or trend to it.
Mar. 11th, 2013 01:59 am (UTC)
Women can have the "male gaze" too. Patriarchy, you're soaking in it.

The distinction is the sexualization. When men write testosterone-fueled adventure novels in which they talk about the hero's mighty thews, they're not commenting on how sexy the guy is (unless they are. But that's not the usual approach). They're creating a fantasy for themselves (or their readers) to vicariously embody.

Women can write women this way--the description of the character makes her someone for the female reader to vicariously embody. Or she can simply be eye candy, written the way John Norman might write her. Women are not exempt from absorbing bad tropes, even ones that are harmful to them.

The idea of "sexy women" in advertising can go two ways:

1. "The woman that other women want to be, and men want to be with."

2. "The woman men imagine will fuck them."

The former is sexy and desirable, but also high quality. A man envisions having this beautiful creature around all the time, but also on some level imagines that she might be entertaining when not actively having sex. Most men are not actually simple creatures ruled by their penises, and advertisers targeting a more enlightened demographic try to hit multiple buttons.

Whereas the latter is a woman for a man to fuck and discard. They appear in lowbrow advertising, often in bad beer commercials. They're targeting the demographic of men who have been trained to think of women as a class (with individual exceptions) as sandwich-making orifice systems.
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Mar. 11th, 2013 04:48 am (UTC)
Male gaze/female gaze
I've been mulling over your post off and on since I read it hours ago which isn't surprising since I do the same mulling over your books. I think an objectifying female gaze, just as dehumanizing and just as prevalent, as the male gaze. Soft porn romance novels are built around the Janus face of the male gaze. Unless boys are raised by mothers who value them first as people, secondly as boys, they are culturally conditioned to believe they should like, even want, to be seen as sex objects. (I did not mean to leave fathers out. I was thinking about raising my son as a single parent and the comments he's made and the situations we faced over the years.) Feminism raised women's consciousness about the dehumanizing consequences of the male gaze. I thought then, and I think now, we didn't do nearly enough to try to liberate boys and men. We are humans first, women and men second. What harms men, harms women. What harms women, harms men. Praise be what benefits one, benefits the other as well. I have a very strong hunch a male writer who creates believable female characters has been treated like a worthwhile human being by important women in his family. And the important men. And I doubt a female writer who was valued in the same way reduces male charaters to beefcake. I know I'm generalizing. It would take a novella not to.
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:07 am (UTC)
The post got stuck. It would not let me edit. Does anyone else encounter this problem? Or am I destined to encounter tech weirdness out in the the tech challenged wilderness by my lonesome? My friend's husband, not a fanciful man, says I have reverse polarity, so live with it. I really don't like sending out unedited...well, anything. And I know what I once would have said to my students. "Oh, sure you couldn't edit your writing. The computer wouldn't let you. To say nothing of the dog". Now I would shake my head in commiseration.At least the foul up put an end to the urge I had to produce that novella.
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:16 am (UTC)
A question
Since my nose is usually in a book or my hand holding a Flair pen, I am, obviously, not tech savy. I didn't intend to go nameless. Did I do, or not do, something to remove my name?
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:18 am (UTC)
Re: A question
If you didn’t log in via OpenID, Facebook, or LJ, and you didn’t add your name as a text bit at the end, your name won’t show up. I don’t actually have the power to edit other people’s posts--I can delete them or make them invisible, but I can’t change anything that’s posted beyond that.
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:31 am (UTC)
I think a lot about female fantasy-males, since I read m/m manga and fanfiction, though it's more pure projection and less objectification alone when women writers do it. I think women fantasize about the inner world of men and boys and imagine it to be a reflection of their dreams and of themselves. So men swoon in love, cry, worry they're unlovable, suffer rape and just want to be loved. There are varying degrees of attention to 'realism', but a lot of desire to see men and boys as speaking women's language and sharing women's needs. There are many mangas with boys that have self-image or body issues ('cause they're short or too girly), etc. Sometimes the fantasy is the opposite and both guys are unashamed and masculine, and there's a sense women use men's pov to explore ideas of agency and sexual freedom that they themselves relate to most (usually the pov is not dominant). Gay guys are often irritated by the sense their sexuality being appropriated and hetero-normaticized; some girls go over-the-top fangirling the idea of gayness in males, like they're boybands-- safe but pretty-- except boybands sign up for it.

You can tell it's female-brand males in shoujo/yaoi manga and some fanfiction; they're sensitive, romantic, fixated on their relationships, prone to angsty pain, etc. I guess some guys may feel this is worse, in a way-- if men want to own women's bodies, women go for the souls.

Mar. 11th, 2013 05:40 am (UTC)
I don't see it as worse, and I'd think any guy who does is not aware just how demeaning the male gaze can be -- at least these fantasy males have souls to steal.

Mostly, the males in slash fiction or girl-targeted manga I've read just seem silly.
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Mar. 11th, 2013 12:00 pm (UTC)
What I have heard men say they feel reduced to uncomfortable margins by is "so much discussion of feelings".
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:57 pm (UTC)
Personally, I think that's silly, too.
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Mar. 11th, 2013 12:15 pm (UTC)
In my mind there's a sharp distinction between "the male gaze" and "a (specific) man's gaze" -- the male gaze being about the omnipresent stew of background assumptions that says there is a certain proper way of looking at the world (esp. women), certain attributes that matter, and a certain idealized (stereotyped) hypothetical male viewer that's always present and looking over everyone's shoulder. So it also includes the way women worry about their appearance in a way that men don't, even when there's no-one there to see, and the way I as a man find myself noticing breasts and butts *even though* they aren't actually things that affect attraction for me that much, and in situations where attraction is otherwise out-of-frame anyway.

Personally I find (well-written) woman POVs interesting and refreshing! But they're very different than what I think of as the male gaze. (Heck, I'm pretty sure there are well-written male POVs that largely avoid what I mean by male gaze, and those are refreshing too.[1]) I'm not even sure what the female gaze analogue of (this kind of) male gaze would be. We just don't have those same homogenized cultural rules about "this is THE WAY women view the world" that we do for men, and to the extent we do, there isn't the same oppressive insistence that they are always relevant in every situation.

Even in romance novels, where you'd expect the female gaze to be in full force, IME they're still almost always very careful to explain how stereotypically beautiful the female lead is, including the weird toxic arbitrary beauty markers like fairness of skin and slenderness. Even when the audience is assumed to be identifying with this character rather than looking at her, it's important to clarify how she appears to the hypothetical male... and it's still important even if the author is also, at the same time, being careful to make clear that the particular male lead doesn't really care about all that and is much more attracted to her mind, skills, way with words, etc.)

[1] shwetanarayan suggests Ben Aaronovitch as a good example of a writer who does this.
Mar. 11th, 2013 06:06 pm (UTC)
But they're very different than what I think of as the male gaze.

Is there anything about it that throws you out of a book?

I can accept male gaze in a male viewpoint. It doesn’t make me *like* the viewpoint, and it doesn’t make the viewpoint sympathetic to me, but it feels authentic. And frankly, if I couldn’t tolerate it, I would never have been a comic book reader or a genre reader in my youth.

I just have difficulty with a female character whose viewpoint is entirely set in that gaze.
Mar. 11th, 2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
I'm continuing from the Twitter conversation we were having, because I don't want to blow up anyone's @ mentions.

I think that, personally, it's more difficult for me to spot male gaze in text because the vast majority of books I read are written by women. I mean, I have read a few books in which women describe themselves in ways that I felt were rather skeevy, but that was used mostly when the women were trying to analyze why the men in their lives found them attractive (The Anita Blake books are the ones that spring to mind). Most of the books written by men are through the eyes of a male protagonist, like The Dresden Files.

I do find that male gaze is more than simply objectification, however. I've seen and heard about reviews of books that complain that the female lead is "too powerful" or "a Mary Sue," simply for having the abilities and initiative that make her the main character of her own story. I'm not sure if I've seen quite the same discussion of male characters. What really bothered me there was that many of the people complaining that female leads were Mary Sues were women themselves. I couldn't help but wonder if the character really was too powerful, or if our culture is simply too unaccustomed to seeing women as characters of power, even within their own stories.

It bothers me that men can talk about being uncomfortable with stories that sexualize men or detail their attractiveness, yet fail to see why such things would make women uncomfortable. But I think that's a huge part of what keeps the idea of the "male gaze" going -- People have gotten so accustomed to seeing it as the default setting or view that most don't even think about it until it's not there anymore. Of course, there is also the idea most people have that women don't think of men in physical terms in the same way men think about women, but I think this is also part of what fuels male gaze: the belief that women don't "need" fanservice the way men might, because women don't want sex the way men do.

I feel like my analysis is probably rather shallow, but I think I'd need a lot more time, effort, and coffee to break down this topic as much as I would like to.

Which male authors do you feel write women well?
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:58 pm (UTC)
I've seen and heard about reviews of books that complain that the female lead is "too powerful" or "a Mary Sue," simply for having the abilities and initiative that make her the main character of her own story. I'm not sure if I've seen quite the same discussion of male characters.

I hate that phrase. It generally appears to be used as a substitute for “female protag I can’t stand”. I understand what the roots of the phrase were, but it‘s used frequently to characterize practically any woman with agency and competence.

I have, however, seen it applied to male characters (Qvothe, in Rothfuss’ series - a series I adore like a crazy person - is often called a Mary Sue, which makes me crazy in an entirely different way). In both cases, the phrase was used by women - so I don’t think they’re just running female characters down.

I’m certain men use it as well. I think it’s lazy.

When I am getting frustrated in my attempts to explain what objectification is, I sometimes point out an on-line exchange between people who said they were both college age. An argument about the use of the word ‘gay’ started the exchange, but this is what ended it:

Man: Look, I don’t care if homosexuals exist, as long as none of them ever hit on me!

Woman: Look, *I* don’t care if heterosexual men exist, as long as none of them ever hit on me! Oh, wait...

She then went on to point out that sexual interest from a man was threatening because he was afraid, at heart, that he would be treated like a woman. “Welcome,” she added, “To the lives of over half the planet. You think we enjoy it? You talk about killing any guy who tries to hit on you. You think it’s any easier for us?”

And that pretty much ended that, because it really made the guy think. The *assumption* is that men are pressured to make the first move and that therefore women look at it as natural, and even flattering. His own response made clear that unwelcome attention would not be flattering - it would be threatening. He could then map the female reaction to unwanted male sexual attention onto - his own.

I don’t think female sexual interest is equivalent; I don’t think it’s objectifying in the same way. I think it *can* be, but I think the social default isn’t.

Two of the people mentioned in this thread already are the two I most frequently recommended at the store in the early years. Charles de Lint and Sean Stewart pretty much across the board; they both write from female PoVs quite frequently.

There are a number of authors that don’t throw me out of a book, although they don’t write in female viewpoint. Patrick Rothfuss, for instance.

But for me as a reader, it’s “can I identify with anyone in this book”, so I think about it only after the fact. I thought Richard Morgan’s female police officer in Black Man worked. I haven’t read everything else he’s done. I found Alan Moore’s Promethea worked very strongly, but it’s very earthy and women are, well, everything. I thought the ending was not successful.

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Mar. 12th, 2013 02:10 am (UTC)
I have seen people comment that there were a couple of moments in the recent Marvel movies that were specific fanservice for those desiring male bodies, and specifically women in the context: both _Thor_ and _Captain America_ had almost-identical moments where the male leads are shirtless and the female leads give them a very obvious and admiring up-and-down look.

Those didn't actually register for me in the least, but the gratuitous shots of women in bikinis in _Burn Notice_, with never a shot of guys in Speedos to be seen, drove me up a WALL with how default-male-gaze they were. So maybe irritation pings for me more. =>

(Edit: but it's easier for me to notice male gaze in visual media as well, possibly because I am a fairly non-visual reader and possibly because of the pervasiveness of it. Or both. I definitely prefer to read sex scenes that are written for an audience of (mostly) women, however.)

Edited at 2013-03-12 02:15 am (UTC)
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