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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. 12th, 2013 01:24 am (UTC)
I'm generally reading from such a privileged position that I'm not sure I would actually recognize female gaze as a thing, which sort of answers your question right there.

But I've read some gay male erotica written by women, which I think is fairly likely to represent the female gaze to at least some extent, and hmm. I didn't find it irritating or reductionist in any way that felt personal or upsetting. I did think that all the male characters in the story fell into a rather small handful of types, and I couldn't identify with any of them, which I suspect is part of the female reaction to female characters portrayed with male gaze. But my brain sorted that into the "amusing tropes of gay romance literature" bucket, not the "exploitative" bucket. (And, for that matter, in those stories, all the female characters also seem to fall into a small handful of types, so this may be more due to the lack of good characterization in most erotica than anything else.)

As a heterosexual man, I find sex scenes involving men written from female gaze (if I'm recognizing it correctly) to be less interesting than other types of sex scenes, but that's purely because the author isn't focusing on what I would focus on for such a scene to be erotic to me. And what's erotic is so personal and so difficult to predict anyway that having erotica miss is hardly an unusual experience. For nearly all of what I read, such scenes are such a vanishingly small part of the overall work and so far from the reason why I'm reading the work that it doesn't make much difference.

It's not like it's difficult to find erotica geared towards heterosexual men if I want to read such a thing. I have very little interest in books going out of their way to provide me with more of such a thing at the cost of more creative and unusual directions!

In general, I often read to be exposed to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. That's one of the reasons why I like SF. Seeing the world through female gaze is certainly a new way of looking at the world from how I normally look at it, so from that angle I'd like to see more of it.
Mar. 12th, 2013 07:33 pm (UTC)
I just had an interesting conversation with my (male) partner about this.

Apparently, at least some of the male gaze might be simply coming about as a reflection of the male experience. That is, they assume women really are *that* aware of their own breasts, simply because men in general are *that* aware of their own male genitalia on a fairly consistent basis, and can also be *that* aware of their own musculature and appearance as well.

Apparently it doesn't occur to them that we wear bras for a reason. :-)

(I should note that, long before I ever met my partner, I read a short story he'd written, from a female point of view, and was shocked to find out he was male. I'd decided then that I'd enjoy meeting him and that he'd probably be very interesting. Turns out I was right! And yes, Charles de Lint is one of his favorite authors, too.)
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