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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.

But…

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.

Comments

autopope
Mar. 10th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
Importantly: male gaze comes with an unspoken but assumed power imbalance between watcher and watched; it's part of the whole patriarchal thing, the assumed superiority/importance of the male perspective. So a female gaze directed at women doesn't bear the same onerous freight of social power.
lwe
Mar. 10th, 2013 10:28 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure exactly how this fits, but it seems relevant here -- M. J. Engh's Arslan got great reviews, so I read it, and while there were parts of it I enjoyed, fairly early I was thrown out of the story completely because the viewpoint character is supposed to be an adolescent male, and speaking as someone who was an adolescent male once, and who has known lots of others, I can tell you that the character was not an adolescent male. Didn't think, act, or emote like one. Best case I can make was that the character was transgender and didn't realize it yet; even the gay guys I've known never thought like that.

But girls did. I concluded that Engh was female long before I found out M.J. stands for Mary Jane.

So it may well be that in fact this was an example of the female gaze gone wrong.

Incidentally, I've seen female authors writing adolescent males get it right more often than not, so it's not a common problem.
msagara
Mar. 11th, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
I'm not sure exactly how this fits, but it seems relevant here

It does fit, in the sense that it is something that strikes you as wrong enough it throws you out of the book.
sartorias
Mar. 11th, 2013 02:51 am (UTC)
Actually, I was thrown out of it for the very same reason.
lwe
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:45 am (UTC)
I'm glad to know I'm not the only one.