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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

barbarienne
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.