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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

jeriendhal
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.
lwe
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.
msagara
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:21 am (UTC)
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.

I think you can also notice and feel somewhat ashamed of what you’re noticing in the situation. There are multiple ways of handling something like that that don’t normalize it but do acknowledge it. I think.
jeriendhal
Mar. 11th, 2013 09:38 am (UTC)
Well the prose was a bit purple under the circumstances.

Absent gods, was that a child they were pinning to the dirt?... (CUT)...A flash of sweet breasts like apples smote Dag's eyes.

This is from a guy who hasn't had sex for twenty years. And has a deserved reputation for being excessively laconic.