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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

alwaysoptimistc
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.

...continued....
barbarienne
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.
mtlawson
Mar. 11th, 2013 01:51 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.

I don't believe things are ever that simple. Perhaps for some people they are, but I know enough people who do what they do merely because they like completing things in as elegant a fashion as possible that I don't believe that this can be that generic.

Then again, I work in IT and have a degree in the sciences, so that might skew things a bit.
barbarienne
Mar. 11th, 2013 02:13 am (UTC)
Re: I think that there are at least three female gazes
You are of course correct: people do things for a lot of different reasons. My point was, men who are all "Look at my big house! Look at my expensive suit! Look at my fancy car!" are just as likely doing it to show off for other men, not for women.

Unless, you know, they like the sort of women who are attracted by fancy duds or a car or whatever. Which seems stupid to me, but different people have different goals and needs.

Edited at 2013-03-11 02:14 am (UTC)
mtlawson
Mar. 11th, 2013 11:59 am (UTC)
Re: I think that there are at least three female gazes
It that situation, definitely. They remind me of family Christmas letters that read read like a bunch of sales receipts.
alwaysoptimistc
Mar. 12th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
Re: I think that there is truth in what you say
That one reason for pursuing wealth and power is to impress other men, but I think that at the same time they can be trying to impress women and also very possibly using such elements to bolster their own egos.

As to romance novels, Cosmo, etc. then that's possible, but based on my experience with other men I have mostly had the impression that men think that what women (especially many younger women) say they want and what they actually do want differ enough as to make trying to "study" women either useless or counterproductive. Being "appropriately" honorable, respectful, etc. can quickly lead to being classified as a friend while the woman moves on to that bad boy who is oh so wrong but with just a few changes can be the perfect man. Besides, men are often given the impression that they are supposed to be confident and imo it's true that projecting a fair bit of confidence will get you farther than trying to memorize a lot of books or tips for how to woo a potential love interest.

Sex can be easy to get, though sex with the person that you really want can sometimes be quite a bit harder. But status of course will often help and it's likely that men who are working to achieve that are doing so for multiple reasons.
houseboatonstyx
May. 16th, 2014 07:32 pm (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.
....
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.


I'm a year late and just cherry-skimming the comments, but I can't resist. I've occasionally been a mirror image of this. One reason for wanting a power-suit man ... or a tall handsome one ... is to impress other women. A trophy male.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 20th, 2013 03:22 am (UTC)
Re: I think that there are at least three female gazes
You rock man! go you!