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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. 11th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)
Re: continued
Women over 30 don't ask what a man does for a living because they're thinking Can he provide for me? The older a woman is, the less likely that is her question, because unless she's living at home being supported by her parents, she has probably already figured out how to provide for herself.

I earn a good living, more than the national average. But I want to know if prospective beaus are employed, and how steadily, for the following reasons:

1. Does his job tell me something about who he is? A teacher, a plumber, a gardener, an emergency-room nurse-- A job does not define a person, but it's a reasonable starting point for follow-up questions.

2. If he's not dependably employed, why is that? Is he a writer who supports himself by bartending while trying to sell a novel? If so, does he pursue his art for real, or does he just fart around endlessly rewriting the first three chapters, and spend the rest of his time on the sofa in his underwear watching TV?

A mature woman knows what she hopes her life will be, and she doesn't have a lot of time to do the "we pursue our careers together" thing. A man who can support himself won't be a drag on the life she has spent the past decade-plus building for herself.
alwaysoptimistc
Mar. 12th, 2013 01:25 am (UTC)
I can certainly respect your reasoning
Though imo there are many women out there and some (huge emphasis on only some) are quite interested in being taken care of. Also, I apologize if this was not clearer, but the incident I was most thinking of involved a stranger who approached me in a supermarket. We weren't on a date or anything like that. After an introduction and probably some small talk I can very much understand this being a good first date question, you have some great reasoning that I don't dispute. But I do think that it's best not to put the cart before the horse and use "How much money do you make" as an opening line. Also, I really prefer an emphasis on career rather than dollar amount, but perhaps that's just an individual preference.
shoaling_souls
Mar. 12th, 2013 09:21 am (UTC)
Re: I can certainly respect your reasoning
Did she approach you in a supermarket for a date or were the two of you standing in line together and she struck up a friendly conversation to kill the time? "What do you do?" is a pretty standard small talk line between strangers.
alwaysoptimistc
Mar. 12th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC)
A date
After I answered then the next words that she uttered were to ask me out. I've definitely experienced the "What do you do?" conversation many times and this wasn't like that. There's definitely a difference imo in the directness and approach between someone being friendly and someone looking you up and down as if they're thinking of making a purchase but having little or no interest in small talk.