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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.


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.


Mar. 11th, 2013 01:59 am (UTC)
Women can have the "male gaze" too. Patriarchy, you're soaking in it.

The distinction is the sexualization. When men write testosterone-fueled adventure novels in which they talk about the hero's mighty thews, they're not commenting on how sexy the guy is (unless they are. But that's not the usual approach). They're creating a fantasy for themselves (or their readers) to vicariously embody.

Women can write women this way--the description of the character makes her someone for the female reader to vicariously embody. Or she can simply be eye candy, written the way John Norman might write her. Women are not exempt from absorbing bad tropes, even ones that are harmful to them.

The idea of "sexy women" in advertising can go two ways:

1. "The woman that other women want to be, and men want to be with."

2. "The woman men imagine will fuck them."

The former is sexy and desirable, but also high quality. A man envisions having this beautiful creature around all the time, but also on some level imagines that she might be entertaining when not actively having sex. Most men are not actually simple creatures ruled by their penises, and advertisers targeting a more enlightened demographic try to hit multiple buttons.

Whereas the latter is a woman for a man to fuck and discard. They appear in lowbrow advertising, often in bad beer commercials. They're targeting the demographic of men who have been trained to think of women as a class (with individual exceptions) as sandwich-making orifice systems.
Mar. 12th, 2013 02:38 am (UTC)
I do understand that women can write with male gaze.

My point was that I don't think the counterpoint to "male gaze" (ie female POV written in a specifically bad way) is the female POV written correctly.