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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

lwe
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:53 am (UTC)
Speaking as a heterosexual white man, I would say, "Not always." It's disconcerting in many, probably most, cases, but there are also times it's flattering or amusing. It all depends on context.

As for emasculating, no. It isn't, not for me. Threatening, maybe sometimes, just because it is so unfamiliar, but I'm over six feet, over two hundred pounds -- I don't find either a lone woman or a single homosexual male to constitute a real threat of sexual violence. I'm well aware this is a luxury 90% or more of women don't have.

pantryslut
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:09 am (UTC)
Dude. I am speaking of white heterosexual men as a class, not as individuals. You can be a special snowflake if you like, but it's not relevant here.
msagara
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:14 am (UTC)
Dude. I am speaking of white heterosexual men as a class, not as individuals. You can be a special snowflake if you like, but it's not relevant here.

I’m not sure you can talk about them as a class using this generalization, though - my husband’s general thought is that white, het males generally find sexual interest flattering, and therefore a show of sexual interest to women--from an entirely male perspective, is somehow also meant as flattery. He realizes that it is not often taken that way by the women in question, but still feels that most men don’t consider it threatening or objectifying unless it comes from other men.

Also, I don’t think special snowflake is fair in this case. I specifically said in the OP that I would welcome any response which was not a personal attack against any other response, and LWE’s response was not a personal attack.
pantryslut
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:21 am (UTC)
It was, however, a case of "I will dismiss your argument with anecdata." Not relevant.

And see above about how a sexual gaze -- looking upon a man as a sexual object -- will often be assumed to be homoerotic unless specifically marked out as otherwise, and *then* it becomes "safe." IOW I was specifically NOT talking about a presumed "female gaze" in my original comment.
msagara
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:28 am (UTC)
It was, however, a case of "I will dismiss your argument with anecdata." Not relevant.

Um, your argument was:

And, further: I am quite convinced that being viewed as an object is quite disconcerting for heterosexual white men. Not irritating or reductionist, though, and certainly not in the same way. Being viewed as an object (*especially* as a sexual object) is emasculating and threatening to such men. Because of the unfamiliar loss of agency, and because of the concurrent perceived threat of sexual violence and violation.

And it is opinion that is also not backed up with data. He wasn’t asking for (or demanding) data from you as support for the validity of your opinion; he assumed--as I did--that you were offering your opinion. I might be missing something, but his reply did not seem to me to be dismissive - whereas yours basically said he had no place in the conversation. It is possible that he has no place in your opinion - but again, I opened the OP with the stated intent that this be a place where non-personal attack responses would be treated without censure.
pantryslut
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:40 am (UTC)
Look. If you can't structurally see that "well, speaking as a heterosexual man, my personal experience trumps your analysis" isn't a case of opinion vs. opinion, then there's no point in having this discussion at all. I'm not going to do your homework for you, but mine is not just an opinion. Go take a poll if that's what it takes to convince you, and get back to me. I'll wait.
msagara
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:46 am (UTC)
And I am now going to ask you to step out of this particular discussion thread. I understand that you perhaps have standards in your own LJ that of course you are free to enforce - but this is not your LJ, and in my LJ, when I have gone out of the way to set the parameters in the OP -- which I do not normally do -- I mean them.
pantryslut
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:50 am (UTC)
If you think any of what I said constitutes a personal attack, then you are right, I shouldn't be in this discussion at all.
mtlawson
Mar. 11th, 2013 11:55 am (UTC)
I’m not sure you can talk about them as a class using this generalization, though - my husband’s general thought is that white, het males generally find sexual interest flattering, and therefore a show of sexual interest to women--from an entirely male perspective, is somehow also meant as flattery. He realizes that it is not often taken that way by the women in question, but still feels that most men don’t consider it threatening or objectifying unless it comes from other men.

Given the men I know, I think your husband's thoughts on the matter --which echo lwe's-- match my observations. Objectification of a man by a woman --particularly an attractive woman-- is welcomed.
rowyn
Mar. 11th, 2013 06:50 pm (UTC)
My experience with men is that most like being treated as objects of desire. I don't know if this is an artifact of society, or sex, or partly a human quality -- since men are treated this way relatively rarely compared to women, it may be more prized/less annoying just for that.
leahbobet
Mar. 12th, 2013 01:11 am (UTC)
My experience too, and my instinct is because at least in this set of societal assumptions I'm living, there's no implicit threat in that desire. The proportion of flattery and compliment to oh-hell-do-I-have-to-dive-for-the-shovel is...just that much higher.
boojum
Mar. 12th, 2013 02:31 am (UTC)
Mine is that men like being treated as objects of desire by women they find attractive, when they're not trying to get other tasks done.

I've met a number of men who claimed to find sexual attention from women universally appealing and then were loudly disgusted at the idea of "ugly" (by their definitions) women having sexual desire for anyone. It's an ugly mindset.
boojum
Mar. 12th, 2013 02:38 am (UTC)
Sorry, that came across a little harsher than I meant it.

There are certainly lots of men who aren't like that. However, most of my anecdata of men declaring that they find female sexual attention universally appealing are men who haven't thought about that attention coming from a 70-year-old or coming while they're trying to focus on something else.
rowyn
Mar. 12th, 2013 03:57 pm (UTC)
Most of mine is from observing men at sf or furry cons, where I've noticed a marked lack of negative attitudes towards women who are not conventionally attractive. "Pretty" women get more positive attention, but attention from women who are very overweight or older or whatever is still received as pleasant and appreciated.

I will freely admit that my male acquaintances are not typical of all men! At most, my observation just argues that attitudes are about culture, and not about innate or universal qualities.