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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 05:40 am (UTC)
I don't see it as worse, and I'd think any guy who does is not aware just how demeaning the male gaze can be -- at least these fantasy males have souls to steal.

Mostly, the males in slash fiction or girl-targeted manga I've read just seem silly.
barbarienne
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
But again, it is also a question of target audience. When women write men this way, they generally aren't expecting men-who-would-object to read the book or story. They're writing for a population (primarily female) that wants to read about this softer sort of man.

The problem arises in the difference in power and gender roles that men and women have in our culture at large. Women softening men is perhaps diminishing the men, or perhaps adding to their available range of emotion. (They can still be ass-kicking macho men, but now they also come with articulated feelings!)

Whereas when men write ass-kicking men who are too tough to get mushy, or write women who are dependent on men or devoted to them, those stories are reinforcing an already existing power disparity, and selling both genders short.
lwe
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:56 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's pretty much true -- as I said, slash and manga isn't threatening or demeaning to me, just silly.
msagara
Mar. 11th, 2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
When women write men this way, they generally aren't expecting men-who-would-object to read the book or story. They're writing for a population (primarily female) that wants to read about this softer sort of man.


Given that it elides the men because it’s not *for* them - does this then feed into the idea of “women’s fiction” or “women’s movies” or etc? A lot of men dismiss the romance genre because the men are not realistic, for instance - does the idea that women are writing non-male ‘men’ for female consumption instead of writing something that includes actual male readers give rise to the intellectual dismissal of the genre?

I have my own theories about m/m manga. Japanese as a language is very circumscribed for women; there are things that women can’t reasonably say in public - or in private. Men can get away with saying vastly more, and in some ways, the m/m interaction allows for a full range of emotional and honest interaction between the two love interests - because the *men* can say things that won’t immediately get them branded as Bad Girls. They can be much more open in an m/m setting. So in a way, the m/m manga interactions are the relationships that allow the women to express themselves.
barbarienne
Mar. 11th, 2013 09:24 pm (UTC)
does this then feed into the idea of “women’s fiction” or “women’s movies” or etc?

-->I sure it contributes. The specificity of the emotional package is designed to appeal to a certain sort of person. In our culture (and probably most cultures), this sort of person is not usually a "typical guy."

But clearly this sort of fic serves a very important role for those who like it. (NB: It's not my cuppa.) It sucks that some people go, "Eeew! Girl cooties!" and try to stuff it down. But I suspect that the readers would rather have it available under those circumstances than not have it available at all.

The problem is getting people in the "unquestioned default/privilege" category to expand their minds to allow that there might be value in other people's preferences, too.
alwaysoptimistc
Mar. 12th, 2013 01:48 am (UTC)
Yes, although I think that there's more to it
"The problem is getting people in the "unquestioned default/privilege" category to expand their minds to allow that there might be value in other people's preferences, too."

I very much agree that this is part of the problem, but to my mind, it's not the only one. Ime there are people who claim that race, gender and sexuality are the only things that matter and unless the people who have privilege in those categories are apologizing then they have no right to a voice. That's not going to lead to greater understanding and progress afaic, and further, it really marginalizes people who may lack privilege in other ways. I would happily give away (if there was some way to do so) my straight white male privileges if there were some way for me to achieve equality in other categories which matter much much more to me.