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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

rosefox
Mar. 13th, 2013 02:38 am (UTC)
Here's an example from the manuscript I'm currently editing, in which a man stares at the narrator's breasts and then pretends he's just admiring her clothes:

“That is an attractive item of clothing, may God keep it for you,” her colleague said, blurting out the words as though he had finally stumbled on a virtuous excuse for his previous staring.

Donia looked down at herself. Her jumper was made of a baggy, colour-shifting metamaterial that still failed to keep the curves of her otherwise slim body completely concealed.


Women and FAAB people in this situation--a situation I have been in--do not, in that moment, think of themselves as "curvy but otherwise slim". That's the male gaze. A man staring at a woman might note the contrast between her bustline and her waistline. The woman looking at herself would not.

Here's how I edited the second paragraph (Americanizing the Britishisms while I was there, as my client requested):

Donia looked down at herself. Her baggy sweater was made of a color-shifting material that distracted from her curves but failed to completely conceal them.

This is the self-assessment of a woman mired in a repressive victim-blaming culture who's trying to make sure her clothing is sufficiently modest. She acknowledges that she has curves, but she doesn't assess them (the way the original compares her curves to her slimness); they are simply a vexing fact, a thing she has to cope with the way you'd drive around a pothole. That's the female gaze in a male-dominated society.