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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. 13th, 2013 04:46 am (UTC)
As for the rest, I think you and I were addressing different things; I was talking about why people are responding to the post the way they are, while you're talking about what the concept of "female gaze" might mean.

I think women's blind spots are broadly (no pun intended) the same as men's: they assume everyone wants what the author wants. I see this most prominently in romance novels, a lot of which are about the heroine deciding that what her family/her love interest/the people in their small town want for her is what she wants too, while the hero wants the heroine despite all her foibles and flaws. It's incredibly rare to see real rebellion from local cultural norms in romance novels. When women write for women, they do so in a way that strongly, strongly reinforces particular roles. And I hardly ever see anyone question that, though a few splendid people in the romance world (like Sarah Wendell and Jane Litte) do their best.
Mar. 13th, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
First, sorry about taking offense; I misread your tone (I know, right? That never happens on the internet). I've known that girls and women talk about guys since high school and I thought you were giving me a "Why don't you google that" thing. Mea culpa.