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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 12:39 am (UTC)
Re: continued
So many possible responses to this.

When I was discussing this with my husband, he said “power and status” are the equivalent of male gaze for women.

I pointed out that the male-centric things I read: comics, books with male-gaze that are clearly written entirely *for* male readership - the male protagonists & their circle of friends are pretty much the same: they have power, status, are usually the Very Best at what they do; they just think a lot about sex when women are involved, and never anything else about women. They have their circle of losers, of invisible men - but it’s to my mind the same circle as what you are now calling the female gaze.

So...to me the power and status thing can’t intrinsically be *about* the female gaze if in the estimation of men who aren’t writing for women the same things count. The difference to my mind is that in books that are written with women in mind, those men actually want love as well as sex.

ETA: He thought about this for less than a minute and then said: you’re right; it’s not exclusively a female attribution, so it can’t be attributed to female gaze.

Edited at 2013-03-11 12:40 am (UTC)
Mar. 11th, 2013 01:19 am (UTC)
I have to think about this further
Unfortunately real life beckons and I'll have to give greater consideration to your points later. No disrespect in any way at all intended.

But the initial question that crosses my mind is whether it's possible that those male-centric things are indoctrinating males into a belief system that is supposed to appeal to females? In the same way that something like Barbie has been said to indoctrinate girls into a way of thinking that is meant to appeal to stereotypical straight males? Or entertainments from the 1950's might have taught females to dress (or sew or cook) in ways to appeal to males? And actually, don't certain magazines these days still suggest ways in which females might appeal to what "He" wants? Absent such indoctrination (if that's indeed what it is), is it possible that males would prioritize differently? Or at least better be able to throw off the evolutionary tendencies that I hypothesized about earlier? If females were to clearly communicate that they no longer gave any consideration to elements such as power, wealth, status, etc. then I think that would go a long way to changing many of those male-centric things. At the same time, such a clear declaration might make many males better able to understand how many female's don't accept the gaze, as well as other things, that once were considered norms.

Btw, my initial posts got a bit lengthier than I had intended and that was without even really bringing the comments around to fiction. So I had the choice of either getting much longer or not being nearly as on-topic as I would have liked, obviously I went with the latter, but I am sorry for the quasi off-topicness of what I wrote.
Mar. 11th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC)
Re: I have to think about this further
I think the question of what job a man has also speaks to what kind of life you might have with that man, and therefore is pretty important to consider.

Is he a firefighter? Will I have to spend my days and nights worried that he'll never come back from the next call? Is he a lawyer or a doctor? Will I have to spend more time on my own because he's always working? Etc.. Women want different things from their partners. Some, yes, want a guy with high income because they want a certain lifestyle. Some want a guy with high status because they think it will gain them access to some desirable stratas of society. Some women won't want a guy who makes a lot of money or is high status because those things tend to come with time commitments that mean you never see each other.

I would want someone to be interested in my career as well. Frankly, any man who ISN'T interested in what I do for a living is communicating to me that he doesn't consider my career important, and that would bother me.
Mar. 11th, 2013 06:22 am (UTC)
Re: I have to think about this further
I think the question of what job a man has also speaks to what kind of life you might have with that man, and therefore is pretty important to consider.

This is very, very much the way I looked at all of the various possible careers - mine, my husband’s - and what I wanted from a partner in life (time!). Because it’s always the time-money tradeoff with the big high pressure careers.
Mar. 12th, 2013 12:30 am (UTC)
It's definitely important to consider
I don't dispute that at all.

What I'm saying is that there are social conventions and having a strange woman come up to you in the supermarket, eye you in a certain way and ask how much you make per year seems, imho, a lot like me walking up to a woman, fixing her with as much of a male gaze as I'm able and asking her about her fertility. In other words, colossally bad.

I would first expect introductions, perhaps small talk, maybe a meal or coffee. There are lots of things pertinent to a potential long term relationship, but there's a reason that they're not all usually discussed within the first five minutes of meeting someone.

If I didn't explain the circumstances very well in this then I sincerely apologize. And I again agree that considering a future partner's profession makes a lot of sense.
Mar. 11th, 2013 02:07 am (UTC)
Re: I have to think about this further
Also, protip:

Please don't refer to human beings as "males" and "females." The correct terms when speaking about adults are "men" and "women"; or when speaking about children, "boys" and "girls."

I realize it seems illogical, but the use of "males" and "females" is a huge marker of people who subscribe to the worst sort of long-disproven pop-evolutionary-psychology bullshit. If you're not one of those people, it would be good for you to use the more humanizing terms.
Mar. 12th, 2013 12:37 am (UTC)
Thank you for the advice
I had thought that in a discussion focusing on the male gaze and the potential for a female gaze then using the terms "male" and "female" would not be objectionable. But I certainly am ignorant of the bullshit of which you speak (though I'm well-versed in other bullshit if that in any way helps?).

As to less humanizing terms, I also had some thought that those might be better to help to try to avoid the potential for people to see too much of themselves in certain descriptions or to take anything personally. But I am quite willing to forgo such in the future now that you've brought your objections up.