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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 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.