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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 02:07 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.