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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 04:48 am (UTC)
Male gaze/female gaze
I've been mulling over your post off and on since I read it hours ago which isn't surprising since I do the same mulling over your books. I think an objectifying female gaze, just as dehumanizing and just as prevalent, as the male gaze. Soft porn romance novels are built around the Janus face of the male gaze. Unless boys are raised by mothers who value them first as people, secondly as boys, they are culturally conditioned to believe they should like, even want, to be seen as sex objects. (I did not mean to leave fathers out. I was thinking about raising my son as a single parent and the comments he's made and the situations we faced over the years.) Feminism raised women's consciousness about the dehumanizing consequences of the male gaze. I thought then, and I think now, we didn't do nearly enough to try to liberate boys and men. We are humans first, women and men second. What harms men, harms women. What harms women, harms men. Praise be what benefits one, benefits the other as well. I have a very strong hunch a male writer who creates believable female characters has been treated like a worthwhile human being by important women in his family. And the important men. And I doubt a female writer who was valued in the same way reduces male charaters to beefcake. I know I'm generalizing. It would take a novella not to.