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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. 12th, 2013 01:12 am (UTC)
That absolutely makes sense
I think that what one does for a living can mean more to some people and who they are as a person than it does to others, but it's hard to imagine that it is ever less relevant than bra size.

What often puzzles me is that so many people place such stock in the opinions of those who would judge based on such matters as bra size. You have family and friends (and probably others) who know you and I can certainly understand placing importance on their opinions, but strangers and casual acquaintances really don't know you. They can make inferences or bring to bear any of an endless array of pre-existing beliefs, preferences, prejudices, etc. but those may have little, and perhaps even nothing, to do with who you really are as a person.

I may be missing something, but I think that there are two approaches. That we can try to find out who a person really is, placing a fair bit of importance on how they actually see themselves by asking questions and making observations with as little prejudice as we can manage OR we can judge people by their gender, race, religion, sexuality, height, weight, baldness, ability to see, hear, country, city, neighborhood of origin, etc. etc. Aspects that may inform someone's character, but also may not, and certainly don't constitute the entirety of it. People who choose the later, imo, aren't really judging us but some construct that they form in their minds. It can be argued that no one can ever truly understand anyone else, but I'm going to care very little about the opinions of those who don't seem to be trying.