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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. 13th, 2013 04:49 am (UTC)
I'm just not bothered by a lot of that crap. I'm fifty-eight, I've been married for thirty-five years; I'm pretty comfortable with myself. Getting bent out of shape over one's masculinity does seem silly to me. That doesn't make me a great guy, or invested in anything, just old enough to not take this stuff all that seriously anymore.

Mar. 13th, 2013 04:58 am (UTC)
Given that the original post asked:

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 respectfully suggest that you make some space for men who might want to answer that second question in the affirmative. Blanket dismissals of such things as "silly" can make it really hard for people who hold those "silly" views to speak up, which is what our host specifically invited them to do.
Mar. 13th, 2013 05:16 am (UTC)
Hmm. Good point.

Honestly, though, I think my answer to, "Is there a female gaze that has the same weight?" is "no."

I've read slash fiction. I've read romance novels. There was nothing in them I found remotely threatening, where I completely understand why some women do find the male gaze threatening. Slash fiction really does just seem silly to me, because it's so completely unlike any sort of actual males, straight or gay, I've ever known. Plenty of porn aimed at male readers is just as silly, of course, because there aren't any actual women like the walking sex toys described therein.

I can't easily imagine taking slash seriously enough to find it threatening or disturbing, though. If someone here does, I'd be interested in hearing his thoughts on the subject.

Romance novels aren't silly. The men there aren't absurd caricatures, even if they're idealized and sometimes not much like most actual men. My reaction to romance novels isn't discomfort, though, it's "This isn't for me." Which is my reaction to some male-dominated genres, as well.

(I've hit occasional scenes in romance novels that I found uncomfortable, but I don't know whether that's a female gaze thing, and it wasn't how the male characters were depicted; it was, "Do some women really think like that?" in relation to female characters.)