Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017 08:20 pm
I read a really great post about this by someone with Actual Media Studies Knowledge but can't find the link and people keep being wrong about it on the internet, so here's my less informed ranting.

In short: "The Female Gaze", as the term is usually used within fandom discussions of media, makes no sense and is actively harmful.

So, I can't claim to fully understand all the complexities of The Male Gaze as it is properly defined. But it is not just "a thing made so that men will like looking at it". It's an assumed male viewer in combination with specific heterosexist assumptions about what men like, otherwise the idea of a single Male Gaze that is into specific kinds of imagery of sexualised women makes no sense.

The Male Gaze most obviously ignores gay and aro ace men, but also ignores all the bi and straight men who aren't into what sexism says men are into, which is actually a lot of them. Men generally enjoy male-gazey things more than women, but it's not actually optimal for making men happy. It's optimal for perpetuating sexism.

There's a few definitions of "the Female Gaze" floating around, the one I see most often is "something women will enjoy looking at, eg men as sexual objects". But personally I feel like the only way to subvert The Male Gaze is to start by destroying the idea of a single Gaze that appeals to everyone in the first place. Acting like "a thing made so that all (wo)men will like looking at it" has a single, recognisable "gaze" replicates one of the patriarchal lies inherent to the Male Gaze: the idea that there is a single recognisable measure of "attractiveness" that applies everyone of a given gender.

If we equate the Male Gaze with What Men Like the implication is that all men are most attracted to objectified, skinny, young, white, able bodied, passive cis women. And they're not! Sexism says they are, but sexism is lying. And yeah, men as a whole are statistically more into that sort of thing than not, but The Male Gaze is still not the same as "an average of what men are into", and acting like "an average of what men are into" is equivalent to "what all men are into" is bad anyway.

And then the supposedly feminist "Female Gaze" is usually just the gender flipped version: objectified, skinny, young, white, able bodied, passive cis men. It's not sexist any more, but it's still racist, ableist, and heteronormative. It also tells women with The Wrong Taste in Men that they are somehow Not Women, which is not a message any women need about their sexuality. Unquestioningly assuming this "female gaze" is What All Women Want is not feminist at all.

The assumption that The Male Gaze is what All Men Like means some intellectually lazy feminists assume:
  • anything a man makes that doesn't fit their narrow idea of the Male Gaze must be feminist and not made to be sexy to that dude eg moe as the most feminist anime genre, the idea that it's inherently feminist for a man to be gay or otherwise not turned on by The Male Gaze.
  • Conversely, anything that conforms to the Male Gaze in a way they find uncomfortable, or that they've realised a straight man made to be appealing to himself, must automatically be Unappealing To Women and have zero positive cultural effect eg No Women are into muscley dudes, sexy femslash, or moe (this dot point can get into very nasty arguments with the previous dot point).
  • Anything the specific woman personally finds sexy was made for The Female Gaze, even if it was unambiguously made by and for (possibly queer) men.


Some people try to fix the heteronormativity by talking about "The Gay Male Gaze" or "The Lesbian Gaze", but that's a tiny bandaid on an inherently broken concept. And noone ever talks about The Bisexual Gaze or The Non Binary Gaze, because that would highlight the inherent flaws in the basic concept.

So. If you want to talk about "something designed to appeal to a Patriachal idea of what men like", use "The Male Gaze". But if you want to talk about something designed with a female audience in mind, or that is designed to be sexually appealing to people into men, or that otherwise subverts the male gaze in one of the myriad of ways that's possible to do, say that.

Don't flatten out sexuality and gender into two simplistic and near identical tick boxes, and say that the best media can do is to tick the right one.

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