Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On the female gaze, Vampire Diaries, gothic romances, and SFWA

In her Continuum GoH speech, NK Jemisin says "two of the genre’s most venerable white male writers made some comments in a series of recent articles which have been decried as sexist". She's speaking of Resnick and Malzberg, who reminisced in the SFWA Bulletin that editor Bea Mahaffey was "competent, unpretentious, and beauty pageant gorgeous".

In Is it too late for SF?, Jemisin begins, "So yesterday I went to Crunch Gym to take part in my first Cardio Sculpting class. The instructor was a handsome young man..." The relevance of the instructor's looks is never made clear. Jemisin simply noted it.

Because she, like most of us, notices attractive people.

Unlike Resnick and Malzberg, she begins by mentioning the man's attractiveness, and only gets to his competence later.

I've been thinking about the female gaze because I've been watching The Vampire Diaries, which is clearly shot with the female gaze in mind: the men are often unclothed, and the women rarely. (Yes, some gay men undoubtedly enjoy the show for that reason, but they're a secondary audience.) The visual sensibilities are very reminiscent of illustrations for the various women's romance genres, which makes sense, since traditionally, the gothic romance is one, and The Vampire Diaries is a gothic romance.

I was a boy who always had friends who were girls, so I learned early on that girls notice boys' looks. I was painfully aware in second or third grade that all the girls adored my friend Johnny, so I tried combing my hair like his. When I was a teen, I heard girls comment on boys' butts, stomachs, shoulders, and biceps. I don't think I heard female friends comment about men's genitals until I was a young man—while women will disagree about whether penis size matters, most het and bi women will notice it.

All of which is to say that any discussion of the "male gaze" without the "female gaze" is nonsense. We're talking about variations of the human gaze. There are many male and female gazes, all influenced by culture and sexual orientation. The terms are useful in art, which is where they come from: in a story by a skillful artist, the "gaze" will always be that of the POV character, while the "gaze" in the work of a naive artist will usually be that of the artist. How useful the terms are in understanding sexual dynamics, I don't know. Those of us who have eyes and sexual impulses will have gazes that we will control to the degree we think our culture requires.

Relevant:

Gaze - Wikipedia

Male Gaze - Television Tropes & Idioms

Female Gaze - Television Tropes & Idioms