Kate Elliott’s Omniscient Breasts

I’m usually annoyed when someone pulls out the “male gaze” concept in a discussion of art and culture. While the idea has undeniable merit, it is often wielded as a bludgeon of ABSOLUTE TRUTH. In other words, men like looking at sexy women and it ruins the world, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.

I happen to think that much of this sort of thing has its roots in the innate differences in men’s and women’s cognitive wiring. That doesn’t mean we should just accept the baseline set by our neurology as the sole standard to consider, but it does mean that there’s probably nothing wrong with men liking to look at sexy women, or vice versa, or even having art that caters to such desire.

Still, just as we aspire to more than simple orgasm in our relationships, we should aspire to higher levels of cultural relationship as well. At the very least, we should think about these things, and consider how the ways that we think and create impact the way we relate to each other.

Author Kate Elliott has written a very balanced, thoughtful post considering the male gaze (and other gazes) in fiction, and I recommend it for everyone, but particularly for writers. She avoids the fanatic’s tendency to use the concept as a blanket condemnation of men and their wicked staring eyes, which I appreciate as a man with a finely tuned male gaze of my own, and shares some insights I’ve never considered. I’m a better person, and likely a better writer, for having read it.

You can read it here.

One comment on “Kate Elliott’s Omniscient Breasts

  1. anatu13 says:

    Very cool that you read that article. I’d seen a brief comment of yours that voiced a lot of frustration with the male gaze concept and had been keeping that in mind when the issue has come up in my own circles. I also thought her article was very well done on the subject; it was fairly well balanced, especially once you get past the beginning, and brought up new lines of thought for me.

    The heavy-handedness with which some people have condemned the use of the “male gaze” has been frustrating for me as well. (I like to point out that het women would not be too happy if het men were not tuned to respond to female sexuality!) Also, though I try to advocate more of a _balance_ in sexual vs. not-as-sexual imagery, mostly in the area of art for tabletop RPGs, I find that my male peers often immediately and vociferously assume that I’m advocating the wholescale elimination of het-male-oriented sexual imagery in RPGs. I can only imagine that they have been bashed too heavily in the past to really listen to what I’m saying and realize that all I’m advocating is more–not *only*–images of women that are designed from a female player’s point of view.

    In tabletop gaming, my sense has been that most women would simply like to see more images of female characters that are designed *primarily* as characters many women would want to play, and visualize themselves as, rather than *primarily* as images many men would want to enjoy looking at. There’s a pretty wide variety in the level of sexuality female players want to attach to our characters, which would allow for a lot of variation even within the group of characters designed to appeal more to female players–a variety that I believe would leave plenty of room for both female and male enjoyment of the characters. (For instance, one female player in my group always draws her female characters as highly sexual and scantily clad, I generally prefer a character who clearly has sex appeal but is fairly appropriately clothed for whatever role she is playing, and another female friend’s characters are generally well-covered with highly practical armor that does not emphasize sexuality at all.)

    Another point I try to get across is that, while we tend to strongly prefer images of female characters that showcase the characters’ effectiveness rather than appearing ineffective in their roles and obviously posed *only* to show off their sexual attributes, that effectiveness doesn’t have to preclude sexuality. I think there’s a ton of room for female characters who are going to appeal strongly from both of those points of view: effective, action-oriented female characters who are sexy in a way that many women would enjoy visualizing themselves as and that would appeal to a high percentage of het/bi men and bi/lesbian women for viewing as well. Alongside that, I’d love to continue to see female (and male!) characters who are there primarily for sex appeal as well as to see more imagery of female characters where sexuality is not a big part of the equation.

    One thing the article brought up for me was that I haven’t thought much at all about incorporating a het/bi female gaze with regard to *male* characters. I think I’ve really internalized the attitude of shying away from descriptions and art that depict images of men that are overtly designed to appeal to others sexually. I wonder if being steeped in the “male gaze” through my reading habits has resulted in a stifling of appreciation of male sexual imagery, or if that is more hard-wired, as I’ve always heard that men are in general much more visually oriented than women when it comes to sexuality. Interesting. Certainly the “female gaze” as it manifests itself in romance novels or the likes of Twilight has never appealed to me.


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