Since the phrase’s inception in 1975, people’s awareness of the Male Gaze skyrocketed. Of course, the Male Gaze existed long beforehand, but creating a name for it drew attention to the issue. The Male Gaze concerns the way media, namely literature and film, presents women in objectifying manners, demeaning them into sexual figures for the sake of the male audience. What’s more, the character often comes off as passive, with little to no agency over the events of the story.
It’s an easy thing to spot in film – the camera unnecessarily pans up and down a woman’s body, or a costume piece rips into a sexy, revealing outfit, or the character falls and lands in a promiscuous position. Moments like these get tossed into the story for no reason. This happens in literature, as well.
Obviously with a male author as the primary perpetrator, the Male Gaze in writing operates in a similar manner. The writer will spend a gratuitous amount of time describing how a female character walks down the stairs in a sexy ball gown, paying way too much attention to her legs or chest or whatever it is the author decides to fixate on. Other examples include some remark along the lines of how the character “always exudes sexiness”, or descriptions of her breasts that include the words “spillage”, “perfectly fitted”, or something else belittling and objectifying.
Unfortunately, with so many male authors in the industry, the Male Gaze continues to pop up in books and poetry. It’s particularly harmful because it reduces women to nothing more than a toy for men to drool over, and removes a woman’s power of choice and agency. The implications here state that women should not and cannot hold power over men, and should “know their place”. Eliminating the Male Gaze will prevent isolating women audiences, deliver a more accurate and empowering depiction of women, and overall strengthen the writing.
To keep it out of your own writing, start by going over your own descriptions. Do you use any objectifying language? How much attention are you paying to the character’s appearance? What about their appearance are you specifically highlighting? If your depictions turn out to be harmful and objectifying, it’s time to change them.
Now, comb through your work again, this time looking for moments of agency. Does your female character make decisions? How do these decisions affect the plot? How much power over the outcome does the character have? Can the character affect the outcome at all? Empowering your female characters with the ability to choose and influence their decisions solidifies them and makes them interesting.
When in doubt, ask a friend of yours who identifies as female to read over your work. Getting their insight will provide new perspectives you didn’t have prior. They’re far more attuned to this sort of thing, and getting called out at this point of the process will help you further down the road.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.
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