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That Male-Gazey Thing

  ann-leckie has been having some unpleasant encounters with her slush pile:

"So, this is the thing: A female character is introduced, and is immediately described in terms of the shape of her legs, or the milky whiteness of her thighs, or her perfect breasts, with a dash of flowing blonde hair, you know, just for kicks.

"Stops. Me. Cold.

"That male-gazey thing, it not only doesn't do anything for me, it locks me out of the story ... ."

          Read more: Slushy slushy slush slush

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
smillaraaq
Mar. 19th, 2011 08:52 am (UTC)
Heh, kind of interesting timing there -- I've just been reading a fan translation of the first Black Lagoon light novel, Shaitane Badi, and have been pondering how it strikes me in many ways as being somehow more blatantly male-gaze fanservicey than the comic, despite only having a tiny handful of illustrations that depict any of Rei Hiroe's voluptuous ladies in particularly sexualized ways. It's all down to the narrative voice -- all the female characters are repeatedly described as beautiful, seductive-voiced, etc., the appeal of their hair and faces and figures and clothing are all noted by both the narrator and in some of the individual characters' POV (not just the guys, either -- in one scene where Revy is mentally evaluating a pack of comical new characters, she rather literally sizes up another woman's well-endowed chest.) It's particularly noteworthy in the case of one new female character from Hotel Moscow, who's repeatedly described as having a beautiful face and body, but having an unflattering haircut/clothes/glasses that don't enhance her looks or draw men's eyes. But the men are given more neutral descriptions, mostly just noting their clothing style or general physical build with very little in the way of value judgements as to whether they're actually good-looking or sexy; the only really detailed descriptions of faces or bodies are negative ones for characters that are blatantly meant to be seen as disgusting (a cadaverous junkie, a morbidly obese porn actor), and the only really lingering, admiring description of a guy's look is of Boss Chang's "style and panache" -- talk of him actually being handsome, not just well-dressed, only comes from the POV of a somewhat comical fanboyish character. The women never really seem to evaluate any of the guys in terms of looks or sex appeal -- Revy again comes the closest, but even she is mostly just sneering at people, men and women alike, who she thinks are ridiculously or inappropriately dressed. It all makes for a very strange effect -- the plot and overall characterization seems to fit in almost perfectly with the manga canon, except for the nagging detail of how strangely sexless all the sexy women are: they're sexualized by the men, and they know it perfectly well and at times exploit it towards their own ends, but they seem to have no real desire or sexual gaze/agency of their own, unlike the manga where so many of them are confident, aggressive sexual beings in their own right.

Edited at 2011-03-19 08:53 am (UTC)
chomiji
Mar. 26th, 2011 03:17 am (UTC)

That's very weird ... makes you wonder how much of the manga and anime the novel's author actually took in. It's funny, I know some of the people I've talked to on LJ insist they don't get into the heads of the characters they're reading, and I thought that was a little odd - how else can you enjoy a story, right? But maybe it's actually the usual way for a lot of people. And it sounds like the person who did that novel never really took in Hiroe's characters' viewpoints.

smillaraaq
Mar. 26th, 2011 10:32 am (UTC)
It's funny because other than the relentless male-gaze thing, he really does seem to have a pretty good grasp on the characters and the feel of the world, including the women; there was one bit in particular that really made me cheer because it more-or-less-confirmed my fanon interpretation of Shenhua's seemingly impractical clothing and footwear choices as being an act of deliberately self-handicapping bravada. (Here's the exhange -- fluently worded because they're speaking in Cantonese -- where she's reporting in to Boss Chang: "Was he really as good as you say? This... ninja fellow, that is."

"If I were to meet him again, I would take off my high heels," Shenhua replied, fighting spirit burning in her eyes.

"...Hmm."

Shenhua always wore stiletto heels over five centimeters long no matter what, despite the fact that she was a dual blade wielder who by necessity had to physically exert herself on a regular basis. Chang knew for a fact that she didn't wear them just to look pretty.

The truth of the matter was that she had taken to wearing the cumbersome footwear as a way to keep her edge in Roanapur, where the chances of facing an individual skilled in the martial arts were slim to none. For Shenhua to declare that she would take off her high heels meant that she was dead serious--one could say that she was at Defcon One. The nuclear missile silos had opened, revealing their deadly payload.

"...I don't doubt you. I know how much weight you put on your pride. Someone like you telling me so frankly that he's a true threat makes me shiver more than any horror story.")


It's just the sexualization where he seems to have a big ol' hourglass-shaped blindspot where he cannot get past his own stated attraction to curvy girls with guns, or put himself in the mindset of a woman evaluating a man as a lust-object. And really, if Hiroe were working in prose rather than manga, I have to wonder if there might not be some of that going on as well. I think he'd probably be better about remembering that his female characters are sexual beings in their own right who notice men -- we've got all the scenes where Eda is teasing Revy about Rock, or flirting with him directly, Shenhua snarking at Rotton that with his looks and attitude he should be a gigolo, Jane's cheerfully frank horniness -- but at the same time, it's pretty obvious that he really, really likes the ladies, and if he had to work in prose rather than pictures, that POV might be a lot more obtrusive. In manga, even if he doesn't think of any of the men as remotely attractive, he still has to draw them in order to tell the story, and without the narration constantly reminding the viewer who's supposed to be sexy and who's supposed to be umarked, the manga reader I think has a lot more freedom to view the story and characters through their own lens and focus on aspects the mangaka may not have intended to be prominent.

Edited at 2011-03-26 05:31 pm (UTC)
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