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The Female Gaze and M/M v. Gay Porn

This is a fascinating article sent to me.   It discusses the idea of the female gaze and why art   for the female point of view is so completely different than art for the male gaze.   It’s easy to see the comparisons to m/m fiction.

One of the commenters, spankingfemme, made a point that the female gaze was concerned with passion and connection.   The latter point is one that I think is missing from the male gaze art that was provided as an example.   The whole concept of romance is about the connection between the characters (which is why I think some readers who don’t find an HEA believable say that a book is not romance when in essence I think they are saying that don’t believe in the romance or the connection).

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

16 Comments

  1. K. Z. Snow
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 12:45:23

    This distinction is very obvious in gay porn, both written and visual (well, in any porn, actually). When I first started reading and viewing it, I wondered why it didn’t particularly move me. I soon realized my responses were being dictated by the characters’/actors’ behavior, which was disconnected from my admittedly female notion of eroticism.

    Facial expressions convey blase attitudes. Gazes are distant or focused squarely on crotches. Foreplay, especially kissing, isn’t a significant part of the interaction. It makes sense, though. Gay men are men, first and last, and men’s requirements for titillation are, generally speaking, quite different from women’s.

    If producers of online gay porn were smarter, they’d catch a clue from the popularity of gay erotic romance among women and start putting out photos and vids of softer, slower interplay between nekkid men. Give het female viewers more exploratory touches, lingering kisses, a stronger sense of genuine passion and intimacy . . . and watch us flock to those sites!

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  2. Ann Somerville
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 16:27:03

    the female gaze was concerned with passion and connection.The latter point is one that I think is missing from the male gaze art that was provided as an example.

    I disagree, and tt is a bit of a simplistic article, because to me the hottest image on the page is the third one, Batman kissing Robin, which is full of passion and connection. Pure need in fact, which is incredibly sexy. I also adore the art of Michael Breyette, who say he sells as much to women as to men, and his art is full of love and passion. And P L Nunn has as much truly hard edged big cocked porny stuff as the romantic (her writing is hard-edged and romantic too).

    There *is* a difference between how women and men look at men, though the degree of difference will differ between individuals. *This* is exactly what I tried to say in the thread a few weeks ago which got me labelled as such a bitch and homophobe, for pointing out that men and women write gay romance in a different way.

    men's requirements for titillation are, generally speaking, quite different from women's.

    Yes. Utterly. It’s not just a simple matter of crotches versus eyes, however, though in the infamous example I cited which got me etc…, the emphasis is very much on the parts of traditional female interest. Markedly so. But gay men’s writing doesn’t shy away from the dirt and the smell – where a woman writing a scene in a men’s room would avoid the stink of urine, a gay man will positively celebrate it. Smegma? State sweat? Faecal odour? Utter turn offs for women, for a lot of men, it’s a turn *on*.

    But. Some women like raunchy gay for gay porn, and a lot of gay men wish there was a lot more romance in it. This (worksafe, noisy) video wasn’t made for women, but it’s appealing to both sexes.

    Thanks for taking the time to post a thought provoking article over Xmas. Hope you and yours are having a good day.

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  3. Erastes
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 16:28:26

    I think she’s taken some pretty far end of each spectrum for examples, I have to say – while I agree that some of the gazes are different, or rather, what appears to be the gazes (because unless you are actually inside a guy’s head you can’t really speak for them) I know many many many women who buy gay porn avidly, and many men who love a more romantic viewpoint and who find the more graphic descriptive porn a real turn off. It’s so difficult to debate without raising generalisations, so I have to kind of agree with gmth and others who state that case.

    It is a shame that the photographer in the comments can’t find a publisher to be interested in a book of male erotic photos because I can’t believe anyone, particularly ear-to-the-ground publishers, in the light of the HUGE success of Dieux de Stade – would say there’s no market for it.

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  4. Ann Somerville
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 16:39:41

    @K. Z. Snow:
    Another reason gay porn probably doesn’t move you is the total lack of real emotion in most (which many gay men also dislike the lack of) – not only is there little pretense the men are really getting off on each other, the actors are often not even gay and their distaste is often pretty damn obvious. They don’t kiss, or cuddle, or make eye contact.

    Women are trained from early on to pick up that kind of emotional cue, and so we’re even less likely to be fooled by the falseness, just for the sake of satisfactory wanking.

    If producers of online gay porn were smarter, they'd catch a clue from the popularity of gay erotic romance among women and start putting out photos and vids of softer, slower interplay between nekkid men.

    Even their target audience wishes there was more of that. But you need more gay men making this stuff, and more gay men participating. Most is as genuinely ‘gay’ as ‘lesbian’ porn.

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  5. Don
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 15:04:05

    Interesting discussion, in both locations (here and the LJ).

    I must have the female gaze, I think, in spite of being pretty much a guy in most ways, because the Male Gaze pictures left me cold. The female gaze, particularly Lillithium’s watercolor, were more to my taste (though part of that is the fact I liked Lillithium’s best is because I love the style of the watercolor as much as the content of the picture).

    In terms of writing — because to me the paintings, though telling a story, are visual art — I prefer romantic stuff to erotic stuff, and infinitely more than porn. I usually, in reading, totally skip the sex bits, no matter what the genre. And most of the male/male fiction I read tends to focus on stereotypes I find tedious: the go go boy, the muscle man, the Rich White Guy With The Biggest Dick EVER. It’s dull to me. Guh. But that’s just my personal taste.

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  6. roslynholcomb
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 15:59:09

    I swear we’re going to sub-genre ourselves into oblivion. I’ve read some m/m erotica and enjoyed it. I’ve also read gay erotica and didn’t care it for particularly, but then I don’t usually enjoy romances written by men, and buy very few male writers, period. I agree that m/m erotica and gay erotica are two different things.

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  7. Ann Somerville
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 19:31:59

    agree that m/m erotica and gay erotica are two different things.

    Yet when they’re good, they’re appealing to all sexes and orientations for the same reasons – universal truths and honest emotions.

    When they’re bad, the gay for gay fiction tends to suck because of a lack of writing talent. The m/m stuff sucks because the author has no idea what she’s talking about.

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  8. roslynholcomb
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 20:38:07

    …the gay for gay fiction tends to suck because of a lack of writing talent. The m/m stuff sucks because the author has no idea what she's talking about.

    I’m sure that’s right Ann. I think any literature is appealing as long as the emotions are right. I was thinking about this the other day. I rarely try new authors, and generally don’t trust reviews because I haven’t encountered anyone with the same taste. Yet, this year I tried two new to me authors based on reviews from this site. One was a paranormal shifter story which I never buy. The other was a menage story which I would never have considered without that review. The stories were wildly different, yet had one thing in common; the reviewer talked about the emotions they evoked. I realized then that for me it’s not so much about genre as it is about emotion. I’ve avoided various genres in the past because I didn’t have the emotional link with the characters. This was especially true for me with S/F and paranormals. I’m far more interested in the emotional link with the characters than with anything else, and to me those two genres seemed to skimp on it. The same thing seemed to happen with a lot of erotica. I don’t care how much wild sex is going on, if I don’t feel connected to the characters I quickly lose interest in the story. If the story is there, it can be about two guys, a girl and their affinity for goldfish play and I’ll read it. (Okay, I just got a really disturbing visual there. Let’s just leave the goldfish out, but you get my point.)

    I know that men are legendary for their lack of emotional connection in sex, but I do believe this is a sweeping generalization. I think many men like the emotions, but they want it differently from what women want. I don’t know if I can really articulate what it is, but there’s a difference there. So I’d be hard-pressed to call it lack of emotion, and more likely to call it different emotion.

    Man, I’m blathering here, but I swear there’s a point in there somewhere.

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  9. Sarah
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 22:39:49

    I found the article to be a bit of a generalization to be honest. Sometimes sex for the sake of sex is hot. It does not always have to be about hearts and flowers. And not liking looking at some parts of a man? Not sure I agree with that either. I think we’re all far to different in what turns us on or off to make sweeping statements like that. We all look at things with our own wealth of different experiences and to say that we all look at things as women in a certain way is twaddle.

    And re the photography book, Bruno Gmünder has some excellent publications. Gorgeous, beautiful books from photographers like Exterface, Manly etc are stunning and beautifully presented.

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  10. JenB
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 23:11:30

    Holy cow…I fall waaaay outside the lines on this one. I like gay porn because it’s NOT romantic. I complain when m/m romance books *do* have fairytale endings.
    Come to think of it, I hate most fairytale rainbows-and-ponies stuff.

    But gay porn and boytoons…yeah, I read/view those for exactly what they are. When I read boytoons or yaoi manga, I *want* the full views. I hate blurred, obstructed genitals. I want to see it all. Screw the romance. Sometimes even women just want to look at skin and bodily fluids. It’s not ladylike, but so what?

    I know plenty of women for whom this article is very appropriate (and I know to steer clear of most of their m/m book recommendations)…but I certainly wouldn’t say it applied to all female readers/viewers, or even most of them.

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  11. Sarah
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 23:55:44

    What Jen said ;p. And, hottest pic recently has to be some Joe Phillips goodness and forgot the name of the photographer earlier but try any of Justin Monroe’s work, especially his session entitled Photo booth. So nice!

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  12. Ann Somerville
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 00:08:28

    It's not ladylike, but so what?

    I have less of a problem with this attitude than the fact it’s objectifying – using gay men’s sexuality to get off on. There’s no difference between doing that and a straight man watching ‘lesbian’ porn to wank to – both are pretty unattractive.

    I don’t need romance in a story, but I do want to feel I’m reading about two human beings. Same in erotic film – if the two men clearly don’t like or fancy each other, then that’s a complete turn off emotionally and physically. By contrast, a lovely little film like Shelter, which has no explicit sex but lots of cuddling, affection and kissing, can put me much more in the ‘mood’.

    I complain when m/m romance books *do* have fairytale endings.

    You realise a HEA is pretty much the defining characteristic of romance, m/m or not, right? Picking one up and complaining about it is like complaining a fire is hot.

    But a happy ending doesn’t have to be ‘fairy tale’. Frankly, I’m sick of picking up what looks like a promising piece of gay fiction, only for the lovers to be dead or parted at the end. It’s bad enough when Hollywood thinks the only good gay is a dead one, but when gay writers do the same thing? Why can’t a story be about gay people and affirming their right to a happy future?

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  13. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 11:07:07

    I know that men are legendary for their lack of emotional connection in sex, but I do believe this is a sweeping generalization. I think many men like the emotions, but they want it differently from what women want. I don't know if I can really articulate what it is, but there's a difference there. So I'd be hard-pressed to call it lack of emotion, and more likely to call it different emotion.

    I think about this idea often when reading scenes in Romances from the hero’s POV. I just recently read FLAT OUT SEXY by Erin McCarthy based solely on the DA review. I loved the book (read it in about a 12 hour time span), but as sexy as the hero’s emotional connection was to the heroine, I did wonder how true to life it was. I thought McCarthy gave the hero plenty of solid reasons to justify his feelings, but I’m always wondering how many men think the way women write them in Romances. It is a stereotype that men don’t forge emotional connections from sex, but I do think the process is very different. This is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the Jenny Crusie/John Mayer books (especially DON’T LOOK DOWN). I don’t know what their writing process is, but I imagine they each review every scene and because of that I was very interested in the emotional content of the hero’s POV.

    The Fe/Male Gaze topic is fascinating to me and I every so often post about it on my blog. It seems to me that the Romance genre is a prime example of the Female Gaze and even though some readers prefer the clinch over the nekkid torso covers, the latter is a specific example of how the male body is being used to market to a female audience — and a female audience dictates that content. This refers to mainstream hetero Romances — do these covers also appeal to a gay audience?

    I think Hanon has a point that Romance genre covers are another example of a “…useful lesson to the straight men of the world: not everything is about your dick” for many women. For me, the eight-pack abs are way hotter, possibly because being in that kind of shape requires effort and discipline, as opposed to just a gift of genetics. While I think the point about a required passion connection is a good one, I also think many women appreciate a sense of anticipation in erotic imagery — and that shows up in more of a suggestion than outright display of every physical feature. The familiar image of the shirtless cowboy in low-slung jeans and hat pulled down low is an example of this. One last link since someone mentioned the art of Michael Breyette — along similar lines is Len Paoletti.

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  14. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 11:18:24

    It's bad enough when Hollywood thinks the only good gay is a dead one, but when gay writers do the same thing?

    Do you think there’s any thematic connection to all those classical heroines who died — usually as some karmic punishment for acknowledging their passions? To quote one of Jenny Crusie’s essays:

    I spent years reading about miserable women like the one who pursued the life she wanted, had great sex, and then ate arsenic; or the one who pursued the life she wanted, had great sex, and then threw herself under a train; or my personal fave, the one who pursued the life she wanted, had lousy sex with a masochistic dweeb, and spent the rest of her endless life atoning by doing good works in a letter sweater.

    Are these characters you refer to thematically being punished in some way for pursuing a life not accepted by others?

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  15. JenB
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 13:51:34

    You realise a HEA is pretty much the defining characteristic of romance, m/m or not, right?

    Yup. :) But my ability to suspend disbelief does have limits. I expect a lot of HEA’s, but I prefer HFN or at least “hopeful” endings. That’s why I like nontraditional romances. I intentionally steer clear of most romances (m/m or otherwise) with Disney endings.

    What I love today, I may hate tomorrow. What I complain about in one book, I may adore in another. Can’t really help that. I don’t try to be consistent in my reading, or even bother following the “rules” of book preference. I read for enjoyment, not for educational enrichment or political reasons. I like what I like, y’know?

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  16. Jill Sorenson
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 15:01:09

    None of those images appeal to me. Were they supposed to? I’ve never seen gay porn, but I definitely prefer photos over sketches. Bulging muscles and cartoon style drawings aren’t my thing.

    I don’t see any differences between what women supposedly prefer over men in these examples.

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