Huh. Who left this old thing lying around?

Wow. A livejournal. I’d forgotten I had one of these things. Wonder if it still works.

*rattle, rattle. Tink, tink, tink*

Hmm. Seems to be in working order. Amazing how technology holds up these days.

So, ruminations on Wiscon. I went. It was good. I came back.

Therein lies the problem.

I don’t know what I was expecting before I went, but I had a lot of powerful realizations while I was there. I lied. It wasn’t good. It was great. Cathartic. Revelatory (and revealatory). Somewhat expiating.

And I really didn’t want to come home.

It has to do with the way the space at Wiscon was constructed. Some spaces have a strongly masculine construction (i.e., certain kinds of sports events), some a strongly feminine one (i.e., certain kinds of beauty/fashion events). Most spaces I frequent are genderless, but almost every space (even the “feminine”) is dominated by a “masculine” gaze.

This is where terminology is inadequate and misleading. Most people who know me know that I am not particularly invested in the categories of masculinity or femininity, at least not as essential things. I freely admit, however, that there are socially constructed categories of masculinity and femininity that we all participate in, and that inform how we make and interpret meaning.

A “masculine” gaze is something that all of us are subject to most of the time, and something we all participate in perpetuating against others and ourselves. It is a gaze that judges people according to arbitrary standards, be it of beauty, success, intelligence, etc., and places them in a hierarchy of some people being prettier/better/more valuable than others based on those judgments and standards. The object of a masculine gaze will never be as good as the one who arbitrates the standards, because the arbiter gets to set the standards according to their biases. Since there is no *single* arbiter, but rather a de-centered social apparatus that works in concert to create ever-more-impossible standards, we are *all* — male and female, white and black, old and young — rendered less powerful by this gaze, even as we perpetuate it on ourselves and others.

Calling it a “masculine” gaze, therefore, is misleading, because both males and females are implicated in the construction and enforcement of those standards. Moreover, calling it that tends to alienate a large portion of the population that self-identifies as masculine and therefore feels that defending masculinity and the “masculine” gaze is self-defense.

It is not. It is self-defeating.

The reasons for calling it a “masculine” gaze are socio-historical, because in most societies (both currently and in the past), the people who have the most power to determine these standards of judgment are or have been gendered male. That is not to claim that all males have had this power, or that all males would consciously choose to deploy it. As indicated above, males, even males in positions of power, are just as subject to being judged by these arbitrary standards as anyone else (although, the people in power tend to come out ahead, since they participated in setting the standards in the first place). I also want to emphasize that females are just as implicated in this process, especially through deploying the judging gaze and enforcing the arbitrary standards. As most anthropologists will attest, females more often tend to be the bearers and distributors of culture, and women’s roles are more often involved in policing norms and standards than male roles.

I wish I could find better terminology that communicates all these nuances. I’m left with “masculine” gaze because that is the term that has been developed through decades of discourse on this topic amongst activists and people in gender studies. People familiar with the discourse know what I’m talking about when I refer to a “masculine” gaze, to the point where I’m probably preaching to the choir. People unfamiliar with the discourse are often alienated, even if they would agree with the concept if they could get past the term and into the meat of the issue. Hence the long description, which really only touches the surface of these issues.

So, what does all of this have to do with Wiscon?

For the first time in my conscious experience, I found myself in an un-gendered space that was mediated by what I could only call (for lack of a better term) a “feminine” gaze.

I did not feel like I was being judged against arbitrary standards that I could never measure up to. I was comfortable in my body (and gods, hasn’t it been ages since I experienced that!) and confident about the unique and interesting perspectives I had to offer. I felt free to be myself without judgments laid upon me, even if that self was very different from the various normative tendencies that are inevitable in any large gathering of people (yes, we are all snowflakes, but the more people you have, the more patterns tend to emerge). I felt this, and even more impressively, I felt the way that everyone around me was feeling it too. It meant that I could begin the process of changing the perspective of the worst perpetrator of the “masculine” gaze in my life: myself.

It was hard to give as good as I got, and I didn’t succeed above half the time. Even though I try not to participate in the imposition of the “masculine” gaze in my day-to-day life (both towards myself and others), I fail a lot more often than I succeed, to the point where I’m not even aware of the ways I’m still heavily implicated in the process. It was only on the last day of the conference, as I was preparing to leave, that I even became consciously aware of this phenomenon.

I thought about it all the way home. And what I realized was, I didn’t want to come back. When I expressed these feelings to my partner, I nearly cried. I didn’t because I was in a McDonalds. It would have been inappropriate. Insert eyebrow lift and sardonically tilted smile here.

I’m tired — bone tired, heart tired, soul tired — of living a life subject to the “masculine” gaze. I hate it, and most people I know feel similarly. I crave experiences like the one I had this weekend, and yet I don’t know how to even begin to push against the overwhelming tide of social forces that are looking at me, judging me, arbiting me, and always pressuring me to turn a “masculine” gaze upon myself. It’s so overwhelming, I can’t even begin to imagine what a first step would look like.

Although, it seems to me that developing better, more inclusive and less judgmental terminology for both gazes could be a good start. Any suggestions?


20 thoughts on “Huh. Who left this old thing lying around?”

  1. Stephenson can’t write endings. This is accepted fact. But Snow Crash is a wonderful amphetamine-driven psychotic rampage through language and religion and computers and other such zaniness.

    Um, I think I need to go to bed.

    1. I’m starting to agree with Kevin that Gaiman can’t write endings.

      And hey kitsune! I totally think you and I were off sunning ourselves and enjoying the weather. Poo dodging is ungainly and unseemly… we were both just smart enough not to be anywhere near there, don’t you agree? πŸ™‚

  2. …the moment I saw it, I recognized that fabulous snake-dancing harlot…

    Oh Binah, how we love ya. πŸ˜‰

    Have you ever read Snow Crash before? Could you picture an ethnic Bryn as Juanita? πŸ˜‰ And, while you’re absolutely correct about the ending, isn’t the Deliverator opening one of the best cyberpunk scenes ever? *g* Man, I loves me that book.

    And yeah, LJ poo is, well, poo. And poo’s for monkeys. πŸ˜‰

    now missing the Kitsune 85% more πŸ˜‰

  3. Glad to hear you are doing well! Look forward to more updates about Ireland so I may vicariously get my Scotland/Ireland fix…

    As far as the poo.

    You know what they say about arguing on the internet and the Special Olympics?


  4. “Look closely at the dance,
    you’ll notice the woman leads.

    The serpent lets her guide its every move.

    Who is she?

    See her circle?

    See her tilt.

    And Arch.

    And Curtsey.

    See her dip.

    She is our solace and our
    comfort in this wilderness
    of stars.

    When the bereaved Rossetti tries
    to ressurect his love in paint
    and canvas, it is she, sat at his side,
    who steers the brush; she who
    leads Machaen out of pain and up
    the Hill of Dreams.

    Look closer still, and
    she is hardly there at all,
    pale and ethereal, translucent,
    made from moonlight. She is life’s sole
    partner in this Waltz of Being, yet she is
    imaginary. More than this she is imagination,
    the most beautiful and splendid partner
    we could ever need; could ever hope for.

    Naked save for moonshine, save the borrowed
    finery of Isis and Selene, she inspires
    our dance to new and unfamiliar steps,
    gives us the come-on. Sexier than anything,
    imagination moves our feet upon the rungs of the
    genetic ladder, leads us from insensate slime
    and into consciousness. Dances us up from dumb,
    cold mud into the blazing heavens.

    This, then, is the Universe, the great Romance:
    flesh and imagination cling and glide beneath a wash of stars.”

  5. *big hug* For what it is worth, I know what you mean.

    Although, it seems to me that developing better, more inclusive and less judgmental terminology for both gazes could be a good start. Any suggestions?
    Well start using the gaze you want. (I’m going to try this.) Write fic, work out LARPs, take pictures that gaze the way you want it too.

    And I really, really, really do know what you mean. πŸ™‚

    1. But how would you talk about it? I mean, in a way that differentiates these two ways of looking at the world from each other, and effectively expresses the insidious, damaging potential of one, and the liberating, emancipatory possibilities of the other?

      And, for what it’s worth, I think that you are one of the people I know who most embodies and expresses the second type of gaze. It has always been something that I greatly admire about you.

      1. Oh thanks for the nice words!! *blush* Now hmm… ok, give me some time to think about your question and find the right words……

  6. I really enjoyed reading this. I find pretty much everything you said here very relevant to the “stage” (for lack of a better word) that I’ve found myself in since March. What I find most interesting, is that while the “masculine gaze” is very applicable to the types of behavior I’ve been working on eliminating from myself, I never would have called it that, or have heard of it presented like this, but (aside from, as you said, the vocab being a bit overgeneralized and not quite matching with the concepts) I think this is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been working on.

    I would be very happy to chat with you about what I’ve done and how far I’ve come so far. And I’d love to hear more about what you learned from the con experience.

    My advice, since you asked, is probably not anything you don’t already know. But sometimes reminders and re-concertizing can be helpful. What is most important is that you work on making these changes in yourself. That is a HUGE challenge, and one that will make the most difference in your life. The world is pretty big, so going about changing those social forces can be a bit overwhelming. And you can’t help society until you get a strong foundation in yourself.

    I think you are in a unique position to be able to really make something of this, if you want. Your writing skills are excellent, and you have lots of resources (academic, social, work, cons, etc.) in which you can get your ideas to the public. The only this with this I would caution about is the “preaching to the choir” thing that lots of liberals and academics fall into (I’m sure all groups do, but I refer only to what I have experienced). Instead of preaching to your networks that think similarly to you, use them as resources to get these ideas out to people who may not have thought of them yet. I’m not gonna lie, schools are a great way to go here…if you can get a High School to let you come and talk, you’ll get to a large amount of people while they are still developing their world views.

    I digress and ramble though. And perhaps I’ve missed the point entirely, but feel free to generalize this advice how it might most apply to what you’re working through. And feel free to give me a call, we can have tea sometime.

  7. Ben’s diatribe

    Solid observations. I know how you feel.
    I often use the term patriarchal in these situations, linking at least semi-intentionally to Lacan’s conception of the name of the father as marker for categorical social law.
    I feel that using patriarchal rather than masculine retains some of the gendered sense of the problem, while both decentralizing the fundamental blame(more on that in a bit) and retaining the potential of alternative masculinity(more on that in two bits).
    1. Why decentralize the blame? Because there needs to be a difference between situational culpability and inherent culpability. While most men are complicit in the patriarchy, removing the label of masculine helps people realize that they are not necessarily inherently culpable. In other words, while a given ‘masculine’ individual may act as part of a matrix of patriarchy, they need not abandon all aspects of masculinity in order to oppose the patriarchal machinery.
    2. This brings us to alternative masculinities. The importance of alternative masculinities involves the insecurity many men feel in relationship to feminism. The critique of ‘masculinity’, while well aimed in many ways, also inherently limits the potential to act as a progressive male. Using the patriarchal terminology allows the potential of changing the idea of masculinity to reject ideas of patriarchal control of others, allowing masculine behavior to include things frequently linked to femininity such as nurturing and communality. This is something I’ve been exploring in my Utilikilt research and aim to keep pursuing in my scholarship in general.
    So, to sum up, I think that it’s beneficial to the cause of removing the ‘masculine’ gaze to think of it as a patriarchal gaze, one ultimately concerned with the world as a legal structure rather than as a group of feeling individuals. Wars are fought not because of masculinity, but because of the patriarchal obsession with ownership. The sooner we remove that linkage, the better we’ll be.

  8. I think patriarcal is a good idea. I agree that it still gets across the fact that many of the judgements stem from the male gender in some sense but, sounds less accusatory than “it’s because you’re a guy,” and is also more inclusive showing that women can have the same types of judgements.
    However, I think if you want to eliminate all forms of bias regarding gender when it comes to the specific term you use to denote this, I would say call it a “judgemental” gaze. I mean after all, isn’t that kind of the whole point? That gaze is used to judge someone based on some, relatively arbitrary, set of criteria that ultimately you are the one coming up with. My opinion is that “judgemental” and “non-judgemental” are the way to go in regards to terminology.
    But hey, we’ve got a long car ride home to discuss all of this so I’m sure we’ll cover it.


  9. You are so sexy when you’re talking anthropology and body image issues! πŸ™‚

    Perhaps instead of ‘masculine/feminine’ we could use ‘closed society’ and ‘open society’. Where closed refers to the concept that our perceptions of ourselves and others in formed around a fairly static set of ‘standards’ that we pass from person to person, generationally. We don’t allow for (much) change within the system, and thus it’s a closed loop forever going around in the same patterns of control.

    Whereas an ‘open’ would allow us and ask us to question ourselves, reinvent ourselves, and become accepting of ourselves (and others by implication) because the guidelines under which we form ideas and opinions are open to new interpretation and insight.

    Also, HI! Long time no see! I must find a reason to come hang out with you guys! Missing you awfully.

    1. To continue in vague lines, I was just thinking of you this afternoon (I don’t believe in coincidence). My thoughts were, in fact, on a very similar theme to this.

      As you may or may not know, I’ve started created some photo-manip. art work. And to help keep myself invest in the idea I post it to DeviantArt. Here’s the problem. I create what I like, I like it. It’s my work for me. But then I put it up on the web and suddenly it isn’t about that fact that I liked it anymore, I want to know that others like it too. I suddenly crave positive social feedback and if I don’t get any comments about a piece I post I begin to think the piece isn’t any good, and by extension, I’m not any good.

      This is where you come in:
      Where did this bizarre twist in my thinking come from, I was asking myself. And that thought lead me to : I wish I had someone that I felt I could really dig into these issues with. I bet I could do it with Kitsunealyc. I haven’t seen her in far too long! What is it that keeps me from seeing someone that is not so very far away? (other than the fact that neither she nor her ‘other’ ever answer their phones the few times I’ve tried ;p ) Besides, I need a Jane Austin conversational fix and no one else I know would even consider the possibility of talking Austin with me. (speaking of which, have you seen “Becoming Jane” Fan-F-ing-tastic!)

      Ok, that’s enough for now. I think the diner pots boiling over, gotta run. πŸ™‚

  10. Wow… great post. It makes me want to go to WisCon more than EVAR!

    And I thought your ruminations on the masculine gaze were nicely articulated. It’s got me thinking now, too… and starting to reflect on what kinds of gazes I participate in, and how, and why.

  11. I Blame the Kyriarchy

    Personally I’ve taken to using the term Kyriarchy instead of Patriarchy or my old standby “Dominator Culture”. Extending from that, I’ve tended to try and look at things not through the lens of the masculine/feminine gaze but through the Kyrichial and non-Kyrichial gazes.

    Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

    Patriarchy – Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms. The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).

    – Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books New York 2001

    For years (even before I ‘believed’ in the idea of a Patricarcy) I used to use Terrence Mckenna’s term Dominator Culture, but while it expresses many of the same concepts that I was looking for a word for, it was set up as a false dichotomy with “Matriarchy Culture” or “Maternial Culture” and, as much as I adore Terrence’s work, was based on some shady anthropology.

    Anyway, the blog post that introduced me to the Kyriarchy is here: http://myecdysis.blogspot.com/2008/04/accepting-kyriarchy-not-apologies.html

    Your experience sounds really amazing and I envy it a great deal πŸ™‚

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