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In Film Theory, specifically in Feminist Theory, there is a concept called "the gaze," which is typically male.  The evidence for this is everywhere in film, but I think it can also be included into graphic novels/comics.  If you think of superhero comics from the past two decades, the depiction of women has become increasingly more objectifying, with Barbie-esque heroines who seemingly defy gravity.  The women in Watchmen aren't objectified to this extent, but they do seem to possess "super" assets, while all the women in Concrete look like they could be pin up girls on a magazine cover.  If you apply the idea of the male gaze into comics, it becomes evident that there is an inherent inequity in power between the genders, both in terms of characters in the story and in the way the story is told visually.

There are a plethora of examples to choose from to prove this point, but I'm looking into including comics/graphic novels written and drawn by women to try to define the female gaze.  There is female nudity in Fun House, but it doesn't convey the same idea of sexuality present in other graphic novels.  In other works, there is a voyeuristic feel to female nudity, where the nudity in Fun House comes off as common place, because there isn't an inordinate amount of attention being drawn to it.  I'm basically going to outline the defining characteristics of the male gaze and try to create an idea of the female gaze based on this understanding.

I want to try and balance the paper between establishing the male gaze that is predominant in most comics and trying to define what the female gaze is.  One problem/distinction I know I'm going to encounter is the role of sexual orientation of the author/illustrator.  I'm not sure if the gaze of Bechdel would be the same of an illustrator who is a heterosexual female.  Also, there's the problem of women who use the male gaze, so I'll need to address the issue of gender of the author being different from gender of the gaze.

If I break the paper into two main parts, the male and the female gaze, I won't be able to fully explore the aspects of the gaze that I've talked about.  I'm not sure whether to discuss everything in terms of male/female, or to discuss the male gaze, the female gaze, the role gender of the author/illustrator plays (if any), and the role sexual orientation plays (again, if any).  The problem with all these distinctions is the size of the paper, so I'm not completely sure what direction the paper will take.

Also, since this is a course of graphic narratives, I was thinking of including images in my paper, but I'm not sure whether I should have them in text or form some sort of appendix to my paper, where I can freely refer to specific images.

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3 Comments

  1. Unknown User (lcm5)

    I think it would be to your benefit to very succinctly address what the male gaze is within your first few pages, simply because the concept/act is so prevalent in comics, and then move on directly to the female gaze, since that seems to be what needs addressing most. I think it's a great idea to provide panels to illustrate this concept and support your research. I'm interested for you to explore 'women who use the male gaze.' Do you mean feminine authors that depict the male gaze in their graphic narratives, or women that utilize a masculine gaze intertextually (if that's even possible)? Sadly, since I'm a n00b, I don't know of any graphic novels written by women other than the ones we're reading for class. However, if you're going to look at comics by foreign women authors (like Persepolis) it might be interesting to briefly address how the gaze might be affected by cultural norms and standards, or if there is something explicitly American about "the gaze," be it male or female.

    Just a thought: it might be a good idea to incorporate the difference between the autobiographical graphic narratives you study (like Fun Home) and the fictional ones (like Concrete) because the gaze would be inherently different, and things like authorial intent and memory would make a large difference in how the feminine gaze is depicted.

  2. Unknown User (jrm21)

    It definitely seems like you're trying to say a lot in one paper, so you're right about trying to be a little bit more succint. I think the strongest of the idea that you've posed is the idea of defining the female gaze, regardless of sexuality of the author. Like you said, women can write from the male gaze, so there may not be much to say about the author's sexuality, except that people can often be constrained by cultural norms. It'd be interesting if you could find something that is "gazeless" if that could even exists - just something neutral on the subject.

  3. I like your topic a lot, and Bechdel's text is so interesting because it stages looking/gazing very pervasively: Bruce's regard of other men (including via camera), the 1970s cruising scene in NYC, lots of photographs w/ family members or models returning camera's gaze, the staging of an Oscar Wilde play, and so on.  Probably there's enough in this work to sustain the whole essay, after a brief illustration of the male gaze in comics (I agree with Laura: keep it tight!).  If you want to bring in more, why not Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For series?  There are at least a couple of collections out there, although I haven't read them, to be honest....I see the bulk of your reading directed toward understanding the gaze, male and "female" -- there is such a thing, according to some arguments.  A basic place to start is Wikipedia; a higher-level introduction is one by Anneke Smelik.  And this is before you get to any books or MLA database searches!  I say try to grapple with this for a while, because it really will facilitate your analysis -- just be careful that your essay doesn't devolve into a "research paper."  Don't lose track of your distinctive conributions!  You'll want to be careful to explain what you see as the differences between filmic scopophilia and the somewhat different culture & practices of comic books.  This brings me back to the point at which I began: in Fun Home, the gaze is much more complicated, in terms of who's looking at whom.  But an interesting opportunity, don't you think?