Monthly Archives: February 2016

On My Writing: The Male Gaze

One of my current up-in-the-air plays (of three that I’m working on but – apparently – not managing to finish) is posing an interesting problem. One, I’m having my usual “can’t seem to focus on this and get motivated” problem, but I’ve since come to accept this as a normal part of my creative process. It’ll pass, eventually, but not without me vaguebooking a bit about it from time to time. It also poses a problem that it’s an only slightly fictionalized story about the life of one of my friends. Since I wouldn’t write about someone’s boring life, you can bet that it is super colorful.

The bigger problem, though, is that ever pesky “male gaze” issue.

According to that great testament to all lazy research, Wikipedia, the male gaze is:

“…a concept coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey. It refers to the way visual arts are structured around a masculine viewer. It describes the tendency in visual culture to depict the world and women from a masculine point of view and in terms of men’s attitudes.”

Basically (though that is pretty basic, there), it means that as a man, writing about a woman, I’m likely to – no, going to – inaccurately portray this character because I’m not a woman, myself. Look, guys, it’s almost as if my previous post about privilege and not being able to fully understand an issue that doesn’t impact me directly applies in this instance!

It’s a worry, particularly for this story, because my goal is to portray this character as a strong, driven, dedicated woman who is also vulnerable, kind, and open-minded. If you can’t see where the male gaze is going to go haywire in that short list of descriptors, then you clearly aren’t as big a fan of Joss Whedon as I am. I like this character. She calls out to me. And I’m totally going to blow it in portraying, realistically, the character of the person who inspires her.

I’m already trying to address this, though, in the way I’m writing the play. To acknowledge the male-gaziness of it all, I’ve decided to frame the story as a male writer writing the story of his friend’s colorful life. I directly address the fact that they both know that he’s going to screw up the POV to some degree. To avoid any misunderstanding as to the spirit of the story, the very first line of the play, before the lights are even up, is, “Let’s get one thing straight… I am not your manic pixie dream girl, got it?” Of course, I plan to add in some sexual tension between the two later, because drama!

So my solution may not be pretty, but I think writing a play about a male writing a story about a female and explicitly referencing the problematic aspects of the male gaze (there are a few opportunities for light humor there, too), I can better manage audience expectations. Of course, the whole mess will rely heavily on my friend, and on my own ability to really listening to what she has to say to me. Listen, ask questions, document, add drama (I’m still going to take some dramatic license, of course… it’s what I do).

It’s a recipe for… well, something, anyway. A thing. That… that has words.

(Coming soon, Ben laments on his inability to end a post without just petering away… like a… kind of weak thing.)

Politics, Privilege, and Shitty Metaphors

It may well be time for me to get political. For one thing, I need to write more, and I think about political topics often. Perhaps more importantly, this upcoming election is shaping up to be important, and if I can do nothing else, I can try to make solid, reasoned arguments in favor of what I see as the direction this country needs to travel.

In doing so, it’s important that I make some disclaimers, first. I am liberal. Very liberal. I consider Obama one of the best moderate Republican presidents we’ve had in a long time. I have climbed aboard the Sanders train and am pulling the whistle. Toot-toot, motherfucker. I am also a godless heathen (atheist and proud of it). I consider myself an ally of the LGBTQ community.

I am also a straight, white male in the upper middle class bracket (if such notions as “middle class” can still be said to exist), which means we have to have a little talk about privilege, first.

Wait, wait! Come back! I know some of you may have turned off at the mention of privilege, or are already queueing up your angry comments. Let me try to talk you off those ledges, though, with my thoughts on privilege.

Yes, I have privilege, and everything I’m going to write has to be seen through the lens of the straight, white male with comfortable income in America. When I try to present a political argument or point, or make a social observation, I always try to remember that I am often not making this point or argument from the perspective of those most affected by the ramifications of it.

Here’s how I look at privilege: privilege is not what I am given for being a straight, white American male. Privilege is what I don’t have to struggle against because of it.

Crappy metaphor time!

Consider life as a 400-meter dash. Everyone running it has to run that same 400 meters from start to finish to consider the race completed. Because I grew up in a culture of privilege, I get to start right at that starting line (or, well, close enough… it’s not like I’m heir to major financial empire or anything. In fact, we were on food stamps when I was young, and while that means I struggled a little more, it was considerably easier for my family to rise above those beginnings due, again, to no one actively making our social advancement more difficult). I still have to run 400 meters, to be sure. I’m not getting a head start. I don’t only have to run 300 meters.

Some folks, though, while still having to run the 400 meters from start to finish, have to start behind me. Minorities. Women. Those born in poverty. “But Ben,” I hear some of you saying, “that’s just the same as if everyone started at the starting line, and you got to start 100m ahead of it!” It is similar, I’ll grant you that, but there are subtle differences. Privilege is about how close to the starting line you get to begin your race, not how far ahead of it you get to line up. Depending on where you define the baseline, you may find some differences. If I define the baseline as my own situation, then I suppose you could say that someone who is born into wealth gets a head start, but I don’t define the start line based on my societal position. I have privilege, but I could have even more privilege. However, I’m still super-privileged in the grand scheme of things.

The point I’m trying to make with poorly thought out metaphors is this: when I support the LGBTQ community, I try my best to remember that—by not being LGBTQ myself—I cannot pretend to speak for them; I can only speak with them. I’ve never experienced hatred flung their way by bigots. I don’t fear for my life when I go out for the evening. I don’t know what it’s like, therefore, I cannot comment from a position of 100% awareness. I can, and will, still comment, and still offer my support and opinion, but I know full well that I do so from a position of safety and comfort. The same goes for racial issues, gender issues, class issues, and so on. Religion is the one area I’m in the minority (at least in the great state of Texas), but it is trivially easy to keep my views to myself. I hate to appropriate language from other groups who are targets of bigotry and hatred (I almost used different language, but decided to leave this in as a great example of privilege in action), but I “pass” as religious until I indicate otherwise.

So please, as you read anything I write going forward, know this: I benefit immensely from privilege and try to remain aware of that as much as humanly possible. However, if I overstep my bounds, please call me out on it. I still make mistakes. I still understand things incorrectly based on my lack of first-hand experience. If I am wrong or misstep, I want to know so that I can correct myself.

Okay, with that out of the way, on with the show…