To clarify, this is not in reference to the female gaze as it’s defined sometimes, women looking at themselves through men; this is the female gaze as defined as the opposite of the male gaze, using the male form as eye candy instead of (or alongside, but more on that in a minute) the female form. The male (and female) gazes are typically heteronormative (but more on that in a minute).
There’s really no denying that the majority of media is male gazey. Look at a lot of action films: the couple of women present are going to be slotted into one of a few character boxes, all of which unspokenly involve the descriptors “sexy” and/or “cleavagey.” Whether it’s the camera slowly panning over an appealing, curvy-but-slender female body or a girl leaning over while wearing a low-cut top (if leaning toward the camera) or a short skirt (if leaning away from the camera) or any number of gratuitous sprinkler fight/shower/wind blowing in the hair scenes, we’re pretty much conditioned to think it’s normal to use women as eye candy. The female form can and should be appreciated, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a difference between appreciating and commodifying.
Sure, sometimes this gets subverted; Daniel Craig’s Bond coming out of the water in a tight bathing suit in Casino Royale, the whole of Magic Mike (in theory more than in practice), etcetera. But as overall genres go, there are probably few in modern media that are as female gazey as, so as not to use a more all-encompassing adjective that implies a television program that I don’t watch but have been made to understand is definitely not female gazey, human/monster halfbreed stories. Halfbreeds here defined as werewolves, shifters, vampires, fairies, really most things that are present on True Blood (though this is not just about True Blood): “monsters” that can pass for human some or most of the time. My focus tonight is going to be on werewolves, actually entirely related to last night’s suddenly pants! phenomenon.
Werewolves (and shifters, but while I know weres and shifters don’t get on and would resent being lumped together, the latter is a comparatively smaller group in overall fiction, so right now I’m just saying the former) are convenient because turning into animals requires removing one’s clothes. Animals don’t wear clothes, generally speaking. Some weres split their clothes like the Hulk when they transform, others dramatically rip their shirts off while running (I’m looking at you, Twilight), others strip more slowly, either with determination but casualness or with some level of menacing involved, some just slide out of their clothes as they change size.
And for whatever reason, a lot of fictional weres are dudes. This means a lot of well-developed naked dude torsos on the screen, and in the case of True Blood and other things that can get away with it, shapely naked dude asses too. (Rarely are we shown unattractive weres transforming; possibly some explanation could be fabricated about how being a wolf just imbues one with a certain physique, but I am not an expert on the matter, so I won’t speculate.)
Now, of my usual Monster Monday fictions, Buffy is actually probably the least female gazey with their werewolves. Their werewolves were really only Oz (Seth Green) and Veruca (Paige Moss), there were never pack-related werewolf parties. Oz and Veruca did get naked with each other that time, but considering that Oz spent most of his full moons in a cage or already-wolfed, there wasn’t a great deal of naked dude fantasy involved with him. But it still goes with the other pattern of many of these halfbreed stories: it’s female-centric, overall. Women are characters, and women are watching, it is known. And other halfbreeds, vampires mostly (Angel [David Boreanaz], Spike [James Marsters], etc.), got their fair share of shirtless time.
Twilight definitely has its fair share of shirtless dudes. I’ve discussed my issues with Twilight‘s werewolf mythology especially as it relates to lady wolves before, but talking about shirtless werewolves basically requires bringing up Twilight. That’s one of the rules we used for the New Moon drinking game, take a drink every time there’s a shirtless werewolf.
I spent a reasonable chunk of my weekend watching the first few episodes of Teen Wolf on Netflix, at my friend’s urging, and hey, guess what? That’s a reasonable amount of shirtless dude as well. I can’t say much more about it than that, because I haven’t watched much of it, but it is worthy of a mention. Of the things mentioned here, Teen Wolf is the most overtly dude-centric; there’s ladies on the show and they talk to each other and it’s exciting, but there are a lot more dudes. And so far I haven’t encountered any lady wolves. I assume there will be lady wolves eventually (?) but.
And True Blood. First, a quotation from one of my fast-ranted tumblr posts responding to a problematic Entertainment Weekly blurb:
“Also, though the article does not say so, it is subtextual and also somewhat implied by the fact that the picture is of growling alpha male Joe Manganiello: True Blood is a show that is marketed more toward women. There are plenty of sexy girls (gods are there ever) and plenty of them do sexy things, but girls being sexy is something that’s usually considered aimed toward guys and is therefore less questionable. It’s dudes being sexy that’s being pictured here and that does also happen, which is for women, that is more “guilty,” because women thinking sexy thoughts is less good than men thinking it to many.”
True Blood has its fair share of sexy shirtless and possibly pantsless dudes. Alcide (Joe Manganiello) and Sam (Sam Trammell) get naked the most, but most of the dudes have had instances of naked time. True Blood also has its fair share of sexy ladies, some of them weres like Rikki (Kelly Overton), and they’re often naked too. I may be the only person in the world who rarely finds True Blood‘s sex and nudity gratuitous (removing clothes to shift makes sense, and removing clothes to bang also makes sense, and sometimes people bang, call me crazy) but there you have it; even things that might usually be male gazey (Tara [Rutina Wesley] doing a turn as a pole dancer at Fangtasia last season, Jess [Deborah Ann Woll] dressing up like a naughty schoolgirl to seduce Takahashi [Keone Young] this season) don’t quite feel so. Jessica’s costume was almost a parody of itself (though the fact that said parody was suggested by go away damn you Bill [Stephen Moyer] is sketch, but in a canonical way and not just in the way of “this is how it is and nobody bats an eyelash at it”) Tara was dancing because that’s something that’s done at Fangtasia and she was a new vampire and apparently she was a better dancer than bartender; also, Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) was pretty obviously female gazing at Tara during all of her Fangtasia sexytimes.
Which brings up the other thing about True Blood: I described its phenomenon as that of not just the female gaze, the heteronormative one that drove women to Magic Mike en masse, but potentially the bisexual female gaze. This show has a lot of sexy people, guys and girls both, and perhaps unlike the fetishistic female sexuality often found through the male gaze, the women on this show being sexy has never made me feel uncomfortable. Even if I’m attracted to a woman in other circumstances, I have a difficult time enjoying male gazey scenes; True Blood‘s women, at least in reference to their sexy moments, usually are in charge of that sexuality themselves. Jess dresses herself in a ridiculous red and black corset and cape to go seduce Jason, Sookie (Anna Paquin) wears a short filmy red robe in her own sex dream about potential polyamory of her own design, Pam presents herself as a vampire pinup, Rikki has no qualms being naked in regards to wolftime. The men are for women to gaze at, but the women may well be too. If you want to. Men can gaze too, if they want, but it’s not just for them. And furthermore, these gazed-at scenes can be taken as more than just random eye candy. Eye candy, sure, but that’s (usually) not their sole purpose.
It’s funny because people, especially dudes, speak so scornfully of the werewolf/vampire/etc. genre nowadays. This is largely because of Twilight and its simultaneous cultural prevalence and badness, perhaps, but no wonder. Female gazes mean catering to women’s interests, after all, and that means not everything is catered to men’s interests, and that can be a stupidly scary notion to some.
–your fangirl heroine.