I think it’s safe to say that most romance readers are OK with the male gaze, as long as it’s not accompanied by more problematic behaviors. Heck, trends come and go, and the “rapey” romance novels of the 1980s were strongly connected to the male gaze, I think. It’s sexy to think you are exciting your lover – there’s a nice empathy loop going on there. And for some people, for a protagonist to be so sexy that her partner loses all fore-brain activities (like decision, discernment and outright good judgement) is a powerful kink. To have a partner who “can’t stop” isn’t any fun in real life, and even the fantasy requires a lot of coordination and mutual consent on spoken and/or unspoken levels. And I say that with a great deal of hesitation, because unspoken consent is so . . . easily misunderstood. As David Bowie sings in “Stay”, “’Cause you can never really tell when somebody wants something you want too.” It’s so much safer (if harder) to use your words.
But male arousal when presented with a lover? Oh, that’s very sexy! It depends on the reader of course, but I enjoy the trope with both straight and gay romances. I love strong people (male/female/other) who become helpless with desire and lose their minds (but not their good sense – in fact, the struggle between “oh, this is NOT the plan!” and “oh, this is the ONE!” is so delicious). Someone makes the first move of consent, the other makes the next move indicating consent, and they fall into a passionate entanglement of kisses and touches.
That’s what I mean by romance readers being OK with the male gaze – and another reason they are often OK with the male gaze is that romance readers and writers are often just as enthusiastic about the female gaze. The female lover looks upon her adored one, and maybe the dear one is classically handsome with Continue reading