The Female Gaze

This article first appeared at the Writers At Play blog, June 5, 2008.

Years ago, Diet Coke aired a commercial depicting an office full of women choosing to time their daily break to that of a certain construction worker’s break. At the time, the commercial subverted the commonly accepted idea that women weren’t visual creatures, whereas men were inherently visual — and this was used to argue for why there were so many scantily clad women in beer commercials. Since we now know this is untrue, take a moment for your own Diet Coke break:

The Diet Coke commercial changed how men thought about women and how women thought about themselves, and the evidence of that is how it actually became part of the urban lexicon to describe women ogling men. Well, Bud Light has picked up where Diet Coke left off. This time, though, they’re actually using sex to sell beer to women. Gee, mutual gender exploitation, what a novel idea! I’ve been wondering for years why advertisers can’t seem to cotton on to the fact that women are not a niche market. Ask yourself, how can over half the population be a “niche market?”

Salon’s Broadsheet blog points out how authors Lisa Witter and Lisa Chen in their new book, The She Spot: Why Women Are the Market for Changing the World — And How to Reach Them, shed light on the fact that women “control slightly more than half of the world\’s wealth . . . we make 83 percent of household purchasing decisions; when we have money, we’re more likely than men to donate it to charitable and political causes; we can work word of mouth like nobody’s business; we vote more than men. . . we volunteer more of our time; and what sells to us will often—contrary to the marketing wisdom of yore—sell to men, too.” Is it really such a surprise that women hold the purse strings?

Bud Light has taken the idea of women being visually stimulated to a new level though. Now we’re superheroes, ladies. (Something we’ve known all along.) In a refreshing twist to the summer’s male dominated superhero movies like Ironman and Hancock, the new Bud Light woman has x-ray vision. As is true with any supernatural boon, this one comes with consequences. I think I could deal with having to avert my eyes once in a while, couldn’t you? Take a peek:

I’m glad that advertisers are starting to find ways to market products to women other than making things pink and slapping Hello Kitty or rhinestones on an item. Romance publishers have known this for a long time since the genre is dominated by female writers and readers—and it accounts for over a billion in annual sales and makes up over a quarter of all books sold. Even if the classic clinch covers began as a way to attract male book buyers, today’s covers have added another dimension to the marketing of Romance novels. While not everyone agrees (see some of the comments here), I think the male torso covers are an example of the Female Gaze. In other kinds of media, we’re all so used to the idea that the main spectator of a movie, advertising, book cover, etc. is male, but Romance twists that around with stories that depict heroines in control of their sexuality and legitimize what women want from relationships and from life. Many of us want a robust family life built on the foundation of a strong relationship with a partner who supports and expands our lives. And, yes, for most of us that includes a healthy sex life. On that you can judge a book by its cover. What are some of your favorite Romance novel covers and why?

Lisa Paitz Spindler a.k.a “Danger Gal” knows how to mix Science Fiction with Romance. Check out her blog, where Danger is a Gal’s Best Friend.