Flip Through

Monday, April 11, 2011

Embodied Gaze: Insertion and Ownership

In "The Androgynous Mind," Woolf notes that the British suffrage movement "must have made [men] lay an emphasis upon their own sex and its characteristics which they would not have troubled to think about had they not been challenged"; Jonathan Culler states that the reader/viewer is assumed to be male, by author, critic, and culture alike. Certainly the relationship between anxious masculinity and the default male body seems clear to modern audiences who give a care to these sorts of things--the default state of the male being has been threatened since Woolf's time and before by feminists and other radical groups. This fear is firmly entrenched in US culture low and high and gives fruit in the media we are discussing here in the form of heterosexual relationships: Bella and Edward, Cassie and Azazeal, and Buffy and Angel. It is important to note that these relationships do not develop organically or more specifically from happenstance. To understand why, we need to delve into the issue of creeperdom. Behold:

1. Angel stalks Buffy once he has turned evil, because he wants to drive her crazy and eventually kill her. However, his introduction into the series (including his retconned introduction) is also in the form of stalking, despite the fact that Buffy tells him not to follow her.

2. Azazeal stalks Cassie because he is evil; namely, because he wants to impregnate her with his demon offspring.

3. Edward stalks Bella because he "loves her" and thinks that watching her sleep, disabling her car, etc. will keep her safe.

Two out of three stalkers recognize that stalking is bad! Don't do it, kids. Stalking is the most obvious manifestation of "power-over" that a man can display without crossing into the territory of rape and physical abuse. Angel's first appearance in BTVS:1 is in the form of stalking, when Buffy is walking home from the Bronze ("Welcome to the Hellmouth"). Later, once Angelus has emerged, he stalks her in earnest and is shot standing outside her house, looking in her windows at night and also into those of her friends, most specifically Willow and Jenny Calendar, two women; he also threatens Buffy's mother ("Passion", "Innocence"). The first time we see Azazeal, he is standing on Medenham's grounds, watching Cassie from various locations--and this is the mode of his appearance for quite some time. After they have met formally, Azazeal steps this behavior up, appearing in Cassie's bedroom to watch her sleep, standing outside her windows, and following her around school and in town; he even pops up in a bar ("Life Goes On"). Edward's notorious stalking begins, arguably, when he prevents Bella from being hit by a car (Twilight) and then escalates into sneaking into her room while she is sleeping, disabling her truck's engine to keep her from leaving her house (Eclipse), and even conscripting his sister, Alice, into watching Bella for him via her visions (Eclipse). How does each girl react? Buffy tells S1 Angel to step off and stop following her, because she hates being followed and can take care of herself; she actively fights S2 Angelus and eventually kills him. Cassie at first tries to understand why Azazeal is following her around--she initially has no notion of her witch ancestry and powers--and then attempts to avoid him. Bella finds Edward's advances romantic and reassuring, for the most part; when she finds out that Edward has been in her room at night, her reaction is horror--because she talks in her sleep and is afraid of what he might have heard (Twilight).

The male gaze in each instance is an embodied, directed thing, no longer an abstract theory but an active agent with an agenda ('ware travelers, here be alliterative agony). In all cases, the male figures insert themselves into the females' lives; they are not sought, but choose to enter with the careless power that is their birthright. Again from Culler: "The experience of being watched, seen as "a girl," restricted, marginalized" is the experience of women in our society since history began. When the default gaze, body, and experience is male, the right to reject that gaze, body, and experience never exists for the subjugated. According to Mulvey in her seminal work "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," mainstream film (writ large, mainstream culture) "coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order." I would change "patriarchal" to "kyriarchal," given that Bella is complicit--or at least unresisting--in her domination by Edward. Cassie is drawn to Azazeal once he has possessed her, and after the possession has worn off, she still feels a residual pull, but she identifies him firmly as villainous. Buffy is in love with Angel, despite his stalking behavior, because he shows himself to be on the side of good. The line between Angel-as-good and Edward-as-good is that Buffy is never at the mercy of Angel, while every interaction and conversation between Bella and Edward shows that Bella is powerless to defend herself against Edward. Cassie too is vulnerable to Azazeal, but she makes the effort of fighting him and trying to direct her own life.

The physicality of our supernatural males' gazes is compounded by what the wielders choose to do with their power. On the scale of natural to unnatural with "natural" being "most true to idealized heterosexual life", Buffy/Angel is the MOST NATURAL relationship with Bella/Edward and Cassie/Azazeal tied for the LEAST NATURAL slot. This is mostly because Azazeal (in the best possibility) tricks and manhandles Cassie into fucking him and (in the worst possibility) rapes her, whilst Angel and Buffy have sex because they're in love and that's what people in love do, should they desire to...and Bella and Edward are fairly psychotic, emotionally. Specifically, Bella's desire is denied to her by Edward until they are married (at the beginning of the fourth book, Breaking Dawn. This extreme lapse has led to referring to the series as "abstinence porn") due to his sense of what is "right," attributed to his old-fashioned sensibilities; a great deal of their time together is spent in mutual unfulfilled desire. He, like Angel, can be considered "human" because of his fight against his monstrous instincts (and is therefore less threatening than, say, James or the Volturi), and Bella is in fact the first to broach the topic and remains open about what she wants to do. The issues are largely on Edward's end, because of his association of sex sans marital bonds with "bad". Buffy and Angel each have desire and it plays out as naturally as possible, given the situation--Buffy reasons that sleeping with Angel is not so bad because his vampireness is tempered by his ensouled state; effectively he is a superpowered human, and neither knows that anything bad will happen if they do have sex AND neither is leading the other on. Cassie is unwilling to have sex with Azazeal of her own will (due to his unabashed evilness, revealed most emphatically when he murders her best friend Thelma), so Azazeal possesses her. Once she is free of the possession, Cassie's revulsion of him returns, though tainted with memories of what had happened between them. Effectively Azazeal date-rapes her vicariously via intercourse with her boyfriend Troy (who, also being possessed, passes the possession on to Cassie) and then engages in technically consensual sex with her while she is possessed, though it's made clear that she is not in control of her body or mind at the time (in the aptly-named episode "Possession").

None of these relationships are what we would deem "healthy." Why then do we lionize and dream after them? What is the major appeal? Angel, Azazeal, and Edward have some things in common: all are immortal, all are handsome, all are supernaturally powered, all are charming. They are fuckable. But where popular opinion, scholarship, and interpretations diverge is on the question of whether there is something inherently wrong with lusting after the Bad Boy. For my money, the inherent wrong is in the power structure in which heterosexual relationships currently operate. If Cassie/Buffy/Bella desired Azazeal/Angel/Edward and wanted to have sex with him, there should be no negative fall-out, because sex is not inherently bad. The negative fall-out in the real world comes from the system of men's ownership of the women they consort with--once fucked, your organs are no longer your own. This system translates in the media we are examining to: Once fucked, evil appears/tries to take over your body/tries to kill you. The blame falls on the woman, though the instrument of evil is the man (or, in the case of Bella, the fruit of the man). Women's sexuality and women's bodies and women's existence are faulted, often for the harm that comes to them (in the form of victim-blaming). Thus it is Buffy's fault that Angel turns into Angelus; Bella's fault that her fetus is killing her from the inside (and her fault that Edward can't resist her, her fault that Jacob is attracted to her, her fault that James and then the Volturi want to kill her, her fault that Jasper cannot control himself around her, etc. etc. etc. All the fault of Bella's freesia-scented blood); Cassie's fault that the Nephilim return to Earth and Malachi, her and Azazeal's son, is going to tear the world apart.

The crux of Angel, Azazeal, and Edward's behavior is a tendency toward voyeurism, evidenced most clearly by their stalking. Again Mulvey--the pleasure of voyeurism "lies in ascertaining guilt...asserting control and subjugating the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness." With regard to our supernatural men and human women, this definition can be applied two ways:

First, the guilty party is the female (the watched), by virtue of her existence or a slight, perceived or real. The righteous party (the male watcher) applies punishment via sexual avenues. Angelus threatens Buffy's life in overtly sexual ways--the aftermath of their lovemaking, when Angelus has emerged from Angel, is rife with carefully stereotypical misogynist language; he sends her flowers as a subversion of a romantic gesture. Edward denies Bella sexual intercourse, which she desires. Azazeal rapes Cassie after she denies him sexual intercourse.

Second, the guilty party is the male (the watcher), by virtue of his state as voyeur, which goes against what the righteous female (the watched) desires. Buffy fights back against Angelus and ultimately kills him. Bella is bitten (coded in sexual terms as "used" or "damaged") by James, an evil vampire, forcing Edward to save her. Cassie resists Azazeal's further attempts and tries to kill his child.

Both definitions are intriguing and applicable to our situations. The first is the default state, with the watched female body and audience complicit in the male gaze. The second is what happens when the woman and audience wake up--no longer is Edward able to tell Bella, "No one will believe you" with impunity, and Angelus' taunt that Buffy is powerless with her weapons and friends taken from her is shown for the lie it is. Once aware, we are capable of seeing what Bella sees: that there is something profoundly different about Edward, and furthermore, that our eyes do not deceive us. We are capable of continuing on our own, without husband or friends or tools if necessary, for we are humans too.

Culler, J. (1983). On deconstruction: Theory and criticism after structuralism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Jones, J. and Watkins, L. (2004). Life goes on and Possession {television broadcast}. UK: Shine Limited.

Meyer, S. (2004). Twilight. New York: Little, Brown, and Co.

Meyer, S. (2007). Eclipse. New York: Little, Brown, and Co.

Mulvey, L. (2009). Visual and other pleasures. Boston: Palgrave Macmillan.

Whedon, J. (1997-98). Welcome to the hellmouth and Passion and Innocence. {television broadcast}. USA: Mutant Enemy Productions.

Woolf, V. (1989). A room of one's own. New York: Mariner Books.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...