Venue: Gawker (“Today’s Gossip is Tomorrow’s News”)
Have the ambiguous gazing roles in the popular Young Adult Literature novels Twilight by Stephanie Meyer and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins opened the floodgates for books like Every Day by David Levithan and Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff, both of which construct their love stories without assigning the protagonist a specific gender? By blurring and deconstructing the gendered stereotypes of Bella, Edward, Katniss, and Peeta, Meyer and Collins erase the need for gendered or bodied protagonists. In the 19th century, a typical Young Adult romance novel would introduce a female character as the object of a male gazer, as seen in Little Women by Louissa May Alcott and Charlotte Temple by Suzanna Rowson. Now, even though Bella and Katniss represent ‘the gazed’ quite often, they also possess the faculties necessary to gaze at men, including both male external and internal entities. This attribute forces both Peeta and Edward into John Berger’s feminized role of not only being publically gazed at, but aware of that gaze and their open vulnerabilities.
Berger states: “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at (47). This statement rings true in the case of Bella and Katniss for most of their respectful novels. In Twilight, Edward’s existence spans across more than a century, meaning the majority of his actions occur before Bella appears into the realm of existence. In one sense, this love story unfurls as a classic male-gazed romance would. Edward controls his innate desire for human blood as a means of exhibiting his undying craving for humanity within his monstrous existence and like magic, Bella appears as a gift for his efforts. Edward even describes his yearning for her as an addict rewarding himself with a product specifically designed for him, he states: “you are exactly my brand of heroin” (268). Heroin functions as a means used for another’s end, thereby placing Bella in Berger’s objectified female role. Additionally, Edward demonstrates power and ownership over her by employing the possessive term “my.” However, an empowered female silver lining subsists even in this initially objectifying depiction. Edward reveals himself as an addict for Bella, allowing Bella a dash of power over him. Furthermore, this disclosure exposes Edward’s internal and external vulnerabilities towards Bella and grants her sight into his feelings.
As much as Bella maintains awareness of Edward’s gaze on her, Edward also demonstrates cognizance for the way Bella sees him. He constantly addresses the notion that she shouldn’t see him the way she does, as an object of love, but as a monster, the way he believes others see him and the way he often sees himself: “I began to see the monster in my eyes” (343). This confession places Edward directly into the typically female role of the gazed or surveyed. Berger claims: “A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself… And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman” (46). This definition fits Edward perfectly, making him a new kind of fictional male character. This kind of love involves two individuals both aware of their roles as the gazed and the gazer and creates a relationship where both members maintain acute awareness of how every action they execute will affect the other and the other’s interpretation of them. When the gazing roles remain dynamic, the love created evolves into a much more internal place where the minds controlling awareness govern the love much more than the bodies and subsequent physical desires do. The Hunger Games employs a similar format by highlighting the way Katniss and Peeta express awareness of the audience’s gaze on their actions and on their gazes on each other. Peeta does not possess the sole power of the gazer. Both genders must be gazed at, gaze at others, and maintain attentiveness towards their inner interpretations of how others see them. The intense amount of gazing would usually evoke a lot of physical importance in the novel; however, it is the internal growth, awareness, and consequential love that shine through.
This concept leads into David Levithan’s Every Day, a novel that depicts a touching love story with an interesting catch. The protagonist, A, doesn’t have a body or gender of its own, but still manages to fall in love with a girl named Rhiannon. Every day A wakes up in the body of another person and must live that day according to the circumstances at hand. The notion of the gaze develops into an intensely interesting concept with the body of the protagonist constantly evolving. How does one physically gaze at A when the bodies do not represent the entity within? It seems an internal gaze constitutes the only method of evaluating A through the faculties of a gaze. A follows a self-invented set of morals to live by when inhabiting bodies, since they are distinct from A’s own existence. A knows what each body looks like and therefore predicts how others will gaze at A’s physical entity for the day. It seems like a love would be impossible through this way of life; however, A does fall in love. A genderless entity falls in love and the book has received praise and adoration for the protagonist, bravo. A doesn’t end up with Rhiannon; however, by connecting with how others will gaze the exterior and interior workings of individuals, A does get Rhiannon to love him/her. Rhiannon’s physical gaze of A doesn’t match up with the way she sees A’s feelings and morals. But the genderless romance exists, and I find its existence largely in proportion to the way Meyer and Collins focus on internal gazing and non-gender-biased self-awareness of how others see you.