In recent months, George R.R. Martin’s fictional world has returned to the silver screen and cultural zeitgeist with “House of the Dragon.” The new series has risen from the ashes of the eighth season of “Game of Thrones,” and with it has come a returned love for actor Matt Smith and his role as Daemon Targaryen in the show. Arrogant and skilled in combat, Daemon Targaryen is a far cry from the quirky doctor that Smith was known for during his time in “Doctor Who.” Now, the attention for his new, darker character has sparked various edits and fancams that plague my For You page. Take a look at these comments, and, beyond the heart-eye and drooling emojis for Daemon or Smith, you might find a similar phrase again and again along the lines of: “He’s not handsome, but attractive.”
Smith’s face is not likely to be deemed something classically handsome. Though teased for a lack of eyebrows, he often takes the jokes aimed at him in stride and instead lets his persona and acting abilities speak for themselves. Beauty is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, something subjective and varying from person to person, and for many, his kindness and charisma are a stronger magnet than any sharp jawline or piercing eyes could ever be. And this isn’t the first time women have prioritized a man’s personality over his physical appearance: There’s a distinguishable pattern of women being attracted to so-called “ugly” men, Smith being one of them.
Shortly following the end of the first season of “House of the Dragon,” TikTok’s attention was drawn to Strange Kevin, a man considered perhaps unhandsome but attractive in the eyes of many female viewers. Participating in a trend where a man smolders at the camera to demonstrate how they might attract a woman, Kevin’s short video captivated the attention of many women on the app, who often commented that this was the female gaze that’s rarely captured in the media — which is largely preoccupied with satisfying the male gaze. Coming from feminist film theory, the term “male gaze” describes the way women are often viewed in film and media as objects of desire from a male point of view. The “female gaze,” on the other hand, serves as a gender-swapped counterpart in which men are instead viewed through a female point of view and, as we see it gaining traction now, perhaps stands to counteract the long-established male gaze.
Larger criticism also accompanied the fawning over Kevin’s video: Beyond condemnation for past misogynistic content, the true lack of female gaze in his original TikTok was additionally pointed out. Criticism for the misogyny is much more easily understood and agreed with, while omission of the female perspective has sparked conversation that further distills the meaning of the “female gaze.” While true that some women consider Kevin to be attractive or say that Kevin is shown through a female point of view, the viral TikTok was created through Kevin’s own perspective of what he supposes women find attractive — which is still a product of the male gaze. While female audiences of Smith and Strange Kevin have similarly swooned over these two conventionally unattractive men, it’s at the level of creation where the female gaze — or lack thereof — lies. Whereas Kevin creates a supposition of the female gaze, it’s the often female fans creating edits, fancams and the like that position Smith as an attractive man.
Though Kevin’s aim at the female gaze was perhaps more accurate for some women, frustration or even just confusion has long circulated over why women find certain men attractive. Similar to Smith, men like Pete Davidson or Jack Harlow have been considered unattractive by some and attractive to others. For one reason or another, these men continue to get attention seemingly out of nowhere when all “attractive” men across film and television are tall, muscled men like Chris Evans’ Captain America or Henry Cavill’s Superman. But when it comes down to it, these characters were not crafted in consideration of the female gaze, but instead with a male ideal for the male body in mind. As explained by actor Richard Madden, these standards are hard to achieve through “a kind of barely eating, working-out-twice-a-day, no-carbing thing,” and are often unreflective of what heterosexual women generally look for. From these men considered perhaps “ugly” or those that have a “dad bod,” we can see a growing appreciation for a charming personality and are expanding our ideas of what’s considered to be attractive. Although the heterosexual female gaze is not singularly supplemental to the male gaze we’ve seen so much of, it provides just one of many gazes that diversifies media created now and into the future.
While perhaps scarce in more popular media, the female gaze is certainly predominant in one space: fanfiction. Women make up a great majority of those who both read and write fanfiction, and with the medium’s frequent dip into romantic or sexual storylines, many fanfics take a female perspective in viewing male characters. For many of these fanfiction writers, writing a fan work means taking on the perspective of a celebrity or a favorite character from a piece of media and making them into the ideal partner. While comforting in thought, fanfiction is far from perfect when creating these ideal characters, as they often set unrealistic expectations for inevitably flawed romantic relationships in real life. I’ll be the first to admit that some peculiar romantic expectations still linger from years of reading too-good-to-be-true fanfiction. Even so, as opposed to casting aside fanfiction as something ridiculous or girly, there is something to be learned from the female gaze that is so prevalent in fanfiction.
In just a few years, great strides have been made to move away from the male gaze that’s been so heavily relied upon for years. This doesn’t mean, however, that the female gaze should be the replacement. As film, television, literature and the like continue to evolve, neither the male or female gaze should be prioritized, but instead with diversity in the gazes we view through.
Audra Woehle is an Opinion Columnist & can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.