An Academic Article: On Yaoi, Homophobia and Misogyny

Yaoi = Yama nashi ochi nashi imi nashi. Also: Yamete, oshiri ga itai!

I came across this yaoi academic article written by Wim Lunsing termed On Yaoi Ronsō: Discussing Depictions of Male Homosexuality in Japanese Girls’ Comics, Gay Comics and Gay Pornography which you may access here. Ronsou (論争) means controversy and used in this context, this article discusses the potential homophobic elements within yaoi manga and Lunsing has done a great job representing both the queer and feminist circles who comes from two different camps in interpreting the social implications of yaoi towards misogyny, homophobia and minority misrepresentation.

Lunsing has eloquently laid out the history of yaoi ranging from the publication of one of the first yaoi manga drawn: Hiizuredokoro no tenshi {The angel who came from the sun} by Yamagishi Ryōko towards the phenomenon of of bara manga (manga for gay men, by mostly gay men) as a counter-response to towards the inaccuracies of gay relationships depicted in yaoi manga. I’m not going to talk about it here because it think that it’s mostly factual and it’s fleshed out pretty nicely so do go ahead and read it if you’re interested. I think that there are two arguments you can make about yaoi manga. You can either say that yaoi is homophobic because in echoing Satō Masaki, yaoi perpetuates a misrepresentation of how homosexuals behave, look like, have relationships etc. Homosexuals do not neatly identify themselves as uke or seme, they do not usually have feminine, slender, hairless bodies and in this sense, homosexuals as portrayed within the manga are demasculinised, emasculated and are depicted in a manner that is set up for the female to be viewed upon as sexual objects, for the pleasure of others. Hence, Masaki argues that female readers are no different from hentai jijiis(変体爺, dirty old men) who objectifies women in order to obtain sexual gratification through the eroticism of voyeurism.

Masaki: Fujoshis = female version of hentai jijis.

In fact, Yanagita Akiko agrees with Masaki to a certain degree because yaoi in this sense, acts as a tool for feminist emancipation, though the way it does so is through decidedly homophobic ways. Heterosexual relationships depicted in manga, be it shojo (note that the term shojo 処女 means virgin or maiden) or shounen usually carry a certain traditionalist, misogynistic portrayal of women where they are usually the passive party, the support hero, the one whose sole purpose is to fall in love with the male protagonist. In this sense, the female is usually portrayed for the needs and fulfillment of the male character and hence, always already a subject of patriarchy. Yaoi however, challenges such patriarchal portrayals by providing a gateway for women to look at men, presented in subordinated positions. For the first time, women are the ones who wield the power to gaze at men in a voyeuristic sense. Women can also substitute themselves with the feminine uke and imagine themselves within a relationship that is more egalitarian than one would have within a heterosexual relationship found in other manga.

Of course, the alternate position that one can take (and this is where I personally stand) is that yaoi actually help combat against homophobic structures because it perpetuates discourse that a relationship other than heterosexual is possible and thinkable. For me, my first encounter and understanding that gay relationships can be beautiful and worth pursuing is through a youtube video of Junjou Romantica, even if the drawings are idealised caricatures of what men are supposed to be. Yaoi occupies a crucial position in mainstream media (especially in Japanese media) that usually delegates homosexual subjects to a lower order; as a mockery, a point of curiosity, a subject of deviance or worse, as abjects (non-subjects) and any representation that presents gay relationships in a liberating manner acts as a counter-discourse towards the prevalent heterosexist structures within our media industry.

And besides, I disagree with Misaki that yaoi does not reflect what gay men look like in reality. In following Baudrilliard, what we are dealing in yaoi manga is not a distorted simulation of reality; it has become a simulacrum whereas the simulation has become the reality that we live in (Baudrillard calls this “the hyperreality). The bishounen phenomenon that is presented in yaoi manga has been reworked and represented in so many various ways that it spills over to reality where a substantial number of Japanese men choose to imitate and represent themselves as the sensitive, good looking, wide-eyed, charming, uke-esque male individuals known as ikemen. (いけめん)What was depicted in the manga, has far-researching consequences such that the simulations and depictions effectively become the real reality that we are living in. Does this change the way the gay landscape has become? You bet it does.

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An example of an ikemen.

I’ll have more to say on this, and more academic analyses are to come. To stay updated, do follow me by clicking on the button to the left. 😀

P.S I didnt know that the Japanese term for fag hag is okoge おこげ which means burnt rice. “Okama” (お釜) is the japanese word for “pot”, and is also slang for effeminate gay men/drag queens/ass. so burnt rice, literally sticking to the pot, translates to the equivalent slang of “fag hag”.

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5 thoughts on “An Academic Article: On Yaoi, Homophobia and Misogyny

  1. There are far too few people who would consider using Baudrillard to talk about how we relate and are affected by fiction. I love articles like these, and as a fujoshi I can definitely relate to the complexity of reading something that does not apply to me in any way, yet is still relatable.

    I agree completely. Even if the tropes and cliches yaoi and BL authors use are flawed, that does not make the whole genre flawed. Exposure will always lead to a discourse and a heightened awareness of it. I myself wouldn’t have gotten into BL and yaoi (though mostly I prefer to slashing characters in non-BL manga) if it weren’t for other people constantly talking about it, and for there to be a valid market for it.

    Its unfortunate that so many yaoi and BL readers are women who can’t relate to heterosexual romance as much as gay romance. And I can’t help but want to blame the manga and anime industry for my frustration that in some ways, GL is never going to be quite as marketable as BL is. And I guess scanlations and international appeal is a whole other story. Ah well, I guess that’s a rant for another time.

    Your blog is awesome and I look forward to your future posts!

    • Wow theebs, thank you for your kind and thoughtful response; it really brightens my day! ☆*:.。. o(≧▽≦)o .。.:*☆ I’ve been worrying whether my articles are coming across as academically pretentious or dense and having a comment had like really helps. 😀 I fear that I didn’t really do the topic much justice because I was glossing over quite a number of points such as the Baudrillard argument; my intention was to introduce in a discursive way, the various arguments by various camps as well as to introduce the article in a natural manner. What I wrote is only an appetizer and my initial thoughts, so there will definitely be more to come!

      I think that shojo manga are heterosexist and in a certain way, anti-feminist for a reason: quite a large number of (Japanese) women are very comfortable being oppressed and have no qualms perpetuating patriarchal ideology and discourse that ironically subjugates them in the first place. Unfortunately, themes of being the perfect housewives, of dating the perfect man and baking him cookies are particularly prevalent in shojo manga, written by female mangakas. I’m not saying that egalitarian shojo manga don’t exist, they do (Ooku and Kuragehime comes to mind.) They just don’t form a substantial demographic of shojo manga because they isn’t a viable market out there as of yet. The manga industry is merely producing the fantasy that the dominant demographic of readers want, which unfortunately, is highly patriarchal.

      Of course, there are other factors why yaoi’s attractive and it’s not just because of its egalitarian themes. I was thinking that the taboo status of homosexuality heightens the romantic appeal of readers as it creates a theme of “love conquers all/us versus society” which must be a highly appealing fantasy to live in. But that’s another post. 😉

  2. I just ran across your post here searching for “yaoi academic writing” — I hadn’t read the “yaoi is homophobic” argument before, but what I’m reading in other places states that yaoi is fetishizing homosexuality, which is more or less what I think you’re getting at. Do you have any other sources on this you could point me to? I’m trying to articulate it to myself enough to make a coherent argument. I feel like it is definitely a problematic area, very liminal, and I can see both sides of where the groups are coming from. And thanks for writing this! It’s good to have backup.

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