Wherein your correspondent reviews another bit of important fujoshi-studies literature, as part of an ongoing survey project to skim through notable articles, try to make sense of them, and then grind them up against Genshiken (or other manga/ anime) to see if any sparks fly:
Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan by Patrick W. Galbraith, http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/660182 JSTOR: Signs, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Autumn 2011), pp. 211-232 (somehow not locked down in Jstor – grab it before they change their mind)
Galbraith is pretty well unavoidable in the field; when he gets around to looking at fujoshis acting as fujoshis you get to witness a first-rate academic popularizer at work. You get the feeling he has run through the theory/ world interface more than a few times in classes and symposia and knows what he wants to say. If I was still a grad student working in the field, I would be torn between admiration and jealousy. “Goddammit he just grabbed all the good stuff!”
Well, there is plenty of fujoshi misbehaviour to go around in Japan, and he has done the fieldwork – lots of fieldwork, so calm down and pay attention! This article and his moe one: Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan are now required reading.
(Big honking quote warning:)
“All of my informants self-identify as fujoshi, a term transforming the Japanese word for ladies into a homonym meaning rotten girls. Fujoshi are rotten because they are enthusiastic about yaoi, a genre of fan-produced fiction and art, usually manga, that places established male characters from commercial anime, manga, and video games into unintended romantic relationships, roughly analogous to “slash” fiction outside Japan (Jenkins 1992; Pagliassotti 2010).
Stories range from depicting boys just holding hands to boys having sex, sometimes roughly, always passionately, and appear as text and images in physical and virtual forms.
Yaoi evolved from the mainstream commercial medium of shojo (for girls) manga and shares the genre’s focus on romance and interpersonal relationships, but yaoi is dedicated to relationships between androgynous men. In a country where patriarchal family values persist, fujoshi are criticized for pursuing yaoi and are described as rotten because they are attracted to fantasies of sex that is not productive of children (Sugiura 2006).
However, fujoshi typically lead heteronormative lives despite their queer fantasies, which they describe as nothing more than play. Indeed, fujoshi consciously situate their fantasy as digression: the term yaoi is an acronym for “no climax, no punch line, no meaning” (yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi). This follows a long tradition in Japan of asobi, or play that is outside the expectations and rules of the everyday (Hendry and Raveri 2002).
Yaoi erases the woman in fantasy because female-male or even female-female couples are too close to reality. Male-male couples, by contrast, are positioned as what fujoshi call “pure fantasy” (junsui na fantajı). In this way, yaoi represents what psychoanalyst Saito¯ Tamaki describes as “asymmetrical” desire “deliberately separated from everyday life” (Saito 2007, 245). For fujoshi, fantasy is something that coexists with reality as a separate set of possibilities.
Fujoshi fantasy centers on intimacy. Sharalyn Orbaugh (2010) notes that rape is a common motif in yaoi, but adds that “rape is always motivated by the aggressor’s extreme love and desire for the victim” and “the victim eventually comes to accept and reciprocate the aggressor’s love”. As Orbaugh sees it, yaoi characters are vulnerable and abject (they describe themselves as strange), but they accept each other as true or destined lovers. The bond is key. The characters do not identify as gay (and often outright deny it) but fall in love with someone who happens to be the same-sex; the bond between them is special and reproducible.
Likewise, yaoi tends to feature the charismatic boys of shonen (for boys) manga. Be they friends or rivals, the characters in these action-adventure stories tend to have very strong feelings for one another. Fujoshi reinterpret touches, words, and glances in shonen manga as indirect expressions of affection: they pick up on implicit tensions in male relations and playfully imagine intimacy. I call this “transgressive intimacy,” or emotional and erotic potential that is latent in the everyday and separate from it. Fujoshi are devoted to exposing and exploring transgressive intimacy in their fiction and art, and among themselves. Some of my informants, even those with boyfriends, described themselves as lesbians.(see orig Mizoguchi fn 9 below)
My informants generally imposed temporal and spatial limits on their contact—they often “do not want to know” one another, as one informant frankly told me, outside of their shared experiences as fujoshi, which tends to focus discussions and interactions on yaoi. Fujoshi relationships, like yaoi relationships, are based on a mutual status as abject and vulnerable (hence fujoshi describe themselves as rotten) and are consciously separated from reality as moments of transgressive intimate potential in fantasy space.
Intimacy among fujoshi is characterized by playful surface interaction. At the most basic level, when the interaction occurs online, it is a construct between the user physically sitting in front of the computer and the other imagined beyond the screen (a flat viewing surface mediating interactions with a fujoshi partner who is not deeply engaged, talking about supposedly “meaningless” fantasy). Philosopher Azuma Hiroki uses the metaphor of the screen to describe the nature of late-stage capitalism as “hyperflatness” (Azuma 2009, 102). Drawing on Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, Azuma theorizes that the grand narrative has broken down, leaving only fragmentary moments of sensual pleasure obsessively reproduced in a flat world without meaning, since meaning was generated by the grand narrative.
This goes a long way toward explaining fan fiction and art, but it fails to explain the sociality and intimacy of sharing these moments of pleasure or sensual intensity. On this point, Suzuki Kensuke has theorized “neta communication” (neta teki komyunike¯shon), or topic-oriented communication in which the topic itself is less important than the communication act (Suzuki 2002).
Neta means material, as in the material a comedian draws on when making jokes on stage. Those needing reference for how such communication functions need look no further than Seinfeld, an American sitcom where a comedian and his friends draw on an endless string of topics from trivial matters in everyday life to fuel discussions that unfold like performances. While extreme in arguing that humans have reverted to buzzing like bees in hive interactions, neta communication theory highlights the importance of the phatic function of language, which seems crucial to understanding fujoshi. Communication and interactions may be surface, but they are not trivial. As Elspeth Probyn (1996) suggests, the social world is a “surface” upon which “all manner of desires to belong are conducted in relations of proximity to each other” .
If you can get the in-journal pdf from the link, the footnotes are easier to manage as they sit at page bottom.. Here’s one that caught my eye:
“9) While there certainly are lesbian fujoshi, and while not wanting to deny my informants their sexual agency, I should point out that it seemed to me that they were using the term “lesbian” not to indicate a sexual orientation but rather to mean “deeply intimate with members of the same-sex.” This sort of intimacy, or special friendship, at girls’ schools is not historically unique (Pflugfelder 2005).”
Shortly following is a footnote that does the big ooooops! on Mizoguchi due to a bit of careless quoting:
“Mizoguchi Akiko (2007) has also worked on lesbianism among yaoi fans and has stated that she “became” a lesbian because of exposure in adolescence (Mizoguchi 2008, vi) “
Whoops! I have previously made noise about this. Let me dig at it a bit more:
Dr. Akiko Mizoguchi has to be dealt with in any discussion of yaoi in Japan: Her main thesis posits that while the majority of yaoi consuming Japanese women are “straight”, their social exchange of libidinous material constitutes a “virtual lesbian space”. The puppets look male, but the hands that draw them are women’s, in a women’s productive fan community. Her “virtual lesbian” thesis confuses the heck out of “straight’ fujoshi research, to the extent that there is a temptation to fuzzy-fy her stuff and slip by it. There goes the odd charm of fujoshidom: “normal” Japanese women with perverse desires – as if they were all “real” lesbians, they would be “bent” anyway, so looking at m-m pr0n would be no big stretch: They would be all “virtually butch” or some such rude miscomprehension.
For me, her “virtual lesbian” concept helped me put the whole Genshiken Hato-plot-trick in context (and left me a bit queasy about reading yuri, though I still can’t bring myself to read her fave stuff). Dr. Mizoguchi knows all about yuri, but keeps seeing the male “social” hiding behind the women characters.
One reason I harp on this is that the frank personal testimony that Mizoguchi used in her thesis is what made it real and readable, and while I suspect it might be a tad embellished, the story of a young lesbian isolated in her social using the tropes of a classic BL tales to recover from a painful rejected confession is pure high heroic romanticism!
Lets dig up the Mizoguchi passages in question:
“But of course I had crushes on girl friends prior to that time. Especially serious was one episode with a classmate in college, whom I ended up telling that i was in love with and wanted to become lovers with. She was surprised and said she was sorry but she could only be friends with me, and proceeded to advise me that i should try to correct my ways so I could fit back into a straight lifestyle, as the lesbian or bisexual life would surely be more difficult.
“Whether or not I will lead a non-normative life is not your business. I will make my own decision and I know I will not lie to myself. The chosen lifestyle might be the more difficult one, but that is not the point.”
At the time of this conversation in 1985, I had not heard of lesbians except for “homosexuality as a mental disorder” and a few “lesbian scandals” in show business. [ …] How then was I able to gain access to such a strong sense of lesbian pride? (p9) […] When I realized this, what came to my mind was the only “homosexual” representation I had access to in the 1970’s, that is, so-called “beautiful boy” comics (bishounen manga) within the “girls comics’ (shojo manga) genre.. ” (p10, Mizoguchi 2008))
K-rist piloting a Tracer unit in a schoolgirl outfit!!! If this ain’t a “Batman moment” stuck into a PhD thesis, I don’t know what is! I am not making fun of it, and it is fair game to call attention to it, as it was foregrounded in her thesis. The oath moment is one to self and to public agency. Perhaps the problem pops up later at the end of her personal testimony around P44:
“I “became” a lesbian after [emp mine] the beautiful boy protagonists’ homoerotic/ homosexual episodes in the “beautiful boy” comics in the 1970’s “girls’ comics”. precursor to the yaoi genre. Now approximately a million women – still a minority in Japan with a population of over 127 million – are participating in a “virtual lesbian” community, which has the potential lesbian and feminist activism based on shared pleasures among women and their sexual fantasies.” (Mizoguchi 2008)
So: there is the quote, but way out of context. Mizoguchi has made a point of invoking Judith Butler a whole lot on “becoming”, and therefore the quotation-marks- loaded “I became” must be positioned to be read as meaning something like “I initially constructed my public persona as a lesbian, by adapting the narratives and tropes of..” Butler is a big gay theorist who posits as desirable that one acts publicly to present one’s life and sexuality as a real social fact (although some parody of what is grating on you from heteronormative society is considered part of the deal too.) Just think of the ID creature in the film “Forbidden Planet”, powerful, diffuse and impossible to pin down, because it is re-created instant to instant – such is identity to Butler.
Note also Mizoguchi’s use of the word after, as in “take after“, “inspired by“, “enabled by the script” rather than “after I got hit by a train, I died”. So “I became” without the Butler concept emphasis is problematic.
Why I am I digressing on this? Pace mr. Galbraith, I am not on a search and destroy mission. The thing about Mizoguchi, as personified in her 2008 PhD thesis is how she straddles and threatens the gender and fantasy is fantasy/ reality is reality conventions of the yaoi social. They are all supposed to be “straight” women – what is she doing in there? Also, she has made it a big point of her praxis to point out that the nastier plot conventions in yaoi can hurt, insult and confuse real solid-life gay males, and possibly all homosexuals, and that less nasty alternatives are available. The potential for radical disenchantment in her critique is serious. Shimoku -sensei is not the only one who likes to poke at Saito.
ASIDE: prof Saito is a good target to kick. His main argument, that Japanese culture can easily maintain the fantasy is fantasy x reality is reality divide reads at first a lot like the usual “japan-is-special” essentialism that goes by the name of Nihon- jinron. Sure, different cultures process things differently, but Nihon- jinron arguments end up being “just-so” stories; long on “yup” and short on “why?” Then again, prof Saito invented the term Hikikomori, and has written extensively on Otaku sexuality and social withdrawal in Japan. If I am going to carelessly wave an essentialism stick at his work, I will have to dig it up, read it and only then mouth off.
Back to Akiko Mizoguchi and Galbraith:
Her popping up in this Galbraith essay right before the strong tip-of-the hat to that fantasy x reality/ private x public problem highlights this. There are a few differences between Western slash and fujoshi culture, and one of them is that political correctness, or token formal consideration of such complaints is a lot more part of slash communities than of fujoshi culture. After all, up to half of the readership can be gay males in Western slash communities, while fujoshi culture is still estimated to be %90+ women.
Galbraith next goes on to highlight the notion that the thing that really turns the fujoshi crank is the relationship rather than the skin alluded to in the stories. From that flow the infamous “rapes-of-love” trope and the “I’m not gay, but” tropes. Both of course (invoke often!) annoy the heck out of some real gay folks, but both are defended endlessly as necessary for the “special“, “unique in the whole world -awwwww” characteristics of the fetishized (and endlessly re-imagined) relationship.
Galbraith is also deft at signalling that he gives some credence to the notion that the mirroring between the story characters as not just queer, but outsider/ abject/ transgressive/ outlaw behaviour in pursuit of the “one-n-only” mirrors the obsession and self-mocking abject stance of the fujoshi. So of course they have their puppets do nasty things to each other before finding true love. Because they are “fallen” themselves and that their desires are “transgressive”. (So they are all goth variants ???)
The other thing about fujoshi insistence on the “not-gay-but” trope, is that if the male fuck-puppets in question were gay, then the desire would be grounded in the realities of everyday “normal’ gay desire, which is too damn close to the way “real” guys act anyway – at least from the fujoshi pont of view. That ain’t hawt any more. More interesting is why such things are hawt to them.
Back to Genshiken and Hato for a moment: I am dead serious about Hato being a “kage-Mizoguchi”, the shadow of the warrior (I am theory-moe-ing on my Kurosawa reference) because what his cross-dressing not-quite-fudanshi presence does is continuously short-circuit whole categories of gendered space and the fantasy is fantasy and reality is reality field.
Hato is by no means a perfect Mizoguchi “shadow”. While he makes a somewhat adequate virtual-lesbian fujoshi, he has no Butlerian “became” in his crossdressing persona, (yet) and his 3D desire for women is currently directed at one unobtainable nasty woman character, (with occasional bouts of Madarame desiring fugue states).
Worse, he has not yet sworn his oath, and/ or taken any larger political/ social stand – his performance is extremely personal and extremely closeted. And, he is a judo-skilled, girl desiring, seme-role assuming, compulsive yaoi consuming snake in the fujoshi garden of Eden. The whiff of potential predator about him is unmistakable, and made worse by his refusal to resolve, to “become” something that would clear up the confusion.
Oh, and he is a cartoon character – this is a blog about manga.
At some point I will have to drag the whole liminality (standing at the threshold, neither entering or refusing to enter, very fashionable in theory land, blah blah) thing into the light, but for now lets ignore it.
Dr. Akiko Mizoguchi is a real, solid-life public lesbian academic fujoshi theorist, and that public role is not “just” a truth that she vowed to live, but coincidentally a consideration to her heterosexual fujoshi sisters. A similar side effect of her “politically correct” campaign presents itself. Her “vow of truth” has the potential for a real buzz-kill when the gals start snorting about some nasty fantasy stuff, but it also lays her cards on the table (else why would she get so confessional in her PhD thesis?)
I would guess that some of the younger heterosexual fujoshis she runs into roll their eyes when she pokes at their tropes for having nasty real-world bleed-over potential, but conversely I doubt that any of them worry that she is sneaking into their midst to corrupt some sweet young fujoshi. In shojo-ai manga terms, a character loosely modelled on her would be closer to the “out” ultra-rich, ultra capable young lesbian Tomoe in Sasameki Koto. Her public position situates her within her social as a safe, if slightly stodgy expert figure. Her younger sisterhood might also point out that she grew up reading “Heart of Thomas’ and Song of the Wind and Trees” and not “Shinji I wont let you rape my ass until you pay me that 40,000 yen…” dojins.
I am waiting for a Karaoke session episode with the Genshiken fujoshis: Sue gets to sing The Who’s “Rough Boys“. All join in … Perhaps a vocaloid flash video is out there somewhere ???
This analysis of mine is clumsy, and possibly a bit annoying to any real Dr. Mizoguchi who may stumble across this, but I hope I am getting the point across. Whether or not Shimoku had heard of her when he constructed Hato, (later: oh I do think he has) he is getting a lot of plot juice out of having Hato poke at the same contradictions that she embodies (without the resolutions) – contradictions specifically bounded around sexuality and the reality/ fantasy interface, and these contradictions are building up a powerful charge of potential 3D world fallout; which is also Shimoku-sensei’s number one plot trick.
Hato is not a “real” fudanshi in the strict sense: a man who enjoys the company of women as a man, as they read and “exchange” yaoi. The Galbraith essay under consideration notes the testimony of a real-life “Ogiue” who found a short and pudgy, sympathetic “Sass”, even if her fave semes are tall thin and nasty. Other testimony.,in other places have more than a few guys hanging out with the rotten girls, because they enjoy the company (…Where the girls are.. la la la ) and manage to process the material in some way (which could range from a complete homoerotic reading to one that “reads” the characters as abstracted female desire). The undertones of 3D male longing are inescapable: perhaps these fudanshi “like” fantasy man-smut, but also “desire” a nice fujoshi girl.
At least “they” know that the gals are sexual creatures, and “they” have managed to worm “their” way into close fujoshi proximity to talk dirty with them. And as for guilt about hiding a bit of male predator behaviour? These girls are predatory in their own right! The “rotten girls” are also “dirty girls“. But Hato tried this once in high school and it blew up in his face. Hence Hato V2. A fudanshi Hato would be way too easy, as would a pure “
trap otokonoko” Hato.
ASIDE: If his “little friend” is going to trance him into chasing Mada, shouldn’t his outfit change from synthetic fujoshi to “
trap” otokonoko? Hato keeps quiet and puts on one of his insipid “I like it” grins. The kid is wallowing in it!
Shift POV back to Galbraith:
The overwhelming majority of Japanese fujoshi are inscribed as heteronormative in their “real” lives. It complicates the heck out of things to posit that they also are susceptible to latent lesbianism. Mizoguchi even deals with this too, but brings up the prodigious smut intake, much like Genshiken’s Kaminaga: “You cannot read all that stuff without some effect!” (This mirroring of Mizoguchi by Kio Shimoku is another fun coincidence.. or…)
In any case, the accepted compromise in fujoshi studies at this point is to stretch the definition of queer a bit more, drop it over fujoshi desire, and keep marching… No wonder a newer generation of fujoshi theorists are going all Duluze and Guattari – the rhizome/ desiring machines/ body without organs thing is a neat way to get around the contradictions in the internal logic of the whole mess, even if it feels like trying to grab fog.
Here in a footnote, Galbraith attempt to put the train back on the tracks:
“Informants regularly told me that the beautiful boys in yaoi are separate from so-called real gays (riaru gei). Fujoshi conscientiously mark their Web sites with the reminder “yaoi is fantasy.” This is partially in response to serious criticism from homosexual men in Japan, who accuse fujoshi of misappropriating the homosexual male image and misrepresenting reality for their own pleasure. Recently, self-identified gay male characters have appeared in manga featuring male-male romance, but the social weight and consequence of their sexual orientation is nullified. For an overview of the criticisms of yaoi, see Vincent (2007).”
There is also that little matter of the new laws against certain forms of virtual smut in Japan.
After a bit more about other approaches to fujoshis and yaoi, including a big shout-out to Matt Thorn (academic papers are a lot like rap concerts – you need the shout-outs!) Galbraith pulls out his fave way of looking at things: moe.
For him, moe expands on the little-used Bronisław Malinowski concept of phatic – originally a term used to describe how crystals split, but repurposed by Malinowski as a form of super shibboleth that in-groups exchange as a token of their in-group-ness (shibboleth is an old testament password thing – I say To-may-to, if you say To-mah-to, you are a thingamite enemy spy and I kill you!) Malinowski’s phatic concept didn’t really go too far when first launched, but is back with a vengeance in this time of the world-wide interwebs. It dovetails nicely in with Azuma’s database/ echo chamber theories too, so sticking phatic into an understanding of moe is a damn fine analysis trick!
From the earlier mentioned paper on moe:
“The moe response is progressively defined as a convergence of media transmission and personal reception, but it can engender sociality when shared with others. Morikawa explains that fans can functionally understand a great deal about the taste, range and personality of others based on what they do and do not describe as moe (Morikawa 2008). For example, if one says megane-moe, or glasses moe, he or she is saying that characters wearing glasses are stimulating and also that he or she responds to, or at least understands, that aesthetic. This emblazons a mode of communication with neither the mediation of a logical language nor the limitations of rational boundaries. Moe can thus be used to empathetically express deeply personal, intimate and even transgressive emotions in networks of mutual exposure and vulnerability. I observed this among fujoshi, who cultivated a group of ‘moe friends’ to talk about yaoi.” http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/articles/2009/Galbraith.html Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan
Note that moe is an affect (a theory term version of “effect”) rather than a traditional phatic subject, like nascar racing or Star Trek. Moe is a (shared) feeling/ condition that arises from the consideration of the fujoshi/ otaku phatic object – closer to “intense wow feeling!” “that works!” or “Way Kewl!”, but limited/ bounded by the fujoshi/ otaku material under consideration. Note also that any representation as to it being a tool for ultimate truth is a mistake of the reader: social science tools are better understood as points of view or data mining algorithms; used to extract insight. They also have their own phatic characteristics (theory -moe! brain hurts!)
“When together, fujoshi persistently discuss yaoi characters and relationships until they trigger moe. One fujoshi guides others through her fantasy by teasing out a story, helping listeners understand and share a moment of revelation and pleasure. Yaoi products are thus used to re- enchant relationships. Moe is most often a reaction to characters encountered in yaoi, but even people, animals, and inanimate objects can be imagined as characters in romantic or sexual interplay.[…a few paragraphs of discussion about “queer” space skipped] Be it with characters or with one another, fujoshi experience intimacy as transgressive potential cordoned off from everyday reality. This article will examine how fujoshi produce, consume, and share yaoi in pursuit of moe and the sets of discussions and relationships that are made possible across physical and virtual fields.” (p216)
Galbraith does an excellent job of doing a fast roundup of the emergence of yaoi in Japan, though you will miss his thoroughness if you have not done a bit of reading in the field. He pretty well hits all the important bits. Ending in the mid 2000’s he defines his study subject:
“The distinction from shonen ai is conceptually important. Fujimoto Yukari has argued that “shonen ai was created to flee from various gender restrictions and sexuality taboos,” but, once the mechanism was established, it “enabled girls to ‘play sexuality’” (quoted in Aoyama 2009). Fujoshi are those who are most interested in playing sexuality, which is most possible through yaoi, since it is self-consciously defined as meaningless and set apart from reality. My definition stresses enthusiasm because the fujoshi I encountered had libraries of hundreds, even thousands, of physical yaoi books and regularly visited dozens of Web sites. My informants self-identified as fujoshi in 2006 and 2007, at the height of an emergent discourse on fujoshi. I follow my informants in using the term fujoshi because it marked associations and distinctions central to the meaning-making process explored in this article.”
“Moe is a response to fictional characters or representations of them (Galbraith 2009). It is concerned with virtual potential, not real people, and is a reaction “prior to the formation of a distinct subject or viewing position” (LaMarre 2009, 281). Moe is the goal of producing, consuming, and sharing yaoi. Focusing on moe opens a window into the ways fujoshi use yaoi to generate and share affect [note the term, emp mine]. Moe is at once the most important and the most impenetrable aspect of fujoshi activity. All my informants resisted defining the concept during formal interviews. Informants notably all described moe as something that can only be captured partially, interpreted in the moment in different ways by different people. They were sure, however, that what distinguishes a fujoshi is an interest in yaoi and a sense of moe. Informants referred to non-fujoshi as “normals” (ippanjin), and they described such women as “short on dreams and long on satisfaction” (yume nashi, kanketsu ari).
Another way to say this was that non-fujoshi are riaju, meaning “fulfilled in reality,” and often used as an insult. Sachiko said, “A normal girl has no moe, so love is her moe. That can be satisfied in life. Fujoshi can never be satisfied because moe is completely separate from love. It’s fantasy.”
Fujoshi spoke of their “rotten filter,” which screens out the potential for heteronormative romance in their fantasy and emphasizes signs of transgressive intimacy. This fantasy provides a set of possibilities for fujoshi distinct from their everyday lives, as demonstrated by their pursuit of moe even when they had a boyfriend or husband, at times imagining their male partners in relationships with other men (see also McLelland 2001, 4). As Saito (2007) points out, the reality of heterosexual relationships and the virtual potential of homosexual couplings are separate and coexistent. Yaoi scripts (fantasy) were read across the bodies of physical partners (reality), a “meaningless” play of symbols in pursuit of moe.”
SHift POV. Those damn goggles, and the innate taste for yaoi-moe among women should not be discounted. It is real and can pop up out of nowhere to strike!
Am odd thing happened to me recently: I was yakking with a woman who had come on-site at my workplace about nothing much, killing time before an event and the conversation between us and an intern shifted to comic books and manga. She surprised the intern by being quite knowledgeable about western comics, but professed no deep knowledge of, or interest in manga as she considered their imagery as part of what japanese women “have to put up with ever day“.
“Oh don’t worry” I mumbled, “they have their own ways of dealing with that.”
ooooops! Intern looks embarrassed; he reads manga on scanlator sites and yaoi has become so popular among western slash girls (and others) that it is crowding out the “normal” fun stuff. This piques her interest. A short clinical explanation of yaoi as woman-produced and consumed pornographic artifact in Japan follows.
Suddenly her eyes go all starburst-y!
“Holy Shit! Where can I get that ???” etc., followed by a very fervent and exuberant declaration that she would pay good money to see her boyfriend get crazy with his best friend! (Yikes!) Well, that cat is out of the bag and Google is her best friend now. Her boyfriend is gonna have to adapt. True story! Just like a light switch snapping on! I was present at the birth of a Canadian fujoshi. Wow! and scary all at once!
Back to Galbraith:
What follows in the article are narrative testimonies and descriptions of his fujoshi acquaintances playing with yaoi moe as a social space, perhaps “queer’ in a wide definition of the term, and then experiencing some disenchantment with the hobby, as life pressures take on a bigger part of their attention. Since his correspondents were all university women, this reader can’t help think about the Genshiken, but in his example it looks like the women gradually “graduate out” of fujoshi-dom. Class-S fujoshi? FUGs? (fujoshi-until-graduation, to echo 1990’s lesbian slang?) Even then, he notes that two of them pop up again, a few years later, back in the “scene”, even while they are happily partnered up with guys.
Galbraith’s article is a fine introductory survey of the phenomena and good research material should any male mangaka want to construct a few fujoshi characters on the fly to drop into a university or even high school comedy. (it is assumed that a woman mangaka could just go mingle with the real thing.) It is bound to be required reading in all manner of fujoshi studies courses, and might also relieve some of the curiosity a puzzled straight guy might feel if he runs into a nest of fearsome fujoshi. What the paper does not do is examine how strange the effect of fujoshi desire is on larger society, but given Galbraith’s interest in Otaku sociology, I can bet that more than a few follow-ups are on the way.
In the meantime, now we guys all know why certain aggregator sites are up to the brim with y/bl stuff, and won’t freak out as much when a graphic (Yikes! Gehhh!) cover pops up in front of us by accident (That kind of over-reaction makes me feel stupid and prejudiced, but that’s how I grew up, so i am working on it). And if we have to put up with strong goggle-influenced humour in our heteronormative high-school hijinx comedies, we will at least know what the heck is going on and who is being given fan-service. (It aint us, but the context is fascinating.)
Don’t freak out, you still have a chance with them, most of them at least.
Dude, you still need to get a good paying job!
Lets see if any of it offers a wider solution, or at least gives comfort, freedom or agency to those women in Japan (hey, the guys need some help too) who want to force some much-needed change on a society that really really needs to do some changing if it is going to maintain its standard of living. The structural problems in the Japanese economy are not going to get fixed with a simple “Cool Japan” campaign. Large sections of family law, labor law and corporate governance, as well as workplace social norms are going to have to change, if they are going to fix their economy. And every single one of these problems touches on obsolete codes of social behaviour which are currently crushing the younger generation, holding down the birth rate and family formation, and killing Japan’s GNP. Who’d have thunk that a little cronyism and machismo could bankrupt a country?
Note the last few paragraphs of this interview on contemporary feminism in Japan – the filmmaker is so pessimistic about any social progress that she is in effect leaving it to the LGBTQ community to get things rolling:
Interviewer: “Feminism has never really taken off in Japan. And women seem to lack a common platform to share their problems.”
“We don’t have opinion leaders. But while our battle for equality for women ended in defeat, what has come to our rescue is the movement by sexual minorities. Japanese society has very little know-how on redefining genders, but the LGBT movement is slowly happening here, and it offers a ray of hope.
I go to meetings of Rainbow Action (a group for sexual minorities in Japan), where they run a monthly kamo (“Maybe I’m …”) cafe. Anyone can drop by and confide issues they have, without giving their names. They can say, “Maybe I’m a lesbian,” or “Maybe I’m a girl, though I’m supposed to be a boy,” or “I think I’m gay, but I can’t tell my mom.” Or heterosexual people can also drop in and share problems, like, “I joined the company through the connection of my father, so I can’t quit even though I want to.” Nobody feels out-of-place there. It’s a really relaxing environment, where people share ideas on how they can liberate themselves from constraints of sexism. In Japan, feminism, women’s lib and men’s lib all kind of floundered. But the rainbow flag might make it.”
– Documenting the gender imbalance – TOMOKO OTAKE interviews Yu Negoro, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2013/03/03/people/documenting-the-gender-imbalance/#.UVix82icWbQ