Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oh noes teh womens R coroperting mai sexality~!!


If you know about manga, maybe you know about "yaoi" and/or "boy's love" comics. I'll admit right up front that my own dealings with them are pretty sparse, since the subject matter (gay love) isn't something I'm really all that interested in when selecting my reading material. But for the sake of research, I've done a bit of looking around, read some stuff posted online. This is what it looks like to me:

  1. "Boy's Love" and "Yaoi" are more or less the same thing, only the latter is more explicitly erotic and less story-oriented than the other.
  2. The main characters in such stories are very stylized, often to the point of being very very pretty. Some artists depict them with very girlish faces.
  3. Most reaction I've read coming from actual gay guys to these stories is a kind of bemused, "Well, that isn't very realistic at all, at least not from my experience."
  4. The actual number of gay readers of this stuff (at least in the States, as near as I can tell) is pretty small; the primary audience for these works is heterosexual women, and of the artists who create it, a large portion are themselves women.

(If Mad Thinker Scott is out there and has any thoughts on yaoi, feel free to chime in.) So what we have here are creators of one gender creating characters of the opposite gender, with highly idealized (and sometimes impossible) body types, performing in ways which are very unlike how sensible real people act, and a large portion of this artistic creation is for not much more purpose than the titillation of its primary target audience, which is not the gender of the aforementioned characters.

Sound familiar?

Now, why shouldn't I get worked up into an indignant froth over how men are depicted in yaoi comics? I suppose I could rationalize a whole heap of outrage on behalf of my own gender over yaoi and how it depicts men and the unrealistic expectations such stories might implant in the minds of young girl-perverts. I could consider the waif-like pretty-boys normally found in these stories to be an insult to real men, and if I were gay I could probably be livid over the liberties yaoi takes with the dynamics (and mechanics) of gay relationships.

But I don't, I'm not.

[I was just about to write "and I suspect most other men wouldn't care all that much, either," except, hell, I dunno, maybe there is some sort of male-based anti-yaoi movement out there I'm unaware of. Certainly real homosexual existence is plagued enough with doofuses, prejudice and crusades that some of that may spill over into a specialized branch of comics; I'd like to think it'd be more based on prejudice and homophobia than anything else, and I'd hope it'd be in the minority. But then again, people are often stupid.]

If you took the title of this entry seriously [and if you really did take it seriously, I advise counseling], you might think I would be about to launch into a tirade about how all this yaoi is "co-opting" my sexuality, by jerking around a bunch of characters on paper to the tune of what some women find sexy instead of what men are really like.

But that would assume that my sexuality is linked to other men's sexuality, and by extension to the fictional sexuality depicted using fictional men. I don't feel either to be the case. Other men's sexuality is their business, not mine. And I understand that the characters in yaoi comics are primarily created for women's fantasies, often (mostly?) by women.

Not only is a yaoi character unrelated to my sexuality in particular, it is entirely unrelated to male sexuality, being a product of female sexuality and the fantasies that beings forth.

In other words, it is impossible to "co-opt" something that never really belonged to me in the first place.

Your assignment: Now go off somewhere and think about Catwoman for a little while.


LurkerWithout said...

What the hell does the Japanese gay romance genre have to do with Catwoman? Are they adding some gay characters or something?

Scott (The Mad Thinker) Anderson said...

I am here, but I can't say much on the topic. Yaoi never appealed to me. I've never read any. I know some gay men who have, but I can't say I know of any real fans of the stuff.

Personally, I don't think it is my business to tell other people what to have or not to have in their sexual fantasies. So I'm fine with it. I've never heard of any gay man being bothered by yoai, but gay men don't tend to think that thinking about them in an entirely sexual manner sometime is degrading to them.

zhinxy said...

Anon! Think about Catwoman for a little while? What do you think I do ALL DAY?

Also, I'm pretty sure this is unintentional, but in many corners of the net, asking for somebody's thoughts on yaoi is code-speak for thinking they're a bloviating blowhard ;) APOLOGIZE TO SCOTT!

Anon, for one thing, I'm not a babe in the woods, at least when I'm not camping. When I speak, it's from the pro-porn wing of feminism, for another thing.

I am fine and damn dandy with the fact that most comic readers are straight men, and I am fine and dandy with there being more sexualization of female characters because of that.

When they take it to ridiculous levels, whether or not they are committing some sexist sin (Sometimes yes, sometimes no, almost always debatable), they are usually failing at storytelling.

And I will mock their tacky crap. You can say it's not FOR YOU! And I will say, thank god, and mock their tacky crap.

The fetish elements of Catwoman are a major reason why I love her. I would never want to deprive any male the joys of fantasizing about her. You put her in tacky crap, I mock your tacky crap.

I have more to say, actually, but most of all I do think that Wonder Woman was women's to begin with.

And if we want comics to have any claim to being art, much less THE MYTHOLOGY OF OUR TIMES, we need to let the hell go of "NOT FOR GIRLZ/NOT FOR BOYZ."

I'll probably come back later. Stay good, mousey one.

Anon, A Mouse said...


And here I thought I was being kinda obvious. All right, if I must spell it out in detail:

Yaoi, a sexual fantasy about men, does not (IMO) "co-opt" the sexuality of men, even though it features men depicted deliberately (as well as primarily) to appeal to the fantasies of straight women, and in the case of yaoi (as opposed to the tamer "Boy's Love"), those fantasies are explicitly erotic.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that even gay men themselves are kinda lukewarm on the stuff. If that's the case, these fantasies come from and appeal to the minds of women, and are almost entirely the product of female sexuality, so for me to claim some gratuitous yaoi comic "co-opts" MY sexuality would be senseless. Though the object of such fantasies may appear male, the fantasies themselves are anything but, and have nearly nothing to do with me or my gender.

By contrast, Catwoman is the creation of men, and has been the object of many a male fantasy. She's gone from jewel thief to hooker, had a variety of costumes, some of which were sexier than others, and has been depicted in movies and TV as being steeped in fetish and sensuality.

She is the quintessential fantasy of the "bad girl", a woman who seems strong, tough and independent, but who in the right moment will melt, purr and rub all over you (at least, if you happen to be Batman).

Because of the stronger aspects of her character, some women seize upon her as a symbol, or identify with her to some extent (criminal or no), and so when they see depictions where her bodysuit is unzipped down to here, or her nipples are poking through thick rugged material, they get upset. In fact, taking this female character and turning her into some fetishistic sex object is seen by some as "co-opting" female sexuality. (Obviously from Zhinxy's reply, not all feel this way.)

However: just as I don't think yaoi has much of anything to do with male sexuality, I don't see Catwoman or any other gratuitous use of sexy female characters in comics to have anything to do with female sexuality. These characters are idealized and fantasized about in the same way yaoi characters are; such fantasies are products of the male mind and have almost no bearing on real-world sexual interactions, IMO.

As Scott mentioned, "gay men don't tend to think that thinking about them in an entirely sexual manner sometime is degrading to them," and I'd go further and say that's probably the case for the majority of men, both gay and straight.

If you were to track back through a lot of WFA links, you'd find that many women seem to feel that fantasizing about a fictional depiction of a woman is equivalent to degrading all other real women everywhere (including themselves).

For the reasons I've just explained (and a few others), I think that maintaining such an attitude is a mistake, if not mentally unhealthy and needlessly self-tormenting.


"Personally, I don't think it is my business to tell other people what to have or not to have in their sexual fantasies."

This, on the other hand, I think is a very healthy attitude to have, and would that more shared it.


"in many corners of the net, asking for somebody's thoughts on yaoi is code-speak for thinking they're a bloviating blowhard"

...really? Apologies indeed, if that's true. Internet people are weird.

Anyway, by all means, feel free to mock the tacky crap. I may even join you (though I may also stash a copy of said tacky crap in my desk).

I'd expand on the idea of abandoning the "not for girls/not for boys" stances by adding, "and when something DOES turn out to be for one gender over the other, that's no reason to break out the torches and pitchforks."

We could use more like you, Zhinxy.

Dryope said...

As a fangirl of the yaoi/BL genre I must say that there are in fact biological males in that fandom and that although they are somewhat outnumbered by us girl-types they aren't actually all that unusual. >_>;

Heck, I swap yaoi titles with my guy friends all the time and if the comments on which characters they want relations with is any indication they find yaoi even more interesting than I do. Maybe that's just a consequence of living in a very manga-centric fandom, though.

Interesting post, anyway. =3

Anonymous said...

Yaoi manga _is_ yaoi manga. Sexuality is at the heart of what it does, as a genre.
If the same character dynamics were present throughout a baseline "default" for manga with no necessary genre connection to sexuality, as superhero comics are for English-language comics, the analogy would hold better.

Anon, A Mouse said...


I think you're way off base here. Comparing "baseline" manga to superhero comics is no less a mismatch than yaoi and superhero comics. Superheroes, after all, are a specific genre, even if they are the dominant genre in the US comics industry.

It would also be a mistake to say there is no particular sexual element in superhero comics. It may not be as direct or explicit as yaoi or any other outright porn, but how many WFA links have cropped up complaining about the way sexuality is handled in those comics?

Frederic Wertham railed against the sex in comics in general and superhero comics in particular many decades back; sex has been in superhero comics pretty much from the start, if not as overtly as today.

But that's irrelevant; the issue discussed here is how women and men create unrealistic fantasies about the other gender, and then how that gender reacts in turn, and whether such fantasies about one gender or the other are truly some sort of control or limiter upon that gender.

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