Monday, September 20, 2010
In starting the week off with a reasonably light-hearted topic, I wanted to explore a bizarre phenomenon referred to as ‘boys’ love’, or yaoi. In Taiwan and various other parts of East Asia, tens of thousands of young women today are passionately engaged in the consumption and production of Japanese boys’ love manga; comic-book tales of romance and eroticism between boys and young men. Women indulge in these narratives of homoerotic intimacy between handsome young men, eagerly swapping comic books, scribbling up fan fiction and even re-enacting their favourite stories. Typical yaoi stories consist of awkward, sexual awakenings between childhood friends, erotic intimacy between stepbrothers and affectionate encounters between teacher and student, and usually end in two beautiful young men passionately engaging in desperate and enthusiastic love making. The comics are almost exclusively created by women for a primarily female audience, satisfying an apparent craving that very few were aware existed. Themes of homoeroticism are unsurprisingly provocative to the cultural conservative, but even to the open-minded it can be rather confronting, as a good number of yaoi manga explores themes of rape, incest and bestiality (not to mention, the boys are usually illustrated to look very, very young). However, unlike the lolicon phenomenon which also has a prominent place in Japanese culture, many academics and cultural observers have been quick to recognise the benefits that come with women’s fascination with homoerotic comic books.
Boys’ love manga is believed to allow female readers to break out of the submissive roles traditionally played by girls. Napier expresses the standard interpretation academics hold concerning this issue, stating that yaoi is a way for young women and girls to explore sexuality without it being too intimately connected to them. For a long time, the ‘male gaze’ has dictated how women are portrayed in the media, typically positioning young women as the objects of desire for male protagonists and audiences. Yaoi, with the absence of female characters, allows readers to select which male character to identify with, rather than feeling forced into one role, which would typically be the submissive and desired, rather than the desiring. This essentially challenges the problems surrounding male-dominant media representations of sex and sexuality, acknowledging the sexual desiring consciousness of women and considering them as being more than objects of male lust.
See also: Chasing Lolita – Sexualisation of the Child