Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why Yaoi: Reason 1

1973 Romance Cover
Why does a woman read yaoi?

My first reason refutes the common reason women supposedly read romances--which takes me back to the history of the romance genre.

As paperback romances became more and more popular (1950s +), literary critics became more and more puzzled: Why are women reading this stuff? Radway's Reading the Romance is possibly the best known reader-response study of the romance genre phenomenon.

Radway and others concluded that women readers place themselves in the heroine's shoes. Through the heroines, they vicariously experience being wooed and saved and loved by a smart, handsome, rich man.

There is naturally some truth to this; all literature is capable of evoking this type of response; humans have the imaginative capacities to read all kinds of things into literature for all kinds of reasons, identification being one of them.

2007 Romance Cover
Unfortunately, identification with the heroine exposed women romance readers to contempt; even Radway--who sees in their identification the positive of self-assertion--seems to have struggled to relate to the subjects of her study. Nobody questions the male reader who identifies with Hamlet (which the boy protagonist hilariously does in Last Action Hero). But the female reader gets the condescending remark, Oh, isn't that cute (or weird or pathetic or awful); you want a man to take care of you!

This assumption--women identify with female heroines--was adopted by romance publishers: so much so that when a particular editor decided to put an unaccompanied male character on the cover of a romance (see current example) rather than a female character or male & female character together (see above), the publisher balked--until the romance novel sold exceedingly well. About the same time (1990s), books began to incorporate passages from the male point of view, a new approach that was embraced by female readers and their authors. Nowadays, passages, even chapters, from the male perspective are as much an expected trope as previously they were not (these authors are as good and as bad as any author--male or female--at capturing the other gender's point of view).

The argument of female identification crops up with yaoi, specifically yaoi where the uke appears entirely feminine or androgynous (so much so in some cases that the labeling of the character as male seems rather arbitrary). Whether these yaoi are read for identification purposes, I will address in a separate post.

The point here is that many yaoi readers, including this reader, prefer that all the males look male, however pretty or finely drawn. There is no (obvious) identification going on (some critics point out that yaoi characters are not quite the same as gay characters, but that's another topic for another time).
I was (slightly) misled by the changes in yaoi since the 80s/
90s since the first yaoi I read was Fake (1994) in which
the couple (on the right) are both cops, tall, and masculine.
I didn't realize until much later how prevalent short,
delicate, child-like characters were in 1980/90s yaoi.

So my first reason for why women read yaoi is Women like reading about relationships, whatever those relationships might be.

Interestingly enough, this reason is supported by research. People love to gossip--in fact, some theorists postulate that civilization was developed precisely so people could pass on gossip (hence Facebook and Twitter!). Men like to gossip as much as women, but in the "men and women are actually different" realm of gender theory, the genders have been discovered to not gossip to the same degree about the same stuff. Both gossip about dating, sex, work, movies, and personal appearance. Men gossip more about celebrities, sports, music, and each other. Women gossip more about weight, health, families, each other, and men.

Men may resign themselves to believing that women are mysteries. Not women regarding men! They don't mind there being men on the covers of their romances because they want to know what men think--or at least try.

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