Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why Women Read Yaoi: Reason 4

Why do adult women read yaoi? I have postulated three reasons so far:
Reason 1: Women like romance; yaoi allows women to read romance without instantly suffering the indignity of being told, "You're desperate!" or "That's wish-fulfillment!" (At least not in America, where nobody knows what it is.)
Reason 2: Yaoi takes gender roles off the table. It gets tiresome to be told, "This is what you supposed to think as a woman" (something that I hear as much from so-called progressives as I do from so-called conservatives).
Reason 3: Yaoi (specifically) allows single women (specifically) to read about people on the fringes of society who still work and function within society.
Unfortunately, the Ian Carmichael-read
version is hard to track down.
Reason 4 applies to the writer side of me. Reading yaoi reminds me of when I first started listening to audio books. Hearing a book versus reading a book gives one a fresh perspective. As I listened to mysteries that I had read dozens of times before, I began to "hear" how the plot was put together--how the various parts fit.

Yaoi delivers the same objective punch. With paperback romance, I am too easily swayed by (1) bad, i.e. wooden writing; (2) the heroine's waffling; (3) the hero's obnoxious domineering behavior.

With yaoi, any bad writing could be the result of a poor translation; I have no investment in the heroines'/heroes' waffling and/or tendency towards domination. All that matters is the story: the narrative arc as well as the subplots, minor set-ups and pay-offs and character development that litter the page.

Consequently, it is far easier for me to answer the question or attempt to answer the question, Why does this story work? Or not?

Breaking the fourth wall--as the Genie does in Aladdin--
is hilarious, right up until it is totally irritating.
Even if I'm simply trying to figure out my subjective responses--Huh, that manga was totally good but this one left me shrugging my shoulders--I can rule out my identification with the heroine as a variable since the story doesn't have one. The narrative elements become the only source of explanation.

I have discovered, for instance, that I'm not terribly fond of too much breaking of the fourth wall (a little is okay; a little more goes a looooong way); I prefer to have some kind of internal identity arc for my characters; I find it nearly impossible to believe in "love solves everything" endings; and I prefer stories to include natural human responses to events, no matter how fantastical those events.

I knew all this before, of course, but before, my sense of what makes an acceptable relationship between men and women couldn't help but get in the way.

For example, a common internal arc in romance is self-doubt: "I'm not good enough to be his mate!"  When it's coming from a woman, my reaction as a woman goes as follow:
"Oh, my gosh, this relationship will never work if you keep wingding on. Pull yourself together, girl! If you spend all your time waiting for his approval, you will not only be a burden on the relationship, you will never be happy. The old romance idea that a woman requires constant reminders of devotion from her supposedly adoring male is so stupid. He's gotta watch football sometime. Besides, whatever happened to the idea of reciprocation? What is it with women--and men--who insist on being chased and/or loved/understood because they 'deserve' it for how hard their lives have been . . .?" 
 And so on.

With yaoi, I hold my fire. Sometimes the "I'm not good enough" angst is that stupid. Sometimes, it is ordinary and human and focuses more on the problem of reciprocation and--hello, Jane Austen--mutual respect. Which can be utterly fascinating. Finder (see panel)--probably the most classic yaoi that I read in terms of uke/seme roles--is guilty of the "I'm not good enough" problem. What keeps it from going too far off the rails is Akihito's honest struggles with his purpose in life. He is only 23 after all. It is less that he doubts his worth and more that he doubts his place in a world so entirely at odds with his personality. Ultimately, the problem of where to go with his life rests within him.

In other words, although paperback romances can be quite well-written and well-plotted, it is easier for me to understand what works in romance and what doesn't with yaoi.

And is also easier for me to come up with extensions to a yaoi story than to a paperback romance (although I've created extensions to those as well). I will discuss the writing practice of creating extensions (fan fiction) in a further post. For now, I'll say that yaoi allows for greater objectivity. I have come up with complex, creative, and uncertain relationship storylines simply because I wasn't worried about gender issues*--which is extremely difficult to avoid doing when one writes and reads any other type of romance.

*The lack of gender issues is one reason that progressive critics of "yaoi" are (partly) correct--it is not about gay men. It is more about archetypes. More to follow at a later date . . .

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