Thursday, July 27, 2017

Complaint 4: What's All the Protesting For? Male Claims About Romance

Male analysis of yaoi specifically and romance generally will often contend that real men, straight or gay, do not think like the male characters in these genres. (I've encountered this claim in manga and romance analysis by self-labeled straight and gay male readers.)

Okay. I am mostly willing to go along with that, partly because as a woman, I'm not in a position to argue and partly because I tend to see yaoi characters at least as archetypes and tropes anyway. (There are characterizations common to all, and there are gendered characterizations as I will address in another post.)

Yet I confess to being somewhat flummoxed by the insistence. The whole androgynous thing leaves me a tad nonplussed, yet generally speaking, I don't find the problems and worries and desires of romance and/or yaoi male characters to be all that foreign from those of male characters in, say, Shakespeare. Or Homer. Or, for that matter, Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman.

On the modern end: take Gus and Rusty from Major Crimes. Major Crimes is the brainchild of producer James Duff who is married to Major Crimes actor Phillip Keene (they've lived together since 1993, marrying in 2013).

The orientation of Major Crimes producer & husband-actor doesn't guarantee the reality of any of the show's fictionalized relationships--this is television after all. I mention the context since Rusty and Gus have never struck me as any less real than other television relationships. Neither do they strike me as substantially different from the yaoi characters that I encounter in my choice of manga. The same issues crop up: 
Worries about work versus time together. Jealousy. Selfishness. Commitment. Levels of commitment. Sacrifice--or not. Uncertainty. The need to hear, "I love you." Issues over PDA and other issues related to physical intimacy. Discussions about the future. Moving in versus not moving in. Wondering "where we are at." Wondering about marriage. Not wanting it. Wanting it. Approaching the relationship from different angles. Different personalities. Different styles of expressing affection. Wanting different things. Moving at different speeds. Feeling bereft. Hurting when the relationship goes bad. Missing the other person. Wanting the best for the other person. Getting irritated at the other person. Growing "old" together. Falling into patterns. Feeling comfortable with everyday routine . . .
I recognize and care about all these things. Am I truly supposed to believe, as some men so urgently insist, that men don't care about them too? Despite The Importance of Being Earnest, Romeo & Juliet, Rusty & Gus? So Jean Cocteau just--what?--produced Beauty & the Beast (1946) by accident?  Of course, Cocteau was bisexual. But what about He Said, She Said, the movie with Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins in which the man's story, directed by the husband of the female co-director, is more romantic than the woman's story even as it tackles similar issues/concerns?

Parsons-Spiewak
When, in October 2013, Jim Parsons called his relationship with now husband Todd Spiewak "an act of love, coffee in the morning, going to work, washing the clothes, taking the dogs out—a regular life, boring love," he was . . . lying? Because that sounds like a good life to me, a woman. And remarkably similar to the yaoi I read. Not to mention other romances.

The first English romance, Pamela, was written by a straight man. The stupidest yet possibly most famous romance novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was written by a man who showed tendencies in both directions. And then there are those lush, emotion-filled (and often depressing) novels by E.M. Forster, who was definitely gay (I know women who swear that no movie has ever been more romantic than Room With a View, and Maurice isn't that far behind). Finally, there's the book I've never read (leading to the movie I've never seen) but know about anyway because of its ubiquitous presence in our culture: Love Story by Erich Segal (husband to wife Karen; father of 2). 

Another classic couple: Kate and Petruchio

Some of the sappiest descriptive essays I've read were written by young men about their girlfriends.

And some of the most practical, everyday relationship advice I've encountered was written by men.

Consequently, I am eyebrow-raising confused when (some) men--straight and gay--claim emphatically that men don't care about all that romance-relationship stuff that women get so obsessed about, don't think about it
Thanks to Ed for reminding
me how many of these couples
were created by men.
the same way, and certainly don't have the same interests/concerns/ideas/attitudes as those men in those books that women like.

It is true that women write and read more romance (by a fairly hefty margin), including paperback Harlequins, shojo, yaoi, and gay literature, but that supports less the idea that men aren't interested in romance and more the fact that women tend to be more language-oriented while men are more visual-oriented.

I'm beginning to think the male doth protest too much.

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