Sunday, July 2, 2017

Thoughts on Captive Prince, Volume 2: Why Yaoi Continued

I argue in Why Yaoi Reason 2 that yaoi takes gender roles off the table. I address this reason again in my Star Trek fan-fiction.

A sub-reason to Reason 2 is that women are tired of being linked to victim rhetoric.

The attractive quality of much yaoi as well as potential-slash relationships like Kirk/Spock, Sam/Dean (hilariously spoofed in "The Monster at the End of the Book") is that the male characters are allowed to argue, even physically fight without the relationship instantly entering the realm of "bad message" fiction: "But that teaches women it's okay to be dominated and abused!"

This does not mean that abuse doesn't exist in same-sex relationships. And it doesn't mean that there aren't yaoi relationships where the power imbalance makes my skin crawl.

The issue here is something that Kate Roiphe contemplatively, David Denby bemusedly and Camille Paglia caustically discuss in their various writings: the tendency for a certain type of feminism to reduce women to little-girls-being-looked-after-by-the-protective-male-institution, to push women into a manufactured and ongoing powerlessness, to imply and sometimes outright state that the "little woman" on the pseudo-Victorian hearth was the right approach. At least she was safe. (Truth: the Victorian woman was never that powerless or naive.)

The issue leaves the table with yaoi--not only that, it doesn't require that a relationship where two characters roughhouse must contain a tough, butch female. There's nothing wrong with a butch character--except the unfortunate implication that a woman cannot get into a fight with a man unless she has the build/aspect of a man.

In Honey, Darling, Chihiro is "wife" to bear "husband"
Kumazawa, an issue I will address in a later post.

In the Captive Prince series, Laurent is the "cat" while Damen is the "bear" (see manga images). Laurent fights with more wiles than strength, a characterization well-used in the series. He also takes a labyrinthine approach to problems. Damen is not stupid by any means; he is genius-level intelligent. That doesn't mean that he thinks like Laurent or anticipates Laurent's thought process.

The difference is excellently shown (Pacat is a master of show-don't-tell) in Volume 2, Prince's Gambit, specifically in the town scenes. Damen's solution to a room without instant egress is to take the window out of the wall, a solution that bemuses a stymied Laurent. On the other hand, Damen's protest that Laurent will be instantly recognized by his hair is countered when Laurent reveals the cap that he deliberately procured in a tavern gambling game nearly a chapter earlier. (This is also the point where Damen tumbles headlong into love, a fact he refuses to acknowledged to himself for several chapters.)

Laurent is Laurent, not a female in disguise. By being Laurent, he can grapple with Damen directly. Their Sam/Dean-like tendency to take physical action when upset does not mean that Laurent is being abused or Damen misused or anybody dominated (outside of the obvious "slave/pet" issues)*. We trust that Laurent knows what he is doing. That he is no victim. Both men would refuse that label anyway.

Cat "wife" Chihiro
When Laurent later relies on Damen to handle a dangerous situation alone, yet follows as quickly as possible, we trust that (1) Laurent has faith in Damen; (2) Laurent cares about Damen; (3) Laurent knows Damen's abilities--without any of these points being reduced to the gendered assumption that one or other protagonist is (1) incapable to taking care of himself; (2) that caring is a weakness; (3) that anybody needs to prove that he is not an inherent victim or inherently weak; (4) that anybody needs to prove that he appreciates that the other person isn't an inherent victim or inherently weak.

Gendered assumptions of this type may exist within gay relationships--one reason why some gay literary critics argue that yaoi (and some gay literature) is not about gays. Whatever one calls this literature, it is enormously refreshing. It presents an image of a world where gendered typing and assumptions ("the sweet little woman," "the bully") is not the default for relationships.

One could argue that in the meantime, the assumptions have to be dealt with (after all, the ongoing mistaken assumption that girls don't fight as much as boys doesn't help high school administrators). But the ideal image of a world without such assumptions is much like the ideal image of a world with perfect justice (all those closed cases on television mystery shows!). Without the ideal, how would we know what to strive for?

And without the literature, how would readers ever be able to escape the pressures of being a "particular way" in the real world?

*Damen deals with his victim-hood in a totally believable way. When Laurent later addresses the abuse/belittlement Damen underwent in captivity (see "The Summer Palace"), Damen realizes that he never thinks of those days in those terms. As the text shows, he simply thought about surviving/getting through the moment. He didn't theorize/label his own experience.

We don't know we are in history while we are in it.