Monday, September 18, 2017

Archetypes: Mermaids in Manga

Vampires are a common trope across cultures. So are mermaids although their historical form in Japan is fundamentally different from that found in The Odyssey and other Western myths.

"Mermaids" in Japan fall under the yokai classification. Yokai can be translated as "bewitching spectres". Although some yokai have human shape, the animal part of the creature almost always overwhelms the human. Two that stand out:
Kappa: humanoid demons or imps that lurk near water.
Pearl diver in Japan
Ningyo: part human/part animal--not the sirens of Western literature yet still supernatural since the flesh provides long life.
The lack of mermaids with beautiful upper human halves in Japanese lore may be explained by two factors--the existence of real, female pearl divers in Japan (why go supernatural when you have the real thing?) and the fact that so many Japanese gods/dragons (who occasionally take human form) live near or on water to begin with. (Water is rather difficult to ignore in Japan.)

Whether an internal product (there are only so many supernatural shapes to go around) or a product of Western influence, more-human-than-beast mermen and mermaids are a current staple of manga and anime. They utilize many of the same characteristics as Western merpeople, being selfish, self-centered, amoral, and demanding. In yaoi, they inevitably show up in some hardworking salaryman's tub, demanding food and special treatment. Selfish Mr. Mermaid by Nabako Kame states the fact of the merman's personality upfront! The merman is unquestionably the seme.

The connection between amorality and merpeople is fairly old and seems to be connected, at some level, to the trope of the sea as a changeable, indifferent force that cannot be controlled or understood and doesn't play favorites.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Complaint 5: Using Labels Deterministically

The RISD professor is the dark-haired character; the blond is
the stockbroker. I may have been thinking "Alex P. Keaton."
--Honami illustrations from Stolen Heart
One storyline I came up with a number of years ago concerned two characters who meet in an Eyre-Affair type world (no virtual reality for me--like Fforde, I prefer to have characters actually enter a novel).

In my case, the book wasn't Jane Eyre but rather a compilation novel of romance tropes. A couple of teenage girls in pursuit of their teachers override safeguards to set the compilation novel in motion; fifty or more people from the general community are dragged into the novel and stuck there; engineers have to figure a way to get them out, which takes several months. The underlying romance plot is a variation on a-couple-stuck-on-an-island.

It turned into a saga involving at least a dozen relationships of different types and ages. And one was between a male art professor at RISD and a male stockbroker. They seemingly had little in common until they started talking (everything always comes down to dialog in my stories) and discovered that as teens, they had both rolled their eyes at the well-meaning adults who were establishing LGBT--now LGBTQ--groups in their schools.

Vivian Vande Velde tackles
the classic MMORPG idea.
I couldn't write my saga partly because okay, yes, this idea has been done before. (Out of sheer love of the form, I think every writer/video game player invents the idea of a "real" fictional world at some point.) And partly because I got worried about making assumptions based on my limited experience. In the world of labels, I am straight. Who was I to determine that LGBTQ groups are the equivalent of every single group I encountered as a teen that was supposed to make me feel "special"?

The same worry haunted me when I wrote Aubrey, which centers around a type of abuse I have never experienced myself (my life is far less dark than my fiction).

However, one of the positives of aging is that one runs up against more people from more backgrounds and ways of thinking. I have reason now to believe that my original supposition was not entirely out of bounds.

Take metrosexuals. Take E.M. Forster who clearly indicates in Maurice that gay men do not come as a package, producing Maurice who ignores the obvious, then accepts his orientation; Clive who seems to take a Hoover-like attitude towards his sexuality; and Alec who seems to be bi- though inclined more towards men than women. Take contemporary reports of "coming out" which dovetail more closely with Forster's own experience/observations than the Orwellians would like to acknowledge (see below). Take research into the animal kingdom, which presents sexual experimentation as a norm across the species. Take recent survey information that indicates that few Americans label themselves as anything but heterosexual (self-labeled homosexuals constitute approximately 5% of the population) yet a surprising proportion of the heterosexual population reports greater flexibility in terms of attraction. And the list goes on.
Waru is quite frank--and funny--about its
"straight then gay" character, Joe.

In other words, labels often ignore the complexity of human nature.

My complaint has to do with those reviewers who criticize supposedly "straight" male characters in yaoi who end up falling in love with men. I understand the confusion and address it, to a degree, here.

What I don't get is the wrath some of these reviewers feel. They seem furious that the LABEL isn't being adhered to. How dare people not stay in their designated spots! How dare anyone imply that sexuality isn't a GIVEN! (Apparently, within the LGBTQ community, "bi" receives some of the same fury.)

Considering that even apart from labels, people age, experience an increase in hormones, a decrease in hormones, alter their patterns, undergo new experiences, change their habits within a relationship, outside of a relationship . . . the insistence that even within a label, people will go on behaving the same is flawed in the extreme.

And don't get me started on the Orwellian tendency to try to use language to dictate morality--as if a label can create a biological response--such as the coy substitution of the vernacular self-label gay with the prescriptive same-sex-attraction.

All this "why don't people stay put" angst underscores my belief that the offended left and the religious right are similar in nature as well as rhetoric.

As P.J. O'Rourke once wrote, "Why not call people by their names?" Or, at least, by what they wish to be called. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kare First Love: Review

The first two volumes of Kare First Love were a Christmas present with accompanying translations by Eugene. I have since made my way through the remaining volumes (now all available in English).

Kare First Love is classic shojo--classic to the nth degree: Will the couple survive their initial dates? Will they sleep together? Will outsiders--an older, overpowering man and a sneaky, manipulative female ex--undermine their trust in each other? What about estranged family members?

It's soap opera plus yet still more bearable than Ross & Rachel since the couple never breaks up completely. Still, I have to admit that the constant misunderstandings get tiring; I prefer couples who deal with the outside world as a unit (Finder, Yellow, Fake, What Did You Eat Yesterday?) or members of couples who deal with change individually in order to return to/operate successfully within the relationship (Yugi Yamada's oeuvre, Shoko Hidaka's Blue Morning).

Kare First Love leaves me convinced that dating in high school is a generally awful idea--(thank goodness for mellow)--which leaves me feeling that I must have missed the point of the series.

What makes Kare First Love work despite the plethora of classic tropes--or cliches, depending on one's perspective--is the reality of it all. Karin and Kiriya's reactions are real. Their friends' reactions are real. Their parents' reactions are real. And so on. Despite the soap opera additions (like Karin becoming a model or Kiriya's father pressuring him to take over the family business, a typical shojo/yaoi trope), the fears and doubts and questions and concerns are all very true-to-life.

Naturally, there are those splendid declarations of rebellion that litter shojo and John Hughes' films--the moment when the hero and/or heroine stands up to an adult, usually a parent, and declares, "This is who I am!" Such moments wear thin with age--yelling things at people doesn't actually solve anything--but the grown-up form still has power: Elizabeth's controlled confrontation with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, for instance.

Tone-wise, the following high school shojo manga fall into the following categories:
  • Hana-Kimi is a romp within an utterly realistic high school milieu using absolutely accurate high school dialog; it is comparable to Buffy (first three seasons).
  • Kare First Love is a drama with utterly realistic high school characters who operate mostly outside of high school; it is comparable to a combination of Hughes films and Say Anything.
  • Mars is a thriller with high school settings and characters; it is comparable to Heathers and Brick.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Alec and Maurice in Maurice: A Study of a Couple

This summer, I read and watched a fair amount of Forster (Maurice, A Passage to India, and A Room with a View as well as Aspects of a Novel and Forster's guide to Alexandria). I also read a fair amount about Forster, including Furbank's seminal biography as well as a smattering of literary analysis.

Furbank's seminal biography is well-worth the read. The literary analysis reminded me of the problem with literary analysis.

Maurice has a happy ending--in his terminal notes to the manuscript, Forster remarks with typical drollness, "[I]t has made the book more difficult to publish . . . if it ended unhappily, with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact, all would be well, for there is no pornography or seduction of minors. But the lovers get away unpunished and consequently recommend crime."

The hilarious aspect here is that not only is Forster's note a dig against the current laws (circa 1960) in England, it is a dig at Ivory Tower intellectualism (and yes, Forster would have been aware of that), which supposes that a classic cannot be a classic unless everyone at the end is depressed, separated, or dead.

And if you don't believe me, take a look at any high school "classics" list.

Forster's friends who read Maurice in unpublished form almost all liked the happy ending but were uneasy about it. There's a reason for this unease, which I address below. What I had forgotten about literary analysts is how utterly sycophantic and lemming-like they are. This is the acceptable way to think. Thank goodness I didn't mess up and write something different! We must all remember to denigrate Maurice in our analysis and act condescending about the ending.

I'm not a fan of arguing that Maurice is the best thing ever written. (Personally, I prefer Forster's non-fiction.) Maurice does have the slightly sketchy feel of something not written for publication precisely because publication forces one to see a work differently (a point that Furbank, alone among Forster critics, seems to have perceived).

I do not, however, find it necessary to disparage the book. Forster does some fine things with Maurice--from the characterization of Clive to some of the more infinitely subtle/insightful moments, such as the opening chapter, Clive's breakdown and Maurice's reaction, the piano scene, the cricket match, and the museum sequence between Maurice and Alec, which last I consider utterly brilliant.

I also don't consider the ending false.

Regarding Forster's friends: I am an American woman in her 40's. I am aware of class systems re: money and education but not as an intrinsic force of nature. I intellectually understand the British class system (Richardson to Austen to Forster); I've never lived it. Forster's friends did. As one film analyst--Earl Ingersoll--rightly points out, American audiences may not realize how unusually Maurice behaves towards Alec before they become lovers. My favorite example is when Maurice challenges Alec (referred to by his last name, Scudder, throughout this portion of the novel) for apparently holding out for a larger tip. His tone is harassing and familiar. It is not the tone of a person ticking off a servant; it is the tone of an equal badgering a potential friend or lover. (His later willingness to call Alec out for threatening blackmail is also the sign of an equal--he challenges Alec's notion "I'm as good as you" on moral grounds, not class ones.)

Forster's friends immediately picked up on the class issue--their strongest objection was that the gap in class would get in the way of the relationship.

Forster's friends had a point. Unfortunately, contemporary literary critics have taken hold of this objection as a sign of an "unrealistic ending" and argued that Alec and Maurice don't fit personality-wise, which is highly inaccurate. Forster understood human nature better than that:

Alec and Maurice are more like each other than they are like everyone else.

Maurice willingly assisting an ill Clive.
Maurice is a doer, a guy who thinks actions ultimately matter more than words. It is Maurice who wants to push the relationship with Clive to the next level. He accepts the platonic solution because he is (1) romantic; (2) somewhat naive; (3) the kind of guy, like Forster, who prefers to invest in a relationship long-term.

But Maurice, like Alec, is more than willing to run through the rain, take care of someone when he is ill, go see someone off on the boat rather than simply wishing that person well . . . and so on. That Maurice guesses where Alec is waiting at the end of the book is beautifully romantic and no error in characterization

Maurice and Alec exchanging grins across the aisle.
The scene in the museum illustrates the rapport between the characters excellently. They are both taken with enjoying the lamassu, not interpreting it. They both remark on HOW the thing was made rather than dismissing that side of art as plebeian and low-class. They both get a kick out of the fifth leg.

The entire end of the book was fleshed out by Forster after initial feedback. I suspect that the most useful feedback was from Lytton Strachey, who thought Maurice and Alec were acting on "curiosity and lust and would only last six weeks." Prior to revision, the friend had a point, even if an unpopular one among intellectuals (ironically enough): one contemporary critic castigates those viewers/readers who argue that Mellors and Lady Chatterley from Lady Chatterley's Lover need to have a reason to be together/get along beyond sex. Well . . . since they're going to start a freakin' farm together at the end of the book, my answer would be "yes, they do need a reason."

If Maurice and Alec are going to start a life together, then yes, they need more than sex--though that helps. And Forster more than prepares us for that possibility, especially since Forster himself desired compatibility of temperament, not merely a roll in the sack.

Alec demonstrates that no-holds-barred approach that
resembles Maurice's approach to life--yet he uses a
"gentleman's" tool (a letter) to try to reach Maurice.
Both men are willing to adapt to the other's methods.
He did refrain from including the original "us two living alone in the woods together" epilogue, which he was right to do. Forster was oddly enough too educated and too upper middle-class to perceive an obvious solution to Alec and Maurice. He was right to leave them alone at the end (the book turns to Clive's p.o.v).

My version of where Alec and Maurice end up is this:

World War I (1914) starts soon after Alec and Maurice meet. Alec joins up (it's fairly unimaginable that he wouldn't--the pressure in England to "help" the war effort was tremendous, far greater than the mild, persistent social pressure of Forster's novels: Forster himself helped out during WWI with the Red Cross). I think life is more interesting than death, so Alec survives.

Maurice--who has demonstrated an almost blithe tolerance of disease and illness, teaches boxing, and is quite physically strong (all Forster's characterizations)--volunteers as a medical assistant. In the field, after some fighting, Alec comes down with the flu pandemic and is transferred to a base hospital in Portsmouth. Maurice is either already there or gets himself transferred there. Alec survives (there were survivors of the flu pandemic!), and Maurice eventually moves him away from the hospital to his lodgings.

Alec's attitude towards his job is rather
caustic--and not only due to
his employers' snobbery.
By the time the war ends, the populace is shell-shocked enough that Maurice getting an apartment for himself and Alec (his lodger) in London is not remarked on. As Forster himself knew, an English man could remain an "eccentric" bachelor without causing too much of a stir--so long as he was discrete (I'm not saying this was fair; I'm saying it was better than jail or chemical castration).

Maurice could easily go back to being a stockbroker; his character is less fastidious than Forster, who would have liked more "noble" and "earthy" employment for his characters (the D.H. Lawrence influence).

Alec could become a mechanic or a newspaper writer/photographer (the guy who gets called out to report on fires and murder scenes). One of Forster's most insightful points in Maurice is that Alec's class could be as ambitious, class conscious, and strictly moral (even moreso) as anyone in the upper-classes, a perspective backed up by historians. Alec acts as an undergameskeeper in Maurice because it is a job, not because he loves the soil. I think he would attend the Working Men's College (where Forster actually lectured) after the war and get enough education to do something non-agrarian.

If they HAVE to become woodsmen, they could always go to America and move out West to work as  ranch hands.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Writing Romance: Don't Worry If It's Been Done Before

There are no new ideas under the sun and there's nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, literary types who have read too many reviews in The New York Times (which tut-tut about "worn-out plots" and "hackneyed characters") will try to avoid this reality in extremely strange ways.

Possibly the holder of the most classic
high school yaoi plot--but how it
unwinds is specific to the author.
The result is not new ideas; the result is operatically weird old ideas that supposedly will take the world by storm by being so "extreme."

This approach is as tiresome as fans getting upset about plots resembling each other. "So and so stole that idea from . . . !" Sure, okay, but did you like what so and so did with the idea? Did they do something better? Or worse?

These complaints remind me of the peers I knew in high school who would immediately stop liking bands when they got popular. Oy vey.

There are a limited number of romance plots, some of which I address here and here.

In sum, most manga romances concentrate on (1) the meeting followed by (2) the problem, and (3) the make-up.

The problem falls into two categories: (A) one which is intrinsic to the characters, based on social standing (a doctor and a yakuza), misunderstanding (the girl or boy who falls in love with the popular student), or personality (extrovert v. introvert); (B) one which is caused by outside influence, which can entail a third party, social pressure, family debt,  and political machinations.

A long romance will almost always borrow from A and B even if one is emphasized over the other.

Take Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen: Edward and Eleanor meet; there have the same social standing but not the same financial support, making Eleanor a "poor" match; their relationship is complicated by a third party, Lucy Steele, whose interference is due largely to Edward's personality/poor choices.

Or, take Venetia by Georgette Heyer; Venetia and Damarel meet; they belong to the same social class but Damarel has a terrible reputation due to his admittedly terrible past; interfering third parties separate them for Venetia's sake.

This 1-2-3 plot is not only respectable; it has been around forever.

Take Cupid & Psyche: they meet but Psyche can't see Cupid (or Eros); one is a beautiful mortal maiden--the other a god;  the mortal maiden's jealous sisters interfere when they persuade her to look at Eros (Cupid) at night while he is asleep; chaos ensues.

Nothing is gained by messing with this plot structure. Go ahead: turn the characters into depressed moderns moping about the bleak landscape, pontificating about their pointlessness in life. It's still the same plot. Or put them all on an island where they can kill each other off for a variety of motives. Same plot. Or stick them in poverty and show how they are kept down by "the man."

If it's a romance, it's the same plot. You don't like that? Don't read romances. Or try to write them.

What makes a romance unique is how the plot unwinds--that is, how we connect to the characters; whether we enjoy the dialog; and, most importantly, whether we feel a sense of recognition (yeah, that's what love feels like).

The politician, to the right, is blithe--he has already figured
out how to handle the scandal.
"Kiss Scandal," the short story at the end of Stolen Heart by Maki Kanamaru and Yukine Honami may not be an entirely realistic portrayal of American politics (a bachelor congressman and his male political secretary are accepted as lovers by the great American public--at least, the story is based in Maine, not Mississippi!) but the portrayal of the congressman as both manipulative (even of his lover) and sincere is so hilariously "real" to politics, the story works.  

Likewise, Constellations In My Palm by Chisako Sakuragirests and Yukine Honami operates on the highly annoying plot point of people keeping basic information from each other, but the realistic assumptions of both main characters give the volume a patina of reality--plus the one character's failure to pick up on basic household discussions, like his sisters discussing how to redecorate their guest's room, is too real not to be believed!

Likewise, shojo like Mars stretches the readers' suspension of disbelief with the sheer plethora of machinations by outside parties, but Kira and Rei's honest attempts to figure out their living arrangements bring the whole series back down to earth.

Even something as highly ridiculous as Kabuki by Yukari Hashida is maintained by the natural confusion of the main character regarding who exactly his one-and-only is supposed to be.

Rule 2 for Romance Writers: make the story personal, real, and yours. Don't worry about whether it's been done before.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Clive in Maurice: A Character Study

Clive Durham of Maurice is one of Forster's most complex characters.

He was based on one of Forster's friends and though less moody, is not dissimilar in his adoption of emotional poses as opposed to physical action. The actual friendship/love affair died out eventually since Forster got fed up (it wasn't easy to max out Forster's tolerance) with his friend's "you must join me in my pit of despair" insistence coupled with the refusal to move beyond a kind of indifferent homoerotic passion. Forster could live on lack of sex. He couldn't live on lack of affection.

Clive is not as emotionally unpredictable--Maurice focuses more on the secondary reason than the first. Ultimately, Forster uses Clive as the ultimate critique of Ivory Tower blathering coupled with English upper class propriety.

I mention on Votaries the tendency for intellectualism to fall prey to the "mind is everything" trope. The much touted intellectualized American versions of Asian "philosophies," for instance, are often shorn of the wild, physical, and palpable (not quite like the actual systems). Life is all about having the correct mental framework and the correct emotional state as opposed to actually seeing gods or touching bodies. 

Clive and the Oscar Wilde-like Risley, who Forster maintains
was actually based on another friend: "Risley, as Lytton
gleefully detected, was based on Lytton."
Despite being somewhere between an atheist and agnostic, Forster was not a fan of stripping religion or reality of its pragmatic and touchable. Hence, the wryness in his self-analysis. He saw the danger of becoming a Durham and said, in his infinitely polite way, "No, thanks!"

Clive is more unconventional than Maurice--on the surface. At college, he is the one who breaks with Christianity, inspiring Maurice to do the same. He is the one who seemingly rebels against authority. He is also the one who declares himself first. But it is all words. It is Maurice, not Clive, who initiates the first kiss. It is Maurice, not Clive, who accepts being sent down and takes a job in the city. It is Maurice, not Clive, who shrugs off the "indignity" of taking care of a sick man. It is Maurice, not Clive, who shows an utter willingness to walk away from his life.

Book cover inspired by the movie.
Maurice as the doer, not the speaker, is made more interesting by his  inherent lack of introspection. His homosexuality (a term not commonly used in Forster's time) forces him to become introspective; because he isn't a "practicing" intellectual and doesn't have labels to fall back on, his introspection is unique to himself.

The result of that introspection is the novel. But this is no Catcher in the Rye where an angsty voice demands sympathy. Clive would write Catcher (under a different name), not Maurice.

If Maurice was Oscar Wilde, he would have moved to France with Lord Alfred Douglas--who would have then left him for the same reasons as Clive leaves Maurice. But Maurice would have accomplished the move, not talked or postured about it. 

Clive's unwillingness to act, to give up his name, family, estate, and position in society as a budding politician is comprehensible, even defensible: people make choices for reasons other than love. Where Forster truly excels is when he depicts Clive's equal unwillingness to totally give up Maurice. Clive doesn't wish to have an affair with Maurice. Not at all. This is a guy who lives entirely in his mind. But he wants to keep Maurice within his circle, even his thrall.

So he invites Maurice to Pendersleigh after his marriage. He greets him as a hearty-good-fellow. He tries to get his wife to set Maurice up with a "nice girl." He visits Maurice's room and insists on playing out a game where he kisses Maurice's hand, then proclaims that that side of their life is over and done with. (All this material is in the book as well as Ivory Merchant's faithful 1987 adaptation.)

He doesn't want to remember what he and Maurice had (much like how Lord Alfred Douglas pretended later in life, to the disbelief of everyone, that he and Oscar Wilde had merely been good friends). He wants Maurice to pretend as well. And initially, he gets what he wants since Maurice is still getting over his heartbreak and is willing to go along with whatever Clive suggests.

But Clive's control has a shelf-life. It lasts only as far as Maurice remains (1) emotionally distraught; (2) subjectively rather than objectively introspective. Once Maurice regains his "self" and knows it, Clive's influence takes a nosedive. And because Clive refuses to be direct, he can't do anything about it.

The cricket match is a perfect model of this issue.

Maurice and Alec slept together the night before. During the cricket match, they demonstrate physical ease, picking up on each other's cues, hitting and running at the proper moments (according to the little I've read about cricket, this synchronicity is a real thing with good cricket players).

Clive returns from canvassing for the by-election. He doesn't know what happened between Alec and Maurice. He doesn't even suspect it. But at some level, he senses that he is no longer the center of Maurice's emotional universe. For one, Maurice is far more relaxed than before. Hugh Grant endows Clive with a kind of short-tempered "well, of course I'm going to play!" attitudinizing. He takes Alec's place (Alec, though captain at Maurice's insistence, has no choice since Clive is the head of the estate), makes a wrong call, and "strikes out" both himself and Maurice (my apologies for using American parlance; I don't totally understand cricket).

Up to the end of the novel and film, Clive is still trying to corral Maurice with words, words, words, as Hamlet would say: settle Maurice in his place; force him through sheer intellectualizing to be his friend in one particular way. Clive is the quintessential example of why intellectuals believe that informing people how wrong they are in their thinking will result in such people voting differently. (Not!)

And Maurice simply walks away: "Maurice had disappeared . . . leaving no trace of his presence
except a little pile of the petals of the evening primrose . . . To the end of his life Clive was not sure of the exact moment of departure, and with the approach of old age, he grew uncertain whether the moment had yet occurred."

The book, like the movie, ends with Clive, and though the end of the movie is owned by Maurice and Alec, there is good reason for Clive to resolve it. The character arc--or lack thereof--is all his.

Analysis of Maurice & Alec will follow . . .

Friday, August 25, 2017

Yaoi is Not About Women, Except: Caged Slave Review

Apparently it isn't about men either.

Yuuen to the left.
Despite my Complaint that men are as interested in romance as women (yet pretend that they are not), I typically see the pairings in yaoi as physically male yet gendered archetypal.

By "archetypal," I don't mean "androgynous." Androgynous characters in yaoi seem, if anything, to be gendered female--even sometimes so radically female in appearance that if I was reading Wild Rock in Japanese, I would assume Yuuen was a young woman.

Archetypal pairings refer, rather, to "introvert/extrovert," "pessimist/optimist," "satirical/serious," or, to get all Jungian, "mentor/disciple."

Caged Slave, a light novel by Yuiko Takamura, surprised me since I began to think of the main character as female while I was only about half-way through reading.

Believe it or not, this rarely happens. I didn't react this way to the main characters of Guilty or S or Only the Ring Finger Knows. It surprised me so much, I went back and threaded my way through the slim novel more slowly. Why would the main narrator of Caged Slave be gendered female? That is, what stereotypes or assumed traits usually associated with female characters are associated with Tsukasa?

Akihito doesn't attract Asami's attention
because he is passive--rather, he attracts
it because he jumps off a building.
The gendering comes down to one overwhelming trait:


I should state immediately that passivity is not a female trait. It is a gendered female trait--at least literarily. In older romance novels, it involves several linked behaviors all of which can be witnessed in the main male character of Caged Slave, Tsukasa:

1. Willingness to be Kept in the Dark. 

Yaoi often utilizes a seme (dominant) and uke (submissive) pairing. However, the roles rarely denote passive behavior, at least not in contemporary manga. Ukes are often overactive and curious (Akihito, Finder), bad-tempered (Seyun, U Don't Know Me),  reflective and inwardly tough (Ryo, Fake), aloof and organized (Katsuragi, Blue Morning).

Women in romance novels fall into an equally broad range from optimistic Phoebe (Total Surrender) to brassily self-confident Sophy (Heyer's Sophy), from sardonic Elizabeth (Pride & Prejudice) to otherworldy Jane Eyre.

Note the woman's
passive posture.
The attachment of passivity to the female character is an applied historical cliche more than a literary or even true historical typing--that is, we tend to think that women in the past were passive even though they were not. But older Harlequin romances are responsible for presenting generations of passive female characters who suffer at the hands of fate, i.e. the dominant male character.

Tsukasa's passivity in the face of his nameless lover who refuses to reveal his identity is far more similar to Celia's behavior in Grace Livingston Hill's Best Man, written in 1914, than to any uke's behavior from contemporary manga. Celia is forced to the altar to save her family; weak and pathetic, she marries the wrong man, who then takes 1/2 the book to confess his true identity. Celia never questions her "husband," assuming he miraculously altered his entire personality in their few years apart.

2. Preference for Verbal to Physical Action. 

Tsukasa's passivity shows up not only in his amazing willingness to ask no questions (to be fair, his reluctance to ask no questions is in keeping with his overall personality and bad dating history) but with his tendency to verbally rather than physically spar.

Verbal defense can be a powerful weapon, one that Elizabeth uses with such effectiveness that Darcy is only capable of responding through a written letter. This technique is typically gendered female rather than male despite the clever verbal quips of the sons of Frasier and the cops of Barney Miller.

Physical responses are not only gendered male, males are assumed to be invulnerable to physical assault.  Not so in reality: according to Nursing Standard, 37% of gay men had been in an abusive relationship--these abusive relationships were physically violent over 50% of the time. It is also often assumed that women don't act out physically at all, yet studies on abuse reveal that women hit and throw things as often as men.

However, the gendered perception is that women are less violent and aggressive--a perception likely encouraged by the fact that male violence tends to have more noticeable and irrevocable outcomes.

3. Docile Acceptance of Being Indulged.

Tsukasa and Takeshima meet at a
fancy hotel.
Tsukasa is surprisingly willing to be wined and dined by his wealthy lover. This is a trope in paperback romances although many romance heroines protest, as Jane Eyre does, at being overwhelmed by gifts.

Tsukasa's reaction stands in stark contrast not only to romance heroines but to a great many yaoi heroes; poor lovers of wealthy men generally fiercely protect their independence--Akihito not only keeps his job as a photographer but becomes embroiled in independently investigating Asami's enemies ("Everywhere I look," Asami says, "you're covered in bruises.") while Toya from Guilty refuses to move into Hodaka's penthouse in order to keep his work role (as Hodaka's editor) separate from his private role (as Hodaka's lover).

The assumption that Tsukasa won't protest at gifts and special dinners--and is actually pleased to be treated so well--seems to be based on the assumption that a wealthy lover is what everyone is looking for, which is probably kind of true (it's not like anyone is going to turn money down). But it is an assumption usually applied more to women than to men.    
Eleanor of Aquitaine makes everybody
look passive.

To sum up:

1. The gendering of woman as passive is not true to history, to contemporary life or, for that matter, to all literature. It is simply a gendering that readers recognize.

2. I don't consider these literary passive women to be an example of chauvinism. I think they represent a kind of wish-fulfillment. Like the passive heroine of Twilight who never just leaves her small-town weirdness behind, these passive heroines temporarily set aside the cultural insistence that they safeguard their virtue, look after their families, and bolster their men. They can simply . . . rest.

3. It is perfectly okay--as much as it is okay for anyone--for men to be passive. The issue here is characterization, not what reality should or should not be.

4. Caged Slave has a decent, clean (not "clean" in the erotic sense but in the organizational sense) plot. It is also incredibly reminiscent of older (pre-1990s) Harlequin Romances.