I'm curious for your thoughts on this subject. I dislike the way antis use the term "yaoi" and "fujoshi" since I feel like these terms were created to mean specific things (in Japanese culture) and antis often apply it without considering differences between slash and yaoi. Also, I dislike the way they use yaoi to pretty much mean fetishizing mlm/content, and fujoshi as fetishizing women since both terms are from Japan and I feel weird seeing these terms associated with fetishizing.
I also am really bothered by the way English fandom has adopted genre words from Japan to mean ‘the worst version of [x]/fans of [x]’. it feels like a form of looking down anything coming from Japan/Japanese culture and treating Japanese culture as the source of these ‘worst versions’.
(a lot of what follows is from light research I’ve done over the years and personal experience. It’s my opinion and experiences rather than a closely researched and heavily sourced essay.)
I think the reason for this weird English-speaking take is two-fold:
Americans/western culture interprets the Japanese subgenre ‘yaoi’ and its Japanese creators & fans through the lens of American/western culture and finds them wanting
the reinterpretation of the concept of ‘yaoi’ and ‘fujoshi’ in American/western culture and the unfortunate associations created as a result
Without going into historical depth, any western - particularly American - interaction with Japanese culture is an unequal one. Besides the ignominious end of WWII, the American army was the means of forcing Japan to reopen their borders in the 1850′s. And frankly: western culture has been obsessed with Japanese culture (and other East Asian cultures) for literal centuries. and we’ve been taking their cool shit and appropriating and bastardizing it for just as long.[$]
the way that the words ‘yaoi’ and ‘fujoshi’ are being treated now is, in my opinion, an extension of this.
American understanding of yaoi in Japan & its Japanese fans
Americans don’t understand yaoi or fujoshi in their original Japanese context, but we belittle and denigrate it as if we do.
In Japan, the word ‘yaoi’ is more equivalent to a Japanese acronym for the English ‘pwp’ (plot? what plot?) than a word referring to mlm. Like ‘pwp’ in its original usage, ‘yaoi’ indicates a fanwork or small-time/one-shot original work (doujinshi) that focuses almost exclusively on the sex part of a fictional ship, but ‘yaoi’ has an additional denotation of being mlm-focused. (and lately ‘BL’ - ‘boy’s love’ - has come to be more of an umbrella term for many flavors of shounen-ai, junee, and yaoi).
however, ‘yaoi’ became known as the Japanese-equivalent mlm fan genre to ‘slash’ in English-speaking circles. This was already comparing apples to oranges - slash is broader in definition and usage. a more equivalent comparison would probably be kinkmeme fics. But the misapprehension was already in place and only got worse as some of the tropes of this doujinshi genre became increasingly known - the ‘seme’ (’top’) and ‘uke’ (’bottom’) and their supposedly male/female-like roles, the ‘rapey’ tendency to show the uke as crying and reluctant under an aggressive seme, etc.
But Americans are ill-equipped to judge the situation from the sidelines. To provide a few examples of things we generally don’t have cultural context on to truly understand yaoi (or BL, honestly) and its Japanese fans:
LGBTQ+ culture in Japan
the Japanese flavor of gender essentialism
social and societal pressures on Japanese people, particularly women/women-aligned people
Without knowing all this, how can we understand why yaoi is constructed the way it is? how can we understand what draws women to it, or how it sits with Japanese LGBTQ people?
But because many yaoi tropes don’t sit well with Americans in the context of our own culture and increasing openness to LGBT+/queer people, and because we’ve given yaoi a false equivalence with a western genre of fiction that has a much wider range of subject and form, we’re apt to look down on yaoi as ‘bad mlm’ and on its ‘fujoshi’ fans as genuinely ‘rotten women’.
The international reinterpretation of ‘yaoi’ & international yaoi fans
the other way the word ‘yaoi’ is used by many people in fandom-centric tumblr - anti and non-anti alike - is in reference to how Americans/Western fans ‘initially’ interacted with Japanese-sourced mlm (’initially’ being when yaoi became well-known enough for a noticeable interaction to appear in American/western geek subculture).
Manga and anime had a popularity boom in the US around 2003/2004 thanks to improving internet speeds and the 24-hour cartoon channel Cartoon Network looking for fresh animated content to air. Media companies caught on and a glut of manga and anime were officially licensed, translated, and sold overseas.
As the popularity of Japanese media grew, the word ‘yaoi’ became more popular and widely used in fandom circles, usually as a substitute for ‘slash’ or ‘gay’ (fictional mlm) when the source material for the fannish subject was Japanese in origin. I think this hit its peak around 2006-2007; at that time many teenage and young adult anime fans (primarily female/femme) who enjoyed slashfic/mlm fic called themselves ‘yaoi fans’.
Why was ‘yaoi’ so popular in America/western culture? and why did its fans get such an awful reputation over time?
as for popularity, here’s a few aspects:
Just another word for ‘slash’ - it wasn’t so much that yaoi as a publishing genre was popular as that there were a lot anime fans in fandom using the word ‘yaoi’ for their mlm fan content instead of the word ‘slash’.
male-attracted teen’s first fanservice - because of the size of the boom and the comparative diffidence of American marketers to young (male-attracted) women, a young anime fan’s first published media experience with the sexual ‘female gaze’ directed towards men was more likely to be sourced in Japanese BL content.
American gaze on Japanese male companionship - manga geared towards young men/male-aligned people in Japan (such as Shonen Jump titles) features a lot of male companionship and tight bonds of friendship. So does American media, but American male culture rarely allows men to touch one another in friendly ways (any gentle touch from a cis man is treated as expressing sexual interest). Japanese male friendship culture lacks this physical distance. Guess how it was interpreted, and guess what kind of effect it had on American anime/manga fandom.
relatedly, this LGBT/queer read on Japanese-sourced masc-centric content, plus the willingness of works aimed towards femme audiences to present all-but-canon mlm relationships, probably functioned as a poor man’s substitute for the lack of LGBT representation in American media in some cases.
and some reasons for the terrible reputation ‘yaoi fans’ garnered:
10 years on, those teenage girls are young adults in their 20′s looking back on their younger selves with embarrassed disgust. That is: the word ‘yaoi’ started to garner its sour taste in the 2010′s because that’s when most of the teenagers of the 2000′s outgrew that particular flavor of immaturity.
a lack of LGBT/queer culture awareness and education in America. Yaoi or slash fanworks may have been Baby’s First Gay Content. It also might have been the entire extent of their knowledge about non-straight anything because America had by no means the same level of LGBT/queer visibility that it does now and certainly didn’t (doesn’t) educate about it. people said and did some awful stuff out of sheer ignorance and lack of thought.
fandom got better about it because resources improved and visibility increased, which was itself in some measure because of the popularity of mlm fiction in fandom circles leading to people doing more research and queer fans educating those who knew less. BL wasn’t necessarily intended as queer rep, but it did act as a gateway to queer culture for people who discovered things about themselves through BL.
socially inappropriate behavior of many, many kinds - including those who refused to separate fiction and reality and treated real mlm like live fanservice (‘omg real life yaoi!’). But as an icon of ‘yaoi fan in the 2000′s cringe culture’, perhaps nothing is so prominent and well-known as the
why is the yaoi paddle so illustrative and iconic? Well - the paddles were sold at anime conventions as a silly novelty item. Anime convention attendees tended (and still tend) to skew young, particularly compared to other nerdy social gatherings. And as you would expect of a bunch of (a) overexcited young people (b) relatively lacking in supervision and (c ) surrounded by things liable to raise their excitement levels even more, they did a lot of foolish things when handed wooden oars that were easy to swing around and hit people with.
At about the same time that anime fandom was truly exploding in size and the yaoi paddle craze was hitting its peak, the internet was juuust about bandwidth friendly enough to allow people to take videos and upload them to this awesome new site ‘youtube’.
I’d say ‘you can imagine what kinds of videos people uploaded’ but you don’t have to imagine. you can see for yourself. The human interest news articles practically wrote themselves. And while yaoi paddles were quickly banned from conventions and their popularity dropped almost as fast, it was an impression to linger. particularly, IMO, combined with other invasive social behaviors that were somewhat more tolerated at anime conventions back then: ‘glomping’, ‘free hugs!’ signs, awkwardly following relative strangers around conventions as nominal ‘friends’, cosplayers publicly ‘making out’ as ‘fanservice’, etc.*
so this is the image of the ‘yaoi fan’ today - a young, white American cis girl at an anime convention in 2007, lacking self-restraint, social grace, and the ability to distinguish fiction from reality. and though this image has little to do with the original Japanese concept, we use the Japanese word to conjure it.
(the word ‘fujoshi’ has a comparatively short history in American culture. for a brief time after the word was reclaimed from 2channers by Japanese BL fans, American anime/manga mlm fans adopted the word as well as a sort of reclamation of the right of women/femme-aligned people to be fannishly interested in socially unacceptable things just as much as men(/male aligned people). in tumblr fandom it is being given an increasingly bitter taste due to its ties with ‘yaoi’.)
*these behaviors weren’t limited to young female/femme-aligned ‘yaoi fans’ by any means, but partially because of yaoi paddles, ‘cringe culture’ and ‘yaoi fangirls’ were inexorably linked to one another.
‘yaoi’ and ‘fujoshi’ on tumblr today (late 2017)
fandom on tumblr, deeply into policing everyone’s fannish interests in the name of social awareness, invokes ‘yaoi’ in a two-fold way:
‘yaoi’ as a doujinshi subgenre in Japan: featuring fictional mlm in sexual situations for titillation written by Japanese women/female-aligned people for Japanese women/female-aligned people, and the distasteful feelings American/western culture bears towards its tropes as being unacceptably unrealistic and ‘backwards’ by modern progressive American standards
‘yaoi’ as ‘cringe culture’: an imperialistic American/western read on Japanese media content + exposure to Japanese BL, blending unfavorably with a lack of education on real LGBT/queer culture, a lack of alternative LGBT/queer media representation, and teenagers being teenagers
fujoshi - ‘rotten girl’ as written, but a homonym with an old word for ‘wife’ - was stolen by Japanese mlm fans from 2channers and briefly adopted by English-speaking mlm animanga fans as well. but ‘fujoshi’ is now invoked alongside ‘yaoi’ as a kind of revocation of refuge:
‘fujoshi’ as a stolen badge of honor represented taking pride in enjoying things that popular cultural standards dictate women shouldn’t enjoy. It is tied to ‘yaoi’ in the double-meaning above to take away the pride associated with that enjoyment:that’s right, you shouldn’t enjoy those things. those things are Bad - bad mlm representation, representing bad behavior by women. that’s why fujoshi are gross!
In summary, English-speaking fans are using their own twisted, ill-informed, and imperialistic treatment and understanding of Japanese concepts to turn those words into pejoratives for use in petty ship wars.
(And when you put it like that it kind of starts to look a little … well … racist.)
[$] regarding western tendency to appropriate Japanese culture - Japan is eager to export the unique aspects of their culture. but how many times have you seen an English article with titles like ‘10 Reasons Why Japan is So Weird’ or ‘25 Weird Things About Japan that will make you say ‘buy why?’’ (the literacy rate in Japan being nearly 100% is #3 on this list). and okay - Japanese culture is remarkably different from American culture. But this ‘Japan is so weird’ talk is often accompanied by a tone of mild superiority.
consider how we treat Japanese cultural products such as movies. The recent Death Note debacle is only the latest in a long string of this kind of nonsense (though thank goodness it’s getting the reputation it deserves.) Remember The Ring? American remake of Ringu. And of course there’s dozens of other examples of Americans buying or taking things from its original Japanese context and trying to make it ‘better’ for a mainstream American audience, even though the American audience liked the original Japanese product just fine. (Dragonball Z comes to mind.)
(On the flip side you have ‘weaboos/weebs’, the contemporary word for ‘Japanophiles’, putting Japanese culture on a pedestal, which is not any better, and disgust with ‘weebs’ tends to be extended to the aspects of Japanese culture they worship.)