Step Three: Gender Identity Displacement
When women and girls are confronted with role models that are only destructive to their psyche, the simplest solution is, oddly enough, to become men. Imagine parts of your identity as building blocks: one for assertiveness, another for demureness, one for pride, one for humility, one for social capability, another for gestures and physical communication skills, and so on. Some of these traits, society teaches us, are rewarded in men and others are rewarded in women. In this final category, a female target audience empathizes with a male-gendered protagonist (or sets of characters) with feminine identity components. Since these female stand-ins are in narratives for female audiences, the plot or major force driving the plot is often romance, and so we have two (or more) male-bodied characters in a romantic situation. In Japan, this genre is established in print and television media as “yaoi,”, but in the USA, “slash” is limited to the fanworks (fan fiction) and grassroots interpretative reactions to male -dominated character dramas.
Fascinatingly, yaoi and slash originated within years of one another in Japan and the US. In the late 1970s, doujinshi mangaka parodied the contemporary boy’s platonic love stories, spinning them into romantic and sexualized versions. Also in the late 1970s, female Star Trek fans began writing fanfic about the protagonists of their favorite starship. Stories would be about Kirk and Spock, abbreviated K&S if the relationship remained platonic, or Kirk slash Spock, abbreviated K/S if the relationship became romantic/sexual. This coined the term “slash” for the future generations of fan fiction writers to codify their works.
In Japan, yaoi has become a well-established genre, even becoming a major avenue for media exportation, reaching its most recent peak in international popularity in 2009-2010. There are thousands of yaoi titles, but I will review a couple here briefly. Yaoi follows formulaic character roles: the protagonist is almost exclusively the uke, the “receiver” or bottom of the sexual pairing, and the main romantic interest is the seme, or the “attacker” or the top of the sexual pairing. Ukes are drawn effeminately, with large eyes characteristic of female or prepubescent boy characters, and often have feminine personality attributes. In Junjou Romantica, Misaki (girl name for a boy character) spends much of his screen time cooking, cleaning, or thinking about dates. In Okane Ga Nai (1999-present,) uke Ayase becomes a domestic partner for the the seme Kanou in lieu of working a job. The roles these male (uke) characters play are traditionally facets of femininity.
Slash is harder to define as it remains a grassroots literary movement with, as of yet, no institutionally-backed artifacts. Like yaoi, slash is most often slanted through the point of view of the more effeminate, “bottom” character. These slash protagonists retain parts of their feminine identity while still being able to succeed in their professional lives and hold equal footing with their romantic partners.
Yaoi has been popular the world over, and slash is on an exponential growth of popularity over the past four years, gaining legitimacy by leaps and bounds over the past ten months.
Disappearing Women, Conclusion:
In a country where a woman is shot and killed for talking back to a catcaller–in a country where a woman has to carry around her college mattress in order to get a fair acknowledgement of her sexual assault claim–in a country where there has yet to be a female president, American women are overburdened with the realities of a world set against them. They burn to fulfill their aspirations. In the quiet of their private lives, they turn to art to assuage the hurts of daily microaggressions and larger structural oppressions. Even in fantasy, they cannot fathom nor imagine a realistic female character that would believably solve the problems of micro-sexism and macro-chauvinism and accomplish their own personal goals and have a well balanced family life. Such a woman is unbelievable. Such a woman is unimaginable. So we turn to male characters, who wouldn’t have to deal with the problems we face. By displacing elements of our feminine gender identity, we are able to more easily process other elements of it. When we engage in these narratives, we suspend the feminine gender building blocks of “unhealthy beauty ideals,” “sexism in the workplace,” and “the dangers of travelling alone.” With these parts of our identity temporarily displaced, we can focus and process other elements of our lives and our feminine identities, like “sexual agency,” “building healthy, equal, and sustainable romantic relationships,” or “balancing professional ambition and personal life.”