A Dangerous Question: Yaoi Normalizes Rape?

I don’t want to be accused of yaoi-bashing, because I do think it’s a valid genre, even if I don’t personally “get it”, but I find this question interesting because it touches on so many flashpoints:

At Tiamat’s Manga Reviews, a commenter said,

“the ‘no no stop–‘ and the ‘you’re going to have to anyway’ dynamic is so normal in BL that I no longer looked at it as rape…”

Tiamat goes on to talk about how awful this is. And one level, being taught to think of forced sex as “not rape” is problematic, true. Yet I can see the other side, as well, that it’s a frequent convention of the genre, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying rape scenarios as part of sexual fantasies. So I can’t agree with Tiamat’s statement that

Anything that glamorises rape or sexual assault shouldn’t have a place on the shelves.

(Wouldn’t that also mean banning Gone With the Wind?) Tiamat goes on to say that rape isn’t used the same way in genres other than yaoi; when pointed out that’s not true, the assertion becomes that it’s used more in yaoi than elsewhere.

So? If it’s part of the formula, and this is clearly fiction with only tangential connection to realism, should any reference to rape be banned? One of the commenters mentions how rape fantasies are common among the young female readers the genre is aimed at. I think there’s a very good reason for that: women are taught that girls who want and enjoy sex are dirty or impure. So a rape fantasy makes enjoyable sex not their fault — they couldn’t prevent it, they were forced into it, and so the element of guilt is removed.

Simon at Icarus points out another reason: rape is a way of creating intense emotions for reader involvement.

Personally, the yaoi I’ve enjoyed has been more about teasing than flat-out forced sex, because that’s what I’m comfortable reading. But saying “rape is terrible so it should be banned in fiction, especially sexual fantasy material” goes too far, in my opinion.

30 Comments

  1. Having seen some of the slashfic that gets made, I can believe the yaoi genre has a higher level of rape than other manga genres. I get the reason why too, but that doesn’t stop “oh I don’t view it as rape” being a rather worrying statement to make.

    On the plus side, it makes me realise women can be just as odd and perverted as blokes. Equality!

  2. James Schee

    If it does normalize rape for some readers, then that could be a little worrying. On the other hand, as with you I don’t think you can close any area of story like that though.

    I don’t “get” yaoi either. Yet hey I don’t get a lot of stuff, and when reading a Roy Thomas Savage Conan collection recently I equally didn’t get the “rape” Conan did of some of the women in those stories. Which was done in the same vein of “No, stop!!” then at the end “oh that was wonderful.”

  3. Is there any difference in male written “no stop- oh now I like it” scenes written by men and ones written by woman, i.e. circumstances of scenes, level of force, who the person going “no stop!” is? Or is it all generally the same?

  4. There is a very fine line between playing hard to get (“oh, no, I couldn’t” when they really want to) and rape (“oh, no, I don’t want to” when the aggressor assumes they do). Add in exaggeration for fictional purposes, and you wind up with activities that may be entertaining to read about but shouldn’t be modeled in actual behavior.

  5. [...] Johanna Draper Carlson asks: Does yaoi manga normalize [...]

  6. [...] Johanna Draper Carlson comments on the ongoing discussion of rape as a story device in yaoi manga. [...]

  7. I don’t think BL manga normalizes rape in any sense. Rape in real life is about power, domination, and anger…rape in BL manga is almost always presented as the “rapist” literally can’t contain his feelings for the “victim” (who also is usually presented– eventually, if not within the same scene –as wanting it anyway). It’s basically a device to show overwhelming feelings.

    I’m sure there are a few BL readers– stateside and in Japan –who might process the rape as “normal” but I suspect that those readers would be ones who have difficulty processing social norms in general.

  8. “It’s basically a device to show overwhelming feelings.”

    Having someone when they’re going “oi, no!” seems an odd device to show that; there has to be others, somewhere.

  9. There is a difference between saying all depictions of rape should be banned, and saying depictions which glamorize rape should be banned.

    I don’t read enough BL to have a fully formed opinion, but the rape scenes I do remember (one from A.N.A.L.) were about “converting” the straight guy who didn’t know he liked gay sex until it was forced upon him. One of the characters in that book was the king of getting straight men to submit to his gay advances. It wasn’t “overwhelming feelings” in that case, but simple conquests. I don’t know if that is the exception, but I did not enjoy it as a plot-device.

  10. Simon Jones

    CharlesRB–>

    “oh I don’t view it as rape”

    IMHO I think you’re taking that comment out of context, just as Tiamat has. I read that comment as “this kind of development in a BL/Yaoi manga is so typical and ritualized, and has so little resemblance to real life rape, that it is simply a cliche within the genre.”

    That is far, far different from the “normalization” of rape strawman, not to mention whether that is actually possible on a wide-scale level.

  11. ANAL is a satire of the genre, so using that to talk about yaoi is like using Caddyshack to talk about sports competition stories.

  12. “IMHO I think you’re taking that comment out of context”

    They said “I no longer looked at it as rape”, which implies they did before.

    But, fair enough, I should look at the context. The context is her talking about a review and general views of yaoi manga by people who aren’t already fans, and basically noticing they’d go “that’s a rape scene” whereas yaoi fans wouldn’t. So… they’re basically conditioned not to. She also doesn’t see the point in reading reviews/opinions by non-fans as they won’t “get” the genre and go on about traditional tropes.

    The context reminds me of when there’s arguments over established ‘tropes’ of superhero comics (like the look and role of female characters) and you see responses and defences like “it’s normal, what’s the big deal?” and “wait, you see it like THAT?”.

  13. [...] Johanna Draper Carlson via Journalista: [...]

  14. Why single out yaoi? Rape fantasy has been a commonly used device in English-language romance novels since the dawn of time, yielding the term “love at first rape” common among romance afficiandos. Hentai, shojo, and shonen manga all feature rape fantasy too.

    A friend from Japan explained to me that the use rape fantasy is common in manga because real rape is not as commonplace in Japan as it is in the US. (I don’t know if this is true, but I’m taking her word for it in the meantime.) Most people in the US know somebody who’s been raped. In Japan, that’s not the case, so you get less sensitivity to the issue.

  15. Johanna-> “ANAL is a satire of the genre, so using that to talk about yaoi is like using Caddyshack to talk about sports competition stories.”

    Fair enough.

  16. “Hentai, shojo, and shonen manga all feature rape fantasy too.”

    Except hentai and rape scenes in shonen tend to get disapproving looks round the net. I don’t think I’ve actually seen as much of them aimed in the direction of rape scenes in yaoi. Though, as you say, women-aimed romance novels seem to sneak under the radar…

    It just occured to me yaoi and romance books are generally aimed at women, while shonen and hentai (I’m generalising with hentai) are generally aimed at men. I’d hope that’s not the reason and I’m missing something cos that would be rather dodgy.

    “A friend from Japan explained to me that the use rape fantasy is common in manga because real rape is not as commonplace in Japan as it is in the US.”

    I would be _extremely_ surprised if that was the case. People in Japan keeping quiet about being raped more often than in the States, that I could believe.

  17. Charles, interesting comparison with superhero fans — I see the similarity, too, that those involved heavily in one genre have different expectations and tolerances than those who just dip a toe occasionally.

    Dangel, that would be a very interesting cultural distinction, if so. And it would make sense — exaggeration works best if it doesn’t seem plausible.

    Charles again, considering the audience is necessary in determining perception. And it does seem reasonable that women talking among themselves, so to speak, would find different things acceptable.

  18. Why single out yaoi? Rape fantasy has been a commonly used device in English-language romance novels since the dawn of time, yielding the term “love at first rape” common among romance afficiandos.

    Y’know, whenever I have a problem with some YAOI tropes I start to think of this one romance novel I read that absolutely horrified me. The heroine was an independent woman who was a space explorer or something. She gets stranded on a planet of barbarian men, is enslaved to one man who uses rape as punishment (though she always enjoys it and the punishment is actually that he stops and leaves her alone) and eventually falls for her slaver even after she’s able to return to her home.

    Years later when I worked at a bookstore, I found out the writer was very popular and that particular book was one of the few romance novels to keep selling well enough to stay in print.

    I try to avoid YAOI/BL with coercive sex, as well as a whole slew of other taboos but I don’t really complain about it in public because it’s not aimed at me and I don’t feel like getting into the muddy waters of telling another group that their choices of romance/erotica is “wrong”, much like I wasn’t going to tell bookstore customers that the book they were looking at came from an author whose work I previously disapproved of. It means I make far fewer impulse purchases, usually sticking to things I’ve read recommended by trusted reviewers or come from familiar authors like Fumi Yoshinaga or Yugi Yamada.

  19. As a fan of the genre, it’s interesting to hear this discussion, and I think it’s definitely something good to talk about, since I can totally understand how a lot of yaoi must look to those that aren’t in immersed in the genre. (Heck, even I’m still shocked sometimes!)

    Does it normalize rape? Well, of course I’m inclined to say ‘no’, because as a yaoi reader fantasy rape is a totally different matter for me than anything associated with the real thing- but it *is* a question that has crossed my mind. I’m inclined to agree with the others who commented on romance novels and the idea that that ‘forced sex’ scenes often are a way to get around the shame factor surrounding sex. (Soap operas are another example of this as well) I’ve read some academic articles on yaoi and one in particular pointed out that there seemed to be a tendency in yaoi readers (in Japan and outside as well) to have come either from more conservative families with strict views on sex, or grew up with other pressures that made them associate sex with shame. An interesting aspect to consider I think- and one I can personally relate to. (Article was in the book, ‘Fanning the Flames’.)

    As for there being less rape in Japan and that somehow being a factor… Well, I’ve lived here for a couple years (not that that makes me any kind of expert!) and that comment strikes me as very Japanese. Everything here is kept very hush-hush, so you definitely wouldn’t hear much about rape, and I’m sure most Japanese people would be more likely to want to say their country was safe rather than the other way around. I’ve overheard teenage girls talk about all kinds of experiences involving sexual harassment, although not all-out rape. (I work at a high school.)

    Overall, I just feel that fantasy life and real life are two completely separate realms, and I would say most yaoi fans are aware of this. I can’t imagine any fangirl saying she’s read so much yaoi that if her or her friends experienced actual rape they would somehow think it was ‘normal’. That seems like an incredible leap to me, and something that would indicate a total break from reality. There are so many example of things people do when they fantasize and play that they would never consider in real life- kids playing ‘guns’ and ‘killing’ each other for instance.

    Anyway, that’s just my 2 cents.

  20. What a good topic! Actually, it’s something I’ve wondered myself. Yaoi has certainly “legitimized” rape fantasies. I think it’s generally understood that there is a vast difference between fantasy and reality, however one can’t help but wonder if, with the proliferation of rape in so many of the stories, it will subconsciously influence its readers.

    Rape can be difficult to identify, but I suspect that it happens more often than people realize; the assaulter himself might not even realize what he is doing. The frequent use of rape as the prelude to love in such fiction (for, as someone pointed out, this is not a technique unique to yaoi) must have some impact on the readers’ ability to gauge others’ emotions.

    That said, if I’m not mistaken, the majority of yaoi readers are female. I don’t think that they’re about to turn around and start raping males in a fit of sexual fantasy, do you?

  21. yes, it is rape.
    Bl novels have many kinds, I just choose no sex scene novels to read.
    For many girls and boys want to read those kinds of novels, I think of the reasons. In fact, relation between man and woman is more difficult than that between same sex?
    Can you understand?
    So many bg novels( i mean those novels discribing heterosexual scenes) are lack some reality.The bl novels and gl novels have more reality than bg novels.
    Do you agree with me on that point?

    Want to read more about human inner thoughts and conflict , people can choose bg novels.

    Once I read some sentence on love
    ” From we are born into this world, we are homosexual.” For the love between samesex parent and child is a kind of love of homo.

    Do you all agree?

  22. Unfortunately, it does, and most fans won’t recognize that fact.
    I’m a big fan of the genre, have a lot of yaoi and bl mangas in my collection, and even so, I can’t deny that the whole ‘He really wants it even when he says no’ subgenre of it really bugs me off.
    I’ve dropped titles because of their treatment of rape (Most particularly, Gravitation, where the main character is gang-raped and the whole thing is pretty much solved with a joke), and I hate when I read/hear yaoi fans say things like ‘I want to rape him’ or ‘He’s just cute enough to rape’.
    Unfortunately, trying to speak up against anything in yaoi and bl trends, will end up with someone accusing you of homophobia.

  23. I guess you might have to look at the real life motive of a rapist. I’ve read before that the idea is not just the sexual act itself but humiliation and control. Not that I am well read on the subject. But their motives are different from yaoi and reality. I kinda agree with what others have said “prelude, way around shame, basic convention etc”. The feeling seems soo complicated.

    Also the comment:”Once I read some sentence on love
    ” From we are born into this world, we are homosexual.” For the love between samesex parent and child is a kind of love of homo.”

    That strongly suggest that a parent has some sexual attraction to their children. I have to strongly disagree wih that.

    homosexuality refers to “having sexual and romantic attraction primarily or exclusively to members of one’s own sex”

    The love better a same sex parent should have no such connection.

    (I used to be a big yaoi fan a few years ago but have since stop reading anything sexual.)

  24. I’ve been an avid fan of yaoi for just a few months now, and I can see where you’re getting at. Yaoi is predominantly made by straight females for straight females, and is not to be confused with gei comi, which is made by gay men for gay men.

    (I haven’t read the comments posted here so if I mirror some others’, please ignore them.)

    Yaoi, unfortunately, has this tendency to overly romanticize gay relationships to the point that most of the time, the uke or ‘bottom’ in the relationship is a man with too much oestrogen or a girl with man bits. As such, the whole, ‘I will have you whether you like it or not’ aspect of many of the manga does not only stem from sexual fantasies of both artist/writer and reader, but also from the psychological tendency that many women tend to transfer (i.e. distort) most of their er, frustration, about the injustice of rape especially since it is rare that men themselves get raped. Bottom line, some women actually WANT to see men being raped by other men simply because it heals the female ego that men can also get forced to have sex. I am a girl myself and this is something we have discussed in my psychology class, so I am not dissing the females in here.

    There is a yaoi manga, Poison Cherry Drive (Motoni Modoru, Kitty Media/Houbunsha), which is a sick and convoluted book in my opinion, about a guy who gets raped, and enlists Cherry Drive, a three-man group who will either deflower you themselves should you ask for it or enact revenge rape on you. The main chara allows himself to be used by the three and three in return tracks, rapes, and shows the pictures of the attack to the main chara. Now this kind of yaoi manga should be censored not only for lack of taste but the horrid use of such a theme.

    Japan, furthermore, as a society, is more lenient on homosexuality than other countries. There is a running ‘joke’ on the net that Japanese people are bound to snap sometime with their too polite, too repressed emotions as exhibited by the man who hijacked a car and randomly stabbed people in the street just because work stress became too much I think. Yes, I realize quite fully that it sounds like I am blaming Japanese society for their lax view on rape and homosexuality, therefore the many use of rape as a plot device in yaoi manga. However, let it be noted that in Japan, your business is your own, and as long as you have done your service to society, like marrying, having a stable job and kids, nobody really cares if you’re sleeping with the same sex on the side. though that practice has been frowned upon as Westernization stepped in. I’m not exactly saying that this is all due to repression or some BS like that, but rather Japan has a rather interesting view on many ‘taboo’ subjects, especially for westerners, which some of us would do good to emulate or even to ponder upon.

    The many yaoi books I have read and owned are basically shoujou-ish manga but with two men. The first (and sometimes many) time(s) that the protagonists have sex is usually preceded by the seme (top) coercing the uke into submission and like a pubescent virgin girl, the uke says no, it’s not right, blah, blah but one smouldering look from the seme and he stops and offers himself and they have hot sex.

    All in all, rape doesn’t essentially equal to a good read in yaoi manga, and it’s just a shame that some writers succumb to it when no other plot will come to them. Crude, but true.

  25. Rie Says: “I’ve been an avid fan of yaoi for just a few months now, and I can see where you’re getting at. Yaoi is predominantly made by straight females for straight females, and is not to be confused with gei comi, which is made by gay men for gay men.

    “(I haven’t read the comments posted here so if I mirror some others’, please ignore them.)

    “Yaoi, unfortunately, has this tendency to overly romanticize gay relationships to the point that most of the time, the uke or ‘bottom’ in the relationship is a man with too much oestrogen or a girl with man bits…”

    So Kinou Nani Tabeta? by Yoshinaga Fumi isn’t yaoi? I saw a review of it and at first I thought it was a seinen and yaoi series:

    Otaku Champloo Says at http://www.punkednoodle.com/champloo/index.php/2008/06/11/13-kinou-nani-tabeta-by-yoshinaga-fumi/ :

    “…Kinou Nani Tabeta, what did you eat yesterday, is a slice of life tale between a gay couple living together and trying to eat hearty meals under a budget. You have Shirou Kakei, a conservative gay lawyer who would rather think of how he can save 300 yen on a watermelon over confessing to his office that he’s gay. His partner, Kenji Yabuki is a flamboyantly gay hairdresser who would rather buy the newest Haagen Daaz in a convenience store than waiting for it to go on sale in the nearest grocery…

    “…Unlike most BL which forgets the idea of homosexuality and just let them have it, this couple has to deal with their homosexual reality in conservative Japan. Of course, with Yoshinaga-sensei, she does this with great humor, often forcing Kakei to come out of the closet or getting into a jealous spazz because Yabuki can’t get his tongue tied when it comes to their relationship.

    “I cannot say if sensei is trying to do this in order to give voice to homosexuals in Japanese society, but either way, the manga does pleasantly represent a social stigma that most homosexuals of this day face. You have overly-concerned mothers, flamboyantly gay friends, suspicious women, and a slew of supporters. Of course, she does this in a very light-hearted fashion and more often than not, you gloss this over because of the food. Now that I think about it, maybe she’s using the food as an avenue to open awareness to homosexual issues to Morning readers. Perhaps, how normal most of them act despite being homosexual. In the end, despite the presence of the homosexual couple, I wouldn’t say that this title is her shot at getting back to BL though…”

  26. I noticed this aswell but I think its becuase its like a fantasy. The problem is I’ve seen so many stories were the uke gets raped by the seme and he hates him then he loves him its like dude if that happend here in America it don’t matter if he was your best friend that seme would get killed.

  27. I am a big yaoi fan myself, have been for years and have read too much manga to remember half of them. Some of them I do not want to even mention as they were absolutely shamelessly disturbing (Kaen’s ‘Prisoner’).
    However Yaoi does not normalize rape. It is a fictional work presenting an alternative reality if you will. I do know that readers tend to relate to the situations or the characters in fiction, looking for their own reality in fiction to escape their life troubles.
    The ‘rape’ in yaoi is different from the ‘rape’ that is happening in real life. This action is not being driven by repressed sexual desire to humiliate and destroy an individual or by any animalistic/psychological desire. Rather, the ‘rapists’ use forced sex as a means to convey their unrelenting passion for the objects obsessions. On the other hand, it is a horrible plot device in most cases as it is a brash action of passion to move along the relationship between characters. Then again, one needs not to forget that the characters are Japanese people, not westerners. They have different values than we do as well act differently both in public and in private. Both ukes and the semes show levels of hesitance to act towards each other. I assume this to be the case in the west as well as in the east. To break this denial and allow the character to escape from the convictions posed by modern society they have to feel gratification in the highest act of shame.
    In most cases rape is not exactly done as a non-con act as the ukes and the semes (because there are manga where the uke dominates and assuts the seme) have a certain level of doubt towards their seme/uke.

    Looking at yaoi as a general term is another mistake in judging the spam of rape in the bl world. There are cases where rape is used as a plot device not to only develop an actual bond between the characters but as well as to show emotional instability of one or both of the participants of the act. It is easy to say Yaoi and then start applying tags to it. Most of this gender is shameless pwp and it is to be treated as such It is a porn comic for women made by women to enjoy fantasies that cannot be easily obtained or treated in a ‘gentle’ manner that women desire.
    Personally, I do not enjoy flimsy girly ukes (unless it’s a deliberate attempt to cross-dress as a state of emotional or psychological trauma) or overly handsome, popular rich semes. This arrangement is cute to look at, but it does not give me any satisfaction whatsoever. I know quite a few people who treat yaoi not as a serious work, but as an artistic expression. They don’t seem to think of rape as normal just because a uke rolled over and submitted after a night of steamy passionate sex.
    There are bound to be people who will take this as normal thing to do. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they treated the news in the same fashion.
    I noticed as well, that even though a lot of readers give yaoi same tags as they would a pink paperback romance novel, they tend to look for a lot of meaning in them. They expect a lot more of the genre that it has. There are other yaoi stories that consist rape in them and pages of pages of life wisdom. Sadly, the ones that are critized the most are the story lines that concentrate on love and physical attraction.
    I’ve been getting of topic a lot and probably sound like a raving fangirl. I just want to get through the fact that yaoi as a whole at the end of the day is pointless porn with soap opera emotions; it should be seen as such.

  28. I agree with your take on rape in the genre, but I’d have to argue that not all yaoi is ‘pointless porn’. I watch/ read mainstream porn as well, and it definitely has a different dynamic going on. Some yaoi is pwp, of course, but when it’s done well, it can have wonderfully rich characters, complex plots, and a lot of emotion involved besides lust and sex. It’s a shame there aren’t more titles translated into English that have more depth – I think we tend to get a lot of pwp anf fluff brought over unfortunately.

  29. I only became aware of yaoi manga when I read the Crusade themed Black Sun in which a virginal Crusader named Leonard is raped by an Ottoman general named Jamal. I was pretty shocked! It’s only fanfic but I think the authours can have good plots without it too.

  30. Rape in yaoi pisses me off. Like how dare someone romanticize such a evil and cruel action. It’s messed up. If rape happens in a yaoi (which if it makes sense in the scene then go for it) then it should atleast be show for what it is. None of this “it’s him showing his feelings” bullshit but rather the humiliation and the pain that goes along with sex without consent. Also what’s with these victims? Who in they’re right mind would forgive some one after the tied the.m up and screwed them even though said person was hurting them and they told said person to stop? That kind of domination isn’t sexy, it’s disgusting. I know these aren’t real people and maybe I am over reacting a bit but it’s wrong on so many levels. Also I’m sorry for how crap the grammar and spelling are, it’s ridiculously difficult to type on my itty bitty iPhone screen.

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