“Fujoshi”:expression of desire

© This article was first published on <China Daily>:’Rotten women’ expression of desire

The BBC drama Sherlock has proved so popular in China that when the first episode of the third series was launched on a Chinese video-hosting website just two hours after it was broadcast in Britain, it received almost 3 million hits overnight.

Much of the appeal of the show lies in the interplay between the sharp-witted and acerbic Sherlock Holmes and his loyal and awestruck sidekick John Watson. And since the first season of the drama, numerous Chinese websites have appeared hosting stories about the two characters written by fans.

Many of these stories depict the characters as gay, and it is this suggested sub-text to the characters relationship that has attracted some of the show’s most ardent fans the so-called rotten women, or funu. Rotten being a self-mocking reference to these women’s “rotten” taste.

The term originated in Japan, where fujoshi refers women who are interested in gay love in films, TV dramas or books. The character “fu” means “fermented or rotten”.

Funu emerged in China in the 1990s, but in those days it only referred to a few girls who were interested in the “boy love” genre of Japanese manga and comic books. But funu have increased in number over the years and they are now able to influence pop culture.

However, to many, what is acceptable is only their aesthetic appreciation of male beauty, the funu obsession with gay sex is less acceptable. However, regarding the funu phenomenon as a dirty hobby is an attitude that needs to be discarded.

In fact, it is a misconception that funu are fixated on sex between males. There is a big difference between the boy love depicted in the eponymous genre and gay relationships in reality. What funu are keen on are images of good-looking male lovers that they can fantasize about. Besides beautiful men, the fictitious gay relationships also need to be romantic.

Another misconception about funu is they are lesbians. Japanese sociologists have already reached a consensus that the fujoshi phenomenon is a projection of women’s sexual desires onto men. So the interesting question is, why have these women developed such a psychological projection?

Traditional analysis always starts with their sexual psychology, but while this is an influential factor, in my opinion the funu phenomenon has a lot to do with the culture that surrounds them.

In the West there are “funu” groups as well, but these women are generally called fangirls, rather than rotten women. This indicates that attitudes toward sex and homosexuality are quite different in Western culture and East Asian culture.

Nowadays, the funu phenomenon has become a sub-culture in China, but not all funu dare to openly declare that they are rotten women. Western women are not embarrassed about this “special” interest, nor are they stigmatized for it, thus it is unnecessary for them to form such an “underground” sub-group.

Interestingly, Japanese research has traced the origin of the funu phenomenon to the United Kingdom. After the industrial revolution, women’s social status and self-awareness gradually grew. Feeling disappointed by the men around them and depressed and subjugated by the traditional morals, some women projected their romantic imagination on “boys’ love”, which not only satisfied their desires for but also avoided moral condemnation for their sexual nature. Such a situation faces women in East Asia today. Against the misogyny that dominates East Asian culture, the ever-rising female consciousness leads some women to declare themselves through the sexual, yet aesthetic, appreciation of good-looking male characters and their relations.

The growing visibility of the funu subculture actually reflects the global trend of women’s aesthetic appreciation of male beauty against the background of feminism. In Japan and the United States, the number of adult video production companies targeting female audiences is increasing, which partially reflects the acknowledgement women have their own sexual demands.

The growing visibility of funu in China, reflects the country’s greater social openness, plurality and diversity, as well as the greater awareness of women that their role in society is not just defined as lovers, wives and mothers. But the interest in them shows there is still a way to go yet.