‘Rot­ten women’ only ex­pres­sion of de­sire

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

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” sub­group.

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.

The au­thor is a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­sul­tant and writer.

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