Fujoshi kanojo 腐女子 (“Fujoshi girlfriend”) is a new movie based on a blog by “Pentabu” that rode the original post-moe fujoshi boom to bestselling book status a few years ago. (Pentabu is currently blogging part 2.) I don’t have anything in particular to say about the movie itself, but the way it is being marketed is an excellent example of how the media misunderstands — or at least misrepresents — fujoshi.
Media treatment of the fujoshi concept has always been problematic. The root of the problem is, as usual, otaku culture. When the Akiban hordes first spread across the steppes of the mass media, triumphant cat emoticons unfurled, they brought their own women with them: maids, underground idols, voice actresses, cosplayers, and underage cartoon characters. That virtually all of these women were either personae played for cash or entirely imaginary did not prevent these ideals of womanhood establishing themselves in the public mind as a badly-needed feminine yin to Akibacentric otaku culture’s hypertrophied yanginess.
As a result, when media attention eventually turned to actual fujoshi, the elevator pitch — “They’re otaku, except girls!” — was more or less accurate (granting a broad reading of “otaku”), but the implications were misunderstood. If fujoshi were girl otaku, they must be the girls usually appearing alongside otaku in those TV specials and magazine articles, right? You know — the maids.
But no. As you might expect, although fujoshi and otaku often turn to the same texts for raw cultural material, they have very little to do with each other as cultural actors. There are fujoshi stores in Akihabara, but the main fujoshi center is in Ikebukuro — and it developed around a core of bookstores, not transistor hustlers.
“fujoshi syndicate”, a group of self-described “fujoshi OLs” from Tokyo (the only named member is one Ōta Maki 大田真樹) address this exact point in their recent book Naze, fujoshi wa danson-johi na no ka?『なぜ、腐女子は男尊女卑なのか？』 (“Why are fujoshi male chauvinists?”), discussing the cover of another book from 2007: Bokutachi no ki ni naru fujoshi 『僕たちの気になる腐女子』 (“Those fascinating fujoshi”), which also featured maid imagery on the cover.
Let’s start with the “face” of the book, its cover. The cover of Bokutachi no ki ni naru fujoshi is a girl in a maid outfit. — So at this point, it’s already failed. It’s true that there are a few fujoshi among the girls working in Akihabara’s maid cafes, but most of the staff there are not fujoshi but “Akiba girls” (アキバ系女子).
What are “Akiba girls”? By this we mean girls who love the anime and manga subcultures, but who also go to Akihabara to be made a fuss of. [...] They are otaku, but they don’t do the earthy “Let’s party, just us girls!” thing; they’re on good terms with male otaku too. One representative example would be Nakagawa Shōko (Shokotan).
In other words, otaku girls who wear maid outfits are not part of fujoshi culture, but rather Akiba culture. [...]
The syndicate then relate an apparently true story about how they once asked a maid cafe employee where they could find Messe Sanoh, a specialist retailer of woman’s video games, and that maid didn’t know: incontrovertible proof that she, at least, was no fujoshi.
The fujoshi syndicate actually spend more of Naze, fujoshi wa on this and other misconceptions of fujoshi by non-fujoshi (especially men) than they do on the title question. One argument they keep returning to is that the cosplaying, go-shujin-sama-ing media fujoshi addresses a deep psychological need within post-Bubble men. High salary, highly respected alma mater, and physical height: two of these three Bubble-traditional status markers are much harder to obtain than they used to be, and the idea of a secret caste of women — maybe there are some right there in your office! — who prefer the company of low-status, sensitive, intellectual types, and will even play along with their fantasies — this is bound to have appeal.
(Ironically, argue fujoshi syndicate, real fujoshi are just as status-conscious as ever, and have no interest in otaku as a rule. The syndicate traces this state of affairs to fujoshi reading material and its emphasis on status and power differentials as a source of eroticism.)
The argument here is not that there aren’t any otaku women who genuinely enjoy cosplay and Akiba culture, or that this is somehow inauthentic. Arguments about terminology and authenticity are a dead end. The question is to what extent the prominence given to these individuals impedes understanding of broader “fujoshi culture.” There is also arguably a political element involved: you can see this as the co-option of the idea of the fujoshi to reinforce sociosexual norms, the replacement of a uniquely female culture identity with one defined only in relation to male interests.
Unfortunately, though, it’s not a fair fight. As long as keen interests in fancifully-depicted gay romance and other distinguishing features of non-Akiba fujoshi don’t show up in photos, the media will always prefer the women dressed as frilly maids.