On Moé, the Queer Female Gaze, and Representation

An article on The Mary Sue about moé caused a bit of a stir on my Twitter feed a few weeks ago, mostly because the author was constantly defending herself against asinine hate comments by people who either read the headline and nothing more or skimmed the article without comprehending its content or aims, or without the understanding that when you’re freelancing for a publication, you typically have word count limits that prevent you from going into extreme depth on a subject. Even if you don’t have a word count limit, you’re still writing content for the web, which means that pieces can’t run super long.

And I know you’re all rolling your eyes at me because I’m the queen of writing analytical blog posts over 1000 words. Anyway, word count limits and other editorial boundaries aren’t things that folks who are just fans or readers would necessarily consider right off the bat, but I think it’s important that people keep it in mind so we can show some grace when criticizing pieces.

Personally, I liked the article. I thought it introduced an otherwise murky and nuanced conversation within anime fandoms in an accessible way to people who don’t know about it at all or don’t pay too much attention to it (like me–of course I’m aware of moé and all the talk about how it’s a great escape or it’s the death of anime, but I haven’t been an active participant in the discussion). Others weren’t so keen on it and resorted to harassing the author, which honestly just proves feminism’s general point that conducting a feminist analysis or critique on any sacred cow will inevitably draw visceral reactions from those who drink the milk of said cow. Thankfully, there’s been some mature critique of the article.

Even though I’m out of touch with recent anime, all of this discussion got me thinking about another angle to the conversation: the awkward space wlw occupy when we’re watching or experiencing moé.

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I’ve talked about this a bit in the past with yuri anime and the tension with it being representation on one hand, but not necessarily for wlw on the other hand. Even so, I watched Sakura Trick and enjoyed it, meaning I was in the audience despite the creators’ alleged intentions. From my perspective, what’s not to like? The main characters are girls. The series focuses on the development of their relationship in addition to some racy scenes. Some of those scenes broke my engagement with the show, but not all of them. Yet sometimes the discourse around critiquing the male gaze also insists that the presence of queer women kissing or otherwise expressing their sexuality on screen is clearly catering to straight male audience members. Maybe this is true in terms of authorial intent, but queer women become an audience in spite of this intent.

I go back to something a coworker said to me many years ago when Orange is the New Black first came out. To her, the first few minutes of the first episode, which shows Piper and Alex having sex in the shower, was clearly for the male audience, as if it were totally inconceivable that a woman could possibly enjoy or relate to that scene.

I’ve noticed a similar dynamic, similar assumptions when talking about moé (and yuri–there’s a lot of crossover). Lots of people categorize plain old moé as those series with a cast of cute girls doing cute things which cater to straight men’s fantasies. When talking about “moé for women,” people point to BL or implied BL like Free! Yet neither of these categories fits my own experience as an audience member.

I watch stuff like Sakura Trick and I’m like “cool, a cute tropey high school romance where the queerness isn’t subtext for once. Look at these goobers kiss.” At the same time, random boob shots in otherwise nonsexualized scenes appear and I’m like “okay can u not? I was trying to listen to what she’s saying.”

As an unintended audience member, I’m always in that awkward space where I can watch a moé or yuri series and dig it for the most part, yet certain things will pop up reminding me that I’m not a consideration. I’m not supposed to be in the theater, so to speak, but I’m here anyway.

And that’s where reader-response criticism lets us acknowledge the validity of audience reception and experience of a text. Authorial intent is important and the authorial intent for most yuri and moé series is to cater to straight men while the intent for many BL and yaoi series is straight women. However, authorial intent is not the end of a text’s message or impact.

So, I think any feminist critique of moé needs to acknowledge that queer women are this unintended audience and that our experience both aligns with and detracts from these fantasies intended for straight men. Otherwise, the critique will fall into the trap of continuing the legacy of feminism being a cishet woman’s movement.

 

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