A little while ago, I wrote an odd little post that was exploring the relationship between Moe and Fujoshi. If you are interested, you can read it HERE. And what I found out through the comments is that a lot of my readers weren’t all that familiar with the term Fujoshi so I thought I would write up a little history of it. Just because I quite like the history of it.
Of course, take all of this with a grain of salt. Digital history decays rather quickly and so a lot of the etymology of the term Fujoshi might as well be an urban legend at this point. But hey, I like legends!
First let’s define Fujoshi very quickly. The generally accepted meaning is that Fujoshi are female fans of Yaoi and/or BL, in all forms. As in manga, anime, games…
I do have some readers that mentioned that they had heard the term used to refer to female otaku without any particular link to BL. I haven’t personally but from what I have read, there do appear to be some people that use Fujoshi that way. That’s another bag of worms mind you so for now, let’s stick to the original idea.
Once more, we have 2Chan to thank for this term. I think 99% of modern otaku-specific vocabulary is a 2Chan creation. By the way, 2Chan is Futaba Channel which is a Japanese image board.
From what I gathered, at the time 2Chan had a pretty big userbase of men who liked anime but not Yaoi. Not at all. And there was a lot of consternation over the idea that girls might like Yaoi. Because reasons. So a couple of the patrons decided to come up with a way to refer to girls that like Yaoi that would properly illustrate how unseemly they are
Fujoshi is actually a pretty fun play on words. You have to understand a bit of Japanese to really appreciate it so I’ll do my best to explain it here. There is an expression or a term in Japanese that is fujoshi (婦女子, the kanji is going to be important for this one). Roughly speaking it means something like “respectable woman”. Culturally, being respectable is quite high praise in Japan and might hit a bit differently than when you hear it in English. It’s made up of three kanji the first of which being fu (婦) meaning married woman.
The idea is that they switched this fu (婦), for the homophone fu (腐) which means fermented or rotten. So the word goes from Fujoshi 婦女子 to Fujoshi 腐女子. The idea being that these girls were now rotten and ruined and would no longer be suitable wife material.
From what we know it was clearly meant as an insult. Originally just thrown around a bit like the b* word but eventually, it had more of a connotation of being a “fallen” woman…the h(?) w(?) word. Do you guys mind when I swear in these? I never know.
The thing is, this clever little wordplay doesn’t work at all in non-Japanese speaking countries, even less in countries that use phonetic alphabets. Just imagine right now trying to explain that it’s fujoshi and not fujoshi and that’s why it’s funny, without using any visual aids. (I imagine Hermoine saying it’s leviOsa). It doesn’t work. And the other fujoshi is a compliment. As far as slurs go, this makes Fujoshi rather impractical. Yeah it might be funny on a message board and you can insult some girl in your class through email or something but long-term applications are very limited.
When looking into it for this post, I came across some variations that apparently popped up in Japan when the term had first been coined. Such as kifujin (貴腐人, “noble spoiled woman”) which is a homonym of kifujin: fine lady. Because the kanji for noble is still in there it was an empowering way for female BL fans to self-identify while mocking the term Fujoshi at the same time. I really like this, it’s too bad it never caught on as widely.
However, cultures are different. Honestly, if you tell a young woman around my neck of the woods that her reading habits are going to ruin her for marriage, she’s way more likely to explode in laughter and maybe want to take a selfie with you so she can set the scene when she tells the story to her friends later than to be torn up about it in any way. Both pressure to marry and the perceptions of others weigh less heavily on young women here, and I think that’s a good thing. From personal experience, I can say it has led to more happiness for me. So Fujoshi was never going to be as insulting everywhere as it is in Japan. When you factor in that most English speakers never even knew about the pun in the first place, it made the term fairly harmless.
So women outside of Japan started just using it for practical reasons. Saying oh yeah, I’m a total Fujoshi was a quick and easy way to self-identify and it’s kind of a fun word to say. Pretty soon, you had women proudly self-identifying and being completely mystified and confused when someone pointed out that it was an insult. Saying things, like “no it just means you like Yaoi” and never realizing that that was the part that was supposed to be shameful.
I’ve rarely seen an insult get so utterly reclaimed. At this point, even if you tried to use it derogatorily, you would have a tough time. I think only the term queer has managed to shed its negative background as effectively. And I think that part of that is because Queer, like Fujoshi, is a fun word to say.
For me, a source of particular glee in this whole story is that it’s reclamation through ignorance. The Yaoi fan community never made any consorted effort to reclaim the term. They didn’t have to will themselves to no longer take it as an insult. They never realized it was supposed to be one in the first place. At least outside of Japan.
There are still some social mores that might make it a bit more difficult for young women to proudly proclaim themselves Yaoi fans in Japan but these are also fading and you have a lot more proud fujoshi openly enjoying and creating Yaoi and BL content in Japan.
Fujoshi is a gendered term since there is the actual word woman in it so there is a male equivalent, Fudanshi which is literally rotten boy. From what I could find, is not a pun in any way. But there’s also fukei (腐兄). That second kanji is Ani as in big brother. So rotten big brother, which I think is way more fun. I have to say, I have never seen or heard anyone use it though but I like it!
So there you have it, a bit of our very own otaku history. It’s rather silly, isn’t it? But I’ll take silly over horrifying any day. History can be very scary!