So awhile back I came across a story on Fictionpress entitled "Mills College Anime Club," which stars a bunch of LGBTQ people who like anime. Sounds basic enough, except that the characters fill pretty much every single homophobic stereotype you could imagine--as if the author was using a checklist!
But one reason why I mention it is because one of the main characters is a (straight) Yaoi fangirl. And she acts like the worst kind of Yaoi fangirl imaginable--she constantly fantasizes about Yaoi, constantly talks about how much she wants to spend every penny of her career on Yaoi, and basically thinks of gay men (whether real or imaginary) as nothing but objects that exist for her voyeuristic pleasure. She also once makes a transsexual voice actor cry because he provides the voice of the star in a Yaoi anime but doesn't like Yaoi and thinks it's the work of the devil or something (guess who HE'S supposed to be a caricature of!).
But as I've been thinking about her and the other Yaoi fangirls that occasionally pass through the story it occurs to me that they seem to like Yaoi and hate Yuri because Yuri is demeaning to women in a way that Yaoi is not demeaning to gay men (or so they say--of course this isn't actually true). Someone who reviewed the story also wrote a really excellent scene with her in which she theorizes that the reason girls like this Yaoi fangirl latch so rabidly onto Yaoi is because they think all the good men are gay and that straight men will hurt them.
And now I've started to wonder if institutionalized sexism is part of what makes Yaoi so popular, no matter how degrading the story is; and why there are women who get so worked up about it. Think about it:
Your average American woman is living in a culture where she's nominally the equal of the men around her, but she still has to contend with a very real rape culture, and possibly other prejudices, on a daily basis. Throughout her life she gets inundated with messages saying that 1) men, or at least straight men, see her and all women as simply objects to lust after, and lesbians in sexual relationships as things to masturbate to; and that 2) if she isn't careful around (straight) men she will get raped (sometimes she may be presented with or work out the corollary that gay men won't rape her and therefore are innocent and harmless). She may, if she internalizes these messages enough, then begin to think of all men as being horrible monsters and slaves to their lusts who want to hurt her, and may, when she watches Yaoi, see perfectly fit to think of this particular subset of men (though ironically, gay men have been subjected to prejudice as well) as objects to masturbate to; after all, the men in her life think of HER as just an object to masturbate to or rape, right?
I'm not trying to say that all or even most Yaoi fangirls think like this, but some of the really hardcore ones might. Possibly--this is really a thought experiment more than anything else.