Let me be straight with you guys, this is my fifth attempt at writing this post. It’s an important subject and I wanted to get it right. At first, I figured I would avoid anything that could be considered “controversial” or “divisive” and ended up stripping away anything even remotely close to insightful or interesting. I then decided I would try to be funny, it sounded stupid and borderline offensive. I went blunt and exaggerated to really make sure my views came across, it was so unpleasant I almost convinced myself that I was wrong about everything. I thought maybe a subtler approach, trying to obliquely hint at what I wanted to say rather than spell things out would be better. After all, we’ve all heard the arguments on every side of this issue already. By the 3rd paragraph I had so completely lost track of my point that it made me doubt I had anything to say in the first place. So here I am, at a complete loss. A reasonable person would just give up at this point and let someone who actually has the required skills, tackle an issue this complex and delicate. But there’s too much happening lately and I can’t let this one go, it’s just going to keep nagging at me if I don’t get it out. If you would rather not humor me as I fail once again to write a coherent post on a question that means a lot to me, I perfectly understand. I honestly wrote this paragraph as a warning. If, however, you don’t mind walking down this meandering path with me as I stumble and lose my way, thank you.
First let me say that I understand the issue of feminism and its proper place and value is monumental and intricate. Most aspects of it are infinitely more important than how it relates to anime. The fact that a feminist anime article can’t be published without immediately garnering a slew of hateful and occasionally frightening comments, or that half the reviews for Yuri on Ice on MAL call it a fag anime for f*ing faggots, is not the biggest problem in the world. Heck I’m even going to go right ahead and say that it’s not a problem at all. But it is a symptom of something much bigger and undeniably harmful.
Because I believe a lot of trouble stems from simple misunderstandings let me start by just telling you what it means to me to be a feminist. I’m a feminist because I believe it’s both stupid and self-defeatist to limit people’s potential contributions to society based on their genetic background. I think that women are inherently capable of doing most modern jobs as well as men and should be allowed to and rewarded accordingly. I do not think modern day sexism is either the fault or responsibility of men. I do not think men and women are the same and I believe ignoring the actual differences or pretending they don’t exist is short sighted and doesn’t help anyone. I do not think you should consider if a piece of art will offend anyone when creating it but I do believe people are entitled to have their own opinions on said art. I think it’s important not to silence people because if there is anyone out there at all who has the potential to find a cure for cancer, they should be given all the resources they need and listened to regardless of gender, race and creed.
Also, I think that even anime – a medium generally believed to be vastly by men and for men – is already pretty progressive. Yes the medium still has a lot of issues but I’d like to concentrate on what the genre does right because I honestly believe that in certain respects, we could learn a few things from anime. So, after all this ado, these are 5 ways in which I believe anime to be more progressively feminist than we give it credit for:
1 – Masculinity in anime tends to be less toxic.
Sure, you have your aggressive manly man stereotypes here and there but anime very often embraces more balanced archetypes. If you have watched more than a few episodes of any sports anime, then you’ve surely seen a whole bunch of manly, strong athletes crying in frustration after a loss. Even lone superhero types are often brought to tears out of frustration or even relief. I would argue that I see male characters crying at least as often if not more so, than female. This general acceptance of sentimentality and emotional release as something that’s human and normal is really the only healthy interpretation. Having feelings is a sign that you have functioning brain, not something shameful that should be hidden at all costs. The prevailing western cultural bias that “real men don’t cry”, has not only led to a huge array of emotional problems that seep into our interactions and society but also to lame two-dimensional hero characters that end up all the same because they have the emotional range of a tapeworm.
2- Anime isn’t prissy about violence towards women
Yay!! Violence towards women! Umm…wait… (see stupid and borderline offensive, what did I tell you!) Ok this is a bit of a strange one but hear me out. Although European and North American media will portray women as victims all the time, and I mean ALL the time, they get squeamish about showing us the actual gore. Women usually get tortured offscreen, the scars left behind get hidden under clothing or makeup (that’s also because women need to look pretty always but that’s another issue). We don’t mind knowing that women get treated brutally, but we don’t want to see it. Anime on the other hand has always been way more equal opportunity when shelling out gruesome violence in all directions. Why is this a good thing? Well how good it actually is, is debatable but by implying violence towards women then sparing the audience the unpleasant tangible reality of it, it gets sanitized. It lessens the actual impact. A bit like we all know where meat comes from but…. Not so much in anime. You get to see blood guts and bits of brains strewn all over the place no matter the gender. So, if you insist on torturing virgins in your movie, at least have the balls show it.
3- Anime women don’t have to sacrifice their femininity to be badasses.
This is slowly changing, and I’ll get back to it later, but for years capable effective women in western media tended to be portrayed in one of two ways. The first type is the no nonsense, no frills characters who eschewed most of the traits we tend to associate with femininity. They don’t wear makeup or keep it natural, wear more unisex if not downright masculine clothing, often have short hair or at least keep it tied in a ponytail. They talk crassly, enjoy physical exertion and are just “one of the guys”. It’s not unusual for them to be mistaken for men or get offended when they’re called women. The other type is the borderline superpowered sex kitten (à la Femme Nikita). You may think these characters should fit the bill but while they are most certainly womanly, they are not exactly feminine. First of course they’re male fantasies but also, they all have a certain predetermined personality that carefully avoids traditionally girly considerations. They might be absolutely breathtaking while they kick bad guys’ buts in stiletto heels and perfect makeup but they don’t actually care about their appearance. They’re not going to worry about their hair or fuss over their manicure. They don’t diet, they drink like a fish. They don’t want commitment or children or meaningful conversations. Oh, and they don’t cry. A big part of the appeal is that they’re not like other girls. Now nothing is wrong with either of these archetypes in and of themselves but the problem is that these were really the only options we had for years. By contrast, 22 years ago now, Evangelion had Rei, Asuka and Misato all saving the entire world while being three completely different and undeniably feminine personalities. And that’s just the first show that came to mind
4 – Single women aren’t always consumed by the desire for marriage and family in anime
There are exceptions, but really when you see an adult woman who is not in some sort of committed relationship in an American movie, this is usually a big problem in her life. Even if it isn’t the central premise of the story, that character will devote time and worry to finding a husband and having kids. This very restricted view of what women want is getting more and more out of touch as more adults opt to remain single every year but it’s still the prevailing picture we’re given. On the other hand, aside from Marie from Death Eater, I can’t think of a single anime woman who was particularly interested in starting a family at all, if she didn’t already have one. Even in Marie’s case, it was played for laughs and made clear that she’s being neurotic.
5 – There is an inherent respect for the value and power of girls
This goes back to my point about female badasses but there’s a little distinction. One of the most hallowed grounds of masculine fantasy in North America, is the superhero genre. Marvel has been proving that for quite some time now but even before that it was largely believed that costumed superheroes were a guy thing yet somehow that message never made it to Japan. The female costume superhero is not only a well-established tradition, it’s an entire super popular genre. Magical girls aren’t just supporting the main Strong Men heroes, they really don’t need them at all except for occasional arm candy. And these girls aren’t just feminine, they’re downright girly. We’re talking frills, ribbons, pretty dresses, the whole nine yards. They care about their looks, they worry about eating too much, they get flustered and visibly worry. They get motherly and don’t equate kindness or gentleness with weakness. They sound like girls you may know. A few months ago, Wonder Women came out and everybody lost their sh*t. Apparently, this was revolutionary and for the first time, proof that women can be superheroes.
I hope this wasn’t too painful. I’m not sure I made any sort of point here but I do feel better. If you’re still with me, let me repeat myself: thank you.
38 thoughts on “5 ways in which anime is more feminist than it gets credit for OR Irina has no clue what she’s talking about.”
I always felt that Kokkoku: Moment by Moment was a pretty solid anime with strong female leads , the show was very strange yet made characters very human . The main female lead was one of the best written female characters in a show that I’ve seen.
You know, I’ve been curious about that series for a while now!
It’s definitely worth a watch , especially if you have Amazon prime video . It’s a very different story , I think the closest shows I can compare are Paranoia Agent , Stein’s Gate and maybe some elements of Othersider’s Picnic . It also is kind of family drama too .
Any misoginists out there in anime land shall have their butts kicked by Erza, post haste.
Late to the party on this but I saw it in my feed and thought “sure, why not”!
I think your initial paragraph sums up the problem with a lot of so-called “feminist” criticism surrounding anime and video games at present. If you want to dip your toes in those waters, you’d better be ready to deal with the sharks who are just waiting for the slightest whiff of blood to come and tear you to pieces. Get one thing “wrong” and they’ll pounce, pulling you to pieces for having the “wrong” opinion or whatever. This is primarily why I stepped back from most of social media a while ago; it inevitably descended into arguments of this nature and I just didn’t have the patience (or the mental health, frankly) to be able to parse it all any more; it was just noise. I just want to write about cool games with pretty girls in!
That said, a constant frustration from my perspective — I like to think of myself as pretty progressive, though I make no attempt to hide the fact I love me some boob — is pretty much what you describe in this post. My interests largely centre around Japanese video games rather than anime, but these are subject to many of the same issues you describe here, and which frequently get misrepresented by mainstream critics. In fact many of them are exactly the sort of thing they should be celebrating!
A good example of this happening was when Destructoid reviewed Valkyrie Drive a while back. I wrote at length about the situation here: https://moegamer.net/2017/07/08/destructoids-valkyrie-drive-review-is-more-than-just-bad-games-journalism/ but suffice to say, it was yet another example (and I’m sure it won’t be the last) of someone supposedly “professional” saying that a Japanese game with pretty girls in was “for paedophiles”. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you on how many levels that is objectionable!
As I say, I’ve tried to stay out of the most vitriolic arguments and let the things I write about speak for myself. That way the next time someone comes up to me and says that Senran Kagura is for paedos or whatever, I can simply point them in the direction of the several thousand words I’ve written that explain in no uncertain terms that no, it is not for paedos, and in fact there are a lot of women who are into it as well as men, and it’s actually pretty badass and awesome so screw you. That usually shuts ’em up. 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to reply to an older post! I get what your saying.
One tiny little nuance I would just like to add. When you say: “and in fact there are a lot of women who are into it as well as men…”. Woman aren’t the guardians of moral fiber. The can be pedofiles (lots of teachers went to jail for it) and can most definitely be sexist. Sometimes against men but often against other women. You can’t rely on us to prove something righteous….
Oh, I know that, believe me! It’s the people I was referring to who seem to think women are some sort of sacred beast who shall not be criticised under any circumstances.
It’s good to know there are still some people out there with their heads screwed on correctly, at least.
I don’t think the write up was a bad as you kept insisting all through your writing. It was quite an eye opener for me and yes, I do agree with you, from the feminist viewpoint. Bravo…tnx, it was really educating.
You are too kind. Thank you. I guess I kept feeling like I’m not explaining my point correctly. One day I may rewrite this.
I think it was quite explicit. Message was passed as it should have been, I guess, except u had more stuffs to write about that wasn’t inputted. You know, there are times when we write and feel we’ve not said enough.
Well I’m certainly glad to hear it makes sense outside of my head :).
A very good, interesting, well-written post. 🙂
I might disagree slightly when you talk about superheroes, but the point still stands. I mean, the big deal about Wonder Woman is that it was a properly done female superhero on the big screen, and therefore successful, because Hollywood has traditionally sucked at that, much to the consternation of the fans. The celebration is because they finally got it right, and people are wanting more. Of course, they already have Supergirl, Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, and the women of Agents of Shield, but this was a feature film and a hit, and for it to come from the DCEU, which is rather famous for being so terrible, is even better. It’s like smelling something absolutely delicious nearby but being served gruel every day instead, how happy would you be to finally get a bit of the delicious stuff? And with the promise of more to come, very soon?
I should say that I’m not taking anything away from Wonder Woman and I fully understand why it garnered so much attention but I do honestly believe that the notion of a female superhero driven story having enough appeal for an audience to turn a decent profit, is something new in America only. The point was the we are taking out first steps if you will down a road that’s been well travelled already.
Heh, in more ways than one. Did you know, animation wasn’t originally a kids-only thing? It wasn’t at all, until Walt Disney rather forcefully made it so. Or, that is to say, he pioneered the development of animation, so he became a leading figure within it, and he was a bit totalitarian in his emphasis on family friendly entertainment. I can’t really blame him for that ideal, but it resulted in endless censorship of our entertainment, especially the cultural view that cartoons are meant for kids, and as superheroes began as comics and then became cartoons before becoming live action movies, they suffered a similar fate. Japan didn’t have that, animation was just another medium, and superheroes didn’t have to please the censors. Now we have movies like Deadpool and Logan, wildly popular and not remotely intended for children, but that, too, is ground that anime has already walked on a lot.
I don’t think the “notion” was new, just that US studio execs are notable for being cowards and rather misogynistic themselves. Now that they smell money, things may be different.
There are a lot of outstanding female characters in anime. Some of them, like Chihaya Ayase, are actually not superpowered.
I think you are right abut all of your points, because all of this is what anime has been doing for decades. Even the toughest guy ever, Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, cried a lot. Anime has just been way ahead of the curve for years.
Don’t remember him ever getting made fun of for it either….
I think the biggest reason why anime, and especially sports anime, isn’t afraid to depict boys crying is because boys /do actually cry here. Generally speaking, people in Japan (well, aside from young kids) tend to be pretty stoic and maybe even seemingly emotionless, at least from a Western standpoint. Displaying too much raw emotion is perhaps considered child-like or uncivilized, and draws attention to yourself which is rarely a good thing. But there are certain times where it’s considered socially acceptable to let it all out, big sports events being one of the most common. I’ve seen rough, tough baseball boys cry after an important match, either because they lost and can no longer progress up the ranks or they won and they’re just so relieved, more times than I can even count at this point.
See I was also raised with the notion that showing emotion in public was uncouth, whether it be crying or laughing or being too grateful or disgusted… I remain quite detached but I always enjoy seeing other being expressive. However, this was never gendered in my case. The notion of just telling one sex that they can’t have emotions and then wondering why the suicide rate is so disproportionate in men is just crazy to me.
I enjoyed the post 🙂 Don’t have anything else to add though.
I honestly really appreciate the support from everybody. It means more than you think.
Happy to support you 🙂
It was a tricky field to navigate but your points all made sense. A job well done, Irina!
I think a few shows seem to go against the trends of what you’ve listed, but a few bad apples are always in every barrel, right?
Thank you! Yeah – these are trends rather than rules but I’m tired of hearing that anime and otaku culture is just the most misogynist culture you can encounter. I also wanted to point out to those that think a bit of feminism will ruin the medium, that it’s already been present for years and nothing is ruined…
You’re very welcome!
Mmm good points. Anime is anime, more or less, and excessive generalization is generally not good!
Great post! You point out some very interesting things. I don’t think the post is messy or offensive – your have grounded opinions and you express them clearly. Thanks for sharing.
I’m relieved and very grateful to hear you say that.
Great post. I agree for the most part. Anime has its fair share of cringe inducing moments and portrayals but western media could learn a thing or two from them. God knows the third and fourth point always bothered me. They don’t know women enough, just what they want them to be.
At this point, sti using those old stereotypes is starting to look real lazy! Thank you for the comment!
It’s very commendable of you to tackle this topic in general, so kudos! You did a very nice job separating your ideas and giving us a range of things to think about.
It was very well done and you did excellent trying to sift through this extremely complex hot topic and how it connects through the medium of anime, which in itself is also very complex. We have some anime that have excelled in the representation of feminism, gender, sexuality, race, etc. Then some others that are traditional. There is so many anime but you definitely pointed out some great sub conversations!
Keep it up!
P.S: This is definitely a topic you should drink and think about.
I still feel very clumsy and out of my depth here but I do appreciate your very kind support. I will take that suggestion!
Great post! I think you summed it up nicely at the end when you mentioned the reaction to the Wonder Woman movie and how at least in the U.S. we are a bit behind the curve on things. The focus just isn’t there nearly as much on the female heroes. I really enjoy how anime blurs the lines with gender roles in a story. not only does it lend itself to stronger characterization but it allows for many more story options then anything that Hollywood puts out. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.
Thank you for your comment. In the end, we all just want better stories and more character types to chose from is going to lead to that!
Great post. I agree with a lot of your points. Of course there are portrayals of women, and men, in anime that raise eyebrows (every harem ever and many other genres) but the range of character types and experiences for women in anime is quite diverse. Thanks for sharing a fairly thoughtful post.
I really did have trouble writing this post and I might have not made my point really that clear. By no means did I want to imply that anime doesn’t still have some ways to go or that the medium is particularly better in this regard than others, I just thought that it did get some things right and I don’t see many people celebrating that. I figure, when you’re trying to get better at anything, it’s useful to know good along with the bad.