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.