***editing Irina here, I wrote this last week and I’m already wondering whether it’s worth publishing. By the time it actually goes live (which will likely be at least another couple of weeks, It will probably no longer be topical. I do believe the principas stand tough. So here’s an out of date post I hope you still find a little interesting***
Today, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone once again. I’ve occasionally (if rarely) addressed some, shall we call it: more serious issues on this blog and the response has always been great. As one would expect from you guys.
As I write this, the squabbling over what The Rising of the Shield Hero is, isn’t or is supposed to be, are still going on with neither side be particularly compelling in the debate. Lately, I’ve noticed that rather than stroking my interest, this type of drama tends to push animes right off my to watch list as no matter what they turn out to be, they will inevitably end up failing to live up to all this noise.
However, should that particular little drama die down, we still have Twitter aflame with all the Vic Mignogna allegations and some particularly depressing remarks are coming out of that discussion. I like to ignore the fact that I live in a world where movements like cosplay is not consent exist but I am very grateful they do.
After a tiny little taste test by making a fairly neutral comment on Twitter about the Shield Hero debacle, I quickly learned to stay far away. It may be possible to have productive conversations or at least viable debates over Twitter, but I haven’t mastered that art. Besides, there’s no way I could efficiently dwindle down what I want to say to the appropriate number of characters. I think we can all agree that editing is another art I haven’t mastered.
Ok folks, usual disclaimers, this is not aimed at any individuals but if you recognize yourself in any of this, tell me about it. I am not an expert or even a connoisseur in the field. I have never studied humanities. I am not qualified in any traditional way to discuss the issue. I’m simply a thinking human with a specific set of experiences and I want to share my thoughts on the subject with you. I also want to hear yours. I believe that there may be a deep rooted failure to communicate underneath it all. With all of that out of the way, let’s talk toxic masculinity.
First a little lexicon. When I talk about toxic masculinity it is by no means synonymous with all masculinity or even most masculinity. It isn’t even synonymous with misogyny although the two are often linked. For the purpose of this post let’s call toxic masculinity a general philosophy that defines certain traits and behaviour as “masculine” and defines anything that strays from these as “non masculine” and therefore, less than. In traditional western circles, those traits tend to be physically strong, aggressive, sexually vigorous and emotionally withdrawn. Generally speaking of course.
It’s not the traits themselves that make the toxicity mind you. I myself am very unemotional. It’s the narrow interpretation that anything not strictly adhering to those traits is deficient in some way. Usually, this is also accompanied by the belief that not being a man as defined is bad. That’s when suggestions of homosexuality or just being called a woman is considered an insult.
I should say again that this mindset in no way applies to the majority of men. Or arguably to anyone in particular. It’s more of a social pressure that can occasionally come up in some circles and tends to have a negative effect on everyone. And I mean everyone.
This is where I’m going to jump into stuff I know very little about but it’s important to me so please hear me out. We often talk of toxic masculinity and its impact on women or members of the LGBTQ+ community but we rarely hear how horrible it is on straight men. I am not a man but I quite like them and count several as friends. Throughout the years I have seen these good, kind, strong men struggle with the fact that they didn’t necessarily fit into this ideal (word used very loosely here) and they couldn’t even find a proper outlet for dealing with this frustration as discussing their feelings would have pushed them even further from the norm. (As an aside, suicide rates are substantially higher in men and I’ve long believed that denying them emotionally may have something to do with that.)
And even for those that do not find these expectations uncomfortable, it’s hardly a flattering picture. The image of the standard straight man we get bombarded by in the media is often of someone callous, not too bright or a slave to his hormones. Even when they’re supposed to be geniuses they seem completely stumped by basic emotional situations. And that’s not fair.
The clothes don’t make the man and neither do his tastes in movies, his sexual orientation or his predisposition to physical labour. And FYI, a similar concept exists for femininity as well but it’s a whole different can of worms. And I don’t have time to explore it today.
Ok, glad I got that off my chest, now we can finally talk about anime and the anime community.
In the west, anime fandoms are sort of lumped in with the larger so-called geek culture. (I did not pick any of these names). Toxic masculinity and it’s more negative side effects are often associated with Jock culture. Therefore, there’s a misperception that since geek culture is in many ways an opposition or occasionally even a rejection of jock culture, it must therefore not be subject to the same toxicity and misogyny. Unfortunately that’s not quite true.
The values may have shifted a bit. Emphasis on physical strength may not be as prevalent and I think there’s a better acceptance of emotional expression but there’s still a definite tendency to have men involved in video games and media culture fit a certain mold. And a resentment against anyone who doesn’t. Let’s be honest guys, the internet is a minefield of unpleasantness and it’s not “jocks” that made it that way.
For anime in particular it can be seen in the aforementioned cosplay is not consent. It’s that certain small bit of fandom that gets honestly angry if cute girl shows have male characters or vice versa. It’s the slew of pointedly negative reviews about Tsurune on MAL and Reddit before the show even aired and aspects of the endless drama around anime YouTubers and particular fandoms.
And coming from anime fans, it’s a bit weird…
The medium certainly has issues with representation and questionable tropes but I have always found it surprisingly open minded and inclusive about the definitions of both masculinity and femininity. Anime heroes can be short, tall, physically strong, intellectual, introverted, sociable, crybabies, stoic, shy… There’s really very few set standards and the same goes for heroines. If I was to describe a character as flirty, with impeccable make up skills, passionate but quick to lose interest, flighty at first sight but serious when the situation calls for it, you wouldn’t know if I’m talking about Fay Valentine or Hisoka. There are very few traits that come to mind that could be considered strictly masculine or feminine for anime characters and that’s actually really cool.
Sure there are character archetypes and genre staples but that’s not exactly the same thing. Since anime loves to specifically explore eccentric and unusual characters, by now, there are few absolute standards left standing.
I did it again guys. I prattled on forever and forgot to make a point. I’m not sure I have one. There are all these unpleasant events happening around me and I don’t quite know what to make of it. I do know that the medium itself isn’t inherently enforcing the mindsets that would lead us here so it must be something else and I can’t figure out what that is. And it makes me a little sad so I’m talking with you guys about it. Cause you always make things better. So do your magic! I believe in you!