Turning the Tables – Masculinity for Women, by Women and Natsume…

That’s quite the title. I’ve been working hard on my titles and no I still haven’t come up with anything better that Nowlsume.

It’s March 12 right now. In a recent Owls chat it was hinted that April’s topic would be masculinity and I hope that wasn’t a joke. I’m not often there so there may be some stuff that goes over my head. topics are usually put up on the last day of the previous month. If they do change their minds I’m going to rewrite this post I really like the topic. Fingers crossed, April’s owls theme is:

Natsume book of friends

YAY

4th Monthly Topic: “Masculinity”

Last month, we explored the meanings behind the terms, “feminine” and “feminism.” This month the OWLS bloggers will explore the concept of masculinity. We each have our own definition of what it means to be masculine and we will explore our definitions using “masculine” characters from various pop culture fandoms. We will discuss how these characters are “masculine” or show signs of a masculine persona. We will also share our personal stories about the amazing men that supported us in our lives as well as sharing some of our experiences growing up as a man or knowing men who struggled with the masculine identity.

Examples:

  • JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures
  • Naruto
  • My Love Story

Oh pfiou! I know I said I would rewrite it, but I’m lazy you guys!

Before we start though, I’d like to take a little look back to last month. In that same Owls conversation, it was revealed that several of our bloggin’ men were interested and eager to write about the subject of femininity but didn’t feel entirely comfortable to do so. As if they lacked the proper perspective or authority on the subject. These are smart, sensitive men who regularly share their thoughts on paper (on screens). Their contribution would have been interesting. I was pretty sad at this turn of events. Sure, it’s a big step forward from simply not caring but still. As you know I’m a big supporter of conversations. How else are we going to understand each other if we don’t talk. (Not scream, insult, or cry but actually talk). And I do understand that conversations devolve quickly but they’re always worth the risk. So gentlemen, please let us all know what’s on your minds. Just don’t stop listening in the process.

Natsume movie

need to see this movie

Ok mini preachy rant over. Oh and to all those that were nervous but posted anyways. Good on you. So far all the posts have been delightful.

Speaking of last month’s topic (I’m almost done I promise) quite a few bloggers used the femininity prompt as a jump off point into feminism and imposed femininity. It’s a good conversation and anime certainly offers a whole lot of examples to work with. But what about imposed masculinity. I’ve already talked about the pressures men seemingly put on each other to fit a certain mould (the comments are where the real gold is) but what about when women’s specific preferences and vision is imposed on them.

The josei market is one of the smallest anime demographics but it is steadily growing, especially with the international success of the medium. As such, we are seeing more and more CBDCT, reverse harems and general pretty boy dramas aimed at mostly female audiences. And although I may have said that the stereotypical anime male protagonist is surprisingly varied and nuanced, the archetypal anime male fantasies are just a small handful of walking tropes.

Most otomes, reverse harems or cute boy shows meant to titillate women in the audience the same way more shows have done for men for years, tend to have the same basic characters. The bad boy with a tragic past and a heart of gold, the fun loving best friend type, the quiet weirdo, the mildly sadistic golden boy and the tsundere prince. There, I’ve just described 98 % of all reverse harems ever.

Natsume and Madara

this is how Google pictures Natsume as an Otoma (that’s Madara by the way) by Matumoto Mouse

When the boys are supposed to be marketed to women, they suddenly become much simpler. They also tend to be a sort of generic perfection. You know, they’re all good at sports, smart, sensitive (at least deep down) and of course traditionally attractive. There’s no particular insistence on strength, I mean they’re all just generally athletic and chiseled, and of course they all have some pain we need to help them heal from. The thing is, I’ve looked it up and these characters usually tend to be created by other men or male dominated studios. They’re a representation of what men think women want. Women are most commonly responsible for the character designs and these tend towards elaborate costumes, androgynous features and a lot of accessories.

Another hero trait that comes up in general anime a lot but seems to disappear in these character types is determination! Well of course that’s because our heroine needs to be there to blindly support them or else she’d honestly be pretty useless.

But what about male characters marketed towards women and created by women. You guessed it: Natsume. Natsume Yuujinchou is a shoujo manga helmed by a female Mangaka. The character of Natsume Takashi is meant to be attractive to girls and endearing to women. That is not the only purpose of the character but there’s no denying that both in design and in personality, these were considered. This is supposed to be a slightly idealized version of masculinity from a female perspective.

Natsume's Bok of Friends watercolor

A good part of my time is spent collecting Natsume fanart and I’m quite happy about that! by むぎみぐ

So what is Natsume like? Well we still have the tortured past. We are suckers for suffering aren’t we…. But otherwise he’s more nor less the same as all the other characters. There’s a stubbornness about him and a certain sense of rebellion that comes up now and then.  But mostly, there’s this deep rooted sense of responsibility. Men put so much on their shoulders. They always feel like they have to protect everyone and solve everything for themselves. We love them for it, but we wish they would let us help.

This tendency towards isolation, assumption and taking on everyone’s burdens is a trait reflected to various degrees on just about every male character of the series. Both women and female Yokai are shown as more willing to share their lots of at least more carefree.  You’ll worries and talks to her husband or to Natsume but they don’t talk back. They try to do it all. Sometimes they can, otherwise not.

I get that. There’s this sort of social bias that men need to take care of things. Not take care of women as if they were children (although in some circles that’s still the case but don’t get me started). Just that it’s somehow unseemly for them to put their problems on the women in their lives even if they are always happy to help when it’s the other way around.

Reiko and Madara

we like to help too (I posted this last time but I just adore this picture by むぎみぐ)

You want to hear a secret. Don’t tell anyone. I ve been lucky in having been able to live very comfortably without ever having to rely on anyone at all. I enjoy fighting my own battles. I think women are amazing and capable. I know I can problem solve better than most people around me. When I get scared, really scared, it makes me feel better to have a guy around. Not necessarily around but you know, not too far… Stupid right? I’m not basing this on anything to all. It’s just some type of inherent masculinity magic that exists only in my mind.

It’s that same sort of ineffable admiration I see in Natsume. As a lady looking in from the outside I would like to say. Guys, you don’t need to fix everything. We can take care of ourselves. In fact you should let us take care of you, we’re really good at it. You don’t have to be superheroes. Thank you so much for trying though. We may not always show it, we do appreciate it. But you see the thing is, to us, you’re already heroes.

Did you read Naja’s post on Monday? You should! And don’t forget to check out Takuto on the 13th, because Takuto can really write. Honestly it doesn’t matter what he writes about, it’s always great! And this time it happens to be about Run with the Wind, so you really have to read it.

natsume col

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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19 Responses

  1. Merlin says:

    Technically, you did not describe only reverse-harems, you described… harems. But I suppose the point still stands. 😉

    Talking about protection, I am reminded of the legions of Rome, and the Greek phalanx before them. They often found themselves facing ridiculous numerical odds against them, yet they triumphed again and again. They had better armor, better weapons, better discipline, better tactics… and better teamwork. Where barbarian hordes were just collections of formidable individual fighters, the legions functioned as a unit. Every man was charged with the protection of the man standing next to him, no matter what happened. It wasn’t about how the other man needed it, though they certainly did at times. It was about being there, doing what one ought, for the good of more than just oneself.

    In light of that, I like to think that the male drive to protect women has less to do with their need of it than it has to do with the man… being a *man,* if that makes any sense. It’s not because women are weak, it’s because we need to be worthy of their attention, and their affection, and their eventual devotion. If we are worth being called men, then we will guard our women, however strong they may be, both their lives and the hearts they so freely give to us, because that is the proof that they matter to us. And that is also what is best for more than just ourselves.

    That said, I am also reminded of the second Jurassic Park movie, where the woman tells the man who loves her, that she’s grateful for him riding in on a white horse to save her, it’s very gallant and romantic, but sometimes she just needs him to show up in a cab, ie, support her in more mundane, everyday ways, not just superhero ways.

    But I’m going on a bit, now. I may have to expand on this a bit on my own blog. 😉

  2. Back when I was a young man, I thought I was supposed to protect people — not just women folk, but men folk who might want/need protecting, too.

    Éowyn from The Lord of the Rings forced me to reconsider. If I met here in real life, I thought, how would she react to me saying I’d protect her? She’d likely smile, pat me on the head, and say I could better help her by giving some hay to the horses.

    Then I met my wife (well, she wasn’t my wife then — that would have been awkward), and she said exactly the kinds of things you’re saying. She didn’t need protection by default; but there were times when she needed cover fire, just like I do.

    So now I understand that the question isn’t, “How can I protect you,” it’s “Where do you want to establish the field of fire? Want me to take the left, middle or right on the line?”

    We fight best shoulder to shoulder.

    Though to honest, I just used cliche phrasing there. I should say something more like “We thrive side by side.”

  3. Dawnstorm says:

    I’m always a little confused when the topic of gender comes up. Sure, there are trends. And it’s true: I (male) have always found it easier to do things for others than for myself. I’ve done things for others that I would have thought I couldn’t psychologically bring myself to do (like ring out strangers in the middle of the night to ask for help). And I’m positive I’d have done none of them if it was just for myself. Is this really a gendered trait, though? It may be; I just don’t know. It makes sense in terms of perspective for me: if you see someone else suffer you see it for what it is; if you suffer yourself, you’re just not detached enough for that. And I think I’ve seen that trait in men and women alike.

    I’ve always found myself relating to Kuronoma Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke, and never more than in that one scene near the end of the rumour arc. We spend the first few episodes make friends in her class, but she’s so unused to having friends that she doesn’t recognise that it’s happening, and she thinks they’re just kind people talking even to her. Then, at some point, someone spreads rumours about her new friends, and they also spread the rumour that Sawako’s the one spreading the rumour. So Sawako gets mad (very rare for her) and goes out of her comfort zone telling people that her two new friends are very kind, and are nothing like that, and they shouldn’t be spreading rumours like that. Bear in mind that at that point she doesn’t see their relationship as friendship yet, so she also denies being friends with them (feeling it’s presumptious). They overhear that (at some point earlier), and start to wonder what their relationship is after all. Near the end of the arc, they talk it over. They’re touched that she defended them, but why didn’t she defend herself, too? Sawako doesn’t look at them, her voice goes a little softer, and she sounds a little embarrassed, but somewhat casual: “Well, I’m… sort of… used to it.”

    This is a female mangaka writing about a girl, brought to me through the vision of a male director, and it’s just so relatable. It’s a matter of perspective. Things that happen to others and the same as things that happen to you, even if for an onlooker they look the same.

    When I compare Kuronoma Sawako to Natsume Takashi, a key difference is see is that there’s a sense of caution in Natsume, while there’s a sense of fatalist surrendering in Kuronoma. I can relate to both. It’s possible that this is a gendered difference, but I see that same sense of caution in female characters, though I’m not sure I’ve seen many boys surrender to their fate the way Kuronoma Sawako does. Maybe Shun in Kimi to Boku (also someone I can relate to)? Does it matter whether the characters are written by men or women? And if so to what extent and in what respect? My self conception has never really depended on gender in any way. During puberty, people were often asking me whether I was even a man (they use “man” at that age, not “boy”), and they invariable did not expect the question to be dismissed (someone once found it extremely hilarious when I told him he can choose, as if that was the funniest thing ever).

    Online, I was often mistaken for a woman, and sometimes people still occasionally gave me female pronouns after I corrected them. I’ve had people resist the idea that was a boy (“But I thought you were a girl!” – from a girl). And I really only ever corrected people to prevent awkward situations, like getting information that someone wouldn’t want “a boy” to have.

    So what about Natsume is masculine, as opposed to just human, or is this not about traits so much, and just this extra framing layer that somehow makes everything different? It’s not like I’m immune. I mean I watch tons of CGDCT shows, but I’m a little more picky when it comes to CBDCT shows. But I couldn’t tell you why. It’s confusing.

    • Irina says:

      I have higher standards for CGDCT shows because there’s more options. It’s easier to find another one if I don’t like the one I’m watching

      • Dawnstorm says:

        I’ve been dropping more of them since around 2017. I can’t tell if I’ve become more picky or if the shows became worse, but shows like Hinako Note or Slow Start were… not quite my thing.

        Also, I forgot to comment about a very important part of the post: Tiny Nyanko senseis? I need to see that movie, too!

  4. Irina says:

    I’m afraid I don’t understand. Shoujo is a pretty wide demographic though it covers a lot of ground.

  5. Dewbond says:

    I’ve never understood Shoujo series, though I have enjoyed a few. This is a good perspective.

    I also like to think the prevalence of Shoujo males has helped prevent the anime fandom from tearing itself apart over things that have ruined other fandom communities.

  6. Scott says:

    Great post as usual, Irina. Such an interesting perspective on this with a great series.

    Just wasn’t expecting to be called out today 😁.

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