Re: Essay: Sexism, Anime, and American Popularity

from Albert Lunde <>
subject Re: Essay: Sexism, Anime, and American Popularity
date Tue, 1 Jun 1999 18:18:41 -0500
>                        An excellent example of a scene that could be
>considered sexist in America is in Tenchi Muyo in Love (TMiL) when a
>seventeen year old Masaki Achika says she wants to be a "Bride" when asked
>what she wants to be when grows up with a extreme blush on her face. If one
>keeps in mind that the greater amount of action in TMiL takes place in Japan
>during the year 1970 then Achika Masaki's answer is extremly understandable
>because it is typical to the culture and the time period

I can think of other examples, of this: several of the characters of
"Sailor Moon" express the ambition (at one time or another) that they want
to be "a bride". It's also worth noting that they have other ambitions too.
As I recall: Minako (Venus) wants to be an idol singer, Ami (Mercury) wants
to be a doctor, Makoto (Jupiter) wants to start a cake shop, and Rei (Mars)
wants to be some kind of internationally famous person.

The standard by which I'd judge anime is not how does it stand on some
abstract scale of "sexism", but where does it stand relative to the sort of
attitudes in its culture. We can't expect commercial products to be on some
sort of radical crusade to change their culture; but they still may offer a
viewpoint on sexism and sex roles; often with humor or irony.

Japan still has much more polarized sex roles than the USA. There's a
stronger expectation women won't stay as full-time workers their whole
life, but will eventually become housewives, and there are rather different
male and femal roles. (Note, however, that conventionally, the wife manages
the money for a family, and might expect for the husband to hand over his
paycheck and be given an allowance in return. The roles are not the same as
"traditional" US sex roles in all respects.)

What I see in a lot of anime is a tendency to not take sex roles dead
seriously; there are a lot of characters who are a bit klutzy when it comes
to traditional sex roles, especially the female leads of shojo (girl's)
stories, and the male leads of shonen (boy's) stories.

In Ranma 1/2 we've got a bit of both: Ranma is trying to be very macho, but
is undercut by his "curse". Akane _wants_ to be feminine, but she doesn't
really succeed on some fronts, like cooking. But Akane and Ranma are
presented as positive characters, maybe more so than, say Kasumi, or Kuno,
who might live up to the "ideal" of the sex roles better.

Another message I see _a lot_ in shojo anime is the message "believe in
yourself".  Off-hand, I can find examples of that in Fushigi Yuugi, Sailor
Moon, Idol Project, Marmalade Boy, Himichan's Ribbon, and Nurse Angle
Ririka SOS, and no doubt others.

Anime is definitely presenting some conventional roles, and looking at life
with the group-orientation typical of Japanese society, but it's not just
grinding people into conformity: it presents a lot of quirky individuals as
positive characters.

"What do woment want?"

If I look at magical girl shows, (e.g. Sailor Moon, Nurse Angle Ririka) I'm
tempted say, "Power to protect/save everybody". It's a "feminine" goal in
the sense of being motherly and protective, and it's group-oriented, but
can be a very active, dynamic role.

Taking a more "realistic" anime: Miki in Marmalade Boy, is definitely in
love with the idea of marriage and romance at the start of the series. But
later in the anime she starts to see that she needs to have her own goals
beyond marriage (just as Yuu has his).

Takahashi isn't a blatent feminist, but she constantly pokes fun at sex
roles, often by taking conventional notions to absurd extremes, as with the
various arranged marriages in Ranma 1/2. It seems to me Ukyou's whole life
story is really a joke.

If one reads anime entirely at face value without looking for humor or
irony, one is likely to miss the point of a lot of things. Of course,
cultural context is what's most likely to get lost in one's initial
exposure to anime....
    Albert Lunde            

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