Feminism in anime, you say?

A few days ago, a question made the rounds on ask.fm: ”Which anime works would you consider feminist?” This prompted several long and interesting responses by Guy Shalev(who later collected a few other answers in a blog post), Frog-kun and Novasylum as well as a blog post by iblessall. As I come from Northern Europe, that land of overhyped standards and undeserved glorification, I assume that my background and views on feminism are slightly different, so I decided to take a crack at this question too.

To elaborate on my background: I grew up(and am still growing up, to some extent) in a family of people who feel very strongly about feminism. In favour of it, of course. Why do I say “of course”? Because it was always treated as natural. Believing in equality for all humans was the default. Also, many of my family members are or have been politically active, so they’ve actually been involved in trying to increase equality(not that this is something I should brag about). So, I grew up as a feminist, but until a few years ago the idea of “empowerment of women” was basically non-existent. I think that’s where the biggest difference lies. I was taught that equality should be the default state of things, so empowering women shouldn’t even be necessary in the first place. Whether or not that’s what I believe right now doesn’t matter, but it has influenced the way I look at media.

The rest of this post will probably be a bit fuzzy, so in the interest of optimal clarity, I’ll start by quickly stating my opinions on the answers linked above. I agree with Guy and Froggy that the question is, to some extent, pointless. And, considering that there are so many views on how feminism should be interpreted and implemented in policy(hopefully everyone at least agrees on the “goal” of feminism), I also slightly disagree with Froggy’s statement that critique through a “feminist lens” is important. I don’t think it should be swept under the rug, but I question the usefulness of the way contemporary critics are doing it.

On the basis of what I mentioned about my upbringing, I mostly disagree with Nova’s and bless’s specific examples. I think these examples showcase the methods of implementation and interpretation through which equality could possibly be achieved, but none of them actually show the process of that happening(as far as I know, at least. Please correct me if I’m wrong). I’m not saying that powerful female characters are pointless, they can be interesting in their own right(as they should be, just like powerful male characters), but I do not automatically associate them with feminism. And at the other end of the spectrum, shows where men and women are so equal that the fact doesn’t need to be highlighted definitely represent the ideal outcome of real-world efforts, but they neglect the huge problem of actually making equality happen. That’s why I can’t associate those kinds of shows with real-world feminism.

Ok, that was less than “quickly”. I also don’t have much more to say. And because of how strict I just made my criteria, I doubt I can think of any anime that I could call “feminist”. One of the borderline possibilities is Genshiken. It starts with an all-boys otaku group, which gradually gets more and more female members. And these girls actually end up getting more and more responsibilities! And in Genshiken Nidaime, the majority of the members of the group are now female. Aside from them having different tastes in anime and manga compared to the boys, the group works mostly in the same way as when it was full of boys.

Which is great and all, because it shows men and women working together in an environment without any apparent prejudice, but that’s only until you look at the bigger picture. A university club is obviously a very simplified representation of the environments where equality is needed the most, i.e. workplaces, etc. And on that note, that’s where the rest falls apart. If my memory isn’t completely failing me, it’s only the boys who end up going job-hunting. Of course, that’s mostly because by the end of the Genshiken Nidaime anime only the boys had graduated, but the very real salaryman/housewife mentality is still there. Unconsciously included or not, for all the equality it does have, Genshiken is still grounded in the inequalities of the real world.

So, in conclusion, what I’m trying to say is that most “feminist” shows just sigh and dream about how nice it’d be if the world was a more equal place, but none of them have any idea how to actually make that happen. And, unfortunately for those shows, that’s what I’m looking for when asked “Which anime works do you consider feminist?”

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5 thoughts on “Feminism in anime, you say?

  1. About your Genshiken and later Genshiken Nidaime example, I’m not sure how it meets your own criteria?

    How do you get from a mostly male to a mostly female situation in the club in the show? You sort of “just do”, as the men happen to leave, and women happen to join. In Nidaime, one could also argue that with the amount of women (and type – being fujoshi) involved, they attract more women, but again we don’t really discuss how we get to have them in the first place, and somewhat “scare away” other men, an idea the show sometimes jokes about.

    • Emphasis on the fact that the women take over the responsibilities of the club. But you’re right, even that doesn’t fit my criteria(which is why I called it borderline). Even if I hadn’t decided to use the job-hunting thing as an example of how it really isn’t feminist in the way I imagine feminism to be, the claim would fall apart based on the earlier criterion, which you mentioned: The men just happen to leave and the void is filled with women who take responsibility. The show is definitely not “trying to be feminist” in that respect, stuff just happens to happen.

      Actually, I might take back what I said about disagreeing with Froggy. Looking at Genshiken through a feminist lens does seem to be productive at least to some extent, judging by this conversation.

      • And if you agree with my post, it should note, the entire point is the conversation, or the act of looking at things and thinking, rather than the label itself.

  2. Well, I will point out that pretty much entirely dismissed the idea worrying about “feminist anime” from the outset of my post and ended up just talking about female characters whose portrayals I liked within the contexts of their own universes. I suppose you can disagree with my examples if you think those portrayals of women aren’t good ones, but I don’t get the sense that’s what you’re driving at here?

    Um, to make things more clear—I argued, or at least I never intended to argue, that any of the shows I listed were “feminist” in any sort of way. All I wanted to say was that I liked the ways their respective female characters were treated and that I thought those kind of “equality default portrayals” (which you mention as your own upbringing) are important because, as fiction, they have the power to influence change.

    I’d also make a distinction in the way I cast the characters from what you’ve noted here. “Powerful” isn’t so much a factor for me as “active” and “agent” are—often, those ideas are conflated, but I think they’re different.

    So, yeah, I guess I’m mostly just trying to say that I don’t necessarily think you got the ideas out of my post that I wanted people to get. Whether I just didn’t do a good job of communicating them or your particular lens caused you to read it a certain way, who can say, but I wanted to make sure you understood me (especially if you were going to be representing some of my points here ;)).

    Final thought – you make a good point about the lack of a process in many of the examples given. It’s a valid critique and definitely isn’t something I’d considered before.

    • So, yeah, I guess I’m mostly just trying to say that I don’t necessarily think you got the ideas out of my post that I wanted people to get. Whether I just didn’t do a good job of communicating them or your particular lens caused you to read it a certain way, who can say, but I wanted to make sure you understood me (especially if you were going to be representing some of my points here ;)).

      That’s ok. The reason I mentioned your post was not necessarily to get it but to use it an example of a point of view that I disagree with, in order to elaborate on my own point of view in return. That said, I did make the mistake of assuming you were directly responding to that ask, so sorry for that. Lumping you all together was, at best, unnecessary simplification.

      I’d also make a distinction in the way I cast the characters from what you’ve noted here. “Powerful” isn’t so much a factor for me as “active” and “agent” are—often, those ideas are conflated, but I think they’re different.

      That is an interesting distinction that I hadn’t thought of. Which might actually be a problem. Are activeness and agency really so rare in anime(and similar media in general) that I think of them as synonymous with power? Because that would be kind of sad.

      Oh, by the way, I do want to point out one thing: When you mentioned Yozakura Quartet, and Hime in particular, I totally got what you meant. That show(Hana no Uta, that is. Haven’t seen the 2008 version) made an impression on me in many ways.

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