I wanted to write on a subject I personally think about and read: strong female character. As always, I will make a general theoric entry and continue blabbing about women in anime/manga.
Generally, the method we deal with something negative is to reject and act as the opposite. Same method was valid for the early phrases of feminism. ‘Role’ of women is obvious: mother of the children, worker at home, lady on the street, trophy of men… list goes on, full of contradictions. Rejection of this prototype, of course, is the first course of action. However, the new definitions made after the rejection is as important as the rejection itself. Does the answer really lie in the completely oppoiste side? If marriage is oppressing for women, should we reject marriage institution alltogether? If cooking and cleaning is a woman’s job, should a woman who cooks and cleans be considered a lost case? If all the titles given to women (being naive, fragile, emotional…) make them weak and the ‘opposite’ of these titles (being logical, independent, strong…) are all belong to men, then it seems women do not have any chance other than to ‘man up’. The reason why we are up against the wall is that we are asking the wrong question. Rather than seeking out what women should wear or how should men behave, it should be “Why does anything and everything is gendered?”. Be it the pen we use, how we sit, way we talk, every little detail falls into a gender definition. This leaves us with categories like ‘correct items’ or ‘correct behavioural additude’. I realise that these categories run deep but every individual is different. This is kind of absurd, even though this is very basic I feel the need to restate this funny yet important detail every single day. It seems we tend to forget easily.
Hark, a Vagrant!
Moving on from here, what I expect from a female or a LGBTQ character is to exist in a historical and cultural context, exist as a human being. I do not want to sound over-generalising and mean anything as “But we are all human uvuuu…”, on the contrary, a point of view that embrace all the differences.
Therefore, the term ‘strong female character’ scratches my ears. I wanted to think differently and tried to ask “Who is a strong male character?”. Nothing comes to mind, even the term ‘strong male character’ comes out as strange. A male character can be clever, sad, neurotic, flirty or rude as hell but all do women get is ‘strong’ (*applauses*). I did not hear a complex male character called strong before. Think about the most famous examples like Shinji, Makishima, Gintoki, Spike etc., all these examples has their own habits, special features and faults. Women characters developed in detail, not considered strong just because they know kung-fu or can use heavy weaponry are rare indeed.
Anime/manga are much more rich compared to Marvel/DC or Hollywood characters, still it does not mean all of them fall into the ‘being a character’ category. I am not against the character stereotypes, everyone in real life may fall into a stereotype more or less. The problem lies within the position of women in the story, whether they have their own stories or fulfill their duties as accesories and just dissapear into thin air.
My first example will be an anime from shōjō genre, Kimi ni Todoke. Main character Sawako is a very kind hearted and friendly character in her own way but couldn’t manage to communicate with people. Because of her appearance and timid personality, people always stay away from herand eventually strange rumors like her being able to see ghosts start to spread.She’s the type to be aware that it’s hard for her to make friends, though she keeps trying. I think Sawako is a complete character. She has expectations concerning herself and she tries to turn them into reality sometimes with her own strength or with the help from her friends step by step, taking her time. She first befriends two young women in her class; Ayane and Chizuru. Great part is that Aya and Chizu are not only accesories either. Generally in shōjō genre, the main (and maybe only) purpose of ‘close friends of the main character’ is to give advice about love and give a gentle push when the main character stumbles along the way. Here, we see that Ayane and Chizuru have their own lives and problems, their only connection to Sawako is not Kazehaya; they share a lot more than Sawako’s love interest. If you look at the bigger picture, the story cannot get anymore stereotypical: popular boy, asocial creepy girl, as side characters one ‘more mature’ friend to give advice and one ‘tomboy’ to speak her mind. The positions they stand in story though, seperates the anime from a lot of others in the genre. Sawako is really the main character of her story. Long story short, I prefer a woman who is a character, rather than the strong female character. While I am at it I could give a couple of examples I think that are characters : Tsunemori Akane (Psycho-pass, though I have my reservations on her), Noda Megumi (Nodame Cantabile), Ayase Chihaya (Chihayafuru), Tsukuyo (Gintama), Miyamori Aoi (Shirobako), Katsuragi Misato (Shin Seiki Evangelion), Re-L (Ergo Proxy), Holo (Spice and Wolf), Amamizukan family in Kuragehime.
Gosh, look at those cinnamon rolls! (Kuragehime)
Of course having a woman character in, does not necesarily get rid of gender discrimination automatically. Possibly, you have heard the Bechdel test. 3 rules that Alison Bechdel spoke about in her caricature, became a test that feminist critics used to evaluate TV shows and movies. It goes like this :
Rules are simple:
- There will be at least two women.
- Those two women will talk to each other.
- Other than a topic on men.
The rules are so simple yet tons of movies, TV shows, anime or manga fail this test. I do not think that coming up with a woman character is hard work, not at all. This is probably an issue of not breaking the habit; as in the case of seeing someone and automatically thinking they are straight because heterosexuality is the norm. I think we have the same restriction of how we perceive women. Not to mention that anime and manga is a huge industry, thus I try not to blame mangaka to choose to create this discriminative stereotype because it sells…
Before closing up, relevant to topic though not related to anime or manga, I would like to recommend a blog called Feminist Frequency critiques popular games, shows and movies in a feminist point of view. I really like Anita Sarkeesian’s take up on the matter.
That’s all for this post, let us meet in the comments.
P.S. : Title is a direct translation of the title of Boris Vian’s book Elles se rendent pas compte, sorry if it doesn’t make much sense… (-_- ‘ )