Archive for March, 2012

Princess. What comes to mind when you hear or read the word? For me, two things instantly pop into my head; as a child, like many little girls, I liked princesses. I kid you not when I say that I liked their frilly dresses, but more than that I liked stories about girls. While in many stories princesses are not the main character, sometimes they are the main female character or one of few. Yet once I became old enough to pay attention to what happened in the story I remember feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. How excited could I get if the good princesses don’t do anything besides wait for someone else to do something? That leads me to my second thought; princess characters have become one of the most old and tired stereotypes for girls.

But despite princesses typically being horribly stereotypical, that’s not always the case. It’s become my mission/hobby to seek out princess characters that defy the limited and lame definition of what princesses have come to stand for in fiction. I’m going to introduce you to some of those that I’ve found and explain how they break that mold in a new series of posts. However, before I go showing off characters who break that mold, what is it that’s so bad about the usual princess character? Because Disney’s princesses demonstrate my point so well, I’ll use them as my princess archetypes.

 Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Snow White–the 1st batch.

These three are “perfect” in the traditional sense, and when I say “traditional” I mean ye ol’ times traditional; they are all kind, beautiful, and subservient. On the topic of subservience, notice that none of these princesses have a strong will. Snow White and Aurora didn’t do any kind of rebelling and the extent of Cinderella’s defiance was sneaking out to go to a ball. On that last note, notice that, despite the abusive behavior of her step-sisters and step-mother, Cinderella never confronts them. All three princesses have the emotional range of happy and sad because a good girl should never get angry.

As for their few skills, they are skills that are considered feminine such as cleaning and singing. They’re not shown to be particularly intelligent, but in previous centuries intelligence in a woman was not seen as a virtue. (Frankly, it hasn’t been too long since the U.S. as a society began valuing smarts in women instead of teaching them to dumb themselves down.)

Finally, the princesses’ problems are not due to any fault of their own. Both Snow White and Cinderella suffer because of the jealousy of other women and Aurora is cursed by a witch out of spite for her family. These three princesses’ problems only emphasize their own virtue and the vice of others. The most these girls could be accused of is naivety. In addition, none of them solve their own problems; a prince appears and does that for them. So, to sum it up, the earliest Disney princesses symbolize the female who is pure and good yet frail and entirely dependent on men. These princesses are unrealistic, outdated ideals of what a good girl should be so, there’s really not a lot of good I can say about them. Honestly, they’re just plain boring.

Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Jasmine (Aladdin), and Belle (Beauty & the Beast)–the 2nd batch.

These princesses are definitely improved from their predecessors. They actually seem to have souls and take action throughout the course of their stories rather than just being pretty dolls collecting dust on a shelf. Yes, they are pretty and kind, but there’s more to them; Ariel is adventurous, Jasmine is rebellious about her fate as a princess, and Belle has a thriving brain behind her pretty face that she wants to use. Each of them also confronts at least one person at some point, meaning they’re not punching bags.  However, there are issues that set them up as typical princesses.

Ariel gives up things she loves (i.e. her voice and family) to be with a guy. There are two ways to look at her giving up her world to be with her love: 1) Ariel was dissatisfied with her world and wanted something new thus it wasn’t just about the guy, or 2) this course of action has an underlying message that a girl should give up anything for a guy she loves. The thing that makes me lean toward the latter is Ariel’s deal with the sea witch. With this deal, she not only gives up her world but also her voice and it’s not like she’d been dreaming of getting rid of that. The other point to note is she makes that deal not with adventure of the new world in mind, but of meeting a man she’s never met. Not having a voice also means that Prince Eric, her love, judges her only on her looks and general nature, but not on what she thinks.

Jasmine becomes the damsel in distress of Aladdin’s story. She tries to run away, she gets in trouble, Aladdin saves her. Jafar, the villain, tries to get the royal family’s power and Aladdin saves her and her family. And of course, like those classic stories mentioned above, Aladdin also saves Jasmine from her biggest problem–marrying someone she doesn’t love. Granted, Jasmine at least isn’t such a boring damsel in distress like the previous three, but that element is still present in her story. Obviously, her story also revolves around love.

Finally, I have the least problems with Belle, but she is also the good, pretty girl whose story is singularly about love (note that the problem is not that there is a romance but that it is only about romance). Also notice that once again, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine have no real noticeable flaws and represent ideas of what a girl should be; kind and pretty with a life that revolves around a guy.

So, in this series I will write about princesses (by blood or marriage) who have flaws, stories with more to them than just a romance, take action, and are more than just pretty and kind (if pretty and/or kind at all)   

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Kodocha and Gakuen Alice; ever since the more recent Gakuen Alice started being released in English several years ago, people have been buzzing about how similar these two manga series are. Having read a good portion of Gakuen Alice and finishing Kodocha, I have to admit, there are some obvious similarities; in both stories, readers are presented with peppy preteen female leads whose first challenge of many challenges is to deal with the zoo they call class. The out-of-control classes are both controlled by quiet troublemaker boys who have a chip on their shoulders about something. This ultimately leads the girls into confrontations with the troublemakers and eventually develops into a more friendly relationship.

Despite this likeness, there was something that differentiated the two stories for me. There was a similar set up between the female and male leads in these manga, but the dynamics seemed somehow different. What was it? While the female lead from Kodocha, Sana gave back whatever her troublemaker Akito dished out and more, Mikan, the female lead from Gakuen Alice, often endures and reacts rather than dishing out. To give you an idea of what I mean, let’s compare the first clash of the female and male leads.

 In Kodocha, Sana has been tolerating Akito’s reign of chaos in her class for some time from the looks of it. However, by the start of the series she’s done dealing with it. At first she does indirect things like leaving class or ranting about Akito on a talk show (she’s a young actress), but that doesn’t change things. In fact, after badmouthing Akito on TV Akito’s gang begins threatening and insulting Sana. Sana isn’t the least bit intimidated and, for whatever reason, Akito won’t confront her head on. On the other hand, regardless of his reputation, she isn’t afraid to confront Akito. The two finally have a confrontation when Akito starts bullying a friend of Sana’s. She slaps him, dodges his punches, and tries to talk to him about why he’s doing this. Even when Akito snaps and says he’ll start bullying her from now on, Sana stands strong. This all transpires in the first chapter and already Sana has defined herself as a tough girl who’s not willing to deal with this behavior or be pushed around. With so many female characters out there who are willing to put up with abuse, it’s great to see one who isn’t. Her strength inspires her fellow classmates, who had just been putting up with Akito and his gang’s craziness, to stand up against them as well.

In Gakuen Alice, Mikan meets the troublemaker of her story, Natsume, when he tries to escape the mysterious school Mikan is trying to enter. A teacher quickly quells Natsume and he and Mikan are put in a room to wait while the school officials try to sort things out. Unlike Sana who knows Akito is a troublemaker, Mikan doesn’t know Natsume and although she’s warned that he’s dangerous, she’s caught off guard when he grabs her, threatens her, and demands to know who she is. Understandably, she’s shocked. When she doesn’t answer, Natsume steals her panties and readers are left with the typical scene in manga of the heroine crying, “comically” insisting she’ll never be able to marry now (I’ve never understood the humor of this scenario in manga since it’s making fun of a character feels like she’s been violated). In Mikan’s defense, as I said earlier, she isn’t used to dealing with Natsume, but because Natsume has already one upped her, the power seems shifted to his court. Readers are constantly reminded of this since, in coming confrontations between the two, Natsume brings up the incident with the panties. While this only fuels Mikan’s anger, I think there’s a certain amount of power in being able to rile someone up like Natsume does with Mikan. She’s put at Natsume’s whim more than a couple of times and so, while she does stand up to Natsume, she also has to endure a lot.

In the end, even after the relationships between the female and male leads aren’t enemies anymore, I felt Sana and Akito’s relationship was a lot more equal. Even when those two get on each other about something, it doesn’t feel like either of the characters is just being overpowered or steamrolled over by the other. In comparison, Mikan and Natsume have a relationship that’s much more typical in my opinion with Natsume pushing and pulling Mikan around a fair amount. Mikan isn’t spineless and Natsume does get nicer, but in the 10 volumes I’ve read of the series so far I still feel the relationship hasn’t reached the equal footing I’d like it to.

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Image from Hulu.com

After hearing some good things about the short but sweet anime Princess Jellyfish (or Kuragehime in Japanese), I decided to check it out last week. For those of you who don’t know, Princess Jellyfish is the story of a college-aged young woman named Tsukimi living in an all-female apartment building (no boys allowed, in fact). However, the women of this apartment aren’t just any women; each one is considered to be an otaku (similar to geek, but if you want the full definition click here). Playing on geek/otaku stereotypes, Tsukimi and her friends are socially uncomfortable and not very fashionable which makes for a very interesting situation when Tsukimi unintentionally befriends Kuranosuke–an outgoing young man in love with fashion who happens to parade around as a woman.

I usually try to pace myself a bit with series, but this anime was just so entertaining that I ended up watching a marathon of it. Admittedly, it did have some things that had me scratching my head as a feminist though. The story does have ugly duckling elements to it, but I’m actually not going to talk about that since that calls for a rewatching so that I can really analyze it. What I am going to discuss is the subplot of Princess Jellyfish that had my toes curling.

SPOILERS!! Some spoilers ahead! 

Most the women viewers see in this anime are unemployed and almost all of the employed women shown are models, a more traditional, female occupation. Not surprisingly, almost all of the men introduced over the 11-episode series are employed. Nevertheless, I would have let this aspect slide without comment if it hadn’t been for one thing–or should I say one character? Four episodes into the show, in comes the one and only female character involved in business, Shoko Inari, who arrives on scene to discuss a business proposition. While Inari’s official position in the workplace is never revealed what is made clear is her unofficial job: if her business needs to get an influential man under its control, Inari lets her hair down, unbuttons her shirt to show off some cleavage, and goes out to seduce him. Ouch. Did this show have to bring in the old, negative stereotype that women use their sexuality to control and manipulate men? This is the type of stereotype that makes women out to be untrustworthy and implies the only way a woman can get something done is through using her feminine wiles. This is exactly what the show expresses as Inari even comments that the reason she has the job she does is because of this trick of hers.

Images from Princess Jellyfish anime

Granted, Princess Jellyfish does play up some negative stereotypes like those about otakus for comical purposes, but I felt much more humor from the scenarios about otakus (and I consider myself to be a geek) than I did about this one surrounding Inari. The entire subplot reeked of the seductress plot. Inari tries to seduce Shu–Tsukimi’s crush and a man involved in politics–to make sure he supports a business proposition. Interestingly, in this scenario the roles are switched; the woman is the one trying to manipulate the naive man into bed, even going so far as to try to get him drunk to do so. (That’s not to say this scenario never happens in reality, just that the usual case is reversed.) When that doesn’t work, Inari uses a date drug technique and while she doesn’t actually have sex with Shu, she sets it up to appear that they did. This leads innocent Shu to believe he’s been molested.

Image from Princess Jellyfish anime

Unfortunately, this whole plot line just seemed like nails dragged against a chalkboard for me. Putting aside the fact that the only business woman is a seductress, I just don’t particularly like seeing serious problems like date drugs portrayed like this. It just felt like a joke to me, down playing something that’s a sensitive issue. Then add the seductress business woman element to it and we’ve officially crashed and burned. In the end, I was disappointed with the subplot of Princess Jellyfish.

(As a little side note, this month marks the first year anniversary of Gagging on Sexism! Thanks to everyone who has been supporting the blog and I hope to continue bringing you all interesting analyses and helpful reviews in this second year.)

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