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Archive for June, 2013

Have you ever come across the word “feminist” or “feminism” in context that just doesn’t make sense? It’s a word that seems to have been coated in a thick layer of dirt in the past couple of decades, covering up the true meaning with a nasty overcoat. Something that means equality has been mutated into a fowl word, the thing you won’t call even your worst enemy, something that twists the young and innocent. Just take Rush Limbaugh’s lovely mutilation of the word into “feminazi.” Unfortunately, a large group appears to have adopted and internalized this warped sense of the word so, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that misuse of it occurs in fiction at times. After reading soaringwing’s post about a convoluted comment about feminism, I decided to do my own calling out of problematic usage.

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Take a look at the image above. This is a scene from Kaori Yuki’s Grand Guignol Orchestra,  which follows a small band of very unusual members of an orchestra that cleanse people who have turned into doll-like zombies through a strange virus. In this particular episode, Eles, Lucille, and company have arrived at the mansion of a certain Lord Red-Beryl. The lord is a young man with an apparent obsession over beautiful women. The only reason the orchestra was allowed onto the lord’s premises was because he mistook Lucille for a woman and the only people in sight are all young, beautiful girls who act as his maids, servants, and guards. The group finds out that Lord Red-Beryl has dreams of protecting every woman he can and also of finding a woman he can marry, all for the sake of his mother who had a difficult time after her husband died when their son was only a boy. After discovering all of this, the conversation above about Lord Red-Beryl takes place between Eles and the other orchestra members.

Now, the first problem with this usage of the word “feminist” is that it just doesn’t make sense in this context. Eles says the lord isn’t a feminist, that he simply has a mother complex, but that seems to imply that the lord’s behavior resembled that of a feminist’s in some way. However, before Eles mentions it, feminism did not enter my mind in the slightest while I was reading this section of the manga. If anything, maybe sexism, but certainly not feminism. While Lord Red-Beryl appears to respect his mother, the way he treats other women doesn’t seem like the behavior of someone who sees women as equal to men; I might argue that someone who thinks all women need the protection of a man suggests that women are weaker than men and is, in fact, sexist. When you take into account how Lord Red-Beryl treats the women around him (telling them how to dress, using them as servants which inevitably puts them in a position of considerably less power, and viewing each new (beautiful) girl as someone he could wed for his own benefit), sexist seems the much more likely choice.

As for the second comment about the difference between a leecher (essentially someone who takes from others and gives nothing back) and feminist being paper-thin, that’s just a plain insult. While this could be simply a reflection of the character, because no one denies or contradicts his remark, the idea that feminists are like leechers just sits out there, virtually accepted. Feminist has taken on a negative connotation in this day and age, to the point that even those who believe in equal rights for women won’t call themselves feminists, and this rather random insult in a manga reinforces that connotation. Feminists have been equated to extremists who want more, more, more and women with chips on their shoulder who hate men. If you truly believe that women are equal to men in every society, it may seem that way, but if you look at things like what women get paid in comparison to men who work the same jobs (in the U.S., it’s 77 cents (if you’re a white woman) for every dollar a man makes), the glass ceiling and second shift effect, gender roles and stereotypes, and even more serious issues in certain countries, there are still reasonable issues that feminists are trying to work on. Are there people who call themselves feminist who may be extreme? Probably, but most feminists are average people who see that equality between sexes is still an ongoing process.

Sadly, there are a lot of misconceptions about feminism buzzing about so, if you see any iffy usages of it in fiction and don’t have a blog of your own, please tell me about them so I can call those mistakes out.

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How many times have you read a story about a nice girl head over heels for a guy who seems to treat her like dirt yet is still supposed to be a “good” guy, the guy all the girls dream about? Fiction often gives us tales that are more fun in one’s dreams than in reality and the rough, forceful guy appears to have landed a place in the dreamworld of many a teenage romance stories. But what does it say to young readers, both male and female, if the guy who treats the girl poorly ends up capturing the girl’s heart, sometimes over the choice of a “nice guy” rival? It’s one thing to see that scenario once or twice every couple of years, but when it’s in every other story, people unconsciously start forming ideas over what they read and see everyday. That’s why I was happy to see one manga series that seems to have something else to say about romance to its readers.

In Otomen, Asuka, the guy who loves things like cooking, sewing, romance, and cute things, falls for Ryo, the girl who can’t cook or sew, but can show you martial arts skills that would make even a burly guy think twice about challenging her. It’s the typical opposites attract, but instead of the good girl-bad boy combination that seems so prevalent nowadays in which the good girl must soften the guy’s hard exterior, Asuka and Ryo accept each other as they are and help each other grow. As two people who fall outside gender stereotypes, it can be hard on them to accept themselves at times. Asuka especially is burdened with self-doubt about himself. When he first meets Ryo, he worries that she won’t like a guy who has “girly” interests. But when Ryo discovers Asuka is, in reality, not someone who society would traditionally call “manly,” she doesn’t like him any less. In fact, she accepts him completely, making Asuka realize he wants to, and can, show Ryo his true self. Ryo’s one of the first people he’s felt like he can truly be himself with.  When Asuka starts to feel down about himself, Ryo is always there, cheering him up and accepting every part of him.01_050

While Ryo is much more comfortable with herself, even she has moments of self-doubt. When Ryo is elected to represent her class in a contest to find the most ideal woman in the school, Ryo feels a lot of pressure to not let her classmates down. But she knows that while she might look pretty, internally, she doesn’t match what society thinks an ideal woman is: a woman who is delicate and demure, can cook beautiful and tasty meals, make tea, clean, etc. She’s not good at household things and would choose an action flick over a romance any day. She tries her hardest, but after failing the first two rounds, her classmates are calling her clumsy and Ryo feels she’s a disappointment. Asuka attempts to cheer her up, but Ryo says she’s realized that as a woman she needs to learn things like sewing and cooking and generally how to be more feminine. In one of my favorite moments so far, Asuka confesses he likes her just the way she is and wants her to stay like that. He tells her that if she can’t cook or sew, he can.lotomen_v05_p043

In a way, that really sums up what Asuka and Ryo’s relationship is like; what Asuka feel he lacks, Ryo makes up for and vice versa. It’s one of the most balanced relationships I’ve seen in more recent shojo. Is it a little too rosy and perfect? Yes, but in comparison to other romance fantasies, I love this one which shows a type of relationship with an underlying message that’s healthy and modern: find someone who thinks you’re wonderful for all your faults and all your strengths and support each other.

If that isn’t enough of a message for you, Otomen also goes so far as to make fun of the jerky love interest type. One of Asuka’s friends, Yamato, a boy who looks like a girl, but wants to be manly, struggles with impressing girls so, he does a practice date. It turns out Yamato is one of those people who buys into the idea that jerky guys are cool and as a result, he comically makes a mess of his practice date. He shows up late dressed like a punk(?) because cool guys are supposed to make their girls wait, tries to act tough, pulls his “date” forcefully along without saying anything, and more. I loved this chapter since everything Yamato does to be the “cool” jerk ends up going over poorly. While stuff may seem romantic in fiction, it may not be so cool in real life and Otomen depicts this in quite an amusing fashion.

What do you think? Is Otomen giving readers a better idealized relationship or is it just another example of unattainable perfection? And what do you think of the other relationship trends in fiction? Seriously problematic or just fantasy?

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In this series, I analysis princess characters who defy the stereotypical representation of princesses in fiction, the beautiful, kind, and romance-focused princesses like those in Disney movies (click here for a refresher). When it comes to destroying the princess stereotype, it’s hard to get much further from the traditional type than Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s Azula. Unlike the other complex princesses I’ve discussed who were characters one could consider “heroes,” this princess is ruthless and completely proud of it. In the well-known Nickelodeon series, Azula plays one of the main antagonists and boy, does she make an excellent one! She’s the pride and joy of her father, leader of a nation that has systematically invaded and taken control of other societies and a man cold enough to burn and exile his own son. Rather than sit around a palace in a puffy dress waiting for others to take care of her, Azula has been charged with an important mission to capture the greatest threat to her nation–the Avatar–and she thrills at the chance. This is obviously not your average princess character so, without further ado, let’s break down her characteristics.

TYPICAL PRINCESS TRAITSimages-76

Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of typical princess material in Azula. She’s attractive, but that is never the focus of her character and most of the series she appears in armor or something else that’s easy to fight in (the picture to the right is one of the rare instances when she looks more traditionally feminine). She’s a perfectionist, but she’s not perfect like some of Disney’s earliest princess characters. While she would like to be perfect and tries her hardest to be, it’s clear that Azula is human and therefore imperfect, much to her frustration. Romance is never a factor so, Azula doesn’t fall into the category of prince-crazy princesses who give up everything for them or whose whole story revolves around romance. And as for kindness…

NON-STEREOTYPICAL TRAITS

AzulaAzula has followed closely in her father’s footsteps; she’s an egoist who knows just how to manipulate, threaten, and control those around her, even people she calls “friends.” Is that something to be admired? Most of us would probably say no, but one of the things I like about Azula is that she’s not nice. She has high ambitions and won’t let anything or anyone stand in her way, even if it means hurting someone else. It’s not unusual to see this trait in male characters, but rarely is it seen in female characters. So often female characters, whether they’re princesses or not, are supposed to be nice. Sometimes they’re obviously nice and other times they’re tough girls who come off as cold, but are revealed to be softhearted girls who have been put into a difficult situation and forced to toughen up. If a female character is ever mean, it’s almost always in a petty, shallow way (i.e. the mean girl who torments the nice girl because they both like the same guy). But where are the merciless girls, the mean girls who have more on their minds than making a nice girl look stupid in front of a guy? Azula is one of the few I can think of and she’s actually quiet complex.

In addition, she’s extremely capable, unlike many of the classic Disney princesses. Azula is given big responsibilities by her father/ruler of her country and she handles them excellently, to the horror of the protagonists. Arguably, she does a better job of hunting the Avatar than anyone, beating out her older brother and a decorated admiral, and (without spoiling anything) accomplishes some amazing feats for her country. She’s also one of the most skilled firebenders (think of it as magical martial arts) in the series. Besides her father, the Firelord, Azula is the second-baddest villain in the series. If a series has a female antagonist, she typically doesn’t play a huge part and is usually one of the weakest enemies. The fact that Azula is a princess just makes her badness all the more amazing since princess characters are most often depicted as damsels in distress or (if we’re lucky) heroes; either way they’re supposed to be good people.

To sum it up, Azula is the anti-Disney princess princess character. She has power as a princess and she uses it to her fullest advantage. She’s brutal, capable, complex, and one of the best female villains I’ve come across. So, if you’re looking for princess characters who destroy stereotypes, Azula is definitely one to check out. She won’t disappoint.

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