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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

I have a confession to make: I can be a bit of a doormat, a people pleaser, a pushover. In the effort to make others happy and/or lacking the backbone to speak my mind, I have a habit of letting others run right over my true wishes and thoughts without so much as a peep of objection. When people ask me, “What do you want to do,” even if I have a preference (which sometimes I just don’t), I smile politely and say, “Oh, whatever you want to do is fine with me.” Or worse, someone will ask me if I’ll do something and, while in my mind, I’m screaming my loathing of the idea, my feeble subconscious automatically moves my lips in the pattern its grown accustomed to and, before I have time to rally my thoughts, its formed the detested words, “Yes.” And with a smile plastered on my face, of course.

images-82So, how is a feminist who’s a confessed doormat like myself supposed to feel when I see a classic doormat female character letting herself be dragged through the course of a story? To be honest, I have mixed feelings. Like everyone else, I like to see characters who I can relate to, even if that means they are not go-get-’em girls who have a healthy amount of backbone at the beginning of the story. While I admire and praise the female characters who get out there and take action, whether that action is starting her own business or taking back a kingdom, I often see more of myself reflected in those female characters who are too nice for their own good and who seem to be waiting for others to make something happen. That has made me hesitate to take the pen against certain characters despite seeing the problems with the messages those characters send.

Of course, just because a female character is passive doesn’t mean I automatically feel something like kinship to her; passive female characters pop up in fiction a fair amount, from classic princesses from fairy tales to modern action flicks and it’s something that I’ve complained about over and over and over and over and over—well, you get the point. But there are times when they strike a cord within me. For example, one famous character who I have a bit of a soft spot for, but who also has some very reasonable complaints lodged against her because of her doormat behavior is Tohru from Fruits Basket. Tohru is a classic doormat at the beginning of the series; always smiling and putting others before her, she is sweet to a fault and will do whatever others ask of her. She’d let herself be tricked and treated poorly if that somehow helps the other person or because she feels she must have deserved that treatment and she apologizes even when she’s done nothing wrong. As unrealistic as that sounds, there is a degree of her character that rings true to me, especially as the series goes on.

The problem lays in the fact that these types of passive heroines reinforce old notions about gender roles and relationships that just aren’t healthy, notions that suggest that an ideal, good woman is someone who does whatever she can to make others happy and does what she is told. These are, of course, very traditional ideas that aren’t as popular as they were, say, in the 50’s, but still manage to surface in fiction as an ideal. To me, doormats are the worst of the breed of passive female characters because they are presented as saint-like in their benevolence in a way that just isn’t possible for even the nicest human being to behave and feel all the time. In addition, in stories like Fruits Basket, she even has people who will stand up and protect her when she won’t herself. Like classic stories like Cinderella, somehow or another the girl with the “purest” heart eventually wins via living happily ever after. Thus, when girls read or watch stories with doormat heroines, they’re supposed to admire and long to be like them with the promise of praise, protection, and “happily ever after” floating around in their heads. Sadly, reality isn’t nearly so sweet and letting others do whatever they want while lowering your own desires and feelings can be dangerous, if not simply unhealthy, whether you are male or female (of course, males who are passive are mercilessly considered “weak” while women still get the message that passiveness can be an attractive trait in them).

However, I don’t think doormat female characters are inherently harmful role models, the likes of which should vanish from fiction. Rather, I think how we present these characters in fiction images-84should be altered. Instead of depicting a complete lack of a backbone as something to be admired in a woman, it should be shown as a type of behavior that some people have, with all the trouble it can bring upon those people. If a doormat character is to be admired, it’s not because she’s so nice that she’ll let others walk all over her, but for, perhaps, her struggle to stand up for herself and gain a backbone. A woman can still be nice without being passive and it takes real effort to flex those assertive muscles after being doormat for some time; as a confessed doormat, that’s one of my biggest struggles. In fact, one of my favorite stories, Fuyumi Ono’s The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow, largely centers around the internal struggle of Youko, a girl who has spent her life trying to be non-offensive to others, even if it meant ignoring her true thoughts and feelings. (Edit: Even Tohru is revealed to have problems of her own and she is forced to face those problems down the line, something that adds depth to a doormat character that isn’t always depicted.)

So, show me doormat characters, I won’t deny that they exist in reality, but don’t feed misconceptions about what it means to be a doormat. Better yet, give us doormats some extra inspiration by creating more characters who come to recognize the problem with their own behavior and fight it.

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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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51HS5B-v9gL._SY300_Continuing my exploration of Otomen, I sat down to read the next three volumes of this slightly goofy tale of a young man struggling to keep his socially accepted manly image when his really passions lie in “girly” activities like sewing and cooking. In these volumes, protagonist Asuka is still trying to juggle his inner self with his exterior image and what society’s expectations are for a man, but he’s  unwittingly started to gather a group of guys (and one girl) who also have qualities/interests that are considered weird for their gender. For now, rather than serious and continuous drama, Otomen touches on social questions through somewhat over-the-top episodic “adventures.”

At volume 6, this series continues to depict issues of gender roles and stereotypes well. Creator Aya Kanno seems determined to tackle all taboos of things considered too feminine for men to be interested in. Asuka’s main interests are cooking and sewing, Juta creates a popular girls’ comic, and three more male characters have appeared whose interests are makeup, flowers, and music considered too feminine for men’s taste, respectively. Almost all of them feel the need to hide their interests, even Juta who is constantly trying to get Asuka to be himself, and other characters who buy into gender stereotypes make comments reinforcing traditional ideas.

I like how Kanno is handling character development; even as Asuka and the others find fellow men with interests outside the narrowly defined socially accepted masculine interests, none of them suddenly shout to the world, “I like cute things!” or what have you. When the whole of society seems to look down on something, it makes sense that the characters in Otomen aren’t jumping to reveal their secrets. But with each encounter with someone else who has similar struggles, Asuka gains some small amount of confidence and sees his struggles reflected clearly in other people. He also gains acceptance within his growing group of friends. However, even with that, others in Asuka’s life still hold tightly to traditional gender roles, making him feel forced to keep up his act of macho-ness. That feels like a very realistic situation.51iSqS6G3KL._SY300_

In addition, Kanno makes a good point in volume 5 about female and male roles in society. Ryo, Asuka’s girlfriend who has more masculine traits than feminine, is elected to represent her class in a contest to find the most ideal girl. Ryo doesn’t want to let her classmates down, but she’s not good at traditionally feminine things like flower arranging or cooking. Even with Asuka’s help, her lack of skill in those things is revealed to the school and she faces some criticism and disappointment. However, after a pep talk from Asuka, Ryo wins their acceptance through her hard work. She may not be the traditional ideal woman, but the crowd is not only okay with that, they’re impressed by Ryo’s mix of femininity and masculinity. This is just one example in one story, but I think this speaks to the overall trend of society being able to embrace females with masculine traits/interests more easily than males with feminine traits/interests. Certainly, that’s true for American society. As a woman, I can take a martial arts class, play video games, and choose career over family with perhaps some resistance from society, but if a man took ballet classes, collected dolls, or wanted to stay at home and take care of the kids, he’s looked down upon.

51yi06ATKLL._SY300_However, while I love how Otomen has explored male characters who break gender stereotypes, I can’t help but wish there were more female characters behaving outside gender roles as well. Ryo is a lot of fun to watch since she often takes a different role than other high school romance heroines, but the other girls are shown drooling over handsome guys, squealing about new makeup products, and reading shojo manga. No offense intended against any of those past times, but they’re all extremely gender stereotyped. There has also been a case of the often portrayed vicious female rivalry over a guy and the ugly ducking makeover scenario. These are small things considering my overall enjoyment of the series, but I would like to see another female character who isn’t typical.

In short, even with some slight drawbacks, Otomen continues to be a fun series prepared to deal with all sorts of male stereotypes and some female stereotypes. The growing cast of characters are likable and cute and the somewhat crazy episodic adventures they go on often make modern statements about gender. I’ll be sure to review the next few volumes and I’d like to do a special post on relationships in Otomen since I couldn’t fit it in this post.

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merida-brave-new-lookRecently, Disney released images of a new Merida (Brave) design, which will be used on merchandise along with the original 3D version, according to reports. If you need a reminder, Merida is the feisty, bow-and-arrow toting princess from Disney’s Brave (click here for my review), a 3D Pixar adventure that came out last summer. For a story about a young woman rebelling against tradition, including making herself up for the sake of looking beautiful by others’ standards, I was surprised and disappointed with this new version. Rather than accept Merida as she is, Disney felt the need to make her “fit in” with the rest of their princesses–that is, they’ve made this new Merida sparkly, pretty, and glamorous just like all the others. untitled folder18

Just compare this new look to Merida’s original design, as seen in the movie. Part of the difference is of course just the change in media, but the face of this new Merida looks slightly older, as if she were wearing makeup. If you look closely, Disney has made her paler with perfectly rosy cheeks as if she’d just applied blush with a demure, cheeky expression, instead of the natural, red-cheeked round face full of enthusiasm and energy that we all know and love. Disney may have been trying for attitude in the way they designed the expressions and body position in this new Merida, but I’m not getting teenage rebelliousness from these images. I’m getting cute and pretty. Her expression isn’t strong enough to suggest determination or stubbornness nor is it energetic and loud enough to show Merida’s bright personality. It’s just…subdued, which isn’t Merida’s personality at all. I guess a big smile or a set jaw and furrowed brow just didn’t make her look pretty enough.

In addition, Disney appears to have slimmed Merida’s waist so her hips and chest look more pronounced. It’s a bit hard to tell in the image with her arms crossed, but look closely at the original Merida in comparison to the new image with her hands at her hips. I swear the new Merida must be wearing a corset! That really bothers me since she’s perfectly slim in the original version. I’m not sure if Disney has heard, but we have a little issue called anorexia among girls in the U.S. and in many other countries as well. Part of the problem is that girls see so many unrealistic portrayals of beauty, including how thin is beautiful. I was reading comments on blogs from readers’ reactions to Merida’s new look and one person mentioned that if Merida were a real person, these new images would be like an airbrushed and photoshopped version of the real person. I completely agree. This is the slimmed down, smoothed out, and amplified Merida. To add insult to injury, Disney also made Merida show more skin in a dress that shows shoulder and cleavage that the original dress does not. Thanks Disney.

The interesting thing about this issues is, if these images were completely unrelated to Merida from Brave or weren’t official images from Disney, I wouldn’t be half as fired up about it. I’d probably say, “That’s pretty,” and move on. The problem lays in the fact that Disney doesn’t seem to understand that a female character doesn’t have to be ultra-glamorized to be popular. There is more to a female character than just making a pretty face with a sparkly dress. Disney doesn’t seem to get that audiences, both female and male, love Merida for her spunk and sense of adventure. More kids have actually started picking up archery in the U.S. because of Merida and other strong, bow-and-arrow wielding female characters that have hit the big screen in the past year or so. That should give Disney the message that it isn’t Merida’s sense of style that is inspiring viewers. In fact, while the original Merida is accessible to both genders, this new Merida screams, “I’M FOR GIRLS!” (Because, you know, only girls like sparkles and boys couldn’t possibly be interested in a female protagonist.)

This isn’t the first time Disney has done this to a female character that is as brave as any male character, rejects gender roles, and could easily be marketed to both boys and girls, even in this very gender stereotypical and gender segregated market. Disney’s Mulan told the amazing story of a young woman who was gutsy enough (despite her fears) to take her father’s place in an army and go to war while trying to hide her identity and find herself, but the only thing Disney wants to market is a pretty girl in an elaborate gown. (If you want to read more about that, click here and here.) That was more than a decade ago and now Disney seems to be making the same mistake in 2013. So, if Disney wanted to rip away everything that makes Merida stand out and make her look like one of the crowd, they’ve accomplished that splendidly. all-disney-princesses

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images-74Gurren Lagann is one of those anime series I’ve long heard praised so, I decided it was high time I found about for myself what all the fuss was about. The series takes place in a world where humans have moved underground to flee the Spiral King and the “beastmen” who use machines to wipe humans off the earth. Thus, the humans secluded themselves into small villages with no contact with the surface or other humans. Simon, a small, unimposing young man who spends most his time digging, and his outspoken, reckless friend, Kamina dream of leaving their dank village underground and going to the surface.  One day, after Simon comes across a strange object that turns out to be a key to a machine like those the beastmen use. After a girl (Yoko) fighting a beastman falls from the surface into their village, Simon and Kamina use the newly-found machine to defeat the beastman and break through to the surface. Together with Yoko, they begin to wage war against the beastmen.

While Gurren Lagann is unique in many ways, at the halfway mark of the second season, I’m feelings a bit disengaged as a female viewer. Of the cast of female characters that have been assembled, almost all of them are heavily subjected to fan service and/or fall victim to the damsel in distress cliche to give the male characters motivation. That’s not to say that the female characters sit on the side lines all the time (Yoko and two side female characters do participate in battles), but somehow I feel the way they are presented undermines them.images-71

For instance, there have been two episodes that either had good portions or the full episode devoted to fan service. One takes place at a hot spring and involves Kamina and Simon trying to figure out how to catch a peek of the girls naked. Later, the girls are held hostage dressed in towels, reducing them to not only sex objects, but sex objects that need rescuing. The other episode involves bathing suits. Need I say more? The guys drool over the girls since it’s a chance to see them less covered. Yoko, who is usually in little more than a bikini top and short-shorts, actually wears a bathing suit that covers her more than usual and is disregarded as a result. To be fair, the show mixes in a fair amount of zaniness, which these episodes were playing up, but by focusing so much on the female characters’ bodies, it reduces them to fan fare.

yokoAs the two main female protagonists, Yoko and Nia, both suffer from female character clichés. Yoko is no helpless maiden. She’s been fighting the enemy for some time now in what seemed to be a losing battle. Once Simon and Kamina join the fight, new life is breathed into the resistance. At that point, Yoko could have just relied totally on the guys from then on, but she doesn’t. She is put into more of a supporting role, but she’s good at watching her comrades’ backs. Unfortunately, Yoko’s strengths, both inner and outer, take a back seat to her exterior appearance. For some reason, this character who’s fighting a war dresses in a bikini top that’s slightly too small for her and short shorts. Viewers are constantly getting shots of Yoko’s breasts, even when she’s in battle, taking a shot at the enemy, the view is such that we (conveniently) get to see her boobs bounce from the kick-back of her gun. Thus, Yoko largely gets reduced to eye candy.

On the other hand, Nia is more traditional, playing the part of the girl with inner strength that relies on the male protagonist. Don’t get me wrong; a female character doesn’t have to shoot a gun or punch people to be strong. In fact, if she can pick up a gun, but has nothing beyond that, I’m not sure I could call her a strong female character. There’s something to be admired in characters like Nia who show such inner strength. Nia has been abandoned by the people she knew and her own father. She’s told she was little more than a pretty doll to him, something to be admired for its beauty and discarded when one grows tired of it, and she has been thrust out into a world she knows very little about as being sheltered for so long. Her whole world has been turned upside down yet she has the strength to assess the situation and make her own decisions. The problem occurs here: whenever Nia is in trouble, she’s not worried in the least, not because she has a plan to save herself as Iimages-72 initially thought, but because she has such strong faith that Simon will rescue her and anyone else in trouble. It’s nice that she has such faith in Simon–one of the first besides Kamina to recognize it–but that total reliance, or rather dependence, and expectation that someone will come to her aid is pretty cliché.

As I watch Gurren Lagann I do see hope for its female protagonists. While I’m not sure it will ever be excellent in terms of female characters given the way the show has treated them so much as fan service, I’m hoping for more development to take these characters to the next level. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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What is gender? Are people of one sex or the other inherently gifted with certain skills or strengths or does that have more to do with gender roles that we learn as we grow up? Earlier this week, I came across some intriguing questions of gender posed by none other than Haruka Ten’ou from the famous Sailor Moon series.

51NX8K6ppBL._SY300_When Haruka first makes an appearance in the manga, we see a person with short hair in a racer’s suit wearing a confident smile, pointing back to a race car and exclaiming excitement over the speed of it. Haruka is supposed to be the best race car driver in Japan. He goes to a prestigious private school where young talents supposedly gather, skilled in judo, handsome, and even has a famous and elegant violinist for a girlfriend. By all accounts, Haruka is the ideal man. However, things aren’t so simple in Sailor Moon. As we later discover, Haruka is actually biologically female, but she stretches protagonist Usagi’s (as well as the reader’s) ideas of gender.

During the time when Usagi and her friends still believe Haruka to be male, Haruka challenges one of the girls, Mako, to a friendly judo match. When Haruka easily defeats Mako, throwing her full-force onto the mat, one of the other girls scolds Haruka for using “his” full strength against a “frail girl.” Now, as readers of Sailor Moon will know, this series is not one to play on societal ideas of strong, stoic men who protect frail, helpless girls (in fact, more often than not, the roles are almost reversed with the girls rescuing the guys) and through Usagi and her friends, we a shown that strength takes a variety of shapes, both physical and mental. Yet even these strong young women have taken in the message the women are inherently frail compared to men. Haruka, however, questions this thought process. “Gender shouldn’t matter,” she tells them. “Do you think it’s okay for a woman to lose to a man just because of her gender? If you believe that, how could you ever protect those who are important to you?” In turn, Mako doesn’t want to believe she lost simply because of her sex. While biology works in such a way that men are often bigger and therefore likely stronger than many of their female counterparts, that doesn’t make women frail nor does it mean it is impossible for a woman to be stronger than a man.2108-25_FRQTJ-SM_comic_22_43

But Haruka takes it further than that. Eventually, Usagi realizes that there is more to Haruka than meets the eye. She is confused about Haruka’s sex and bothered that she can’t figure it out. Haruka appears to be male given her appearance and way of dress, but she could easily pass for female, too. She finally asks Haruka if she’s a man or woman, but Haruka replies with an interesting question: does it really matter one way or the other?

Usagi’s confusion over Haruka’s sex is understandable; after all, a person’s sex is usually obvious to us and whether we are conscious of it or not, this often changes the way we interact with that person. We can refer to someone as “he” or “she,” choose or avoid colors associated with a certain sex when we buy merchandise for that person, or treat that person more gently or bluntly depending on whether that person is a boy or a girl. That’s where we get into issues of behaviors that are more accepted or put down according to societal ideas of gender roles. Because someone’s sex plays such a defining role in life, it becomes important information to individuals. It should be noted that while most societies only recognize male and female, there are actually some societies that have three choices, including a third option for those who may be biologically male or female but identify more with the opposite sex.images-70

Finally, switching over to more magical elements, it struck me that Haruka is said to be endowed with both male and female strengths as a result of her having the powers of Uranus. Many of us may find that our sex (what we are biologically) and gender (socially constructed ideas about male and female identities) overall in that you are a female with feminine qualities or a male with masculine qualities, most of us probably also have some traits traditionally associated with the opposite sex.

The introduction of Haruka’s character has added some interesting dynamics to an already wonderful series. Once again, it’s amazing how something fiction can raise such complex and intriguing questions about things we all may deal with in our day-to-day lives without giving it a second thought. If you like questions about gender roles and want to read about more manga that bring up those kinds of questions, see my post on Otomen.

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