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Posts Tagged ‘stereotypes’

Disney-FrozenOver the years, I’ve complained a lot about Disney’s expansive line of princess tales, from Cinderella to The Princess and the Frog. Even with renditions that I liked overall, namely their adventurous undertaking of Rapunzel (Tangled), I still had moments where I felt something was left to be desired. Well, Disney, you’ve finally done it. I enjoyed your newest princess movie, Frozen, as both a story lover and as a feminist. As a movie that follows your classic princess formula, i.e. one that has romance as a focus, this is an improvement.

Like many princess tales, Frozen‘s featured protagonist is a teenaged princess, Anna, but in this case, she’s not the only one. Anna’s got an older sister named Elsa and, as we’re quickly shown, the two are close. But Elsa has a little secret. She was born with a magical, wintry power that allows her to create ice and snow with just the touch or wave of her hands. It’s all fun and games until Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with her powers, which leads Elsa to close herself off from everyone to protect them. The years pass and the sisters grow distant as they live their separate lives in a castle completely shut off from the outside world. Soon, however, Elsa comes of age and must emerge for her coronation. While Elsa is terrified of what might go wrong, Anna is ecstatic and wants to use the opportunity to the fullest after the years of loneliness, maybe even find her “prince.” But when an argument breaks out between the sisters and Elsa’s powers are revealed, she’s labeled a sorceress and flees, inadvertently putting her kingdom into an eternal winter as she goes. Worried about her sister and the kingdom, Anna sets off to find Elsa, picking up some help in the form of a boy and his reindeer (not to mention a talking snowman) along the way.FROZEN_color_p2_3_V2

In recent years, Disney has made an effort to put forth princess protagonists who don’t wilt at the first sign of trouble and Frozen is no exception. Both Anna and Elsa are dynamic characters who display fears and flaws viewers of both genders can relate to while amply showcasing their inner steel as well. And although the sisters get into their fair share of difficult situations, neither feels like a helpless doll, collecting dust while they wait for a prince to save them. If anything, spunky Anna could be viewed as taking the hero’s place for her sister, although Elsa is anything but helpless and has her own crucial part to play. Needless to say, the interaction between Anna and Elsa is wonderful and while Anna’s relationships with Kristoff and Hans are very important, the plot between the sisters is just as much so. In Disney’s past princess films and many other romantic fiction, it’s been hammered home that romantic love can overcome anything, but through Anna and Elsa, Frozen wisely makes it clear that romantic love is not the only powerful form of love.

As for Elsa, overall, I like that the queen/witch character is not vilified. Typically, the queen/witch has great power and independence, but she endsElsa-and-Anna-Wallpapers-frozen-35894707-1600-1200 up ruled by jealousy, vanity, and other shallow, ugly emotions, resulting in her torment of the innocent heroine before her inevitable downfall. As a result, power and independence in women almost goes hand-in-hand with evil in many classic Disney princess movies. Elsa, however, is an independent, powerful woman who girls and boys can relate to and like. Of course, it’s arguable that Frozen‘s queen/witch character loses some of the authority and power her evil counterparts command since Disney puts her in the role of the persecuted victim. That was done to garner sympathy for a character that plays the villain in the tale Frozen is based on. This role change is something I’ll try to look at more in-depth in a later post. For now, however, I’m just happy that Disney is trying something new.

images-94Disney also continues its trend of pulling away from perfectly plastic prince charming in favor of a more layered, interesting male lead with flaws and quirks of his own. In Frozen, just as there are two female leads, there are two male leads: one prince (Prince Hans) and one average guy (Kristoff), both of which play vital roles in the story. Hans very successfully sets himself apart from the 2D princes of old and I found Kristoff to be an improvement to Disney’s gruff male lead formula. In their attempt to create a new down-to-earth male lead in the princess movies, Disney began featuring more rugged types, the opposite of the stark, clean blankness of past prince characters. The result in the last two movies were somewhat the “bad boy” type. Prince Naveen from The Princess and the Frog starts off as an egotistical playboy while Tangled‘s Flynn Rider is a wanna-be “cool criminal” type. Both were good guys deep down, of course, a goodness which the heroines eventually bring out in them. It’s a charming and fun concept in fiction, but since this trend has been used a lot and can send the wrong message about real-life relationships, I’m happy that Disney took a slightly different approach with Kristoff. As with the past two male leads, Kristoff is a little gruff with the heroine, Anna, resulting in fun and dynamic interactions between the leads, but not once does Kristoff try to pose as a “bad boy.” Instead, he’s an honest, hard-working guy who is perhaps a tad socially awkward, a trait which he shares with Anna and that reflects their mutual struggles with loneliness and isolation.

I also feel Disney has improved its messages about romance. Toward the latter half of the movie, a song starts in which one of the male leads is disneys-frozen-2013-screenshot-kristoffreferred to as a “fixer-upper.” At that moment, my heart sank, thinking this was when fiction would once again announce that if your potential mate has traits you don’t like, all you have to do is stick with and change him/her. But Disney didn’t say that this time. In fact, they made a clear effort to tell viewers that you can’t change people like we’re always told you can. Rather than searching for the “perfect” one like Cinderella or even The Little Mermaid suggest, or finding someone who has flaws that you don’t like and believing you can change those aspects as movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog seem to say, Frozen settles upon middle ground. That is, recognize that we all have flaws and don’t expect to whisk those flaws away with love. It also directly challenge the romantic idea that one can simply bump into the right person and know instantly that this is “the one.” Instead, Frozen sends the message that you must get to know someone before love truly enters the equation. In the end, it touches on the issue of accepting reasonable flaws, but cautions viewers to watch out for duds.

There are still things to improve such as including a lot more POC in their movies, but Frozen is a step in the right direct for Disney’s romance-focused princess films. After years of transition, trying to balance romantic fantasy with modern ideas, I feel they’re finally starting to hit the right notes; female and male leads who break stereotypes and standard roles, a plot with just the right touch of magic, hilarity, and heart-felt moments that both adults and kids can enjoy, and messages that freshen up an old genre, even directly contradicting old fairytale notions. I haven’t read “The Snow Queen” which Frozen is based on so, if you’d like to read an insightful post on that angle, check this post out, but just judging the film, I would recommend it as a large improvement to the classic Disney princess formula.

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When I tell people that I am a feminist and especially when I reveal that I review fiction on my blog from a feminist perspective, it’s sometimes taken for granted that I dislike fiction that isn’t feminist. That’s a hell of a lot better than assuming I spend my days plotting the overthrow of men, but enjoying and reviewing fiction is a bit more complicated than that for me so, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

It goes without saying that I love finding stories that, in addition to being  generally well told, thought-provoking, and striking, promote healthy, modern ideas about gender and gender roles. When I discover those gems, they tend to get a special place in my heart, as well as on my blog. After all, finding fiction like that means I can enjoy every aspect of the story without feeling let down about gender representation. Even more than that, stories that present characters–male or female–fighting against gender norms or dealing with the real effects of gender norms in society can leave me with a sense of empowerment and make me think about gender roles in society and in media. Other times, fiction depicts characters who are non-stereotypical and appear unrestricted by gender norms, which is equally refreshing even without an obvious message on gender roles. Frankly, putting feminism aside, those types of non-stereotypical characters and plots appeal to me more as just a fan of fiction since that makes the overall story more interesting.

But to be honest, those examples aren’t particularly easy to come by. It’s like needling out one perfect book from the mounds of average ones. Excuse me for using a corny phrase, but if I had a penny for every time I crossed paths with fiction that had sexist content, I would be a rich woman. Sexism, racism, and other types of discrimination are, sadly, one of those elements of societies that are deeply engrained in our ways of thinking and are hard to get rid of entirely.

Writing on Gagging on Sexism and getting feedback from others has clarified the way I view sexism in fiction, just as it has helped me see larger issues differently. It is easy to pick out series that I personally feel do not have good stories and that promote highly sexist or archaic ideas about gender, roles, and relationships. It’s harder, however, to discuss series that I enjoy or maybe even really love in many ways, but that disappoint me in other ways relating to gender representation. Whether I am reviewing those series or simply reading/watching them for my own pleasure, as a story lover, I don’t want to dismiss a work of fiction that succeeds in entertaining me. Yet, at the same time, I am bothered by gender issues, which in one story may not be a problem, but that are often part of larger trends that promote unhealthy representations of gender. I can’t just ignore that or the problem will pass by as acceptable.

In those cases, I don’t think the stories should simply be dismissed as “bad.” Instead, I try to make others aware of these issues as they read/watch it. We can still enjoy fiction that may have non-progressive aspects and that feed into larger issues of gender representation. However, it is better to be aware of those issues as we enjoy that fiction, rather than mindlessly ingesting it.

When I write a post on a series, I try not to suggest that you to reject or accept a series based on whether it is feminist or sexist. Occasionally I come across a piece that offends me to the point that I recommend others against it, but usually I see other problems with those rare examples than just sexism. In fact, even series that I praise aren’t necessarily written to be “feminist,” but are series that I, looking at it from my feminist perspective, felt promoted ideas that are modern, non-stereotypical, and/or thought-provoking in addition to being plain good stories. In the end, whether I point out good aspects of fiction or bad, my goal is simply to stop and think, and get others to think, for just a moment to consider what fiction is saying to us.

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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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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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514IwBrfIzL._SL500_AA300_Asuka Masamune is everything society says a good, traditional woman should be: Asuka sews like no one’s business, cooks meals that are both delicious and aesthetically appealing, likes cute things and sweets and would choose pink over blue any day, has pure ideals of love, cleans, etc. In other words, this protagonist is the ideal woman. The thing is, Asuka is a guy. With that one detail, his interests become something to be ashamed of instead of proud.

As a child, his frail mother discovered his inclination toward sparks, cute things, and love stories and she begged him to give up his hobbies, saying that’s not what boys should be interested in. After this, Asuka realized his true self was a self he could never show.  In a society where men are supposed to reject everything feminine to be considered “manly,” if his secret were to be uncovered, it would earn him scorn worse than if he were a man with the plague in the middle ages. Thus, he hid his true self well and struggled to become the ideal man. At seventeen, he’s an accomplished athlete, he’s stoic and tough yet chivalrous, and he applies himself to the warrior spirit. Everywhere he goes he sets the bar for the other guys and the girls love him for his cool image. Yet it’s all a facade and to make things more complicated, he’s fallen in love with the new transfer student, Ryo. What’s a guy to do when everything he really loves is considered taboo for a man and he’s constantly having to keep up a persona?

Otomen explores an issue that only a small portion of fiction dares address: the invisible, inflexible box that men are forced to occupy. It is cramped and ancient yet to step out of that invisible box and do something that is not limited to the limited definition of the ideal man means facing the firing range of society. Staying in the box is no easy task either. After all, the ideal man is more akin to a statue than human with his inability to show emotion and his purpose to be stable and hard. While women struggle to rise above stereotypes of weakness, men are pressured not to do anything to suggest any likeness to women. Unfortunately, as Otomen depicts, men and women alike hold people to these stereotypes and, sadly, many of us never question them.otomen_vol01_080

Through Asuka, we get an idea of what it means to be a man struggling with societal expectations and personal feelings. He worries if his crush, Ryo, will ever be able to love a man who likes things that are not masculine. We also see the day-to-day fight he deals with to be someone completely different from who he really is. He feels he has no one to confide his true self to, not even his family. However, as readers soon discover, Asuka isn’t the only one who doesn’t fit the narrow molds assigned to genders; Ryo can’t seem to pull off things girls are supposed to be good at like cooking or sewing to save her, but is as tough and unshakeable as any “manly” man; and finally, Juta, a fellow male classmate who writes and draws a successful shojo series under a pen name. These are the first of what appears to be a growing cast of characters who don’t fit in a neat, old box of stereotypes and slowly Asuka is able to be honest about who he is.

So far, the series has tackled these issues relatively well. Mixing drama with comedy and romance in an episodic manner, it can exaggerate and go off into the realms of the fantastical, but it’s an enjoyable read that mixes in bigger messages about gender roles in a big way. It’s one of the few manga I’ve read where a male character has had an interest in things that are traditionally associated with women without being made a joke (usually a thinly veiled one about that stereotypes gay men).

It’s not easy to juggle ideas of gender roles and at times I worried about stereotypes creeping in. The words “manly” and “girly”get thrown around a lot, which is an easy way to describe some things, but ultimately sticks to traditional ideas of gender. Asuka also has to play the hero like a traditional male protagonist. This sends the message that Asuka is still a man in the traditional sense.  But even when I began to feel something was becoming a bit stereotypical, the series usually got back on track. For example, at times I felt Ryo was becoming a typical female love interest in that she gets saved by Asuka repeatedly, but then the series throws in scenes where Ryo works together with Asuka.

In closing, what I’m really liking about Otomen right now is that it addresses both female and male stereotypes, even if it’s not always prefect. I’ll be reading to find out if that continues as the series goes on!

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images-63What are the things that are most important to women? Well, if you believe what the media shows, it seems we think of nothing but fashion and guys. My eyes were recently drawn to an episode of a spin-off anime of Naruto, following the comedic adventures of Naruto’s friend and comrade, Rock Lee and others in short, mini skits. This particular episode featured a skit about “a maiden’s battle” and depicted four of the major female characters of the series, Sakura, Hinata, Ino, and Tenten so, I decided to check it out. (For those of you unfamiliar with the set up in Naruto, ninja are commonplace and most of the cast, including the girls I’ve just mentioned, are skilled warriors who aid in protecting their village and perform dangerous missions. Yet, as I’ve written about in other posts, the female characters are often given more traditional roles.) Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that this skit was a cess pool of stereotypes.

In the ten to fifteen minute skit, there is a big sale going on at a department store, the kind where hundreds of people line up in front of the entrance before the doors have even opened, all prepared to charge in and grab the best deals. It is revealed in a scene with Tenten’s two male comrades that she has gone of to a “women’s battle” instead of training as she usually does. What’s this “women’s battle,” you ask? Yes, it’s braving the mob and competing with fellow women for the best bargains at the sale. We soon find out that Tenten’s fellow female comrades, Sakura, Ino, and Hinata have also come and even powerful women like Tsunade, who is the leader of the village. This extreme shopping trip is compared to a battle and the women use ridiculous tactics to try to outwit others in order to get what they want.

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I searched “shopping” and this is the kind of stuff that comes up. Look at how happy these white women are to be shopping!

So, what’s wrong with this? This is a comedy and I’m sure some people will think that I’m taking this too seriously. After all, while this is one of only a few skits I’ve seen from the show, it’s clear that all the skits play on the ridiculous. My problem with this skit is that the comedy lies in pure stereotyping of women. While the men train, the women participate in petty competitive behavior over a sale. Only one male character is suggested to be partaking in the sale while all the major female characters that live in that village are depicted along with the nameless mob of other shoppers who are depicted as women. By placing all these major female characters in this situation, it makes it seem like all women, no matter their different personalities, are drawn to “girly” activities like shopping. Not only that, but the characters and even the skit’s title verify that this is a “woman’s battle.” That phrasing bothers me beyond suggesting that mostly women show up to these things because to me it draws a line in the sand, so to speak; if shopping is specifically a woman’s battle, does that mean that serious things war, an actual battle, are supposed to be a man’s fight and some women just happen to be there as well?

There is nothing wrong with a woman who likes to shop. Even I like to do it sometimes. There is something wrong, however, with depicting only and all women shopping, especially in such a competitive fashion since that perpetrates the female vs. female stereotype as well.  While many cultures, including my own, label shopping as something women do and like to do, I’ll bet you there are men who like to do that as well. While this sale isn’t limited to clothing, in the United States, many stores will have huge sales on a day called “Black Friday,” just after our Thanksgiving Day and tons of men participate in that. And certainly there are some women who absolutely hate to shop.

Finally, as for this skit being a comedy, in this day and age when we’re trying to move away from stereotypes and be more progressive, wouldn’t it be more enjoyable for everyone to make fun of silly stereotypes like the ones I’ve discussed here? Anyway, if you’d like to see the skit for yourself, I’ve put a link to the episode it’s in at the bottom of this post. The skit starts after the second commercial break at the halfway mark. Watch it if you’d like and tell me what you think!

http://www.crunchyroll.com/naruto-spin-off-rock-lee-his-ninja-pals/episode-42-shino-loves-insects-tenten-fights-a-maidens-battle-610747

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When was the last time you saw a boy in his teens or older cry? In the United States, this seems as rare a sight as catching a fleeting glimpse of a shooting star. Real men don’t cry, they say. Crying is a sign of weakness. But how can we deny a natural and healthy human emotion? I’ll be the first to admit, even as a woman, I hate crying in front of others, perhaps because I have picked up on social ideas that crying is shameful.

That’s why I’m surprised and happy when I see depictions of young men and older men alike shedding some tears now and then in fiction. As I was thinking about this issue, I realized that most of the depictions of this that I have come across occur in manga. There are depictions in other media occasionally, but I frequently see it as I’m reading manga. One might be tempted to think that depictions of men crying would occur more in shojo (girls’) manga since that genre relies heavily on emotional plots. However, somewhat surprisingly, I see these depictions most often in manga series aimed at boys in which, like many fiction that’s target audience is male, focuses on battles and adventurous tales of heroes. These series boast kick butt heroes as tough as the rest yet the creators aren’t afraid to show their strong male protagonists crying. Let me give you some examples:405-naruto-cries

The popular ongoing series Naruto often shows the teenage protagonist and his comrades at emotional highs and lows with tears in their eyes. I’ve talked about this series many times on Gagging on Sexism, but in case you’ve never heard of it, Naruto is the story of a boy who struggles to be recognized by others and vows to one day become the leader of his village (a.k.a. the strongest ninja), proving to them his worth. It’s no melodrama, but since the series is filled with conflict, occasionally characters die and creator Kishimoto shows the natural pain and sadness felt by female and male characters alike. In addition, it’s not just the teenage boys that are allowed to cry but also the adult men and tears are not limited to painful moments; there are times in the story when the men cry with relief or happiness. While I have complained about the under usage of the female characters in the series, I’ve always appreciated this aspect of Naruto. rave_v09_c071_p132

Similarly, the manga Rave Master shows the male characters crying often. Rave Master is an adventure story led by Haru Glory, a young man who inherits the weapon and title of “Rave Master,” the title of a man who saved the world years ago. Now, Haru must follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and save it once again. In the 10th volume of the series, we see the hero’s dad cry over the pain he unintentionally caused for someone who was once a good friend and tears over the loss of loved ones. There are tears over long separations and the realization of a father’s deep love for his son.rao_no_exorcist_01_61

Finally, in Blue Exorcist (or Ao no Exorcist), Rin Okumura is a teenage boy who has just found out that he is the son of Satan. After his adoptive father is killed trying to save Rin from being taken away to Satan, Rin decides to get revenge on the devil himself. Rin looks tough and may act in a way that gives that strengthens that impression, but one of the things that I really like about this series is that Rin is actually a bit of a softie. He fights more to protect others than anything else. At the beginning of the series, Rin’s action’s accidentally result in the death of his adoptive father, a man who he wrongly believed didn’t care for him. When he realizes his mistake at the same time he loses his adoptive father, he is overcome with grief and cries.

All of these characters are strong, hero-type characters in a genre of manga named for its target male readers. In a way, it seems silly to write down the examples I have; of course someone would cry over the loss of a loved one or over unforgivable mistakes. Yet that’s not the message many people get. If a man–young or old–cries, it’s shocking because they are taught to hold those basic feelings back and even fictional depictions of men crying seem few and far in between.  These series that I’ve discussed aren’t doing anything but express a human emotion that many men are taught to keep locked away. However, when societies like the United States insist on keeping alive the fantasy of the ultra stoic tough guy whose emotions seem limited to anger and pure adrenaline, this simple act of drawing male heroes with all their emotions in tact sends a different message to readers. Yes, guys feel sadness and cry sometimes and that doesn’t make them anything less of what they are. It makes them human.

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