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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Bouncing Boobs and Tentacle Rapes: Is it ever okay? 
2nd-Mar-2009 01:19 pm
Manga and anime are filled to the brim with images of the objectification and exploitation of women. Should we be outraged? And if so, how much?

The Real Deal Answer: It depends.

Consider the following examples, starting from the least egregious to the most:

Berserk: Rape, rape and mutilation, rape and murder, oh yeah and more rape. Some people don't like looking at graphic rape scenes, no matter what the context, and that's fine. But context in this case is paramount. Yes, it's explicit and titillating. Yes, it's eroguro. But. Rape in Berserk is what all the bad guys do, and regardless of who is involved (even sympathetic characters), it never comes without terrible consequence. After Casca is raped by Femto, for example, she becomes a simpleton who cannot talk. Although watching her totter around does get tiresome, remember that her trauma is of monstrous proportions because Femto is supposed to be the monster to end all monsters. The trauma for Guts is palatable as well; he loved her for her strength and continues to act on her behalf in spite of her weakness, not because of it. You know he'd rather have the old, warrior woman Casca back. In later volumes, Guts, possessed by creeping evil, rapes Casca himself...and there is consequence for this as well. Now, even though her mind is nearly gone, she has enough self-possession left to loathe him for it, and the dirty looks she shoots at him appear on the manga's pages like clockwork. Key here is not how much rape there is or is not in Berserk; key is how it is understood. And there is no question that it is understood in this manga as a terrible evil, something that can ruin the lives of both the victim and those closest to the victim.

Rosario+Vampire: Say hello to a harem anime series that never lets an opportunity for a panty shot joke to go by unexploited. Yes, it's annoying, but the series as a whole is so cartoonish and stupid that it's hard to take anything about it too seriously, even the groin-angle shots. (Dude, the heroine's got bubblegum-pink hair!)

Tide Line Blue: This anime series means to make big, grandiose statements about humanity, warfare, and environmental destruction. In short, High Seriousness. But in the first episode, we are introduced to a girl who looks like she's about twelve years old--and is very pregnant. She gives birth at the beginning of the show. No explanation is ever given of how she got pregnant and who the father is, which in itself might not have been so bad if it didn't look like a child with a child. For the rest of the series, she's the perfect, subservient little woman who finds self-actualization in cooking and cleaning for all the men...with a newborn infant strapped to her back that never cries. None of it is remotely realistic--yet the show would like you to believe that it is. In other words, the degree to which this sort of depiction of a female character is offensive is directly proportional to the degree to which the series expects the audience to take it seriously.

Manga by Tezuka (take your pick of the ones published in English): Women in Tezuka manga are typically one-dimensional maidens, mothers, or monsters. Oh yeah, and he also has major mother complexes going in a lot of the stories. Yes, you could argue that Tezuka is just a product of his time. (Never mind that at the height of his creative production you also saw the emergence of the Second Wave Feminist 49ers--Hagio Moto and Takemiya Keiko, ya know, don't "count.") The problem lies not with the text itself per se but the context of its reception today. All of the (male) opinion makers will tell you that Tezuka is the God of Manga, and his work should be placed up on a pedestal where it is rendered immune from criticism. But I can't tell you how many times women have come up to me and complained about the misogyny that they see in his works. No one had ever told them about it; they were not warned; they're disgusted. All they ever heard about was how great he is now in the 21st century--and then they are told they are not allowed to condemn what they see now in the 21st century that offends them. This is a big problem. If in 21st century eyes the most commercial and slapdash of Tezuka's manga are to be received now as "great" works of sequential art/literature, why can't they also be seen as misogynist in 21st century eyes? Why is only the former a valid opinion? Why should history protect Tezuka from criticism if it's what is used to justify that selfsame protection? This is the place where we, as women, should be most outraged--the marginalization is not of the female character on the page, but first and foremost of the female reader who dares take offense.
2nd-Mar-2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
I agree with you 100%.

Exploitation media = cathartic and not intended to be taken seriously. It doesn't usually warrant heavy criticism unless it's especially repulsive or it's being presented as something it's not (Love Hina = a sweet love story for girls!).

High-minded and/or "realistic media" = absolutely asking the audience to take it seriously and thus has NO EXCUSE when things turn sexist. Exceptions can be made for media that's trying to be sexist on purpose to prove a point (for example: a biased account of a horny teenage boy who only sees women as sex objects, but it's clear that that's only HIS perception), but those have to be analyzed on a case-to-case basis.

Period pieces = while included sexism, racism, etc. that were "products of the time" can be accepted as reflective of a different social attitude, I think it's in very, very bad taste to not put some kind of disclaimer when reviewing it in our era. Huck Finn is still read in schools after the teacher does the "we don't endorse the racist terminology in this book" speech. There's a reason Tin Tin in the Congo is very difficult to get and is looked upon with morbid fascination and disgust by current reviewers. But, alas...I know this is a generalization (and an unfair one to a lot of people), but sexism is usually considered a more "acceptable" evil than racism - or at least sexism goes under the radar more.

My personal pet peeve is subtle, insidious sexism in high-minded, mainstream, or "realistic" media, because that's when sexism pervades the subconscious of the audience member who's there to feel/learn/relate. I don't care if someone's exploitation porn has the camera only on the boobs and crotches of women. Who would watch that for anything other than to carnally see the boobs and crotches you wouldn't dare ask for in polite company? But when some movie has the only female character abandoning all her personal morals and opinions just to nail the everyman lead after he has his epiphany, and we're supposed to believe in that, THEN I get really mad.
3rd-Mar-2009 12:24 am (UTC)
To be honest, I'm always most troubled, not by the text itself, since a text in a vacuum can be interpreted in any number of different ways by different people, but by how "value" is assigned in our culture. For example, why is As I Lay Dying a "better" southern novel than Gone with the Wind, even though the latter outsold the former by many orders of degree in the period when both were first published? Because the latter was written and read by women.

I do not like it when a woman's outrage and disgust is marginalized by some higher order of (male) opinion maker telling her her anger does not "count" or should not be voiced because he has already decided that the work is a classic beyond reproach. Value is assigned and reassigned according to whether or not the text is meaningful to large numbers of people across time. Calling a book a classic implies that it is for everyone--male and female--across the ages. So, the common thing that you hear, that the book was not "for her," is a canard now.

And, for that matter, it was a canard in the past: Any mass medium is by definition a form of "broadcast"--you don't--and can't--know exactly who is tuning in when. This is why attracting and pleasing the largest possible audience is virtually always the best strategy in a commercial media market because how they appropriate and understand it is not fully under your control.

Edited at 2009-03-03 02:26 am (UTC)
2nd-Mar-2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
P.S.--I always found tentacle rape to be a little darkly funny, and less offensive than other types of rape if only because of the clear fantasy setting. Besides, boys get tentacle raped in yaoi all the time now...and often in a tongue-in-cheek manner, which is possibly a humorous throwback to the history of tentacles in silly Japanese porn. (Examples: Crimson Spell, Mister Mistress, Kichiku Megane.)
2nd-Mar-2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
But I can't tell you how many times women have come up to me and complained about the misogyny that they see in his works. No one had ever told them about it; they were not warned; they're disgusted.

I cringe whenever I see yet another blog post about the 'glory' of Gekiga and how everyone should go out and buy this stuff, it's a piece o' history.

No thanks.
2nd-Mar-2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
But I thought you were a gekiga fan?
2nd-Mar-2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
Nope. I tried to be, but I have my limits.
2nd-Mar-2009 09:38 pm (UTC)
Whoa. That's news to me...! ^_~

(As for me, some of it I like; a lot of it I don't like. Same as with every other genre.)
2nd-Mar-2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
This actually doesn't have much to do with this specific post, but the mention of Keiko Takemiya reminded me.

I was discussing Kaze to Ki no Uta - one of my favorite series - with a friend the other day, and we were pondering why it hadn't been brought over to the US yet. Personally, I'm leaning towards the underage sexuality and incest, but she said that a lot of thngs with similar content had been brought over and wondered if it was just too old school to appeal to the modern BL fan.

What are your thoughts?
2nd-Mar-2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
There are smaller manga publishers that would love to bring it over, but it was originally published by Shougakukan, and Viz, even though AFAIK they have no immediate plans to publish it, isn't giving up the license. (It's really that simple. ^^;; )
2nd-Mar-2009 10:00 pm (UTC)
I didn't know how women are depicted in Manga by Tezuka (take your pick of the ones published in English), I only read part of Bhuda but I lost interest so didn't read the whole series. The only Tezuka's manga that I read was The Princess Knight which doesn't seem too bad.
2nd-Mar-2009 11:05 pm (UTC)
Berserk's treatment of Caska is one of the two reasons I don't follow the series too closely; the other is the fact that it hasn't ended yet and may never end. And don't forget Farnese, who is a dignified and chaste knight BUT SECRETLY A TOTAL NYMPHO. Good one, Miura.

I'm convinced that Tezuka's attitude toward women keeps his books from being as popular in the U.S. as his fans want them to be. That, and his habit of portraying grim and serious content with huge-eyed Silly Symphonies characters whose faces flip upside down.

What did you think of the women in Takemiya's To Terra? From what I remember, there were only two major female characters, and one of them was driven insane with grief.
2nd-Mar-2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
And don't forget Farnese, who is a dignified and chaste knight BUT SECRETLY A TOTAL NYMPHO.

You understate. :P Actually, she's not really a nympho; she "just" a religious fanatic who gets off on watching people burn at the stake. (Equal opportunity sexploitation! *rolls eyes* ) But that's not necessarily more messed up than other beautiful people in that series...you know, like Griffith. Nor is that "all" they are, which keeps things interesting.

What did you think of the women in Takemiya's To Terra?

It isn't one of my favorites, generally speaking. Neither of her titles published by Vertical are. The 49ers are an interesting case because they specialized in using *male* characters, not female ones, (and SF settings) to address gender issues. Think Ursula K. LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness. Because writing too directly about gender was too toxic and much harder to swing past the publishers. (The very first shounen ai manga was originally supposed to be about two girls, but Hagio Moto changed the gender of the principals at the last-minute before she began writing because she felt it would be too raw and personal a story to her female readers otherwise.) Getting back to the Vertical titles: both were written for the shounen market, which opens up a whole other can of worms regarding editorial interference on top of that. Back when I first heard that Vertical was releasing To Terra, my reaction was cynical.

My favorite of the 49er titles is Marginal. Both of the Hagio Moto titles available in English, A, A^1 and They Were 11, are also quite good. Actually, I don't like Takemiya quite as much as Hagio.
(Deleted comment)
3rd-Mar-2009 05:22 pm (UTC)
Mm I would have to disagree with you on a small point. To Terra was published in a shounen magazine, it wasn't because Takemiya was looking to reach a shounen audience with her work. Rather, because at the time, shoujo and boy's love (though at the time it was called something else but I can't remember for the life of me what it was called) magazines were very limited in what subject matter could be brought up in the works they published. So rather then limit her stories to those restrictions, she created a "shounen" series that was very much a shoujo story as well. And thus, we have an early hybrid shounen/shoujo manga. While I'm not denying that there would be editoral interference when publishing a series under the shounen format, it was done deliberately so Takemiya could talk about the topics and issues she wanted to discuss for a shoujo audience within the system that was in place at the time.

I find it interesting though that your main examples of the objectification and exploitation of women are from shounen manga but I've seen some of those same messages in shoujo manga, though more subtle, such as rape and be "happy house wife". Female characters in shoujo manga as still being raped or receive threats to be raped. While it might not be graphically depicted and just mentioned in the text, rape still is present in shoujo manga.

And one of the "goals" for females in Japan (promoted by Japanese society/culture/government), is that of the happy house wife, who stays at home, obey the husband, raise the children, and take care of the house. While women can get jobs, there is the understanding that they will eventually leave the paid workforce once they enter motherhood. While this thought isn't particularly unique to Japan, they do have their own unique spin on it. The romanticized ideal is that a woman will grow up, find her true love in high school, graduate high school, marry and become a stay-at-home mother/wife. The end. Sometimes this goal may include some form of work/travel in between high school and marriage, but often it ends the same. Her life's focus becomes that of her children and husband and never enters the paid workforce again. If she does, it may be part time, because if she enters it full time, she won't be able to spend as much time focusing on her children, troubles will arise in the home because she is focused on her career instead, thus making her a bad mother. Don't get me wrong, if someone wants to be a stay at home mother/wife, I'm all up for that, but that seems to be the only goal for women depicted in shoujo manga. Life seemingly ends at marriage and motherhood for these women at late at 25.
4th-Mar-2009 12:36 am (UTC)
Fascinating. I police a lot of sexism in manga myself over at PopCultureShock, and I have to agree with a lot of what you say. I take some issue with Tezuka being the top tier of sexism in manga though. This guy is the author of "Princess Knight", which features a gender-bending young girl who goes around doing heroic deeds and kicking butt. It suffers from the conceit that she has a "boy's heart" (ugh), but it also features an empowered young girl as a role model for young children. "Princess Knight" directly influenced some of my favorite shoujo manga greats Hagio Moto and Keiko Takemiya.

On the other hand, putting Tezuka on the pedestal of infallibility is ludicrous and unacceptable. "Phoenix", one of my favorite manga of all time, has some incredibly sexist moments. And yes, the idea that feminism was non-existent is bunk: Hagio Moto and Keiko Takemiya proved that. The perpetuation of Tezuka as an unassailable and infallible figure is like saying that the founding fathers of the USA had perfect and unassailable ideas. Like Tezuka they had access to more progressive ideas like universal emancipation, but because they were flawed human beings didn't embrace them. Tezuka's works should be honored for the beautiful works of storytelling and comics history they are but shouldn't be held as timeless morally correct documents. That anyone still looks at them that way is proof that sexism is alive and well among comics fans. "Phoenix" and "Buddha" will continue to be some of my favorite comics ever, but by no means are they perfect and morally unassailable.
4th-Mar-2009 05:08 am (UTC)
A very interesting read; I agree on all accounts with Tezuka's work. Some of it is quite sexist, and anyone putting any literary work beyond criticism is foolish.

At the expense of being kicked about like an old soccer ball, I do want to make a slight defense of Rosario + Vampire, because I think it's at least a little more complex than you present it. It's true, panty shots abound. And the fan service isn't excusable, and there's quite a bit of it.

To some extent though, a portion of the story involves the interactions of strong women. Unlike a lot of the harem manga we see, instead of the girls all being subservient to the male lead, we often see that the girls are the dominant characters. We get to see one of the main female characters act out against a stalker/pervert in the second volume, and I think that the Witch’s Knoll storyline focuses a lot less on the fan service and more on these women and the choices that they make.

It's not really an excuse, but I wanted to bring it up. (Kick away)
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