Anime and Feminism Editorial
An early AAW editorial attempting to reconcile the contradiction of feminist undercurrents and misogynistic stereotypes common in anime.
At first glance, anime looks particularly un-feminist. The female characters are ridiculously proportioned, often portrayed as either vacuous air-heads or shrewish cynics, and compete shamelessly for the attentions of the men they are hopelessly infatuated with. And yet, in spite of all of that, anime and manga attracts a much greater female audience then most American comics and adult animation. While anime does promote many negative stereotypes, to concentrate entirely on these, tells only half of the story, and ignores the reasons many women are drawn to anime.
One aspect of anime rarely seen in American comics is an exaggerated sense of self-parody. In many anime comedy series, the traits of certain characters are amplified for comedic effect. This is as true for male characters as female. For every ditz you're likely to find some cowardly guy. Anime does employ the same unrealistic female dimensions and skimpy costumes that you can find in American comics. However, most anime are self-deprecating on these counts, and can't resist poking at least a little fun at the stereotypes that exist within themselves. And for every stereotype that persists in anime, two or more are getting twisted and bent.
The prevalent female nudity in most of anime is also an issue. Many women would no doubt argue that the vast disproportion of female to male nudity is deplorable. But if you take the time to do some exploring on the Internet, you'll find as many websites created by women dedicated to their favorite male anime character as vice versa. What are the reasons for this? Generally, men find nudity much more arousing than women. But this is not to say that women cannot find male anime characters attractive. They do, but for different reasons. Women tend to find different aspects of a male character, such as personality, appearance, and behaviors, arousing. Mere nudity in itself would not be sufficient for many female fans. When viewed in this light, the large amount of female nudity present in anime can be better understood.
In anime, the hero is most likely not the studly hero type, but rather the shy, awkward, passive, but nice and decent guy. And you just have to take a look at series like Ranma 1/2 or El Hazard to see the bending and playing with of gender roles that occurs in anime. Transvestitism, bisexuality, and even homosexuality are common themes in anime. And while these subjects are not entirely condoned, they are not condemned and are treated with a playful sense of humor.
Many positive role-models for women also exist in anime. There are very few "damsels in distress," and helplessness is often viewed as a negative trait. Most women waiting for their heroes to rescue them end up having to rescue themselves. There are just as many series that feature women in leading roles as series that feature men. And women are rarely presented either as sex objects or as impassive, perfect goddesses, but instead as strong, capable, yet flawed and entirely human women. Ayane's High Kick is essentially the anime version of Rocky, but instead of Sylvester Stallone, we have Ayane, a teen-age girl who trains every day to make it in the world of professional kickboxing. Another reason many women are interested in anime is the humor, wit, silliness, and emotional content found in much of anime and manga. These are qualities unfortunately rarely found in American comics. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions. Many low-quality anime series are cheap, sleazy, and demeaning to women. One genre particularly notorious for this is Hentai, or "Perverted" anime. Hentai anime is cartoon pornography, and like most pornography, it can be quite revolting and offensive. However, it would be a disservice to condemn all anime because of these distasteful examples. It is important to remember that despite many of the flaws of anime, the number of female fans should stand as proof that a large part of anime possesses quality and features strong, mature female characters.