The sexism within anime is obvious to both old fans and new, and some fans want to create a space in anime by women, for women.
“Women don’t see themselves reflected in these shows. They see facsimiles of what a female stereotype is,” says Caitlin Elyssa Thigpen, a 22-year-old Columbia College student majoring in writing for print and digital media. Columbia College is all-women’s private college in Columbia, SC.
Thigpen has been immersed in anime for 12 years. She started watching “Naruto” when she was 10 years old and has been a devoted fan ever since. “Naruto” is an anime based on the manga by Masashi Kishimoto that ran from 2002 to 2007 and continues in the on-going sequel, “Naruto: Shippuden.”
“It’s kind of strange to see how women are portrayed in the anime industry,” says Lorrane “Raney” Lee Simmon, 22, also majoring in writing for print and digital media and minoring in literary studies at Columbia College.
What’s strange to Simmon is how sexualized women are in anime, which she finds does not align with real life.
Simmon has watched anime for less than a year. She started with “Ouran High School Host Club” in her junior year of college and has been watching anime as often as she can. “Ouran High School Host Club” is a 2006 anime based on the manga by Bisco Hatori.
Thigpen and Simmon share an interest in feminism as well as anime.
Opinions on anime in general
Simmon and Thigpen are both generally positive about anime as a whole. The two particularly appreciate anime as an expression of creativity.
“I think it’s pretty amazing,” is Simmon’s simple reaction to anime. She cites her enjoyment of the storylines, characters and cuteness within anime.
Simmon is hitting on one of anime’s most distinct and attractive features: A lot of anime is “kawaii.” “Kawaii” can be understood to mean cute, but it is also a cultural movement; the Japanese cultivate cuteness.
Kawaii culture appeals to Americans, too“Founded during the postwar era, today the kawaii style not only dominates Japanese popular culture but also has been exported as a cultural product all over the world through the burgeoning of global consumerism in recent years,” says Tao Deng in her 2009 master’s thesis, “Selling ‘Kawaii’ in Advertising: Testing Cross-Cultural Perceptions of Kawaii Appeals.” Deng wrote her thesis at Marquette University, a private Roman Catholic university in Milwaukee, Wisc.
“I think that it’s very diverse. It has something it can offer everyone,” adds Thigpen, who also found that anime has helped her creatively, with her art and her writing. Anime has introduced her to a new way of storytelling, as a Japanese narrative is very different from an American one, with a much slower pace to its storytelling and slower reveals.
However, as a veteran fan, Thigpen does have some grievances with anime: “I do acknowledge the industry as a whole kind of has a fetishizing aspect to it, especially when it comes to women.”
Opinions on anime and women
“I just don’t like it,” is Simmon’s reaction to anime’s treatment of women.
“I don’t like the fact that women have to wear skimpy clothes. I don’t care if it’s- I don’t care if that’s how it ‘supposed’ to be.” Simmon put particular emphasis on the normalization of the objectified woman in anime.
“It could stand a lot of improvement,” echoes Thigpen.
“There’s not really a section or genre that I’ve managed to find in anime that doesn’t sexualize them in some form,” said Thigpen, even mentioning that the female-driven magical girl genre includes fan service. Fan service is the practice of hyper-sexualizing characters and camera angles in order to entice a male audience.
“Mahou shoujo” or magical girl anime does consist of girls who are magical, usually in a group. Girls are the main characters in this type of anime, but the shows still consist of exploitative themes, such as in “Madoka Magica,” and objectification, as seen in “Cutie Honey.”
Thoughts of the past and future
“I think I’d be more aware of the issues with anime than I am currently,” said Simmon as she imagined what watching anime at a young age would give her.
Simmon does not feel as qualified as older fans to speak on the problematic nature of anime’s treatment of women. But she does think knowing about these issues earlier would have benefited her.
Thigpen does add that even as a girl she was aware of a certain alienation from anime’s portrayal of women.
Meanwhile, Thigpen ponders her life without anime: “I really think that I wouldn’t have developed my art as much I have. I wouldn’t have been as motivated to work on my art techniques.”
Thigpen’s comment is particularly striking as the three of us discussed the lack of female animators and directors in the anime industry. Anime giants Hayao Miyazaki and Shinichiro Watanabe are nearly household names. But, between the three of us, we could only name one woman, Rumiko Takahashi, who is a successful female artist in the manga industry, not anime.
In 2013, 12 female anime directors were associated with about 150 titles released that year, and that was an all-time high, according to Otaku Lounge’s post “10 Female Anime Directors” from March 18, 2014. Otaku Lounge is a personal blog for Artemis. She wrote her doctorate where on sexuality in anime, where she writes generally on issues within anime.
Despite this, anime has managed to inspire people such as Simmon and Thigpen to perhaps fill that deficiency.