I´ll admit straight off the bat I got this topic off of some cheap forum which takes cartoons a little too seriously; and since I do, too, I thought I´ll talk about it, because I´m procrastinating, because I´m genuinely curious to see how I´ll reach my next BS conclusion, because even though I´ve talked about female roles in anime and manga alike already, my opinions and views grow and change pretty much on the daily – In the end though, it´s very much a matter of perspective.
By perspective I mean that if all you watch is tournament shonen shows revolved around a group of guys in which the female characters are essentially just there to fill the role of the feisty housewife, you´re not going to find anything that´ll strike as empowering, and by “strike” I mean that there can be shows, books or movies about a group of houswives and be much more empowering than a superhero movie about women wearing lots of latex and gunning down the bad guys, just like a movie about a prostitute which is sweet as sugar and fluffy as cotton candy like Pretty Woman can be more empowering than your average YA book about some hipster girl living her hipster life until a hipster boy gives her some hipster sense to be, a raison d´etre and even that, from one perspective, doesn´t have to be sexist or putting girls in a box like so many people say.
I think the line of what is feminist and what is not in fiction is blurry, smudged and in the end, I don´t think fiction has to be much of anything; fiction just has to be – though I´ve head several arguments with people complaining certain music videos or movies are “romanticizing” self-harm and suicide; the core of this art is that it can be whatever it is without having to necessarily stop and think about whether it´s “problematic” or not, shit, fiction would be real boring if this new wave of people pointing out every little ethical flaw in fiction happened years ago; where would our Lolita´s and Requiem for a Dreams be?
In the end, I think this whole “anime should be more feminist!” statement is one big nod to the fanservice infested, ecchi harem shows that are more stale that the cookie crumbs under your couch from a year ago – those shows have a lot of problems, and I don´t think it´s even worth mentioning them in this debate.
On its contrast, there are shows like Nana, Princess Jellyfish and Paradise Kiss that are clearly, in its definition, feminist. Not because they have women who punch things or who don´t need a man, but because they´re characters with actual personality and thoughts, actual people rather than husks of tits and archetypes – the main characters just happen to be female, but the males of the show are given just as much care and respect as their counterparts, resulting in three beautiful stories rather than a quick burger from the McDonalds dollar menu known as the aforementioned ecchi harem pandering shows we´re so used to seeing in our seasonal animu chart.
So the question, I think, is not “should anime be more feminist?” but should instead be “should anime have more diversity?”
Should anime have more types of characters for women? should anime have more unique storylines? should anime deal with more stuff? Well, yes, of course, if I had my way we´d have shows about all kinds of social issues – drugs and alcohol and suicide and anxiety and coming-of-age without having twenty -nine women fall breast-first into your face, stories about supermodels and eating disorders, happy fluffy stories about love, stories about sports that doesn´t need pretty boys to make its profit.
But that´s just how it is – if you´re looking for anime that you´d classify as “feminist” you´ll find em, every once in a while a Nana or an Ouran Highschool will pop up and give you it, if your definition of feminism is just a woman punching things, you´re lucky – but in the end, that´s not really feminist, that´s just people punching stuff.
If what you´re asking for are stories where women are portrayed as more than archetypes, manga is a goldmine for that; the josei genre is full of it, most shoujos are cute, and some even break the mold.
I think the one important thing to understand here is that in the same sense that certain people say anime lacks feminism, they also need to realize that males are usually portrayed with as much little care and love as women are.
Think about it, Guilty Crown has as many characters that are there for nothing but fanservice as they have male characters that are all exactly the same wimpy kids from every anime you´ve ever seen before – so again, it´s not that anime isn´t feminist enough, it´s just not enough in diversity.
“Women are clearly less important than men in anime!” some will say, and my answer to that is just one big questiomark. Perhaps women get more negative attention because their cliché roles are just more in- your-face compared to guys cliché roles in anime? is that it?
Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, pretty much all Satoshi Kon and Ghilbi movies, aren´t they all their protagonists girls or women? aren´t they all certified classics?
If you want to complain you´ll find reasons to, but on the big scale of things I personally, a woman, really don´t think females are shoved in a box any less or more than males are if we´re looking at the seasonal charts; both sexes have clichés that just aren´t accurate, both sexes could complain for different reasons – women for being represented by nothing but tits and ass and men for being represented as sexually ambiguous pretty boys, dorks, or constantly having to be macho to prove their masculinity.
On its flipside, if you want to find series whose characters are more human than characters, manga is the place you want to be.
Just remember, feminism isn´t “girls punching things” or “girls don´t need no man”, feminism is the choice of being a prostitute, an executive who saves puppies, a housewife, a single woman, promiscuous or not, showing off your assets or keeping it conservative. Intersectional feminism doesn´t look at your sexuality, nationality or religion, intersectional feminism is you being all those things because you want to be those things and be respected as much as a person who chose to do the exact opposite as you – feminism, in fiction, is simply diversity in characters; and this, my friends, is something anime lacks in general.