Sexism in the Anime Fandom: A Case Study of a Tumblr User
In my last post, I discussed my stance on sexism in male otaku fandom. I described my ambivalence about my own fan activities and how I have always felt complicit in sexist attitudes despite my desire for gender equality. It is certainly easy to point out that anime fanservice objectifies women (among other things) and in doing so turn your critical eye away from yourself.
This time, I want to focus on the female anime fan’s perspective. In doing so, I hope to show that sexism in the anime fandom lies far beyond what is shown in anime itself. The sharp division between anime communities “for boys” (i.e. Reddit and 4chan) and anime communities “for girls” (i.e. tumblr and fanfiction sites) does not help. There is a distinct lack of open communication between both genders online. This enforces gender stereotyping on both ends.
This post is a collaboration with my friend AquaJet. She is an insider of both female otaku culture and tumblr culture. I decided to feature her writing on my blog because I feel this is a perspective that needs to be shared to a wider audience.
PART ONE: TUMBLR
Froggy: First off, could you tell us why you use tumblr? What drew you to the website?
Aqua: tumblr attracts a specific kind of person. It’s safe to say that people who stay on the site are people who have been discriminated against, victims of abuse/bullying/mental disorders, or come from bad families/communities. When I first started, I didn’t engage on a day-to-day basis like I do now. I thought my friends who introduced me to tumblr were crazy for liking a site that didn’t offer much other than porn and pretty pictures. Then there was one point where I just started reblogging a lot of stuff because I was indulging in all my fandoms and agreeing to various opinions of other individual bloggers that hit home with me (this is really where I started to enjoy anime and social justice and they’re both part of the reason why my blog predominately has both of them in it).
I was having fun and it was the only place that made me feel like I belonged there. Because you see, I don’t have any other friends who I can talk to about anime with. I literally only have one friend that likes anime and she doesn’t have the same tastes as I do (The only genre we both really like is sports anime and even though I do like shojo, she likes it much more than I do). Then there’s also the fact that I do deal with gender discrimination on almost a constant day to day basis and it may not be as severe as what other women/men deal with but it’s enough to lead me into becoming very unstable with my emotions/thoughts/behaviors. After a day of feeling very unimportant and actually feeling sick to my stomach (even though there may not be anything physically wrong with me), tumblr made me feel like I am important and that it’s okay to have felt the way that I do.
Now the “honeymoon” phase is over. I’ve been on the site for over 2 years (soon to be 3, actually. holy shit!) and sometimes, you’re just tired of the hyper-criticism and over-sensitivity tumblr comes up with but looking over at it now, I’ve come to an understanding that we’re all just different people with messed up backgrounds. Some of the things tumblr preaches is morally wrong, but there’s also a group of people who will call them out on it. The users are never as bad or as good and anyone makes them out to be and it makes sense. Let’s say for example that tumblr is from a group of kids that grew up in bad neighborhoods where fights break out and people get hurt everyday. They all come together to talk and enjoy certain things together. Some people will connect, but others won’t and conflict will arise. However, these won’t be people who don’t know how to fight. These people will do everything in their power to knock you out because they know exactly how to destroy and tear people apart. They grew up with that sort of behavior, after all.
And now by this point, I guess you wonder why I would stay in such a hostile community but it’s not that simple. One of the things that’s very important to me is for me to “safely” express my opinion without interruption. This is because sometimes the opinions I’ve expressed at home have either 1) caused my family members to inflict emotion/physical pain on me or 2) they often shut me off completely mid-sentence and not listen to the rest then proceed to go off topic or attack my character. And yeah, tumblr users can criticize you for almost anything you say anyway, but they actually read everything you said and come up with counter arguments for each one (which is much better than having a person shut you off without listening to what you have to say). Plus, they also have positive messages circulating around that make you feel like maybe the world isn’t worth burning to the ground.
But you know, I sound much more positive about tumblr than some of the other tumblr users (Some of them sound like they really hate the site so much that they would want to murder everyone on it) but it’s really all about how you want to experience it. With the exception of social justice/feminism blogs, my dash is just filled with a mixture of cute, funny, or silly things. So it’s not like there’s social justice warriors constantly attacking issues or breathing down anyone’s neck all the time.
Froggy: Do you ever find yourself thinking critically about the arguments other tumblr users present? My understanding is that many tumblr posts appeal strongly to emotions with images and inclusive language and so on. How would you compare this to the effect that academic writing and other more formal types of writing have over you?
Aqua: I always do. Usually by the time certain posts get to me, people have already given two sides to the argument (and I spent a little while scrolling through my blog and then I realized I don’t reblog those kind of posts because when I see them on my dash, I’m like “nah, this argument is not something I want on my blog because I feel conflicted or understand both sides”) the type of continuous string of comments I reblog are either silly or informative.
I think for me, whenever I see any argument, I’m always like “well you’re not wrong for pointing something problematic and trying to defend a certain group of oppressed people, but you’re not right either when you become an oppressor yourself and become the evil you wanted to fight against.”
Formal writing certainly has a different effect than how tumblr presents itself. But after thinking about it, it’s only because formal writing stresses the writer to keep it objective and keep your emotions in check while tumblr posts can be very personal and emotional. However, if done right, tumblr is more effective than academic writing (even if it was “passionately” written). Yes, their judgement may be slightly clouded by their strong emotions, but they’ve always made good points and they know what they are talking about (and I’ve actually used some of the information/facts from tumblr in some of my presentations and essays after going to the direct source because tumblr does link back to the original sources). My teachers have commented that my sources were very interesting.
PART TWO: FEMALE OTAKU
Froggy: Have you experienced any sexism/stereotyping as a girl who likes anime?
Aqua: I personally haven’t experienced sexism towards me because tumblr users are, usually by default, assumed to be female and most of my anime buddies are female. It quite possibly has to do with male and female otaku not engaging in their interests with each other because of negative stereotypes/assumptions about each other.
Froggy: Do you personally know any female fans who like ecchi/moe/harem/yuri and all the other styles or genres typically associated with the tastes of male anime fans? How do you personally engage with these genres? Are you turned off by sexual fanservice?
Aqua: I don’t personally know any female anime fans who are into ecchi/moe/harem/yuri. I think it mainly has to do with how men and women deal with with these animes differently. At lot of them have seen those types of shows, and there’s a tumblr community of female fans trying to push for more yuri because fujoshi culture can be very sexist towards female characters. It teaches us that BL (Boys Love) is better than GL (Girls Love) because only straight boys want yuri and in yaoi, all women are perceived as threats needing to be removed to make way for their true OTP (One True Pairing). You can’t even make a solid platonic relationship between the girl x boy. She needs to be killed, moved away, or somehow a selfish bitch, undeserving of the male’s affection. And while fujoshi can easily ship two male characters who have a good, solid friendship going on as an automatic gay couple, they will defend two female characters who have a good, solid friendship going on as strictly friends and not yuri or just not care all together.
As for me, I typically don’t like those genres. I think fanservice aimed at males is more toxic than fanservice aimed at females.
Froggy: Do you consider yourself a yaoi fan?
Aqua: I am not a hardcore/casual fujoshi. I started off as a shojo fan because I liked romance and the protagonist was more often than not, female. Now I’m more of a person who doesn’t typically follow a certain type of genre. If I feel like it’s interesting, I’ll watch it.
But when I was in high school, there was this one small, cute asian girl who first talked to my friend because she was reading a manga but then my friend directed the girl to me because I knew about Hetalia. As I talked to this girl, it became quickly obvious that she was a yaoi fangirl because she started talking about which Hetalia characters she shipped hard. And I was internally struggling with myself because I didn’t want to lie, but I also didn’t want to crush her hopes and dreams. She seemed to be enjoying herself a lot so on that day, I was another yaoi shipper.
Froggy: Is there anything in particular that turns you off about yaoi?
Aqua: I was reading the “official” or “professional” manga and I began to realize that yaoi has flaws/problems in its stories, especially in regards to how it pretty much follows heteronormative storytelling/relationships. One of the males is the “submissive girl”/uke in the relationship while the other is the “dominate boy”/seme. I was also reading yaoi fanfiction. Since I wasn’t reading the actual good stuff (meaning the ones that actually follow the characters’ canon personalities and good plot) and going through a lot of the bad ones, my impression of yaoi wasn’t very good for the longest time.
So I stopped reading it and then delved into shounen. Turns out I really love sports anime and so did fujoshi (because, you know, they are just like any other anime fan). I had wrote a story a long time ago with female OCs that I paired with the male cast (There was a lack of girl characters so I filled it myself!). My first anonymous hate reviews from a yaoi fangirl came from that fanfic. They had said something along the lines of, “This story sucks. How dare you make female OC characters get in the way of *insert yaoi ship*! They belong with each other!” At this point, I was still a young, narrow-minded teenager so I had assumed that all yaoi fangirls had this attitude so I grew to hate fujoshi and anything associated with them.
Froggy: Do you believe all yaoi fangirls are this way?
Aqua: No! We were all immature at some point in our lives, but to assume a specific group of people are all like that is immature thinking. We all grow up and become mature over time. As time passed, I find that fujoshi aren’t the terrible people I once thought they were. In fact, they’re all just regular otaku who simply have a gender-specific criteria for ships. Some yaoi fangirls will be the very definition of the negative stereotype, but most of them have good taste in anime and come up with some pretty good headcanons/fanfictions for their ships.
Froggy: You mentioned that female anime fans have a hatred of female characters. Why do you think that is?
Aqua: We can actually go back in history to one of the most well respected fujoshi of all time. The Greek philosopher Plato.
Maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch, BUT it is true that Plato endorsed homosexual love as the highest form of love as well as the ideal. This isn’t bullshit:
“Indeed, Plato considers love between people solely as a homosexual phenomenon, whereas his discussion of sex includes both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The sociological setting of Platonism explains it: in 5th century Athens, apart from some outstanding exceptions, like Pericles’ legendary love for Aspasia, men were married for reproductive ends, yet reserved the term ‘love’ and the passionate activity of sexual love for homosexual relationships.” (source)
He even thought of the Seme/Uke relationship before anyone else:
“Like many Greeks of his era and social position, Plato is most interested in the same-sex desire that can exist between an older and a younger man” (source)
However, even though I agree that love can be found between two people of any gender and sexuality, both fujoshi and greek philosophers had the same problematic thinking and it’s that neither believe women are equal to men and thus undeserving of even obtaining “true love”.
Froggy: So female fans themselves are guilty of discrimination against other women?
Aqua: I’d like to point out that girl hate happens long before any girl became a fujoshi or showed interest in anime. (I do agree that anime itself constantly reminds females of what sort of actions they should take as well as encourage critical behaviors against girls).
In anime, how often do you see two female characters, both alike in attractiveness and shallow-mindedness, fighting over male affection? Pretty much, two female characters are most of the time “rivals in love” rather than rivals in sports, academics, competitions, etc. They don’t even hate each other because they have different beliefs/philosophies. They just hate each other for liking the same guy and are jealous of each other for superficial reasons.
Even when they have a sad excuse of a relationship that’s loosely labeled as “friendship”, they show big competitive spirit…when it comes to getting their mutual male crush to notice them over the other. All female otaku are tired of it, but fujoshi eliminated the problem all together by getting rid of the female characters.
I was surprised that girls decided to write slash fanfics instead of creating their own female OCs and maybe give a hint to the anime industry that they should, you know, put more complex and relatable female characters in their cast.
Of course, at the end of the day, we’re all just otaku having pointless arguments about fictional characters whose sexualities are left to interpretation and your shipping choices are only hypothetical possibilities regardless of how canon they actually are.
Froggy: Any final words?
Aqua: All of us are real people having fun and we shouldn’t be attacking people based on their ships. After all, you might be missing out on an awesome friendship with someone who has the same taste in anime as you.
(To readers: AquaJet will be reading the comments on this post, so if you have any questions for her, please feel free to ask in the comments.)
A few words from me (Froggy) to finish off.
Fujoshi is a terrible word with terrible connotations. It literally means “rotten girl”, and it is used to imply that female anime fans who like yaoi are incapable of thinking straight. That, if nothing else, is a sign of how far the anime fandom has to go when it comes to respecting women.
Sexism is an extremely thorny issue, and it’s easy to use the word “sexist” to dismiss a person’s entire worldview. Men and women are not going to reach any understanding by arguing about privileges. What we need is sincere, open dialogue about how gender expectations have shaped who we are, because it is only by acknowledging the disparities that we can move past them. We need to listen – actually listen – to the experiences of female anime fans, because their voices still don’t have much reach beyond their own communities.
I also want to take this moment to thank everyone who commented on my last post. I was really nervous about being attacked for my opinions. I’m grateful that I can use the “f-word” on my blog and not be accused of being a misandrist or someone who hates fun. The kind words I received through that post have given me strength. Confronting my own struggles with sexism head on has been a very cathartic experience. I’ll continue to keep these lessons in mind as I write about the anime I love.
Back to the currently airing anime for the next post!