Friday, July 21, 2017

My Feminist defense of "Cute Girls doing Cute Things" and Yuri Anime

 First I'm going to talk just about "Cute Girls doing Cute Things" for awhile.  Then talk about Yuri at the end.

I'm not really an expert on the genre, there are a number of important shows I have seen little or none of yet, Aria, Azumanga Dioh, Manibi Straight, Hidemari Sketch, Nichijo and Is The Order a Rabbit.  And the shows Digibro talked about in his How to Distinguish between Cute Girl Shows video.  All shows I intend to get to eventually.  Well Aria seems comparatively boring so maybe not that one.

This genre of Anime is in a similar place to Twilight in that I can't sympathize with the Feminist criticism as much as I maybe should, since I know the hatedom is truly driven by Misogyny and Homophobia, yet because Sexists always try to deny they'rer Sexists, they then use the Feminist criticisms as a shield.  The difference being I don't particularly like Twilight myself so have no personal investment in pointing this out for that one.

Before most Western Feminists even heard the term "Moeblob".  The outrage against these shows started among 80s/90s Nerds who missed the days when Anime (or at least the Anime that got localized in America) was dominated by hyper masculine shows, from Giant Robots to Shounon fighting shows.  Who are deeply offended by the very idea of men enjoying girly shows, even if they are ones technically marketed to men rather then women.  Who see it as an example of how modern society is trying to emasculate them in their paranoid minds. 

Before I became a full Otaku, most of the girly shows I liked were shows that were made for women at least partly, and are shows I still like to varying degrees.  From Buffy, to One Tree Hill, to The Vampire Diaries to Pretty Little Liars.  Before those I even recall being into Party of Five and Xena.  And of course one of my earliest exposures to Anime was Sailor Moon.  I've also genuinely enjoyed a number of Lifetime movies.  And all of this was stuff I got crap for on IMDB if it came up on a board where most of the visitors were typical male nerds.

And my favorite characters have always been female characters no matter how male oriented a show or movie is.  And not just because I found them attractive.  Even though I'm Cisgender, I have a tendency to relate and identify with female characters far more often then male ones in the fiction I enjoy.

And so Padme is my favorite Star Wars character, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain are my favorite Batman characters, Donna Troy and Raven are my favorite non Batman DC characters.  My favorite Narnia character was Susan.  Even when I read Children of Hurin I liked Niniel the best.  With Pokemon it was weird at first that I didn't like Misty much, but then I got Lisa in the 3rd Movie, Domino in Mewtwo Returns, and in time May and Dawn, and Leaf in the games (I also like the Lass trainers).

I want to write a show that would be essentially the Western Live Action counterpart to Lucky Star.  And the thing is I wanted to write that before I knew Lucky Star existed.  Back around 2010-11, I started working in my head on a show that ostensibly had a Sci-Fi/Fantasy premise, but most of the scenes I cared about were just my characters, which were mostly 4 teenage girls, talking with each other about random and often nerdy stuff.  So when in mid 2016 I discovered Lucky Star, and discovered there was an audience for doing that without the Genre pretense, I felt really liberated.

Digibro likes to compare the appeal of shows like Lucky Star to the appeal of Let's Plays, or at least Let's Plays with more then one person involved.  And indeed the above show I planned even included a few scenes of them talking while the others were watching one play a Video Game, even though I hadn't really heard of Let's Plays yet.

The first show I watched that could be considered a Cute Girls doing Cute Things show, isn't one strictly since it did have one prominent male character love interest, that was Engaged to the Unintended.  Later in early 2016 I watched Yuru Yuri, that show really helped me through some stuff.  Then later in the Summer of that year when I watched for the first time Lucky Star, I knew this was a genre I wanted more of.  Lucky Star remains the best in this genre to me.

Next in line was K-On, it is also really great but a bit too plot/story driven for my tastes.   The thing about K-On is it's only in the west Feminists (or anyone) complains about it, in Japan in-spite of being ostensibly marketed more to men, it was written and directed by Women and has a strong female fan-base.

These shows generally do not have what I complained about in my Anime Fanservice post.  Occasionally one will have a little early on while hooking viewers and then completely drop it.

I'm not the only male who's enjoyment of this genre overlaps with an ability to enjoy Girly Shows actually made for Girls.  I don't think it's a coincidence that the biggest advocate of K-On on YouTube was also once the original Brony, or at least the leading one on YouTube.  A number of Digibro's videos about K-On and Lucky Star are in my Kyoto Animation playlist.

Digibro made a chart called A Guide to "Cute Girls doing Cute Things".  And then a YouTube video explaining it.  A lot of the sub-genres in that chart fail to carry over all of the original appeal, in fact some unfortunately do become Fan Service heavy.  The first three categories are really the purest examples of the Genre.  Digibro also did a Podcast on his history with the Genre.

Some of you might be annoyed how often I'm mentioning Digibro.  Well in a lot of ways he's smarter at explaining things then I am.  Yet still I think there is a slight difference between what I look for in the genre and what he does, so I do need to say more then just "Watch Digibro's videos".

The reason I have come lately to mostly like these shows more then actual Shoujo Anime, is that unfortunately Shoujo Anime continues to be made under an assumption that a Het Romance is necessary for girls to care about it.  I mostly find most Het romantic fiction boring, and believe it or not so do a lot of women.

What I'm getting at is, these shows appeal to men who in some ways don't fit society's normal standard of masculinity.  So while these shows may still have problems, and some of the men they appeal to may still be sexist in some ways.  I think it helps far more then hurts that we have these shows.

I mentioned in a comments section once how these shows all pass the Bechdel test rather easily.  And then got responses that I was somehow missing the point of the Bechdel test.  I'm well aware that what the Bechdel test points out is only a symptom not the problem.  The way to pass that test without actually treating the real problem would be a story with like 30 characters but only two are female, and there is no reason to expect or be interested in those two characters talking to each other besides being the only representatives their Gender has, yet they are given a single scene together and it feels forced.  I don't know if such a hypothetical scenario has happened yet, but it's something I suspect will inevitably happen.

Shows that pass the Bechdel test not because of a single scene but because the show is entirely about women who's lives don't revolve round men, are worth celebrating even if they have other problematic issues.  So that we have an entire genre doing that on a regular basis, in-spite of being technically marketed to men, getting almost no credit for it from Western Feminists bugs me.

There is no point in individually criticizing a movie that isn't an ensemble and has a single male lead for not passing the Bechdel test.  The problem is films fitting that description have for decades been most of what Hollywood cares about producing.  Yet TheMarySue felt the need to do a whole article on Spiderman Homecoming not passing the Bechdel test, I still haven't seen that movie, there may be valid reasons to criticize it, but there is no reason to go in hoping it'll pass the Bechdel test.

In the past I've gotten criticized for expressing the above with the statement, "just cause a film has a male lead doesn't mean it can't pass the Bechdel test".   Yes it's hypothetically possible, but there is no good reason to expect it.  And as someone who wants more female lead films, I don't want them to have scenes where the male supporting characters get together to have a conversion that has nothing to do with the lead character I'm watching the movie for.  Still at the same time I enjoy many scenes that others criticize for being useless to the main plot, but those are usually scenes with female characters.  So I may not be the one criticizing a male lead movie for passing the Bechdel Test when it had no obvious reason to, but the criticism would certainly exist.

I think the existence of films with Female Leads that still fail to pass it are far more worth criticizing.  Like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and I currently suspect The Last Jedi will continue this with Rey spending at least half the film on an island with Luke.  The Wonder Woman film passes it only because of the scenes on Themiscyra, but at least it has a good reason to have Diana mostly interacting with men for the rest of the film.  The new Star Wars films are giving their female leads mostly male support because they seem to think that's just natural.

In Anime this issue rarely happens, when Anime gives us a Superheroine, it also give her a lot of female support.  And if it's related to the Cute Girls doing Cute Things genre, it may well have no male characters at all.

I'm well aware that this genre is kind of driven by a non-sexual objectification, sometimes treating Cute Girls like Cute Animals.  And that is the main Feminist criticism I sympathize with.  But that's relatively harmless compared to most ways a show can be sexist.

The assumption that most of these characters are simply one dimensional doesn't hold up, at least not for the shows well known enough that they're the ones articles criticizing this genre default to singling out.  LadyGeekGirl has an article specifically singling out K-On as being a "Moeblob" show with no character depth, even though K-On has so much character development that they seem unrecognizable watching the pilot and finale back to back.  The development is just done subtly, rather then topping off every episode with a "what did we learn today" speech.  Fortunately AnimeFeminist has a good article praising K-On.

Yuri is ultimately a separate Genre though with overlapping appeal.  And all Slice of Life Cute Girls shows have Yuri shipping in their fandoms.  Main reason I want to separate it from everything I said above is that Yuri shows are more likely to include Fan Service.  But I'm not making a separate post because the Toxic Masculinity issue is relevant to what I have to say on both.

A warning before reading on, I will talk about some sexual content below.

Lots has been written online about why Yaoi and Slash Fiction would appeal to women besides the most superficial carnal appeal.  Lots of different appeals get discussed.  But with men the default is to just assume they only care about watching Girl on Girl sex, and most Western Lesbian Porn indeed only cares about appealing that carnal desire.

Digibro again has a Podcast on his personal history with the genre.  But later I'll get to the more insightful thing he said somewhere else.

A lot of the criticism of Yuri is the Purity fixation.  And I agree that that is a problem, but for not exactly the same reason.  If your going off only the most mainstream Yuri Anime, it's easy to think the Purity fixation is why actual Sex rarely happens.  However there are Yuri Doujins (the target audience writing what they want to see) like A Pure Heart (A Nao x Reika from Smile Pretty Cure Doujin) that are about rejecting the idea that Sex takes away Purity, that Doujin was deeply moving to me personally.

Now you can say the reason that happens in the Yuri Genre is because of the whole problematic "Lesbian Sex isn't real Sex because there is no Penetration" idea.  However the reason Lesbain sex has been thought of that way, is intimately related to how society often thinks of Male sexuality as inherently violent.  Digibro said in the PCP podcast on Porn that he used to be inherently turned off by Penises in porn because he thought of them as inherently violent, but that changed once he actually had sex for the first time.  When he said that I felt relieved, since I now knew it wasn't just me.

Just look at how many slang terms for sex, that were originally specifically about intercourse, are also inherently violent terms, Screw, Nail, Bang, the F word, ect.  Toxic Masculinity encourages men to be proud of that association, but for me it's inherently uncomfortable, and it seems like the only Erotica that's at least sometimes free of any violent subtext is Femslash Fan Fiction and Yuri.  And when violence does enter Lesbian Erotica it's always because of the need to have one of the women "play the man".

And this also reminds me of why I really feel that Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the best nuanced works of Feminist fiction.  What a lot of people miss looking at it on the surface level is that it criticizes it's own Protagonist when her Princely ideal leads her to Toxic Masculine behavior.  Sadly this is also the main area where the movie sort of falters.

I shouldn't need to remove my own gender from the scenario for Sex to be non violent.  But the Patriarchy doesn't make it easy.  Interestingly, the one piece of Het Erotica I'm aware of that doesn't have this issue is The Song of Songs that is Solomon's.

So yes, these two genres aren't perfect, and I'd like to see them improved.  But "Cute Girls doing Cute Things" being rejected out of hand by many Feminists annoys me.

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