Thursday, March 6th, 2014 10:34 am
There's been some discussion on tumblr of the culturally ignorant and thoughtless way white feminists often talk about anime/manga:
the original post, with my transcript, some following discussion.

This is something I've been thinking about for a while, I'm really uncomfortable with the combination of fetishisation/othering and erasure that's applied to Japanese culture in most anime and manga discussions I encounter, and would like to do better. So here are some thoughts on that. (Yeah, I know, ANOTHER WHITE FEMINIST POV /o\)

The obvious first step is to pay attention to what Japanese people are saying, specifically feminists. Unfortunately I haven't come across much Japanese feminist commentary in English, and I don't speak Japanese. I do know a few non-Japanese Asian feminists who discuss anime/manga but the subtleties of how their POV differs from mine often go over my head. If anyone has links to relevant commentary asides from the links above I would be very grateful!

I have made an effort to be supportive of Asian (and specifically Japanese) voices in local fandom but don't know many local Asian fans who want to run panels on anime and manga (and the one I do know just had a baby) I don't want to be all YOU'RE ASIAN COME TALK ABOUT ANIME YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT IT COS YOU'RE ASIAN, so all I've really done is complain when there was a panel about Writing Asia that was all white people.

Beyond that, I think there's a couple of angles:
1) I am a woman from a sexist society that devalues stories about women. Thus anime/manga about women can be really empowering for me regardless of the original context they were created in.
1b) I want to be able to help other women find stories they find empowering.
2) I am a white person from a majority white country which is ignorant and racist towards Japan and has a long history of forcing POC to assimilate. I thus have to be careful not to ignore or stereotype Japanese culture, since my ignorant/racist words will add to racism towards Japanese people.
3) I like poking at the stories I read and understanding what the writer was thinking, what the subtext is, what cultural references I'm missing etc.
4) I am a feminist, and want to support other women, especially those fighting sexism.

1) is a good reason to keep consuming anime and manga that "feels" feminist, even the stuff that is sexist in it's original context.
1b) Is a good reason to write about them and reccomend them to others, though I need to remember that other women may have a very different POV on what "feels" feminist to them.
2) and 3) are good reasons to educate myself about Japanese culture enough to have some idea of the context these works are created in, and to also be humble about the fact I'm unlikely to ever really get it. Rather than talking about a work being Objectively Feminist, I can say that I personally enjoyed it, that it objectively passes the Bechdel test, say, or lacks panty shots. I can mention what I know about the cultural context, but make it clear that I'm not well qualified to comment on what was going on in the author's head.
4) Is a good reason to consume and support works by Japanese women, especially those with what feels to me like a feminist message. I've been getting into Josei and shoujo and other works by women and where practical have paid for legal(*) copies. Beyond the intellectual knowledge that I'm supporting Japanese women I have been learning a lot about Japanese gender roles that I did not encounter in stories written by Japanese men. So this helps with 2 and 3 as well.

EDIT (see the comments): It's fine to do an "the author is dead" reading, but a lot of feminist analysis assumes that you can do a single Feminist Analyasis that judges the overall cultural effect and subtext of a work, and decides if the author was being overall sexist or overall feminist (any sexism being more subconscious subtext than deliberate message) If you're going to do that kind of analysis then I think you have to look at the original context of the work. And a lot of white feminists from the US/Australia etc don't.

Being a queer white anime/manga fan is similar, though there's less representation and it's harder to know which creators are queer. But given that Morishima Akiko is unlikely to ever get lisenced in English I should probably send her a thankyou note or something.

Being a disabled anime/manga fan of any ethnicity is just sad, the representation is terrible in almost exactly the same ways Western Media representation is terrible, and it's too depressing to make me want to poke much at the cultural nuances.

I am reasonably comfortable with my most recent anime panel, on Shoujo and Josei (anime and manga aimed at women and girls). These are Japanese marketing categories, so I wasn't relying on my own biased judgement, and there are various sexist forces discouraging these works from being marketed and respected in local anime/manga fandom. I did pick and choose within the categories, but I tried to make it clear that this was based on what I thought local fans would enjoy, not on some Objective Bar of Quality. And if people go off and buy these works then I've helped support Japanese women writing for other (Japanese) women, which seems like a good thing.

I've thought about doing a yuri panel but it's harder to walk that line. The yuri panel I went to at Waicon was full of stuff by and for guys. Which is not neccesarily bad but...idk. I waver between "do we really need another white person talking about anime" and "if I don't do it all we'll get is another panel on shonen (anime aimed at boys)".

So for now I'm going to stick with reviewing the stuff I've watched and trying to make it clear that I'm just talking about my own personal enjoyment. And I will continue to keep an ear out for more Japanese perspectives, even when they're uncomfortable. (Including reading some of the books linked above once I have a permanent address to get them sent to)

(*)Or illegal copies which still give the creator money, like on Hulu. Damn Australian lisencing issues.
Thursday, March 6th, 2014 10:39 am (UTC)
There's a terrific book (in English) called "Broken Silence: Voices of Japanese Feminism" that is a series of interviews with prominent Japanese feminists about their personal, academic and/or activist roles in feminism. The interviewer and translator is Sandra Buckley. While it doesn't specifically address manga or anime (and it's about 15 years old, oh crap, I'm so old!) it does give a really good overview of developments and the foundation of modern feminism in Japan.
Thursday, March 6th, 2014 12:25 pm (UTC)
I am very uncomfortable around the idea that there is only one valid reading of a text, as it supports a world in which there is only one context and only one set of values.

Now, I am not so culturally relativist as to say that all value systems and POVs are equally good because fuck those that stomp on any particular group of people for some physical or character trait rather than opinion, right, but I much prefer a world where there are different priorities and different interpretations of things as you travel around, than a uniform one that pats itself on the back for having become ideal.

So while I absolutely agree that one should bear in mind that these stories are not so great to women in their place of origin, if they speak to you within your own context you should not feel bad about enjoying them; what matters is that you're not telling Japanese readers they got it all wrong. I find a lot of contemporary folk music in the Balkans to be extremely dodgy in its views on gender, belonging, and all sorts of issues, but if there is a scene in the States where this music is embraced reinterpreted, enjoyed for what it is outside of the context where it's harmful, what the hell. Let them enjoy it!
Edited 2014-03-06 12:27 pm (UTC)
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 07:43 am (UTC)
Just remember, the rest of world is not America.
Just like Hisanakagami said, if you're not Japanese then you don't decided what part of their media sexist or not. I'm not American, so I have no right decided what part of their media is sexist or not.

" The yuri panel I went to at Waicon was full of stuff by and for guys."
Well... just like girl like yaoi because the gays, guy also like yuri. What kind of man that don't enjoy that?

Many tumblr user just declared anime character as trans*, non-binary, queer without reading context. A man that don't follow gender masculine stereotype? Oh no! He must be trans woman. Plus they headcanon any female character that isn't stay in kitchen as trans (Mulan, Utena, etc). Isn't that set back to feminism? I thought feminism want to abolish gender roles, so man can like 'girly' thing without being mocked and vice versa? And worst, many tumblr user insist that their queer 'headcanon' is true and anyone that disagree with them is wrong. Some of them even insist that a REAL life lesbian woman must be trans inside because 'she want to be with a woman so she must be man'! WOW
Edited 2014-07-22 07:46 am (UTC)