China’s newest pop idol band tackles traditional gender norms

No really. This is not an April Fools joke.

Acrush is a group of young Chinese women gathered together to appeal to the boy-band, pop-idol demographic that has previously been dominated by young men from Japan and Korea. China has long been trying to improve its public image and ameliorate the reputation of having a staunchly conservative and controlled artistic sphere.

Acrush, however, is not the first androgynous women on the music scene. In the early 2000s, Han Hong crossed over from folk music to pop charts with her song Heaven’s Road (天路 ), about the trans-Tibetan railroad. Hong’s signature masculine/androgynous style caused a very negative reaction, which can be partially attributed to rumors of her being a homosexual. (Homosexuality was officially attributed to mental illness until 2001.)

Acrush’s agent and publicist has been very careful to remark that the young singers in the group are not attracted to the women whom their image is designed to attract. While Acrush may be challenging traditional sexual identities that have confined Chinese women, they are simultaneously reinforcing traditional sexualities.

Acrush promotional photo from their American Twitter account.

Update 4/7/17: Many news sites are referring to Acrush as “genderless.” It’s important to note that the band are calling themselves “meishaoshian” 美少年, which is denotatively a gender neutral term for “beautiful young person,” but connotatively refers to beautiful young boys. It’s also noteworthy that the Mandarin terms for he (他) and she (她) are phonetically identical (tā).

Update 4/8/17: As much viral attention Acrush has been getting, China’s major news network, CCTV, has not mentioned Acrush in any articles.

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The Barbie Book Everyone is Talking About

barbie to delete

The social media sphere is lighting up about “I can be a computer engineer” book from the Barbie franchise, so here’s my two cents.

Rachel Zarell’s sarcastic but thorough look at the book on buzzfeed.

Pamela Ribbon’s caustic gizmodo review.

Slammed on Daily Dot.

Book listing on Amazon.

The title of the book Barbie “I can be a computer engineer!” is a misnomer, as the story progresses, we see that Barbie is merely brainstorming ideas for a game, she gets a computer virus, and has to call her male friends to fix the issue.

The quote that sums up the book:  “It will go faster if Brian and I help,” offers Steven.

At first, I thought, “Oh, this must be a hoax.” But no, the listing on amazon looks legit. The book was published last year by an author that works with random house.

For writers, there is a dilemma of which “other” group to choose to promote. You can promote progressive gender ideals, but race will be put to the side in order for the product to be commercially viable on a mass scale. Here, we see a great mixed representation of different races, but gender takes the backseat and put into the ultra-traditional binary idea. Maybe in another ten years we’ll have mass distributed media that shows characters to be intelligent, valuable, and have agency no matter color or sex; even then, we’ll see other identity characteristics slammed into the backseat (sexual orientation, non-gendered folk, etc.)

Overall, it is a rather deplorable example of “female empowerment.”

Disappearing Women: Part 2

Step Two: Feminine Bodies, Masculine Masks

Title of this section is after Fanon’s Peau Noire, Masques Blanches

Our next category has fewer examples, but they are still a salient contribution to the self-image of women in the two countries. If women must give up part of themselves to be successful in a man’s world, then why not simply have it all by disguising themselves as men?

The manga ran 1996-2004, the 2007 drama was so successful that it was remade a mere three years later with a new cast but same set. The remake features a new subplot twists in which the school is facing financial difficulty, explaining the poor condition of the buildings and interiors. ouran1youre beautiful

Japanese examples which have seen international success include Hana Kimi (aka Hanazakari no Kimitachi E and Ouran High School Host Club, which both feature female protagonists who must crossdress and pretend to be male students in order to accomplish their goals.  This theme pingpongs around Asia, with Hana Kimi being remade in Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The Korean television series You’re Beautiful, about a girl posing as her twin brother to be in a boy band, was remade in Japan and Taiwan. Even mainland China sees a version on this theme with My Bratty Princess (2005) in which a princess disguises herself as a ruffian to take down nobles a notch and redistribute their gambled money to the poor.

mulan twelfth

Western examples of cross dressing female protagonists are fewer, but just as impactful.  There are many permutations of and allusions to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and even Disney has a princess who cross dresses to find a “reflection of herself” that she feels is authentic (Mulan). The best playwright of the English language and the second largest broadcasting company in the USA certainly influence our culture on a massive scale.

Now we have female role models needing to pretend to be men, outright, in order to qualify for a possibility of success. With this even more broken self image, we see the need for women to completely put away their female identity in order to exist in certain spheres. This sets the stage for our third category.

 

Honorable Mentions for Feminine Bodies, Masculines Masks:

  • Victor, Victoria- In which a female singer crossdresses as a male singer who crossdresses as a female singer.
  • 2004’s ½ Prince, a Taiwanese Manhwa comic in which a female protagonist is granted the chance to be a male character in an MMORPG, in which all players’ avatars must be representative of their birth-assigned genders. ½ Prince became an underground international success.

Victor Victoria12 prince

Disappearing Women: a three part study

Disappearing Women: Tracing Femininity and Women’s Gender Roles through TV and Film Media in the US And Japan

PART 1

In America,

books teach us how to imagine,

tv media how to interact,

music how to feel,

and videogames how to think.

 

I first gave this talk in January of this year. I was grappling with the multifaceted and often oppositional if not antipodal portrayals of and messages about women in visual media, which featured female protagonists and feminine target audience. After ruminating on the idea, I saw the emergence of three categories divided along the lines of how the protagonist dealt with the idea of femininity and her struggle with her  feminine identity. I saw a lessening in the depiction of women’s physical attributes/identity, while the mental and emotional side of women grew stronger. Lets trace this disappearance.

 

Step One: Breakthrough Women Breaking

 

The strong female protagonist, with whom the female target audience identifies, struggles with doing it all, and suffers a break–physical or emotional–from overexertion. The character tries to balance personal and familial life with professional ambition, and something has to give.

Popular in the US and Japan. In Japan, the manga began in 2000, anime ran 2006-2007, drama 2010.Popular in Europe, especially France, and Japan. In Japan, the manga started in 2000, anime 2006-2007, drama 2010.Popular throughout Asia, inspiring manga-based anime and j-drama in Japan, as well as dramas in Hong Kong, South Korea (2009), Taiwan (2001-2002), Indonesia (2002,) and Mainland China. In Japan, manga was published 1992-2003, anime 1996-97, film 1995, drama 2005-07.

In Japanese media, we see several examples of this in a range of popularity and across demographics. Japanese media targeting female audiences are split into two demographics: shoujo, which targets girls ages eight to sixteen , and josei, which targets women ages seventeen to fifty-five. Examples of shoujo media with this theme include The Wallflower, a story (released as a manga, anime, and j-drama) of a woman who hides away her femininity in her pursuit and love of all things horror. Also Kaichou wa Maid Sama (manga and anime) and Hana Yori Dango (the manga, anime, and j-drama of which have been popular for over two decades) both feature high school-aged female protagonists who at one point suffer exhaustion from working jobs, having active after-school lives , and studying, to the point of being hospitalized/given medical care to heal.

source: shinealightrose.blogspot.comanego

 

gokusen

For the josei demographic, we have the series Pride, where a woman has a good career and supportive friends, but lacks romantic development, eventually descending into a relationship with domestic violence; Anego, in which the career woman protagonist outright says her professional life gets in the way of her securing dates; and Gokusen, where the female protagonist must hide her familial life to keep her dream job as a teacher of high school students.

DevilWearsPrada-Web mona movie-dreamgirls-poster-backgrounds-wallpapers

In US media, the examples abound. With the narrow category of female protagonists who sacrifice personal/familial life for their professional development, there are major motion pictures such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006), The Iron Lady (2011), and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Widen the scope of the dilemma and even more popular films fit this category: In Mona Lisa Smile (2003), the female characters are presented with a choice of professional (academic) ambition or familial life, but no depiction of a balance of the two is portrayed. Dreamgirls’ (2006) empowered women protagonists could have good careers or good family lives (i.e. good husbands) but not both. The first three installments of the Twilight saga (2008-2012) in an artistic twist of this theme, set up the choice of financial security or family (i.e. the ability to bear children.)  Even the acclaimed Frozen (2013) featured a female protagonist who, for 95% of the film, had hide her emotive side (often seen as a feminine trait) in order to be a good ruler.  

With all these examples of women having to give up part of themselves in order to be successful, are we addressing the struggles of women or teaching our daughters that they must adapt themselves in order to survive in a man’s world.

Challenges to Otaku Culture: Misogyny

This is an entry of a 5-part series on the threats to the cohesiveness and health of the Otaku community.

Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:

  1. Bullying of Adolescent Otaku
  2. Deletion of Racial Differences
  3. Body Shaming
  4. Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori
  5. Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes 

Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes (Note: This is now an edited version that has updated material 1/2015.) 

If one lets Japanese media speak for itself, it appears that Japan’s society leans more toward the binary, traditional idea of gender roles than America. In media designated for a general audience, female characters are relegated to being a prize or a nemesis. When they are integrated as members of a team of protagonists, their distinguishing characteristics are often purity, gentleness, and beauty. The population acts in accordance to such perceptions of women by emulating role models put forth by media. Thus, one would expect the societal and economic role of women to remain more firmly tied to domesticity than ambition. The Economist published an article in May 2014 proclaiming, “Women’s lowly status in the Japanese workplace has barely improved in decades, and the country suffers as a result.” The article went on to include explanation of the term the “bamboo ceiling” that bars women from promotion to the top of corporations, after the American “glass ceiling.” The bamboo ceiling, by comparison, is not nearly as transparent as the American equivalent, and much sturdier. While the media portrayal of gender roles is not the singular factor in the shaping society and economy, it remains a salient contributor to the molding of such norms.

Japanese media’s influence does not stop at the Pacific Ocean. We have seen many examples of the strong trade and importation of Japanese art and the ideas that come with it. For Americans, the transmission and edification of ultra-conservative gender roles influences our culture in different ways. Once again, reaction to this is split between healthy and unhealthy individuals.

Some react in healthy ways. Otakus, especially adult women Otakus, emerge from the influx of varying ideas of societal and gender norms as strong, assertive, self-assured individuals. I see similarities between women in the Otaku community and women in STEM: they are so well-acquainted with sexism and boy’s clubs mentalities that their confident personalities are forged into a no-nonsense, straight forward manner to boldly face all challenges, whether they be gender-specific or not. On the other hand, less strong women in both communities conform and defer to the normal gender roles and biases, sinking into the background with more demure temperament rather than rocking the boat.

If one follows the idea that the mixing and superimposing one culture onto another can influence the macro-psychology of a population, we end in the very alarming of concept of two distinct rape cultures merging to transmit very destructive ideas on a group of people.

Rape is an issue in both cultures, and is increasingly incorporated into narratives in both Japanese and American media. Shoujo has used rape scenes in character development so often that it has become a trope. Hana Yori Dango has at least five attempted rapes, and even the positively viewed Ouran High School Host Club features an episode revolving around the necessity for the female protagonist to not “ask for” being raped by engaging boy bullies. As for American major motion pictures, we recently saw our first on-screen rape attempt in which a girl protagonist was pinned down and straddled by a man who held a position of power over her in the film Divergent. Using such scenes is a double-edged sword: some will walk away feeling less alone in the knowledge that there are other rape survivors, and others will believe the idea of raping someone is normal.

More often we see examples of less violent aggression against women. As the roles women play in media are flattened to a binary, so is the consumer’s expectation of women in real life, consciously or subconsciously. The objectification of women has been a problem for both countries at least since post-World War II. In Japan, there is the perception that many salary men seek out paid companions to appease sexual appetites that their honorable wives do not fill. In America, we have the term “madonna-whore complex” to describe a person who sees women as either pure and wholesome or sexual and debase. This psychological complex is often cited as the reason why serial rapists commit their crimes.

As two cultures that are oppressive of women converge on a population, we may expect to see individuals with very strong, toxically unhealthy ideas of gender norms. With two different cultures presenting varied, nuanced explanations for the objectification, infantiliziation, and sexualiation of women, an unhealthy individual could be socialized to be destructive force.  

The story does not end here. In the Otaku community, we have seen women, especially female cosplayers, fight back against unwanted masculine attention and objectifying behaviour at cons. “Cosplay is not Consent” is the slogan for a campaign of young women to gain recognition and respect from their fellow community members after fighting an increasing amount of privacy invasions, micro-aggressions, and personal assaults while wearing costumes of their favorite characters.