I recently started watching Naruto and by now, I’ve watched around 17 episodes and what has really made an impression of me is the undeniable sexism that exists in the story. You see, in these series, at the point where I am now at least, you follow the story of Naruto, a kid “ninja” who is travelling around with his Sensei and his two schoolmates, 1 girl and one boy. As is to be expected, they have to overcome any number of enemies and challenges in their travels.
Until now, I haven’t seen the girl do anything. Seriously. While the two boys have defeated enemies far stronger than them, and shown some awesome initiative and power, continuously impressing their Sensei, the girl’s accomplishments until now are: Faint, Fail to provide a weapon to he schoolmate, cry over the body of the one she loves, roundhouse kick someone (not anyone powerful mind you) who tried to steal her bag, be the object of lust for Naruto. And that’s about it. Oh no, wait, her biggest accomplishment is that she managed to climb a tree using Chakra.
I keep waiting, since the 3rd episode, to see her do something exciting. Anything. But she won’t. She politely stays away from all the battles and is dutifully impressed and scared when the true heroes, teh mens, do all the dangerous stuff. This kind of shit is so heavy it really threatens to ruin the whole show for me. I keep hoping it will get better but given past experience with Japanese cartoon, I can’t hold my breath.
You see, I’ve also been watching the Legend of the Galactic Heroes for a while now and that one is far worse at reinforcing the patriarchy. There’s basically two strong women in that show, both in some kind of advisory role, which isn’t as bad per se but given that the whole thing revolves around dozens and dozens of men, it’s really sad that the only thing women can do apparently is advise the men. But as bad as this is, it got even worse as the show moved on, one of these women got married to one of the main protagonists and then she immediately became practically his wife-slave. It would show the protagonists sitting in the living room relaxing, while his wife would cook, clean and arrange of all the social duties. Her biggest fear was that she wasn’t a good enough cook for fuck’s sake.
All the other women that were married naturally had the same role. Take care of the household while the men did the important stuff like war and politics. I was thinking if this was because this looked like an older TV show but then I learned that it run from 1988-2000 which is definitely not that old. This can only mean that Japanese culture continues to remain so patriarchal that such displays of sexism are considered the norm and expected by the majority of their viewers. Nevertheless, I was hoping that Naruto, which started 10 years later, would be more progressive, but alas it was not so.
It also makes me wonder if any girls watch shows like Naruto or if it’s explicitly targeted at boys. If girls watch it, which character could they possibly identify with an support? Can they really enjoy having their gender being displayed simply as an object of lust?
So I’m curious, is Japanese society really so sexist in the 21st century? For one of the most progressive countries out there, their patriarchy seems exceedingly preserved.