There are two other events at Anime Midwest which gave me pause, making me reflect on my feminist ideals and the concept of gender equality. At first glance, these events may seem to oppose each other, but further reflection tells me they are both spawns of the same system.
The first event happened during the first panel I choose to attend: Equality in Anime. Despite the fact that the original panelists were no-shows, the audience gathered was eager to engage in discussion. Interesting questions were asked, such as how the conversation would be different if women were the dominate ones and men seen as the weaker sex. We also discussed the lack of ‘strong’ females in anime, although I made the argument that a mother, healer or other female stereotypes should still be seen as strong.
There was one woman who, like myself, always had a strong opinion to state. She lamented that women were more typically seen in roles that didn’t require physical strength. That seemed to be her whole argument. It was if she blamed men instead of patriarchy. I walked out of that room thinking I had just witnessed the sort of feminist people frown upon. Ironically, it seemed to me she wanted more women to adopt masculine traits in order to be seen as equal to men. Isn’t that just like patriarchy, though, valuing masculinity over femininity? While I would love to see more kick ass women brandishing swords, I also want to see feminine characters (be they male or female) who are strong in ways that aren’t physical. A strong female character does not necessarily have to be physically strong.
The next day, walking down the halls in my awesome Tifa cosplay, I accepted many requests to have my photo taken. Other cried ‘hey Tifa,” and were happy with a wave as I passed by. At one point, I passed by a group of people sitting on the ground. When the first called me, I thought they wanted a wave (and I had an event I was running to, anyway). Walking by, I realized one of the men sitting down wanted a high-five. Again, I was more than happy to grant his request.
After the high-five, I continued on my way, and heard one man in the group whisper to the other, “get a picture of her butt.”
There was something in the way he spoke those words that unsettled me. They weren’t words that praised my cosplay or even words that admired my beauty. Those words made me want to run or disappear into a shadow. They painted me as an object and I was instantly offended.
When I expressed my discomfort at the mans words, most of my friends didn’t see the problem. One friend said she wished someone would say something like that about her. The words that were said weren’t the real problem, though. My offense came from the tone in which the words were spoken. I didn’t feel like the man was admiring a person; he admired an object.
All I have is that impression, but for the purposes of the following questions, I’m going to assume my impression of that man’s words is correct. Why did he see me as an object? Is the answer simply that I was wearing a miniskirt? Would my butt have looked any less attractive in a long dress or in jeans? Is that the point of ‘proper’ women’s clothing, to hide feminine curves?
The same questions can be asked of any woman who faces objectification. Should they hide their curves? Is their feminine physique the reason for their objectification? Is it impossible to admire a woman for her beauty and also admire her for being a person?
This brings me to same same point I made during the first event. The real issue is not physical strength vs. physical weakness, nor is it curves vs. lines. In both of these cases, feminine traits were disrespected. In the first, feminine traits were seen as the same as weakness. In the second, feminine traits were seen as an excuse to objectify.
I’ve been of the opinion that we don’t need to discuss women as mothers, nurses or maids because society readily accepts those as ‘correct’ choices for women. Perhaps that was wrong of me. We need to talk about women who love fashion and make-up, women who desire a relationship of traditional gender roles and girls who want nothing more than to grow up to be house wives. All those women deserve just as much equality. They are not anti-feminist by possessing feminine traits or by desiring to play a role in society that has traditionally been assigned to their gender. Their choices should not and, I like to think in most cases, do not reduce their equality.
The point of feminism is not what a woman does, but whether or not that woman has a choice is what she does. Choice is the issue, not what is chosen. Feminism is not about everyone becoming masculine, it’s about being equal, regardless of how feminine or masculine a person (of any gender) chooses to be.
Can you find a person attractive without objectifying them? Why is it more common for women to be objectified instead of men? Is the answer to the problem no objectification or equal objectification? Can equal objectification be considered equal? How would you react if someone said, “get a picture of her/his butt” as you walked by? How much would the tone of that statement affect how you took the words?