Piccolo: the Genderless Alien (Man)

Thank you to everyone who has been commenting on my other DBZ posts (specifically The Women of DBZ). I know I promised to write further posts regarding Android 18 and Videl, but right now there’s a different aspect of DBZ I need to address first. In the comments on my post about women in DBZ, I talked about how the goal is not have action girls, who enter a scene fists flying and then politely back out of the way, but women in a wide array of roles. Increasing the number of female characters who are featured would automatically go a long way toward decreasing the likelihood that the one female character would need to serve as a representative of all women. And while I wrote briefly about how it wouldn’t have been any structural changes to the plot of DBZ to create Raditz or Vegeta as a female, I’m realizing that one of the more obvious ways Akira Toriyama could have promoted gender equality was through Piccolo and the Namekian species.

The Namekians are a genderless species. They reproduce asexually and if there are multiple genders or sexes we can see no difference. So why is it that all Namekians are male? It’s not through the way they dress (who’s to say female Namekians have breasts like human females, or that if they do they would need to cover up) or how they act, but that every voice actor is male. By portraying a species of male Namekians the message is clear:

  1. masculinity is the norm and to be genderless is to appear and present as male

I do not believe Piccolo had to be female or that there should have been female Namekians. I do however believe that voice actors should have been chosen who could create a genderless voice for a genderless species. This way, even though for instance, Piccolo appears male (and is basically understood to be male by not having any female identifications) in the manga, the anime was in a unique position. The anime could reshape our understanding of this alien character and in so doing reshape our understanding of an agender society.

There is no reason male should continue to be the norm on the basis that it is identifiably not-female (further fostering the harmful idea that the female body is marked as the other in society). Especially when creating alien races and exploring topics more closely linked to science fiction than action/adventure this is the place for societal commentary! The fact that Namekians reproduce asexually is brilliant, but the fact that they are all understood to be male is problematic. Had Piccolo been an agender character the plot of DB and DBZ would not have been altered, but the ideas of a gender binary would have been shattered. That is something the action/adventure genre desperately needs.

Motivation: As Narrated by Men

If you look up motivational videos on youtube you’ll notice a disturbing trend. Whether it’s one long speech or a compilation of movie speeches, motivational quotes and intense action or training montages, the videos are always narrated by men.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsSC2vx7zFQ

How about:

And:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2WVHIau77Q

If I want to find women narrating to me about motivation and pushing myself to be better than my best, I have to look specifically for “motivational videos women.” Women are not the norm but the deviation. But women do not need specific motivation geared toward us!  The same ideas about “fall 7 seven times get up 8 times” about “take hits because life is tough but we are tougher” are not advice just for men. There is no monopoly on success but mainstream media wants us to believe women are inherently different.

There is no gender monopoly on success and motivation! We do not need “motivational videos for women.” We need non-gender specific motivation that recognizes human potential for success not male potential or female potential. We all can get beaten down by life and we all deserve to be told not to sit down and take it.

The Problem with Scholarship

The problem with scholarship is that it doesn’t always need to be scholarly. Take science journalist Nicholas Wade’s new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, for example. He argues for the existence of race as a real scientific concept which developed along the path of human evolution. When people in scholarly fields like Nicholas Wade write books which have problematic (and sometimes incorrect) information, ordinary people are being persuaded by pretty words that sound accurate to believe in harmful concepts.

Intentionally or not, scholarship is easily manipulated and that is terrifying.

Read Augustine Fuentes’ critique of the lack of scholarship involved in this undertaking in the following article from the Huffington Post. Fuentes is a professor of anthropology.

The Troublesome Ignorance of Nicholas Wade

Do your best

I’ve been raised to set high standards for myself. I’ve been raised that your best is never good enough and that in order to succeed you  need to push beyond your limits and go beyond your best. I’ve taught myself that if you are not perfect you have not done your best.

I returned to my dorm in Istanbul tonight and found a woman sitting in the lobby with her head in her hands.  I couldn’t tell if she was on the phone with someone or if she were asleep or listening to music. I asked if she was okay in Turkish and then in English and she didn’t respond. When I asked again she again didn’t respond.

Her hair was matted, greasy and a spider crawled its way through the black tangles. It felt like a horror movie and that as soon as she turned her face toward the light I would be met with some three eyed demon or a bloody disfigurement. Her legs and jean shorts were covered in dried blood and the lobby smelled from drugs, though I don’t know what kind.

Another Turkish girl, Asli, approached and spoke to the seated woman in Turkish. The woman responded, got up from the chair and nearly fell after a few hobbling steps. She couldn’t make the walk the fifteen feet from the lobby to her dorm room.  There were scratch marks on her and I didn’t want to look anymore.

Asli told me the woman said she did not want to go to the Health Center, but I insisted. If the woman became angry, she could be angry at me, I told Asli. What mattered was calling someone and I did not know enough Turkish to make the call myself. Asli called Dormitory Management and Dormitory Management called the Health Center.

The woman had the contents of her purse dumped out in front of her as she struggled to find her room key, when the ambulance arrived. The flashing blue lights stopped my heart, I was terrified but didn’t know of what.

I was terrified of the woman, I suppose. Terrified of what had happened to her and terrified that just by being in presence I had somehow “caught” her misfortune. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even communicate! Workers from the Health Center spoke to her and I left because I had done all I could.

The first thing I did when I got to my room was scrub my hands again and again to rid myself of her presence and cleanse myself of whatever I may have “caught”. Then I called my mom and tried desperately to articulate the situation, but my words were derailed by constant stammers and “I’m sorry”s. My mom told me I had done my best and that I had been a good human being for helping as I did.

Except  I don’t want a pat on the back for being a good person when there was nothing I could do. I did my best, yes, but my best didn’t mean much because I lack the skills to make a real impact. This shouldn’t be about me, but I feel part of the reason for my guilt right now over not being able to do more is because of how I’ve been raised regarding “my best”. My best always needs to be perfect and that is the attitude applied not just to me, but to everyone about how to succeed. We are teaching and learning a flawed principle.

Yes, we should always try our best and push ourselves. Yes, we should always strive for success. But we should also know that our best isn’t about being perfect and always knowing the answers. It’s about doing everything that we can and being proud of what we have accomplished.

Websites You Need to be Following

I always struggle to be politically informed and I don’t have an excuse. I have access to print and online sources. I have no excuse not to be informed. However, I am always concerned about where I read my news and what sources I can trust to give me a full picture of current events. Here are a list of websites I’ve compiled for anyone suffering under the same dilemma I face. These websites are not just news sites, but also websites with links to important petitions and social action campaigns.

1. http://www.truthdig.com

Truth Dig (founded 2005) is an online news website dedicated to digging up the truths more mainstream media would not cover. Some of their most famous publications include “The Last Letter” (written by a paralyzed American veteran who served in Iraq and writes to former President Bush and Dick Cheney calling them war criminals) and Sam Harris’ “The Atheist Manifesto.” The website has won 5 Webby awards for best political website.

2. http://www.democracynow.org

It’s an independent news site. That in and of itself immediately makes it more trustworthy  because I know they are not bought and sold by corporations. The hosts, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, contribute to the news both through broadcasts and online journalism. If you do not want to read their stories online, check them out on NPR.

3. http://www.justforeignpolicy.org

As Just Foreign Policy explains on their homepage, they are about changing American foreign policy to be more just and reflect the views of average Americans not corporations. Like Democracy Now, Just Foreign Policy is also an independent news site. Their current campaigns range from releasing the US’s torture report to the public, to ending Drone Strikes in Pakistan. What I like best about this source is that it does not just encourage you to donate, but offers alternative means of action. Most times you are asked not only to sign a petition but also to make a phone call or send an email to your local representatives or even President Obama.

I am open to further suggestions of your best news site and I plan to add to this as I become more educated.