Men are People, Women are…Not

I’ve been getting a lot of comments on my post about The Women of DBZ as well my post on rape culture in Teen Titans Go!

Mainly, commenters tell me that I am over reacting. These are cartoons and anime, after all! What does it matter? Why do I care, especially when this media is out for ratings, not appeal to feminists.

And though I’ve replied with my own comments and counter arguments (because yes, DBZ and Teen Titans Go! are two of many examples of sexism and misogyny in animated programming) I have yet to formulate a cohesive rebuttal. Until now.

Critiquing sexism in animated programs (or any media) is necessary because this criticism challenges the idea that men are people and everyone else are not.

women-are-people-too

When we tell stories about men, make male centered narratives the only stories, consume media that features almost exclusively straight, white, cis, male protagonists, we create a culture where men are the only ones who matter. Men are human and we can connect with them and their struggles and triumphs.

Male characters have a backstory, dreams and a life beyond the constraints of plot. We know Goku since he was a child, we age with him as he develops into an adult and we believe his actions come from a deep rooted place of emotional honesty. He’s an alien, but we believe he is complex enough to be human. We can see ourselves in Goku, regardless of our gender.

Female characters in mainstream media, however, exist for a male hero. She is his lover, his mother, his friend, his ex. Whether explicitly or implicitly, he owns her, the same way male viewers own her. She is created for male pleasure because she only exists on the page or the screen only so long as the male hero exists. Her conversations (and relationships to other women–if there are other women in the narrative– revolve around men, (so much so that we can test this with the Bechdel Test). She has no real struggles or triumphs of her own. We do not believe she is alive.

By extension, it is such a small, dangerous step, but so simple to believe women are not alive. This is one facet of rape culture: dehumanization.

The media representations of women are flat, sexual beings who exist only for the male hero. The real life women who jog down the street, bag your groceries, practice medicine, sleep in on Saturdays, drown their cereal in skim milk, drink their coffee black, become flat sexual beings. We have no responsibility for them because they are the shadows and cardboard cut-outs on the periphery of our lives. They are not human. They are receptacles for violence.

This is why when even well-intentioned people fight rape culture, they can resort to the argument: “This could be your sister. Your daughter. Your mother. Your aunt.” It’s a tempting argument, one I’ve considered using with my own brother. It’s a tempting argument, but a flawed argument. Just like the media we consume, we are then saying that women only matter when they are placed in relation to a man.

I am a sister, a daughter, a niece, but I am a human being! A human being in my own right. Women exist, even if a man isn’t watching. And if media, especially media geared toward young people, refuses to acknowledge female autonomy then I will continue my criticisms. Because with the media we consume being so male-centered, there is no way in hell I am going back for a second helping.

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Goku as asexual

Goku was my first hero. He was my brother’s hero first, to be honest, but Goku was also mine. I watched the anime with my brother when he was in high school and I was in middle school and we spent our nights and weekends sparring each other as Z fighters.

My brother looks the part of a saiyan. He has black hair. He’s dedicated to training and strengthening his body. He’s male.

And yet, Goku was my hero. Even though we look nothing alike, Goku was mine. He is my belief that goodness and heroes exist. That strength of mind and discipline is just as important as strength of body. That you get back up every damn time you’re beaten down.

Dragon Ball Z perpetuates hypermasculinity. It’s a male dominated manga and anime where fighting and winning is key. As a feminist, I shouldn’t love this series. But I do. I love it more now that I’m further embracing my ace identity.

I see Goku as an asexual character.

He marries Chi-Chi and has Gohan and Goten, but he never expresses sexual interest in any sex or gender. A person can be asexual and still get married. A person can be asexual and still have sex. Sex simply isn’t that person’s primary means of navigating relationships or the world.

And while I do not believe Akira Toriyama meant to write Goku as ace, in creating a chaste hero, who (especially in Dragon Ball) has no concept of sex or sexuality, Goku can become an asexual icon. Toriyama’s intent does not matter. It is the character he created and what Goku can mean for generations of asexual people to have a hero we can see ourselves in.

This is huge for the asexual community. We do not have ace heroes of any gender to look up to! We have to scrounge and dig and create head canons just so we can claim characters as our own. I claim Goku as asexual because he’s so much more than a sexual orientation. He’s the epitome of Get Up and Try Harder. He loves his family and his friends with such an intensity that they are the world he protects. I claim Goku as asexual because love is more than sexual love and Goku is my reminder of how this love can motivate us.

Goku is my hero. One day, I hope we do not have to rely on head canons to have asexual heroes in our lives.

goku

This is not Dragon Ball Z. Or is it?

I keep tabs on the Dragon Ball Z facebook page and frequently find their material strikes a chord with me. The page reminds me of all the reasons Goku is a loveable idiot, but such an amazing individual. The page reminds me why I believe in Goku and that there is so much more to DBZ than strong men beating each other to a pulp. Dragon Ball Z has provided me with heroes who are the epitome of fall seven times, get up eight times. 

But, as I’ve mentioned previously, DBZ is not perfect. It’s sexist toward men and it’s sexist toward women. What I haven’t had much time to explore however, is that as an extension of its sexism, DBZ is also homophobic. I’ll use this image posted on the DBZ facebook page to begin my point then I’ll explain further.

To begin, this image is homophobic. Even if it weren’t connected to DBZ, it would be homophobic. In this set of images, to be gay is something you want to get rid of in yourself. It is something that can be cured where you can walk away and be “better.” Especially in the context of this image set, it is the father telling his son not to be gay, to overcome his gayness, and–even worse–that gay here is used as a generic insult. The Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, that’s so gay! Yes, the Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, but all that means is that he looks stupid and poses funny. It has nothing to do with his sexuality.

When I first saw this image I commented and said how offensive it is. I also said it’s not DBZ. However, I was quite wrong in that second statement. This image set brings to the forefront homophobia that is present in DBZ, but never discussed.

What some people may not be aware of is that homophobia (and any other form of oppressive thought and action) does not need to be as direct as someone proclaiming “I hate gays” or “homosexuality is a sin.” Most bigotry is more subtle than that, but no less harmful. Because it is silent, it is allowed to persist.

So, how is DBZ homophobic? Let’s look at the images presented of men and women. The men are all the absolute epitome of “traditional masculinity.” They are muscular, they are courageous, they take punishment in battle without complaining and they are unfaltering in their straightness. The special cases are Goku and Piccolo. Goku exists in a state of partial asexuality–though more to comment on his purity than to ever suggest he is queer. Piccolo, as an alien, is also for all purposes asexual–but more to express his alien difference than to highlight a queer identity.

Of the main male characters, Tien is the only one without a love interest and fans speculate he is in a relationship with Chiaotzu. If this is the case and Tien and Chiaotzu are the only queer characters in the show, their relationship is entirely speculative and because Chiaotzu looks and acts so different from every other character, even the hint of being gay becomes something to look askance at. If Tien and Chiaotzu were to be openly together, their queerness would be immediately visible because Chiaotzu does not look or act human. If Chiaotzu is written as a gay character he is an offensive stereotype.

As for the female characters, the few there are are unfaltering in their straightness as well. They may not always be perfect paragons of female virtue–Chi-Chi fights in DB and Bulma is a computer tech and scientist–but Chi-Chi is also introduced from the start as a love interest for Goku and Bulma’s original quest is to find the perfect boyfriend. Android 18 winds up marrying Krillin. Even Launch from DB is last seen chasing after Tien. Lesbianism is a foreign concept in the DBZ universe.

So, when the DBZ facebook page posts an image such as this:

it is actually being very honest about DBZ’s homophobia. In DBZ, being queer is speculative (at best) for the men and impossible for the women. It makes perfect sense that this image set would blatantly highlight the resistance to queers. Being queer can be the butt of jokes because there are no openly queer characters to offset the stereotypes. There is no one to defend the queer community and so to be anything but straight puts you in direct conflict with the rigid gender binary of masculine men and feminine women who only desire heterosexual relationships.

My response is that you cannot “get a little gay” and there is no way to “better” from your gayness because there was never anything to be fixed in the first place. I know I would feel better if Gohan if DBZ was not so heteronormative.