I’ve read a fair amount of manga, generally Shōjo manga, which are targeted to girls age 11 – 18. Some themes that are focused on are: school romance, magical girl, and historical romance. For this blog post, I will focus on school romance in order to narrow things down. What I’ve noticed is that the main girls shown in these fall into three different categories: damsel-in-distress, tomboy/cross dresser, and sometimes, the average, no nonsense girl.
Chances are high that if you pick up a manga, no matter the genre, you will pinpoint that one girl who is the damsel-in-distress character. She can be spotted immediately, fainting or shrieking “KYAAA” (with some overdramatic expression on her face). She is quiet and unassuming, just trying to be a “good girl.” It depends on the artist/writer to decide whether this damsel-in-distress does physical activities vs. domestic hobbies. The tomboy/cross dresser is the girl who doesn’t fit the mold of damsel-in-distress. She is just one of the guys, harsher in characteristics because she’ll deliver hard punches, which produce giant welts on her victim’s head, her vocabulary may be a little rougher around the edges, she gets what she wants in a clear manner, and if she is cross dressing, she’ll probably use words like “ore.” (Ore is an informal masculine form of “I/me, can be considered as rude or lowly.) The final category is just the average girl, who may exhibit both characteristics at any given time, and/or be quiet to the point of being unseen.
The unifying characteristic between all these characteristics is the idea that she doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone, whether it’s her friends or her family. Before I took Linguistics 101, I believed that this was some backwards thinking in action; that the women in Japan were completely overshadowed by a patriarchal society, and I still do. However, I learned that from a linguistics standpoint, this is considered “negative politeness.” Characteristics of this include minimizing imposition, hedging questions, and indirectly disagreeing; countries such as Germany and Japan utilize this technique, which comes across in a negative tone to Americans. All the same, it doesn’t make sense to me.
I know these Shōjo manga are geared toward young girls, but I am reminded of the saying, “sex sells.” I believe that a few manga artists portrayed their female characters like this and over time it became the norm, boxing girls into these small categories. At what point will these girls be able to be shown in a realistic manner?
- Image one: Ouran High School Host Club, Bisco Hatori 2002.
- Image two: Daddy Long Legs, Do Chan, 2004