The function of woman authored manga in japanese society
THE FUNCTION OFWOMAN-AUTHOREDMANGA IN JAPANESESOCIETY
Introduction In its year 2000 White Paper, Japan’s Ministry of Education ranked anime (animation) and manga (comics) “among the most important forms of artistic expression in the modern Japanese cultural environment” (“Education White Paper”). Some anime and manga fans have praised this pronouncement because they perceive it to mean the two media are finally receiving the critical attention they so richly deserve. However, along with official recognition can come increased homogenization of the medium as it becomes a cultural product ready for consumption; it stands to reason that manga and anime would not be lauded so highly if they did not represent sanctioned cultural norms.
It is common for manga to be divided into clearly marked categories, often by the sex of the intended audience, such as shōnen manga (“boys’ comics”) and shōjo manga (“girls’ comics.”) Manga specifically targeted at girls has a much shorter history than manga targeted at boys. The first modern shōjo manga is generally considered to be Ribon no Kishi (“Princess Knight”), begun in 1953 by Osamu Tezuka (Schodt 1986: 96). Although Tezuka was a male, since that time, shōjo manga has usually been considered a genre written by females for a female audience. As one can see by the sales and circulation figures, the market for shōjo manga is still small compared to boys’ comics. The increased role of girls’ comics within the manga industry as a whole could be a result of the new purchasing power wielded by girls and young women in a late capitalist economy such as Japan’s. Japanese feminist Saitō Chiyo admits that while “[Y]ou could argue that if women constitute a major market force, then they have considerable influence” and that “[W]omen are gradually finding their way into more and more senior positions of influence,” she fears that such women would be unwilling to work to further the women’s movement because they fear risking the social and financial security that have gained (Buckley 1997: 256). Thus the emergence of women as a powerful consumer force does not necessarily mean there has been an emergence of women in other sectors as well, nor does it necessarily mean there has been a change in media representations of women.
The purpose of this research project is to analyze how manga written by women functions in Japanese society, including how gender roles are presented. Sharon Kinsella (2000) argues that manga has become another form of pro-establishment media. If manga has become mainstream and “pro-establishment” as Kinsella claims, then many of the customary depictions of women found in general Japanese mass media and society should be present in manga as well, even those created by female manga artists. Manga could then be seen as another kind of acculturation to society, much like Japanese daytime television functions to promote intimacy (Painter 1996). Because manga is so highly accepted by Japanese society, as well as being actively put forth as a representative work of Japanese culture by the Japanese government, it stands to reason that manga in general does not present ideas that run contrary to the commonly held ideology. Manga may actually serve as a way of presenting and reinforcing such ideas to the general public.
Women in Manga There have been an increasing number of female artists producing works in both the manga industry and the amateur manga subculture since the late 1950s (Schodt 1983: 97). One may wonder if stereotypical gender representations are perpetuated in such works created by women. An initial inclination would be to theorize that manga written by female artists would have a much more positive attitude toward the depiction of women. However, because of the structured way in which the manga industry operates, this may not necessarily be the case. While there may be more female manga authors now than before, their portrayals of gender types does not seem to be as clear-cut as one might think.
Part of the reason why, historically, so few women have produced and consumed comics in America may be due to its classification as both an infantile and macho-dominated medium, although this situation is changing (Sabin 1993). On the other hand, in Japan, the reason there is such a strong market for manga written by women for girls is that such manga does not rely solely on male-oriented violence but rather concentrates on the relationships among the characters. This is not to say, however, that the Japanese manga industry does not have its share of sexist and violent comics. It is interesting to note that, in both English-speaking countries and Japan, female comic writers are much more highly concentrated in the underground or avant-garde circles (Sabin 1993: 230).
However, in spite of the fact that Japanese manga written by women continue to sell well (to which the combined sales figures of Rumiko Takahashi’s work can well attest), female manga writers still continue to interact with the medium in a marginalized way. Perhaps the best way of viewing this marginalization is by examining the amateur comics phenomenon and how it interacts with manga publication through more mainstream avenues. The term for printed amateur manga is dōjinshi, which first began in the 1970s and rapidly increased during the 1990s (Kinsella 2000:105), and both CLAMP and Rumiko Takahashi were once dōjinshi artists. However, the fact that they have become professional manga artists is the exception rather than the rule; rather than recruiting new manga artists up through the ranks of the dōjinshi artists, manga companies generally find new talent through a series of talent competitions (Kinsella 2000: 52). Thus amateur manga can be seen as a separate cultural environment in its own right, rather than people who are trying to make it big as professional manga artists. Dōjinshi is unmediated by large publishing companies, meaning that they are freer to publish risky material or material that does not necessarily advocate dominant Japanese cultural values. This is especially the case with regard to the depiction of gender roles. “Many of the men involved in the amateur manga medium perceive girls’ manga, and the female milieu surrounding it, to be a progressive cultural scene within contemporary society” (Kinsella 2000: 121). Anne Allison does not attribute the increase in female heroes in Japanese popular culture to a “greater feminist consciousness in Japanese society,” but instead to an “increase in female manga artists in recent years as well as to the large consumer audience of girls who read, watch, and even write their own, fantasy stories” (2000: 268). Thus, the promulgation of female-written manga may be merely an attempt to widen the fan base for manga in general, as well as increase sales of goods associated with the manga.
It is difficult to find consumption data on manga written by women. Because of the way manga are categorized by intended audience, it is much easier to find data on shōjo manga. Almost all of the shōjo manga being produced have been written and drawn by women (Schodt 1996: 155). Currently, there are few men drawing comics for girls, and one has even assumed a female pen name (Schodt 1986: 97). Thus, when we discuss shōjo manga, we are generally speaking of comics written and drawn by females, intended for a female audience. Even though such demarcations as shōjo manga and shōnen manga (comics for girls and boys, respectively) do still appear, there is a growing amount of crossover readership with stories appealing to readers of both sexes (Cooper-Chen 1997: 102). Additionally, it has often been more common for girls to read boys comics than vice versa, perhaps owing to the greater percentage of boys’ comics on the market and in circulation (Shiokawa 107). Adding to the problem of obtaining data on the readership demographics of certain manga are the phenomena of tachiyomi (standing while reading manga in the store without purchasing it) and mawashiyomi (passing an already read manga magazine on to a friend or family member).
Japanese Media and GenderRoles Manga are a unique form of communication occurring in modern Japan; they are partly the creativity of the individual artist (or artists), and partly a result of the editorial decision making process. Manga stories come out on a regular basis and are subject to deadline pressures. Because of this, are in some ways like personalized forms of communication, such as literature, and in some ways like more commercially-driven periodicals such as newspapers or magazines.
Due to the manner in which manga is produced, its influence can be compared to that of other forms of mass communication. Therefore, in order to determine how gender roles are depicted in manga drawn by women, it is helpful to examine how gender roles are presented in Japanese mass media in general. In Midori Fukunishi Suzuki’s study on women on television (1995), she looks at the problems of how women are portrayed on Japanese television and what is being done to combat the inadequacies. First, she says there is a lack of critical thinking about television and especially television commercials among girls and women. On the television itself, there are, generally speaking, two men for every one woman onscreen. When women are onscreen, they are often shown in “traditional” roles such as housekeeping or shopping, and mainstream gender role stereotyping is reinforced. Additionally, women are also used as sexual objects, both in commercials and actual television shows. The age range of women onscreen is also much more narrow that that of men. Through constant reporting on events surrounding the emperor and the royal family, the media reinforces the idea of a deeply rooted patriarchy in Japan. Finally, she says that women are not often on the staffs of Japanese television stations, and end up in positions of negligible authority when they are. She then illustrates how organizations such as Women’s Action Group and the Forum for Citizen’s Television are trying to change institutionalized gender biases and ways of presenting women, but the pace of change within the industry is very slow. This study corroborates another study on women in Japanese media, which found five principles of how women are portrayed: Women and men are evaluated differently, women are objects, women are subordinate, a woman’s ability is low, and a woman’s place is in the home (Cooper-Chen 1997: 211-212). Even though these studies do not focus on manga specifically, they are helpful because they work to establish the general climate and attitudes toward gender role differentiation in Japan and help to put the portrayal of women in manga in context.
Conclusion The liminal space of manga provides an excellent forum for the discussion of gender construction in Japanese society. Manga is an officially sanctioned form of popular culture which must, because of its official recognition, support the dominant ideology. On the other hand, due to its liminal nature, it has the potential to critique the standard perceptions of the world. By reading manga, one is actually participating in a dialogue based on how one perceives and interprets the manga. In manga, a Japaneses dominatrix can be only a bad character, almost never a good one. A good woman is loyal, quiet, and the male domination is more than obvious.