Thursday, September 12, 2013

Girls playing in a boys' club? No way! Anime is for everybody!

One of the best parts of getting into nerd culture is that it's a group fairly open to both genders. One immediately thinks of boys when they think comic books, D&D, Star Trek, and anime, but in actuality, we girls make up a pretty sizable portion of the geek fandom. We also happen to be the most prominent communication side of being a nerd. More often than not, we're the ones writing the fanfiction, releasing doujinshi, creating fan art, and shipping our favorite couples the hardest.

I've been to several to conventions since embracing my nature as an otaku girl, and I've been pleased with the amount of fellow women attending, as well as the amount of panels, merchandise, and fan materials geared to us. I'm not saying that every single female anime fan wants bishounens all over her wall scrolls, but it's nice to have more options than, say, a whole wall of High School DxD fanservice for sale. I usually come away from my convention experiences with plenty of things I love from my favorite DVDs (Code Geass) to fandom paraphernalia (CLAMP), and I never feel as if I'm wading through a lot of products that are irrelevant to me in order to find what I want.

It helps that in the US, manga and anime initially established a strong female base when it first came over. Sure we were all watching Pokemon, but females in particular were the ones investing themselves in series such as Inuyasha, Sailor Moon, Ranma, Fruits Basket etc. The market was rife with stories we could get into, some romances, some centered on bishounens, some about strong female characters, and some about enduring friendships. Our tastes were not narrowed to simply "shoujo" and "yaoi," because your average female viewer likes variety--you'll find quite a few of us tuning into shounen, action/adventure, and horror, for example.

Because of the broad range of people who are interested in anime and manga both in the United States and globally, it can get bit disheartening when people or institutions enclose nerd culture into a boys' club. Most conventions know their audiences well enough to avoid this, but your average comic shop still needs a little work. There are some great companies out there, but many still operate with a male-geared atmosphere which knowingly or unknowingly tries to exclude women. For example, when I went to a comic shop nearby my hometown, I was the only woman in the sizable building, there were no female staff, female fanservice images were displayed in all the prominent promotional positions, and almost all the male patrons seemed almost nervous of my presence, as if I was intruding on their territory. Maybe I was, in a way, but I wanted to buy an X-men book and had every right to be there. Why should that be odd?

More recently, us female nerds are also being challenged by the notion of fanservice=sales. I love figurines a lot, and really treasure my CLAMP pieces from the CLAMP no Kiseki series. If I had way more money than I do now, I think it would be fun to build up a collection of my favorite characters. Unfortunately, a huge percent of figurines being released are of the female cast only, particularly the characters with slipping down panties and a healthy amount of side boobs. And to generate this extensive female cast to fanservice out, a growing percent of newly released shows are harem, ecchi, and moe. To appease the girls, they'll throw in a few reverse harem or bishounen titles, but you'll rarely see widespread figurine releases for these, never mind the fact that girls enjoy standard action and drama titles like Code Geass, Katekyo Hitman Reborn, Tiger & Bunny, and Spice & Wolf just as much, if not more. Luckily for us, Tiger & Bunny has been redeeming the merchandise factor in our favor, since you can find just as many Barnaby and Kotetsu products as you can items for Blue Rose. On the other hand, does the market really need to be swamped with moe and harem titles when the shows that appeal to everyone equally-- Fullmetal Alchemist and Gintama, for example-- are the most beloved and enduring?

Lastly, dominantly female fandoms always carry the risk of coming under attack by the let's-reaffirm-our-heterosexuality branch of males. I'm a fan of visual novels, and generally play within the romance, action, otome, or BL genres. If an incredibly ecchi harem game comes out that I have no interest in playing, I (gasp) don't download it. But if you look at the comments for otome or BL games, there will always inevitably be comments along the lines of "I'm not gay," "Another BL game? -sigh-," and "I got excited when I saw another game from this company coming out, but it's another stupid reverse harem. LAME." Huh? Most visual novels that are released and make it through the official translation/fan sub process overseas are outside of the otome or BL genres, so getting ahold of one is a rare treat for fans who enjoy those genres. And it's not fun to have an already smallish fandom marginalized further by people who obviously aren't very confident in their gender/sexual identity. Is it so hard for the majority to feel a little happy for the minority every once in a while?

What's my ideal? I like to think of a manga section filled with all of the genres out there, with each side being equally large. Wouldn't it be nice if both girls and boys could go from section to section without feeling judged or having their tastes underrepresented? Those looking for fanservice and find it, and those looking for plot can find that, too: there's a little something for everyone, without one side overpowering the other.

Overall, I think nerd culture is a very welcoming place for gals like me, and I'm happy to be a female otaku. And I truly do believe that the more comfortable both women and men feel being a part of it together, respecting both their similarities and differences in taste, the happier (and nerdier) we all will be!
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