Feminism and Free!

Management: I’m a bit more heated here than my usual tone, but it’s an actually important topic, so I figured I should still post it. This was a straight-up argument, so I haven’t changed a word on either side to make sure no-one is misrepresented. It came about in response to my first Free! post, which apparently ruffled some feathers.

Question (sort of):

You didn’t need to tell us what a good little feminist you are (and oh so concerned with shitting on anything that might be remotely aimed at men) 27 times in one post.


Shit, you got me! I only pretend to be a decent person to look cool on the internet.


For one thing, forcing yourself against your will to hate something that’s nothing but love and kindness (K-On!) because of some political ideology does not make you a good person – quite the opposite.

But even if we grant that your brand of feminism is what’s good, you’re still obnoxious in how often and aggressively you signal your adherence to it, just as it’s obnoxious when a religious person (who is also a “good person” by their standards) talks constantly about how much they pray and go to church.


Forcing yourself against your will to hate K-On because of some political ideology

There is no part of this statement that I do not take issue with! First, there is no “force” involved here – my will, personality, and conscience mind are all in agreement that there is something deeply problematic about the archetypes displayed in shows like K-On, Clannad, Sakurasou, and any other number of shows where a female character’s infantilizing helplessness is supposed to be perceived as attractive. I am not going against any natural tendency here – every fiber of my body finds this stuff pretty disturbing, and I actually have repeatedly gotten in arguments on this board, and often just avoided other conversations entirely, because of it. You seem to think I’m just pretending to believe the things I say – I assure you, I’m not trying nearly that hard.

But this doesn’t address K-On itself, which I don’t actually hate – I honestly do believe the creators of that show were intent on making a lighthearted healing-type show, which is apparently what you got out of it. I did not intend to belittle your experience with the show, or their intent – what I take issue with is the specific style of characterization used, which is very prominent in many other less-defensible shows with overt romantic characteristics. I find those helpless  character  archetypes  indicative of an incredibly sexist and dehumanizing style of pandering. My problem is not specifically with K-On – I merely used it as an example because it’s also a KyoAni show and it bears a large number of humorous parallels to Free!, which is why I was referring to Haru as Mio throughout, etc.

Obnoxious in how often and aggressively I signal my adherence to it

I’m sorry my brand of humanism is so offensive to you! My first suggestion would be to possibly not read my posts, since they are all an extension of my beliefs and thus all likely contain the capacity to offend you, but I’d also like to add a little context here. First, and I’ve covered this earlier, but it bears repeating: I’m not filtering my voice through some outside agenda here. I’m cataloging my honest reactions, adding a little humor, and trying to show people my context on media. My first goal in writing these things is to better process my own thoughts, and become a more intelligent consumer of media (thus the questions of sexism and objectification will necessarily crop up here, since they’re such a big question when it comes to this show, and are obviously on my mind) – but in a roundabout way, you’re also right. My second goal is to impart something. Normally that thing is either my way of analyzing stories or my thoughts on media evaluation or my belief that humility and curiosity are the only ways to have a meaningful relationship with art. But my general worldview is also inescapably a part of that.

I’m not a religious person, but I can understand why a religious person would try and tell you how valuable their religion is, if they care about you – according to a great many faiths, if you’re not an adherent, you are eternally damned. That sucks! Why wouldn’t a religious person want to spare people they care about from that? And personally, as a non-religious person who instead believes that data is a real thing and prejudice exists and our world is incredibly goddamn far from a place where genders or races or sexualities or whatever can honestly consider themselves equal in society, government, law, or media, I think that downplaying this stuff, particularly in a setting where people actually read what I have to say, would be pretty inexcusable. I’m not hammering on my “agenda” here, but if my thoughts make anyone think that maybe continuously treating female characters like objects is a shitty thing to do, then I’d also be pretty fucking proud of that. If you find that obnoxious, whatever, read something else – but you can’t tell me it’s not sincere.

But seriously, I’m not actually trying with that – if I were trying, I could be doing much more directly relevant stuff than criticizing anime. This show is pretty dumb on a straight textual level, and so I find that outside of just making jokes, the most interesting angle to analyze it from is its relation to the pervasive sexism in the anime industry. When relevant cultural stuff crops up in other shows, I’ll certainly mention it, but this happens to be a show where that angle is likely the best one for encouraging meaningful discussion. I did not once think while watching this, “now would be a good time to propagate my subversive feminist agenda” – things just came up in my mind and so I wrote them down because I thought someone else might find them interesting. If that doesn’t work for you – well, sorry, no refunds.


First part: Apologies for being unnecessarily rude earlier – I did find your initial post a bit condescending. Although I can see where you’re coming from about helpless women, I don’t think this is an entirely fair portrayal of K-On! The girls in that show may be goofy and a bit childish in their personal interactions, but they’re also proactive and successful at their goals. They aren’t genuinely helpless and they don’t sit around waiting for men (or anyone else) to save them.

Second part: I think there’s a danger in jumping in too whole-heartedly into any political belief given the high possibility of those beliefs being at least least partially in error. Taking abstract beliefs completely seriously is powerful but dangerous, and can drive things like terrorism just as much as it can drive positive change (not that I think you’re going to bomb anyone). I did think it was a bit weak when you were about to criticize Free! for possibly being sexist against men and then cringed back because you were apparently terrified of being labelled an MRA neckbeard – I think it’s better to own your thoughts instead of fearing “thoughtcrime”.

For what it’s worth I have no comment on Free! itself – I don’t intend to watch it but anyone who does enjoy it is welcome to. I did think it was a bit lame that some people claimed to be watching it in an attempt to stick it to /a/ somehow – just watch what you want to watch and don’t worry about what some anon said about it.

Anyway, thanks for being reasonable when I started out being a bit snarky.


Abstract beliefs

The thing is, the only real “beliefs” I’m proposing here are that all people deserve equal treatment, that various societal and systemic forces trend towards sexism, and that this extends to media as well. And none of those “beliefs” are really debatable – there’s endless academic evidence for it, and even a cursory examination of anime at large reveals the general tendency to objectify and infantilize female characters. I agree that unsupported beliefs are dangerous, but I think what you’re proposing here is equally dangerous – the idea that all viewpoints are created equal. They aren’t – there’s only one reality, and when all the evidence supports the idea that women are not given fair representation in media, the viewpoint in support of changing that becomes kinda self-evident.

Terrified at being labeled an MRA neckbeard

I was actually just making a joke there, and am not particularly worried about being labeled an MRA or whatever. I don’t deny that men can also be objectified in media (I mean, look at this show), but I think the relative objectification/agency ratio is so skewed towards male fantasies that raising a show like this as a counterpoint to sexism at large is pretty laughable. That was pretty much what I was trying to say with my joke: that Free!’s existence as a show that objectifies men does not excuse an entire culture of sexism in the other direction, farcically playing off the general tendency to use single isolated examples in order to “prove feminism wrong.”

Thanks for the apology, by the way. I try to stay as reasonable as possible, since we can’t really learn anything from each other if we’re just throwing barbs.


8 thoughts on “Feminism and Free!

  1. I always found it puzzling how people would write long articles supporting beliefs they later call “self-evident”.

    • After the initial chuckle, and I think you certainly made a witty point here, I feel they mostly mean the “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and you see it everywhere.” or “How could I not see it before?!”

  2. 1. “Conscious mind” rather than “conscience mind”.

    2. From the KyoAni shows you’ve mentioned the one I’m most familiar with is K-On! and I think it’s probably the one least fitting what you are writing. In K-On! the characters aren’t really sexualized, and there aren’t really boys, there is almost certainly sexualization going on outside the show, like with more or less any show. I don’t doubt that in a couple of months the -booru sites will even be filled with images of the Watamote protagonist having sex with anything and everything…

    If we’re talking about Yui, she’s definitely hyper-infantilized, but in other shows we have other people portraying the role, such as Finnian in Kuroshitsuji, and I can’t help but think of T.K. in Angel Beats! as an attempt to bludgeon my mind back to my pre-weened days…
    In K-On! since all the characters are male, then all of the roles have to be assumed by women, but that’s for discussing this specific role. It’s definitely true that females in anime are much more likely to be given the supportive role, rather than the ones who go out and accomplish things without clinging to others.

    If rather you meant to discuss K-On! as a whole being infantile due to not going anywhere, not being “sharp”, and rather being a warm and cuddly feel-good show, then I guess you have a point, but it is a feel-good show, at the end of it.

    3, There’s definitely something to remember about archetypes in anime versus archetypes in the real world. You know those girls in anime who bounce around with endless energy, running around non-stop all the time, whom people say they really like? Or characters like Kirino who is exceedingly rude to her brother, bossy, etc. and people say they love, not as characters, but as people? I too often love them as characters, but dealing with such people in real life can be very exhausting and I often dislike these sort of people.

    Likewise, because you like a character it doesn’t mean you should desire any such situation to occur in the real life. I’m not trying to deflect arguments about the messages anime teaches, just adding my two cents on top of it about the fact people watch anime and don’t realize how many of these things simply shouldn’t exist in the real world (and they often do exist).

    4. [Redacted a point about objective morality, but also how its lack of existence doesn’t mean you should change your behaviour.]

    5. The point about religion was a point about conversion, and comes back to what you wrote of humility, and my redacted point. Even if you’re right, he’s saying trying to convert him is rude when he clearly doesn’t want to be converted, and even the assumption you could or should is infringing upon him – let’s say he’s also religious, but of another religion.

    You addressed the point, in that these are your opinions, and this is your space to air them (though I suspect the replies came about on Reddit?), and that you feel it’s your moral duty to spread them, but then it’s a battle of proselytizing.

    And people are annoyed when preached to, as many feminists sites say, but definitely not all, you can help people learn when they want to, you can’t force them to learn, or want to learn.

    • Yeah, coming across as preachy in an unproductive way was the main reason I hesitated to post this. I don’t think my original Free! post came across as forcing any particular ideology (as I say here, it was just my immediate perspective), but the particular points raised against it didn’t strike me as a fundamental difference in perspective, but something where explaining myself further might actually lead to a productive conversation. These issues are dicey, but they’re important and worthy of discussion whatever your perspective is – plus, as I mentioned, I think the tendency to assign every perspective the designation “belief” and assume they’re all equally reflective of reality is a pretty dangerous one, and leads to stuff like the outright denial of hard evidence in favor of personal belief.

      The K-On! conversation is somewhat muddled, since as you say and I also admit, that probably is not that show’s purpose (and I’m not trying to skewer it for being a feel-good show). Overt romances like Sakurasou or Clannad are better examples, where I’m not entirely comfortable with what those female portrayals say, represent, and possibly teach. As you say, archetypes are exaggerated in anime, but I think it’s something worth keeping in mind – most characters are unrealistic, but these characters are unrealistic in a specific way that plays to fantasies and ideas on gender that I personally take issue with.

      Sorry about typos; I didn’t want to polish my original post, since I felt that’d be disingenuous in the context of a genuine argument. I hope my feelings on these issues (which I’m trying to express as a reflection of the evidence as I see it, and not a hardline ideology) don’t invalidate my feelings about the importance of humility and open conversation. Outside of stuff like “be good to people” or “we are all worthy of respect” I’m not a fan of hardline ideology in general.

      • Well, I’m sure no one would’ve minded typo correction 😉 Also, I am really anal about typos, it’s not your fault, it’s mine. I sometimes feel the urge to correct a typo, and even if it annoys people sometimes, sometimes I must.

        Anime are definitely about fantasies. I think a large number of stories could be boiled down to “What fantasy does this fulfill?” whereas I think all stories could be boiled down to a question they posit. Anime in particular, and it feels to be more common as time goes by, are about wish fulfillment. I am aware of that, and I’m aware one of the fantasies that resonate the most strongly with me are “Determinators”, so I enjoy those shonen shows. Simply because they answer this need within me.

        About “preaching”, something very interesting they’ve told us in a social psychology class was that when two people who disagree with one another argue, rather than come closer to one another, they end up growing farther apart, so if 1 is one end of the spectrum and 10 the other, should us two start at 6.5 and 3.5, after the argument we’d likely end at say, 7.5 and 2.5. We use the argument to entrench ourselves. When we make something explicit, we grow to believe in it more – when asked a question, we think we make explicit something we’ve always held to, but more often we’re creating the opinion ad hoc and applying it to our past self post-hoc.

        As a philosopher who almost always adopts a contrarian position, I still don’t know how to handle this knowledge.
        And it’d definitely be something I mention in my long-promised “Can’t we like different things?” blog-post >.>

      • Also, it’s not that the characters are necessarily realistic, but how we feel about them in anime is very much not how we’d feel about them should we meet them in real life.

  3. Anyone who says Clannad is sexist is a delusional fucking moron. I honestly don’t even know where to begin because it’s just so wrong on every fucking level
    first off how the fuck is any female character in Clannad helpless? Nagisa may not be strong physically, but mentally she is really strong. Considering the entire first half of the show is Nagisa’s battle to overcome her baggage and insecurity I don’t see the ‘helpless’ criticism at all.

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