Three Lines Seen in Anime and Manga Which Piss Me Off: Ramblings About Heteronormativity in Japanese Media

36 comments

One of the things that irks me as a yuri blogger is heteronormativity. Can we talk about this for a bit?

(Slight spoilers in this post)

First things first: all of this is just my opinion. A lot of this is also me just going with my gut since I only took a single gender studies class back as a freshman in college. With that in mind, go easy on me.

Second things second: what do I mean by “heteronomativity?”

4a9652b423b806fb00874433fa1c6faa

Well, it’s “the assumption that behavior or attitudes consistent with traditional male or female gender roles, as well as the assumption of heterosexuality, as the norm.”

Notice the bolded words. I’m not against straight couples. Not at all! I’ve watched and read my fair share of shoujo series where the female lead falls in love and ends up with a great guy. Same with action series, where the overpowered hero gets with his biggest fan. Good stuff. Gets me weepy every time.

No, what I’m against is the assumption that characters (and people) are considered normal if and only if you are heterosexual. Furthermore, it’s expected that girls have to act like how girls are “supposed to act.” Same goes with boys. Ugh!

Let’s go over some examples.

3. “But they’re both girls”

Ah, a staple in the yuri genre. So the knee-jerk reaction by default is to claim two individuals can’t romantically love or date each other simply because they’re both girls?

This also can and will happen to the two girls who are directly involved in such relationship drama. To be fair, sometimes romantic developments might catch the girls off-guard so their thoughts are all a mess, but doesn’t the line of thinking shown below kind of comes across as being closed-minded?

girlfriends
So what if “they” are both girls? (Girlfriends by Morinaga Milk)

Then again, the yuri genre sometimes play up this sort of relationship drama for… well… drama, basically. For example, peers and neighbors alike will relentless mock the lesbian couple in some settings.

cats-eye-hall
Cat’s Eye Hall by Shinonome Mizuo

So while I’m rather tired of seeing characters automatically assume that only heterosexual relationships work out, I realize these sort of reactions are realistic given the startling amount of homophobia we see in real life. As a result, both characters and people have to really consider their feelings and actions in order to avoid getting hurt. Isn’t it a shame that they feel like they’re walking on egg-shells?

Furthermore, a lot of us have also held such sentiments at one point in life, as well. I’m only speaking for myself, but I was raised in a Christian upbringing where I was taught homosexual relations are “evil” and “not right.” Eventually I was able to realize that’s simply not true. And characters are the same way! They eventually realize and correct their shortsightedness! Some of them do, that is.

2. “Cross-dressing is gross”

I always feel terrible for the trap (aka the male who dresses like a female) who has to endure insults from both loved ones and friends. You can see this happen in Past Future since the main character, who used to be on great terms with his younger sister, get treated like garbage once he starts dressing like a girl.

past-future.jpg
To be fair, though, he’s wearing her clothes without asking.

To me, traps are a symbol of courage. They are brave for trying to look and act cute while enduring the negative reactions most people have towards cross-dressing. Not to mention that their time as a trap usually is quite limited due to puberty (unless certain steps are taken…)  Hang in there, characters who are both cute and cool!

1. “You’re not girly enough”

Tomboys, my heart goes out to you girls, too. Why do people have problems with boyish female characters? This is perplexing.

Often times, a tomboy is told she’s “not feminine enough,” which causes her to try to act more girly in order to better fit in. This sort of behavior seems to imply that it’s better to deny one’s true nature in favor of joining the masses (PEOPLE ARE SHEEP, in other words). The mannerisms these tomboys demonstrate as they try to act more “girly”also tend to be exaggerated.

After being told that she’s too much like a guy to attract any attention from the boys, Riko (from Love Lab) starts wearing ribbons in her hair and making funny sound effects while weakly punching her snarky senpai. The implication that guys only like girls who act in a certain way is kind of upsetting.

vlcsnap-2017-01-12-20h02m02s953
Note that Riko’s nickname is “Wild Child” and that she’s actually great at sports.

A similiar stituation happened to Futaba (from Sansha Sanyou). As a girl who can easily complete eating challenges, Futaba gets told off by her younger cousin that she’s too much like a boy. As a result, Futaba starts trying to change her behavior. Why? I have no idea. The implication that she’s supposed to act more girly and she has to change her behavior is also upsetting.

vlcsnap-2017-01-12-20h09m12s821
In this example, the tomboy has also started wearing ribbons in her hair. Her idea of “girly behavior” seems to include fanciful thought as well as refraining from excessive eating.

…seems like hair decs are a big deal for a girl, huh? Thankfully both girls realize that what they’re doing is pointless and that it’s better to just be themselves.

My pet theory is that people prefer distinct classifications. No fuss, no muss! Things either go over here or over there and that’s that.

So of course yuri messes with the whole heteronormative setting, as with traps and tomboys. The boundaries society imposed between gender and behavior then become vague and blurred, which bothers some people. This leads to them acting like bigots, I suppose. I don’t know, that’s probably how it goes?


Sorry that you all read my rambling post. Ta-ta for now.
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36 comments on “Three Lines Seen in Anime and Manga Which Piss Me Off: Ramblings About Heteronormativity in Japanese Media”

  1. I agree with the third most-disliked, most manga just go around saying “we are both girls” stuff. That kinda ruins my mood to continue. Like the manga “Citrus” and some other are there which goes on and on saying the same thing for pretty much the entire series. Actually Citrus is more like “step-sisters” but whatever, the basic story is like that anyway.
    About the first, be glad that they finally realize that what they did are wrong and return to their own self!! And not the other way around. 😀 There are some manga where the MC continues to be a tomboy, and later realizes that she should be girlish, forgot the name and have no motivation to search for it. -.-
    Btw, what manga are those first three pics?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right? Well, I guess it’s a way for us, the readers and viewers, to understand what’s going through the minds of girls in said situation. I mean, it’s irritating and close-minded for them to think like that, but society is quite content to only bombard us with depictions of heterosexual relationships, so it’s no wonder they are a bit ignorant. At least most if them grow out of it.

      Yeah, some manga and shows have the tomboy remain girlish even though they are forcing themselves. What a shame. No worries!

      They should be
      Girlfriends by Morinaga Milk
      Cat’s Eye Hall by Shininome Mizuo
      Past Future by Takatsuki Tsukasa

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Remmmmyyy. Words cannot express how much I appreciate this post. Incoming rant, please excuse. I take this very personally.

    Heteronormativity pisses me off like nothing else because of the way it restricts gender identity and sexual orientation. Hell no, straight couples are not the only valid couples. Feelings or relationships aren’t any ‘lesser’ because those involved are of the same sex. And there is nothing gross or odd whatsoever about cross-dressing or transgenders – both of which are different things. While a certain degree of homophobia and transphobia in fiction can be said to mirror real life, there’s still a point where enough is enough.

    And it’s not only stories themselves that propagate heteronormativity but the viewers as well. For instance, if we have a random character whose sexual preference is unconfirmed and/or not even referenced in the story, people automatically assume that s/he is straight. Minimal interaction between two people of the same sex is taken as indicative of romantic/sexual interest while extremely close bonds between two people of the same sex is seen as friendship and only friendship.

    Then there asexual, aromatic and non-binary people whose representation is pretty much non existent.

    Mind you, with fandom and shipping, a lot of this is changing rapidly. That’s a reason why I’m so fond of them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the post. Hey, there’s nothing to excuse. Your reply was very informative.

      I’m a bit guilty of saying “Ohhh they’re into each other!” when the characters only barely interact at times, but I don’t think I overlook the close relationships between two characters who are of the same sex as friendship, at least.

      More reasons to support shipping are fine reasons to me! I think the portrayal of same sex couples are steadily improving, thankfully. Still not quite there, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Whew I’m glad I didn’t scare you off!

        Oh I do that too. Hell, even characters who’ve never interacted present interesting possibilities sometimes. Shipping is free for all. I just wish people wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss close bonds between two men or women as only friendship.

        In my native culture, lgbt representation in media is more or less zero. Even when they do do it, it tends to be full of bullshit. So I’m thankful that the Western and Eastern shows I consume are better about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, of course you didn’t! I’m just sorry I tried talking about this when I’m not as informed as I should be.

        I go the opposite route when it comes to people of the same sex. Potential lovers until proven only friends! And then I get upset when they really are only friends but yeah.

        Dang, that sucks to hear. At least the Western and Eastern shows make an effort (and make me sound entitled!)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I wouldn’t be so sure since you made very good points from a viewer’s perspective. That’s what I did too actually since I have little academic knowledge of queer and gender studies. Either way, it’s a damn good post.

        Haha we just can’t win, can we? I have a tendency to not like the established couple which is part – but only part- of why I avoid romance anime.

        If it makes you feel any better, it’s human nature to want more than what we have? I think? 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ah, phew. Mmm fair enough. I wouldn’t have known if you didn’t say do! Thank you.
        I’m starting to feel that, too, which makes me feel like a hipster ;__;
        As one line in a song from a flop of anime said, “Human desire is limitless,” so I guess you are correct!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Oops, in my first comment I said “Minimal interaction between two people of the same sex is taken as indicative of romantic/sexual interest ” but I meant ‘opposite sex’ rather than the same. I’d be contradicting myself otherwise. Sorry if I confused you but I think you got me despite the embarrassing mistake.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting thoughts you have here. As with the term “heteronormativity”, I think it only becomes a real problem when the social structures actually impinge on one’s own right towards self expression. In other words, a society that explicitly penalizes “non-normative” behavior as determined by a majority could be considered heteronormative.

    But the ideas of “normality” are something created early on as a function of our upbringing. This is probably best described using Erik Erikson’s theory of psychological development, wherein the adolescent phase is characterized by the conflict of Identity vs. Role confusion.

    This is the reason why you have characters that “act” a certain way but are “imposed norms” by their peers, leading to a confusion of one’s role and identity. People tend to identify themselves with certain social constructs, and though it’s easy to claim “courage” in being defiant to such structures, such integrity of character truly depends on one’s personal upbringing and the environment that allows for such unrepressed expression of individuality.

    Also, the use of heteronormativity as a comedic device is precisely the aim of the author in most instances. Japan is, for all intents and purposes, highly conservative — hence, situations that teeter on this social nuance generates the comedic irony necessary to propel an overt joke. In the case of your example with cross dressing, “cross dresser clueless to the fact that they’re wearing the wrong clothes for their gender-type” is the implicit punch line, whilst the overt joke is them being called out for it.

    There are many ways of going about the idea of heteronormativity, and I can understand where you’re coming from. Unfortunately, Japanese society is what it is, and I think many of the lines that peeve you are actually directly linked to the conservative Japanese psyche and the way they perceive gender norms. I’ve mentioned several times in my articles how I generally dislike the Japanese depiction of homosexuals, but at the same time I can’t blame them.

    So yeah, that was an interesting read. Sorry for flooding your comments section again, hehe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the long and informative reply. I guess it’s really got to do with culture, huh? I probably should respect that a bit more even though I can’t say I’m a fan.

      No worries! I’m appreciative that you stopped by!

      Like

  4. Fascinating post. I haven’t read or watched much yuri or yaoi but I agree that gay couples in anime are highlighted as “oh look at them! They are such weird dramatic props in the anime!” Yeah, anime/manga has a long way to go to dissolve away these types of assumptions. BTW, how is citrus as a drama?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Valid points. They can be portrayed like you said which is frustrating.

      Hm, it leads very heavily into the drama aspect. To the point that the characters are feeling angst for several chapters over minor things. things It started off strongly but it’s slowed down a lot and hasn’t kept my interest with arcs I find hard to care for. Well that’s just my opinion. I read it for Harumin, the main character’s best friend. Maybe it’s because I find myself disliking the main OTP in yuri media, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Random update: Scum’s wish (Kuzu no Honkai) shatters these preconceived notions of heteronormative relationships. If you aren’t watching it yet, I suggest you watch it now. I think it’s right up your alley, not because it ships anything for the sake of it, but because it isn’t afraid to explore the theme in its entirety.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You *are* right, people like to organize their thoughts and beliefs into categories. It’s a human thing, and it’s been like that since forever. Our brains automatically do it, so it’s not completely our fault I guess.
    What I find an issue with is when people realize this and still decide to keep that thinking pattern. That’s absolutely their fault.
    Just because I can relate to heterosexual relationships more, doesn’t mean I don’t want to see other types of relationships represented as well. It would make for a very boring anime, otherwise. Not to mention unrealistic.
    Besides, not very smart of creators to go down that path. Their audience is getting more and more diversified, so if they only target a specific sexual orientation, they’ll be missing out on a entire chunk of viewers. It’s a win-win situation.
    Anyway, great post! You have my vote haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmm it is natural to think like that, but it only becomes a problem when they apply to other people and relationships.
      It would be quite boring if it was just heterosexual relationships, wouldn’t it? Some people have gone the other way and said that heterosexual relationships are boring in turn, however. People should be more accepting!
      Mmm let’s hope creators avoid that mistake.
      Thanks haha c:

      Like

      1. Yeah some people are actually going over to the other end of the spectrum (what I would call the anti-hetero side) and don’t seem to see how wrong that is either.
        Let’s all just appreciate diversity 😊 It’s way better that way!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent post, Remy! First time hearing about this term “heteronormativity” but it makes sense, and not just in Japanese media. This post reminded me of my OWLS tour post about Yuri on Ice. I want to see more anime like Yuri on Ice where same-sex relationships are seen as normal and equal like other heterosexual couples. No matter what the gender or sexual orientation is, a loving relationship is a relationship like any other. I really enjoyed reading this post. Keep up the great work. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Arria. Mmm it’s not the most well-known term but it definitely applies to all kinds of media and mediums as you said.
      Your post were addressing similar issues, too. I guess we can only wait and strive towards that goal through baby steps. It’ll happen someday, perhaps.
      Thank you once again. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent post that I stumbled across on Twitter. I can certainly agree with the points made too. Heteronormativity was something that we were trying desperately to break at my previous workplace (I was the National Bi Rep for the company, so was involved in a lot of the planning by the LGB&T Diversity Network). I truly do hope that there comes a time when people don’t just assume that a) a person’s orientation as heterosexual and b) they should behave a certain way purely because of their perceived gender. It’s part of why I tend to write same gender couples in my own work a lot, and very rarely show them as being on the receiving end of hate as a result.
    The ‘they’re both girls’ line is overused, but sadly representative of a lot of people, even now. Crossdressing too gets such a ridiculously bad rap, and there is no real reason for it other than that boys are expected to be hyper masculine. I hate that. I was never hyper masculine myself, and never saw the appeal in faking it. And as for the tomboy bit … again, I write a lot of tomboys myself, so I don’t really get the issue with the character type. I can only assume that it is itself so diametrically opposite to what was once expected as default that it still causes a problem for some people. That’s another one i’m happy to see changing in the real world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words.
      Mmm it’s definitely something that’s difficult to fight against. I, too, wish for people to not automatically default to such assumptions one day.
      That sort of writing sounds wonderful. I’m very glad to hear (perhaps see is the better verb here) that about your works.
      I agree with everything you’re saying here. People just prefer their predefined categories I guess. The closer we get to true acceptance, the better.

      Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I that’s the thing, we seem to be hard wired to want to box things up in easy to understand categories. The sad thing is, the world is full of so many beautiful shades of grey that black and white boxing really forces you to miss out on how great people can be.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s funny how these were all non-issues in Sailor Moon over 20 years ago (well, consistently in the manga, and non-issues part of the time in the anime), and yet the majority of manga and anime are still so far behind it.

    Incidentally, while I’m aware that a lot of people use the word without meaning it this way, the term “trap” has some heteronormative baggage itself.

    Liked by 1 person

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