The male gaze, for a long time, has been a subject of investigation in popular discourses such as cinema and literature. This article attempts to explore and substantiate the same using cartoons in the Indian and Japanese context which have consciously or subconsciously yielded into this system of stereotypical feminization and sexist generalisations.
The Young girl feels that her body is getting away from her… on the street men follow her with their eyes and comment on her anatomy. She would like to be invisible; it frightens her to become flesh and to show flesh”, Simone De Beauvoir in Second Sex.
The Male Gaze refers to the act of depicting womxn and the world told through the idealist perspective of the heterosexual masculine cis viewer, which is warped by the hyper sexualisation and objectification of womxn. The term was originally coined by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her 1975 seminal essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ to describe the cinematic angle with which a heterosexual male character looked at a female character. Thus, the ‘male gaze’ invokes the sexual politics of the gaze by which the woman is simply reduced to a sense of aesthetic pleasure for the man which, in turn, empowers men, while objectifies women. It’s visibly comprehensible in films or video games where the camera deliberately pans cover women’s bodies, often zooming in and out in slow motion, on their various body parts.
Arguably, viewing our bodies as separate to our minds, promotes objectification and self-surveillance, that is, viewing one’s body from an outsider observer’s perspective”, Nadia Craddock, a research fellow at the Centre for Appearance Research.
Therefore, it becomes pertinent to study and challenge this further in other visual mediums including cartoons, mangas, and anime, for instance. While the cartoons we were so fond of as kids may have been a wellspring of amusement and laughter for us, it’s only now that one can attempt to understand and identify the blatant sexist generalisations and objectification of women, persistent deeply in the very sources of amusement. In fact, if you’re familiar with contemporary animation , or the entertainment industry as a whole , it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: from writers’ desks to character rosters, cartoons have long been a boys’ club.
Hibbeler (2009) analyzed masculine representations in Disney animated feature films and concluded that Disney does not appear to be making progress toward more accurate and positive representations of male characters. Male characters that were heroes and central were portrayed as being younger, slender, sexual and romantically involved, aggressive, and as having family structures not commonly seen in society. These representations of male characters are very stereotypical in nature and further propagate misogyny at its core.
Often, the female protagonists in such cartoons represent a heavily gendered stereotype of a silly and frivolous person whose only positive trait is to attract men. This way, they simply get reduced to merely a two-dimensional, porcelain symbol of femininity meant to be rescued and provided for by a man who simply knows better and has a higher purpose in life diminishing women as pervasive and exploitative caricatures.
We may have been elated at hearing the news of Shizuka and Nobita finally getting married, but how much progress have we really made? The Japanese Manga fails to distinguish from its other contemporaries in stereotyping women. The female characters, though strongly determined, are shown as either too aggressive, unexplainably rude, and irritated beings like Nobita’s mother, accompanied with an uncomfortable feminine imagery, or often meek and modest damsels in distress like our very own Shizuka. For instance, even though Shizuka is in the top scorers of her class and quite smart and intelligent, her pastimes include going to piano lessons, baking cookies, and learning to paint. Often, she is attacked by the supposed ‘villain’ of the episode only to be rescued by Nobita and Doraemon’s gadgets.
Adding cherry on the top is Nobita’s continuous obsession over her so much so that he somehow, always lands up in her house only to see her bathing, which is creepy, to say the least, and, a sexual offense in the 21st century. The makers of the show, for some reason, repeatedly use such bathing and flying skirt scenes in an attempt of, perhaps, weaving a ‘cute’ love story. The reason for the same can be cited as male ideologies monopolising the conversations over female identity and characters in visual representations and theatre across the globe. It can be argued that Japanese society is traditional and the cartoon was created in the 1970s, so maybe it is reflective of a certain time and place, but the pertinent question, then, becomes: why are we seeing it in 21st century India?
Featured Image: The Dot and Line