The essence of femininity and a shounen women's strength - a long Gintama analysis
Gintama, despite its comedic form, talks about some important topics and I deeply appreciate it. There are many problems, but still some themes come back more often, in different settings and with different situations, yet they are not outdated, on the contrary - there is always something new that can be added. One of those problem is the matter of femininity, or rather problems with defining femininity, because not once and not twice Sorachi-sensei let his women said “I don’t want to be a woman, because”… yeah, why?
Here the answer is not so simple, every woman is a little different and her protest against femininity has a different form, is associated with different troubles. I do not want to be a woman, because I can’t do things that are natural for men. I do not want to be a woman, because it makes certain things unattainable for me. It cuts my perspectives. I do not want to be a woman, because it makes me weak. I do not want to be a woman, because men humiliate me. Because my life would be different if I was a man. Sorachi-sensei shows a woman fighting on many levels, not only to be equal to men, but also to show what does it mean to be a shounen woman, a strong female character, a valuable female character.
For the first time Sorachi-sensei showed a woman having problems solely because of her gender in a short story about firefighters, when Gintoki met Tatsumi. Because it was the beginning of the manga and Tatsumi never came back, I just remind that she was a girl saved from fire by a fireman. The fire killed her parents, so since then the girl was brought up at a fireman headquarters. Her dream was to become a firefighter, but her wings were quickly clipped. How? Simply, Tatsumi heard that she wouldn’t be able to be the real firefighter because she was a woman. And we all know it’s a male profession, a man world where a woman inherently does not fit. It was not that the firefighters didn’t like Tatsumi. They just didn’t treat her seriously - couldn’t imagine a good female firefighter. Sorachi-sensei showed it as a function too abstract for stagers.
There aren’t any simple stories in Gintama, so of course it turned out that it was never about Tatsumi’s gender. Her foster father wanted to protect her from his dangerous work, he just wanted to make her happy, it never really mattered that she was a girl… but for sure?
No. At this moment we disregard the storyline. Undeniably Tatsumi’s father wanted the best for her, he loved her, he didn’t regret that he had a daughter. In this case gender actually meant nothing. But let’s get out of the story area and stand on the author’s side. If a firefighter saved a boy, would he love him as much as he loved a girl? Yes. If he wanted to succeed his profession, would his father stop him? Yes. If Sorachi-sensei chose a man, would the story be the same? No. Sorachi would show this story through completely different means, “deterrence” would be different. The things that a boy has to prove are completely different. He would be a little bit like Shinpachi, most likely he would prove that he can do something - he himself, as an Individual. Tatsumi didn’t have to prove that she can do something. Immediately obvious way to divert her attention from firefighters was to remind her that she was a woman, with a man such a thing does not exist. Her privacy was taken away from her, her efforts were not individual, but very general. Because it showed that a woman can pursue male professions. She has gained privacy at the end, when she learned the truth about his father, that’s true. But Sorachi-sensei had reasons to choose a woman, underestimated just because of her gender.
When we talk about the problem of femininity in Gintama, without any doubt the most important character is Kyuubei Yagyuu. I mentioned Tatsumi because her silent protest was not a protest against femininity. Of course, she wasn’t sweet and girly, but she also didn’t hate being a woman. She was the woman doing some things as well as men, it was her role. Kyuubei’s problem was totally different. Kyuubei is that unusual character, in her the approval and contempt for the womanhood existed at the same time, or rather admiration for Otae’s femininity and the contempt of her own femininity.
Her father and grandfather said they never wanted Kyuubei to abandon her femininity (father again. If I have a little time my next essay will be about fairly difficult role of a father and his impact on a child in Gintama), but we are not surprised. Kyuubei was raised on simple rules - if you were a boy, you would inherit family, the dojo, our name, you’d be a samurai, you would be our pride. But you’re not, you’re just a girl. Some people probably would look askance at you if they knew you’re not a boy. And perhaps it was never explicitly stated, never said like that, but what little Kyuubei could hear if not ‘if you were a boy, you’d be much better, valuable person’. But she was just a woman.
Anime and manga sometimes give us situations like “Oh God, you are a woman?” and responses like “I’m a man in my heart, but outside I’m a woman”. Surely anyone can add more than one character. But how often the problem itself is marginalized and the topic runs as a TV trope or the effect of surprise, nothing more? Kyuubei has a serious problem, because she is not another character whose sex turns out to be different. Kyuubei is someone who believed that being a woman made her worse. As we know, in fact Kyuubei felt like a girl, she wanted to be like Otae, she wanted to behave similarly. But the influence of the society and the pressures were so strong that her dream was quickly burned.
Once again, remember that Sorachi-sensei, contrary to appearances, doesn’t live in a jungle and on a tree. He is an employee of one of the greatest shounen magazines and the amount of parodies shows that he is aware of his market. Perhaps he also knows about the widespread trend of giving women male characteristics, making women like different men to show how strong she is. I’m sure he knows. Sorachi does the same thing, he makes his woman masculine and… shows her as someone completely lost, deprived of identity and above all, unhappy. Sorachi-sensei completely breaks this approach, Kyuubei is only destroyed by such treatment. And Kyuubei’s society is sometimes like all readers, because are their expectations different? For many people femininity means weakness.
Sorachi-sensei answers when Kyuubei tells Otae that she always wanted to be like her. Who is Otae? She is not manly, she’s not even a fighter. She is a girl who, after her family death, took over her home, took care of her brother, she is someone who wants to continue the family dojo all alone, who works the night shift, so her brother can train with Gin, who always defended Kyuubei and never to judges her. Or, if you want to use the phrase Kyuubei said, she was a nice and at the same time strong girl. Pretty good definition of strength.
Kyuubei is not the only one who said “I have abandoned my womanhood”. But as I said before, every woman is different and we won’t see two similar cases. When Kyuubei says she does not want to be a woman, she thinks about becoming a man. Abandonment of femininity as a sign of masculinity. A third character for whom the essence of femininity is important was Tsukuyo. Tsukuyo is, again, completely different than the previous two girls. First of all, in her case there is no continuous comparisons with a man - with a firefighter, with a son of the Yagyuu family. Tsukuyo never tried to become a man, she also looks quite feminine compared to the two previously women. But Sorachi-sensei at one point said that Yoshiwara is an arc about broken women - none of them has been broken by her life, but by treating like a subject by men. Personally, for me it was the only anime showing a brothel and making named prostitutes the heroines.
The abandonment of femininity for Tsukuyo was divided into two parts. The first occurred when small Tsukuyo, being just a child, took a knife and destroyed her face to escape the fate of a prostitute. Here her gender meant beauty, grace, elegance. For Yoshiwara girls being the real woman was becoming more and more beautiful to please men. According to this inculcated logic the only way to avoid it was to erase the beauty from the very beginning. So the woman without the attribute of femininity, her beauty, automatically cease to be a woman. The second part took place when Tsukuyo met her master. It was him who told her to completely forgot about femininity, but for him it didn’t mean the same as for her. For Jiraia woman was weak, because a woman is the one that is protected. If you do not want to be protected, but protect, abandon femininity. Tsukuyo believe in these words, but similar to Kyuubei and Otae, for Tsukuyo being a woman didn’t mean anything bad. The real woman was Hinowa, firstly she was beautiful, secondly she was not made to fight, but to be protected by Tsukuyo. But the Yoshiwara society never recognized a not-beautiful woman, a not-for pleasing a man woman. The Yoshiwara was all for men, and the women were only for men too. Tsukuyo said that they were enslaved women and their slavery was created from the continuous power of men and stealing from women any form of freedom, individuality. They were serving as an object. And again, Sorachi says it in this story - if they were not women, they wouldn’t suffer. Because they were women, they have been sold to a brothel, because they were women, they were treated like that, because they were women they had to cease to be women to not be forced into prostitution.
Since we are talking about the Yoshiwara, a word about Hinowa. I’m not a native English language speaker and I admit I have no idea how this term is called in English. But Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and the character of Sonia has created something called “the holy whore” and in literature it means a woman from seemingly moral lowlands, but distinguished by greater kindness and sense of morality than “normal women”. Sorachi-sensei used it very neatly, because Hinowa was it. A courtesan, a geisha. Certainly she was sold for money to men, at least before Hosen fallen in love and imprisoned her. And for Gintama characters having flaws is quite common, even though it’s hard to find a more flawless character than Hinowa.
Each character is different, each character represents different problems, but they are all associated with the discrimination against women, very visibly outlined by Sorachi-sensei. But let’s not talk only about those women who couldn’t make it, because the whole bunch of them did something and their gender couldn’t interfere. What do I mean? Gintama is not just a mass of broken women, intimidated by men. It’s Kagura, physically the strongest character in the entire cast. It’s Tetsuko Murata, the swordsmith creating the best swords. It’s Matako Kijima, the best shooter who never misses. It’s Mutsu or Ikumatsu, leading or co-leading their own business. They’re women in male roles that have never heard, “oh, it’s a woman” or “even though she is a woman…”. They are simply the best people in their field.
Really, if look at Sakamoto and Mutsu, don’t we get the exact opposite of what we expect in fiction from genders? Sakamoto is sometimes careless, sometimes reckless, easily makes friends, often needs to be saved, is guided by the heart rather than by the mind. Mutsu is rational, calculating, down-to-earth, she saves Sakamoto when he’s in danger. And still I didn’t see anyone hating on Sakamoto because “he’s so stupid and useless and he still needs help and he should do something and…”
Sorachi-sensei never tells his women to prove anything despite being women or try to catch up with men. If anything, he teaches them to achieve everything in life because they are women. Kyuubei or Tsukuyo not only didn’t give up being a woman, but they wear femininity proudly. Because being a woman is the pride and strength and Sorachi-sensei reminds it every time shows together Otae, Kyuubei, Tsukuyo and Sa-chan or Kagura, Tsukuyo and Nobume or any other feminine combination. Male power is not chauvinism, Gin says he doesn’t like seeing a crying woman, Shinsengumi is the entirely male unit. And that’s okay, because next to the thing that only a man can do is what can be achieved only by a woman. In every area of life.
None of them have ever heard “despite”. They are strong and beautiful because they have high self-esteem, awareness of their strengths and pride that can’t be crushed and can never be received by those who thinks that a woman has to be like a man to be strong. A Gintama woman is strong when she’s a real person.
“I often hear that Gintama is very kind to losers. The thought that “a failure like me can still keep living when I read this manga.” But I didn’t intentionally draw losers. I’ve been told that it’s because I’m a loser too. Well, fine. But honestly, I think everyone’s a loser. The only difference is the skin we put on. Once you open the lid and look inside, everyone’s the same.”
— Hideaki Sorachi (x)
Today is the B-day of my most favorite Mangaka Sorachi Hideaki.
Sorachi is the genius who brought us Gintama (and several awesome One Shots). Not much is known about that Gorilla but I find him hilarious. Not only because of Gintama but also because his comments in the volumes and interviews. He seems very symmpatic and funny. I hope he keeps entertaining us for many more years be it Gintama or another manga.
Onishi: Then your goal in life is to be a movie director?
Sorachi: No. I don’t want to be one. But don’t you want to continue to create something with your own hands? The more I watch, the sadder I get.
Sorachi: Maybe that’s why I’m a comic author.
Onishi: I don’t think most people think like that. They usually just say stuff like, “That was a great movie,” and that’s the end of it.
Sorachi: And don’t you want to use that feeling as motivation to create something? When they just say, “Man, I have to go back to work tomorrow,” don’t you think that makes you feel very empty inside? Wouldn’t it be great if you could say, “All right. I’m going to make something better than that starting tomorrow.” (x)
I hope he stays awesome and let the reader rest soon this sadist (manga reader will understand). Just like last year I will do another blog about his bday next year which proves how much I love this manga/anime and how much it helped me almost 2 years ago without even realizing it. Thank you Sorachi.
For every Gintama fan you should definetly read his one shots. It’s too bad they didn’t made it but the one shots are pretty awesome.
Also for someone who says he can’t draw he is really good. Tbh his art was really rather meh at the beginning but after so many years he improved a lot. And I actually think there is barely anyone who draws such awesome action scenes.
I often hear that Gintama is very kind to losers. The thought that “a failure like me can still keep living when I read this manga.” But I didn’t intentionally draw losers. I’ve been told that it’s because I’m a loser, too. Well, fine. But honestly, I think everyone’s a loser. The only difference is the skin we put on. Once you open the lid and look inside, everyone’s the same.
I take issue with the fact that the new studio doesn’t ship okikagu the same way as sorachi sensei I do. The way I interpereted this scene in the original manga release, is that Sougo I’s watching the Soyo/Kagura interaction, just look at his expression in the final left panel, as well as the direction his eyes are looking. He’s not paying attention to the Shogun at all, why would he be smiling otherwise?