Honestly I don’t play video games a lot. For the lack of knowledge, I didn’t care much about gender representation in video games before I moved to US. Last fall one of my classmates picked this topic for his assignment on our Exhibition Design class in college. He presented his collage work of many female characters, including Zelda, Tifa or Princess Peach. We had a tons of discussions about the topic at on-class critiques, beyond sexualities and nationalities. Then I realized this topic has been studied, reviewed and criticized worldwide more than I thought.
I’d like to write about so-called “Bikini Armor” later. Let’s get started with Princess Peach instead. The world famous female video game character. The blonde heroine who dressed in pink, probably inspired from classical Disney princesses, so adorable, selfless and worth to be rescued.
Some of you might imagine that Japan is a super male-dominated society. Well, my answer is Yes, and No. Regarding gender equality, at the global point of view, I must say that my home country is less-developed than any other advanced countries. However, we Japanese women rarely face such terrible sexual exploitation as you might see through Hentai fictions (Hey I know you saw them!), or Madame Butterfly.
It’s hard to describe. I won’t say there’s no problems. But please just understand, we’re not living in (or dying for) Samurai tradition anymore. We’re not locked-in like Geisha anymore. Confucian sense of seniority? Not as strict as patriarchal religions in Western world. For example, I was raised up in a super-liberal family in Tokyo. My mother is a feminist/art educator who had studied abroad, much modern and less religious than others in her generation. She had always told me that anyone can be anything and girls should be treated just equal to boys.
I believe that many Japanese successful women in the modern society were raised up like me. Most of us are well-educated and feeded both Eastern and Western thoughts since childhood. Some might have fought against their out-of-date families for their rights of high-education or economic independence, but they also get supported from others. Many of us have really fed up with the current right-ish government, which persistently demanded us to step back into pre-modern ideal families. We never allow to turn back our clock.
However. At the same time, as a result of chaotic mixture of both original Eastern and imported Western thoughts, I, an ordinary Japanese girl, took much time to become a feminist. Again, it’s so hard to describe. It doesn’t happen to all Japanese girls, but I experienced odd twists and turns. Possibly, my story might be similar to elder feminists decades ago, rather than young readers in the same age.
My liberal parents had treated me just equal to boys. “Be ambitious”, they said. “There’s nothing you can’t do in this world.” On the other hand, my conservative relatives in countryside said, “Wish you were an eldest son. Regret to say that you are smarter than boys.” So, I became a little girl strongly believed that she was equal to boy — or, almost a boy.
In my childhood, I naturally hated the idea that women are weak and vulnerable, because I kept trying to become tougher and stronger than boys. Honestly, yes, I hated empty head girls, who weeping and waiting to be saved. My younger sister always ended our fighting with fake sob-sob crying to call over adults. Cheating, isn’t it? Yes, I don’t like Princess Peach, too. I love Super Mario Bros., but she’s not me. I’ve never felt empathy to Princess Sob-sob. I’m more mannish and never cry like my sister. I rather be Mario. I’m eligible for the player character of this world. — That was my thought.
Hey, little girl, it’s not a feminist… you are just a Honorary Male. You believe that you are eligible for the player of this world, just because you think and act like men. You are a winner who obeys to men’s rule, a privileged elite who never change the male-centered worldview. Don’t try to be Mario, you’re absolutely not an Italian guy with a mustache. Be the player of the world, just as yourself. Then save vulnerable Princess Peach. Don’t blame her, it’s not her fault to be assaulted. And save tyrant King Koopa (Bowser), too. Think how you could stop his behavior; without punching back to him.
This is my current thought. Wish I could speak to that young girl, who was struggling with twists and turns of chaotic mixturized gender roles.
Once I was a brave boy-like child soldier. “If I were a boy, I could rule the world,” I trusted. Sob-sob girls were useless and irrelevant for that playground, or battlefield. “Who cares Princess Peach?” I thought. She is an unimportant sub-character who only appears at the last scene. I screened out her from my sight. As if she’s not there. When I played the boy role, that kind of thought, or attitude, followed me everywhere like a dark shadow. What is that shadow? Something intangible. That evil headhunt me to its troop, gently whispering, “If you were masculine, you could rule the world.” Or, the same voice said to me, “Women are their own worst enemies, aren’t they?”
I had proudly believed that I was strongly conscious about gender inequality. On the other hand, I have ignored girls to be rescued. Now I feel guilty that once I said “I dislike Princess Peach!” — I don’t. Of course, she is not my worst enemy. Remembering my girlhood (almost boyhood I would say), I feel I was a chess pawn of the proxy war. The true enemy is in the backroom of this proxy war; something more intangible.
“Q1. Is unconscious gender bias in Japan acceptable to Japanese women?” I answer, “No.” We’ve been fighting against it with our recognition. “Q2. Why did you care less about gender representation in Japanese video games?” My girlhood may answer, “I’m not sure… I thought I’ve already solved the issues… In comparison to old-time miserable women, I feel happy enough being equal to boys… And I don’t see any unhappy women here, in front stage.”
That’s the way this country’s culture looks like less-developed. It takes time for me to notice that once I was a honorary male, or a blind witness. From my experience, I can easily imagine that similar things happen to Japanese males. We all might have been guilty, and, we all might have been victims.
It takes time. Which means it’s advancing. So, please keep questioning to Japanese people. They look happy but they might not. They might laugh, “What’s the matter? It’s just a video game, isn’t it?” Let them think about it. More seriously. Not to create brainwashed child soldiers anymore. Keep watching patiently as if that country is 100 years late behind you; but advancing, and not so stupid.
In recent Mario series, Princess Peach is not a prisoner anymore, enjoying her new life as a kart racing driver, or a football player. But even today, some boys, or girls like me, might feel still uncomfortable to play along with her. Because she classically dresses in pink, or she doesn’t look powerful enough or smart to be a player, or she’s different from boy characters, etc… In the less-developed country, it easily happens. Then, adults must teach them about it. That uncomfortableness is not related from her sex, gender, or outfits. That comes from invisible “inequality” surrounding her. Don’t misunderstand or confused these two. If someone needs help, save them from that “inequality”. The evil might not be the shape of King Koopa. It might be living in your heart. Defeat it.
I’ve never felt empathy to Princess Peach. However, that should not be my excuse not to care her. Well, personally I don’t like a pink dress. But I pay respect what she wears. Well, she and I have only few things in common, maybe we can’t be friends. But yet I’m ready to fight for her rights, if she were portrayed as a victim of any inequality. No excuses. The fact is; No one should be abducted and assaulted by anyone. If that happens, that’s the matter of us all. Because we are active game-changers of this whole real world.