I'm taking a bit of a detour this week to talk about this video before I completely forget about it. There'll be more Panty and Stocking goodness in the upcoming weeks, I promise.
Though it's been several weeks, material from Otakon continues to trickle in bit-by-bit and a friend turned me on to this particular tidbit which I think is worth discussing here. Linked above is a recording of the "Sexism in Anime Fandom" panel, hosted by Lauren Orsini of Otaku Journalist and The Patches of The Untold Story of Altair and Vega and What About the Waifuz?. I've been on some similar panels at conventions in the past, and while I sadly do not have anyone to film them for me, these panelists discuss many of the same points that I would care to cover, albeit in more of a presentation format as opposed to the free-form discussions in which I'm usually involved. As a note, the video begins without sound due to a lack of a video recording until a few minutes in, but on-screen text presents the pertinent points until the recording starts.
The panelists take a broad approach to the subject matter, which is effective in the way that the points made become applicable to more than just anime fandom (considering all the hullabaloo surrounding the rampant sexism in the gaming fandom that's been coming to light lately, I think that this was the correct way to present the material). One of the major points made by the panelists is that there's a definite discrepancy when it comes to the ways that male and female fans are targeted by the industry. While I maintain that assigning a definite demographic target to many series can be hit-or-miss in many cases, especially in the Western anime fandom where labels like "shoujo" and "shounen" are treated more like general genre signifiers than categorizations for what manga anthology birthed the series in question, I agree with the panel that there are many more series that are targeted at male fans. One could reason that male fans make up a larger otaku demographic, but in my experience, it's a "chicken-and-egg" situation: society in general tends to have more limitations on what is and isn't okay for girls and women to do and like to begin with, and within the anime industry in particular, the fact that women make up a smaller contingent of the hard-core fanbase is reason enough for studios to focus elsewhere... which in turn leads to fewer women wanting to become a part of the fandom, since there isn't as much material being targeted their way. It becomes a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously, women aren't limited to consuming media that's aimed at them, but there's still the matter of being made to feel like an afterthought by an entire industry.
There's also, as the panelists state, a fairly substantial difference in the way that material targeted at either gender presents the opposite gender, especially when it comes to things that would qualify as fanservice. Obviously, both audiences get their eye-candy to ogle, but in most cases the similarities end there. In fanservice anime aimed at male audiences, there's often a strong emphasis on female characters who exist to be consumed, usually through the display of their bodies. In some of the better shows, these characters are also allowed to have some semblance of personality, but almost universally their primary purpose is as some sort of sexual spectacle for the sake of a male protagonist or and/or the male viewer.
The panelists presented two different kinds of female objectification - one in which the female character is essentially a MacGuffin (literally an object that serves no other purpose than to drive the plot), and another in which the women are sexually-objectified (the type we're more familiar with). I'm glad that these two things were defined and mentioned, because I think it's all-too-easy for some people to dismiss criticisms of characterization in situations where clothes aren't bursting off all over the place, but turning a female character into a one-dimensional "thing" that only exists as some motivation for a male hero is just as much of a problem, especially at the frequency with which it happens.
On the other end of the spectrum are the men in series aimed at women.The specific example used is Ouran High School Host Club, which happens to be an especially good example from the genre, and the observation the panelists make about it is curious indeed - In this show which is supposedly aimed at women, the male characters receive the bulk of the character development, in spite of the fact that so many different statements about the silliness of gender binaries could have been made were Haruhi as a person made more of the focus, rather than the boys of the host club. This is not to say that the show itself is bad (nor are some series in which female characters are objectified or made to be plot devices), but it does speak to a larger problem of not only creating for one particular kind of audience at the exclusion of many others, but of creators not having the ability to write female-focused stories (or even convincing female characters) a lot of the time.
Before I start speaking at length about every single topic this video covers (and end up staying awake until 3am), I'd like to touch on one of the bigger points that hit home with me as a female in fandom. This particular problem has been coming to the forefront lately due to the more frequent outcry from other female fans; to sum up, the issue is that there are certain self-styled "gatekeepers" (usually men, but women are guilty of this too) who are prone to "testing" female fans in an attempt to gauge their "right" to exist within the fandom. The common terminology is the "geek test," and it stems from an assumption that fans and especially women who look a certain way are "posing" as geeks in order to get attention. This has happened to me several times throughout my life; once when I was in high school and voiced an interest in British comedy after having seen Monty Python's Flying Circus and several episodes of Mr. Bean - the person grilling me deemed me unworthy since I hadn't also seen Fawlty Towers or Black Adder. Another occurred at a convention when I was wearing a T-shirt with a video game logo on it; a male con-goer started quizzing me about that game and asking me if I had actually played it (it's one of my favorite games, actually). It's a difficult kind of situation to describe, because the feelings that go along with it are so raw. It's painful to be made to feel as if your enthusiasm and willingness to participate simply aren't legit enough, based only on some people's arbitrary judgment of how much knowledge one should have in order to gain the right to participate. It would be easy enough to chalk it all up to a few individuals and their lack of social graces, but I've heard so many stories from so many of my female friends in fandom that I'm no longer willing to consider them isolated incidents.
I understand the feeling that there are others horning-in on something that one considers sacred ground, and sometimes it feels good to have little fandom secrets that are known to only a few people. Small fandoms are great. But belittling people who discover these things and want to participate in them is out of line, and resonates much deeper than the instigators might first realize.
In a related note, for an awesome example of taking assumptions about geek girls and turning them on their head, check out this bit on the "Fake Geek Girl" meme at The Mary Sue.
I could honestly talk all night about this subject, but rather than do so I'll save some things as fodder for future writing. I encourage anyone who's interested in this subject to give the video a watch and offer your own thoughts, either here or in the comments at the Otaku Journalist page.