Sexism in Naruto: It’s Not about Feminism

As you can see, there pretty much are some sexist undertones in this story. It’s not malicious on Kishimoto’s part, but the undertones are still there. While there is somewhat of an understanding that there are no specific policies ruling the Narutoverse based on gender — and females are generally treated with respect by their peers and subordinates — they are not always treated as equal to a man by virtue of the dialogue and  by their perceptions of women. This is ultimately a reflection on the mangaka.

This is not to say that anyone and everyone complaining wanted the girls/women to overpower ALL the males, let alone surpass Naruto and Sasuke. That is a strawman. It was always understood that Naruto, at the very least, would be among the strongest characters in the end. As Naruto’s rival, the same was true for Sasuke. That was not the issue.

The fact remains that any female in this story would always be outclassed by a male. It did not matter how powerful a female was, even in comparison to the vast majority of characters or people in the Narutoverse. Yes, there were plenty of male characters who have gotten shafted, but the main issue is that they were first treated like characters first, males second. Can you say the same for all the ladies? No, you honestly can’t. That is what people have complained about, on top of weak overall characterization.

I am certainly not telling anyone to avoid the story of Naruto because of this — or any flaw — in the storytelling nor were those who made threads along these issues to complain about Kishimoto. Anyone can find sexism in various stories written by men and women. I have talked to someone who found sexism in Shakespearean plays. If you have ever read Bram Stroker’s Dracula, you will find lines praising Mina, but if you put that into today’s context, they would come off as condescending. People complain about the Twilight series and 50 Shades of Grey because of how both the male and female characters were portrayed. And, of course, there is plenty of sexism in other manga series. Bakuman immediately comes to mind, as it has dialogue that is more blatantly sexist. It certainly appears intentional by the creators.

Given what I’ve said, this is not an overall judgment of Kishimoto himself. I really do not believe that anyone complaining about Kishimoto’s handling of his female characters is crossing that line and accusing him of being a full-blown misogynist. I personally wouldn’t cross the line and make assumptions about his personal life, either.

I do think it’s fair to question how much Japanese culture — and if the values Kishimoto was raised with — have influenced his writing, though. In obvious ways, his writing has been influenced by Japanese culture.

There are general expectations of men and women in Japan. For one thing, women have generally expected to marry before the age of 27 (but that might be shifting now). Also, famous women are held to different standards than famous men. That’s another discussion for another time, but you hopefully get the point.

Now, look at the general setup for the Naruto world. While there are of course some modern and even Western influences, the shinobi system is partly based on the Sengoku Period in Japan. The shinobi in Naruto are quite different than classical ninja as we know them, but they still live under a feudal system with daimyo as heads of state. Speaking specifically of gender, there are general expectations of men and women that are illustrated in Naruto.

Beyond that, it’s pretty stupid to solely blame that culture for all we have found in Naruto. Sure, all writers may be affected by their surroundings, but on the whole, we hold them accountable for their own prejudices. We call out Western writers, so why should Kishimoto be any different?

Still, it’s as if some of the responders to this particular topic take criticism of Kishimoto very personally. When looking at their comments, it’s immediately clear that it’s not about him anymore — if it was at all for them.

I have seen more accusations of feminism — as strange as that sounds — than I care to count. The people who do this are themselves guilty of politicizing the issue and they often make the discussion more contentious than it needs to be. This is a way of trying to shut people up, but does it ever work? The people making these accusations are also ignorant, because plenty of people who refuse to call themselves feminists — and are leery of the modern movement — will recognize there’s a problem with the portrayal of females in Naruto.

(For instance, I never identified as a feminist for various reasons, and this is before I even began to take a deeper look at the modern feminist movement. More specifically, I see some troubling things in today’s “activism,” like the ideological shaming at American colleges and universities and I am generally aware of the abuse on social media, like Twitter. Also I’ve never been an activist in any sense. Unfortunately, there might still be some intellectually dishonest individuals who will ignore what I just typed in order to fit their own narrative. Moving on…)

No one is calling the people who defend Kishimoto on this sexist pigs, but they certainly play the role with their pointed comments. When the perceived treatment of the females in Naruto is discussed, people on forums have been inevitably subjected to some of the most offensive posts on those forums — outside of death threats, support for pedophiles, and calls for torture and mutilation. Men are deemed to be superior to women on all levels (including internal fortitude) and more important as human beings due to overall physical strength and athletic ability. This plays out when seen how these posters treat the female characters themselves.

A funny thing I must point out is how, besides some light trolling, these “defenders” have those among them who go out of their way to denigrate the female characters in Naruto. Sure, many of us have complained about their characterization — even as fans of these characters — but we are still willing to weigh their best in-story contributions on their own and give Kishimoto credit for their best feats. Ino, for example, was one of the most impressive from Naruto’s peers during the war. I agree with that without question, but there are some guys who go out of their way to undersell Ino’s performance. Others have said far worse things about other characters, namely Sakura and Tsunade. On one had, while much of the hate Sakura gets is from her overall bad development, I have to question where some of the Tsunade hate comes from, given the things that have been said about her. While some people fixate on her huge breasts, in many cases, she has been called a bitter cunt, a bitch, and a whore. I have seen posters act like she was somehow an obstacle for Naruto and someone expressly hate on her for doing “a man’s job.” Is anyone willing to insult my intelligence and say NONE of that is rooted in misogyny? “There are no sexists here.” Riiiiiight. GTFOutta here with that nonsense.

There is more to a person — and a character, for that matter — than physical strength and fighting ability. Anyone could have talent, strength of character, mental toughness, and contribute to society. Furthermore, it is not enough to have physical strength or talent; the important thing is what one does with it.

Beyond this, I have often read comments like, “You’re the real sexists!” The accusation of projection in this case is actually projection, because this is often paired with the above sentiments of male superiority and greater human worth.

It’s also silly when you think about it. So, someone needs to be sexist in order to recognize sexism in others? It’s like when someone points out valid instances of racism, only to be accused of being racist. It’s a wonder I haven’t heard someone tell me that one needs to be stupid in order to recognize stupidity.

And sure, there are plenty of people who play the race card, as there are definitely plenty of people who cry sexism when that isn’t the case. Those people should be called out and have their arguments viciously attacked. But there is no excuse for the behavior of some who are “defending” Kishimoto. They don’t want to consider any valid arguments, because it seems obvious that they are really trying to defend themselves.

I don’t have a problem with everyone defending Kishimoto — on any front, depending on how they do it. Of course I don’t. For all the complaints I have had about this series, I cared enough to follow it and I envy Kishimoto on some level since he was able to earn a living off his talents. Now, while I may disagree with some who defend Kishimoto on certain topics, I respect anyone who calmly explains their point of view and is willing to listen and debate anyone on the opposite side. That’s not too much to ask, because I’m willing to abide by that as well.

And if anyone is offended by this (or any) line of criticism aimed at Kishimoto that is fine. But what I hate to see is the above behavior I pointed out and when someone defends a famous (or semi-famous) individual more than they would someone they actually know. I would also ask for some individuals not to resort to making asinine comments that are more offensive than anything ever said or done in the manga.

That’s all I have to say on the subject for now. On to new things!


6 thoughts on “Sexism in Naruto: It’s Not about Feminism

  1. Great read, although I wish you didn’t downplay feminism in your conclusion. You say “it’s not about feminism”, but it absolutely is: you are criticizing the portrayal of female characters and their inequalities in regards to male characters. What you did is the very definition of a ‘feminist critique’ and it’s sad to see you undercut the very points you made. Furthermore, the fact that it’s a feminist critique is exactly why I read each of your posts on this topic. Having followed Naruto since I was a child, I’m overjoyed to see you put together arguments and analyze moments that rubbed me the wrong way but couldn’t understand why. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “ideological shaming on college campuses” although I do see the ridiculous amount of hate and abuse towards feminists on Twitter. It sucks, I wish people realized that being feminist just means supporting the idea that men and women should be treated equally. Your critique of sexism in Naruto is very important, as works of fiction are often how we define our life.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m glad to see someone appreciated my efforts. In fact, these posts seem to get the most traffic because sexism is such a big topic within Naruto discussions.

      Now, I would like to address a few of your points.

      Great read, although I wish you didn’t downplay feminism in your conclusion. You say “it’s not about feminism”, but it absolutely is: you are criticizing the portrayal of female characters and their inequalities in regards to male characters. What you did is the very definition of a ‘feminist critique’ and it’s sad to see you undercut the very points you made. Furthermore, the fact that it’s a feminist critique is exactly why I read each of your posts on this topic.

      When you look at it this way, I’ll have to concede the point. On several levels, it is about equality and I have complained about the disparity in treatment between males and females in Naruto.

      Having followed Naruto since I was a child, I’m overjoyed to see you put together arguments and analyze moments that rubbed me the wrong way but couldn’t understand why.

      When I look at it all, it’s pretty jarring, isn’t it? While a number of males have received poor treatment, as I’ve said before, it wasn’t [primarily] due to their gender. There were so many moments in the story where gender was brought up but it served no greater purpose but to delineate the characters and reinforce the notion that women were weaker, even with magical powers.

      I learned even more by going back to these manga pages and finding moments I didn’t really think about the first time. But the later chapters were still fresh in my mind, especially Chapter 576.

      I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “ideological shaming on college campuses” although I do see the ridiculous amount of hate and abuse towards feminists on Twitter.

      Nowadays, the “regressive left” has virtually taken over on college campuses. There are safe spaces, trigger warnings, and dissenting opinions are generally stamped out. Some of it can be seen in on college campuses like Berkeley. While I don’t like Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter, there was violence and threats of violence on that campus in response to those two being invited to speak there.

      I made this series in part to voice my frustration over sexism on the Internet. It’s real and it shows up even in discussions about Naruto. People’s reaction to this topic in general was very telling.

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  2. Hello! Text is very nice, it’s good to see the effort you put on it and well, this is very well put, but… It’s all about feminism, or sexism or both.

    Ask yourself first… Why do representation of such characters bother you, in first place? We must agree that several characters from Kishimoto suffer from improper or bad characterization, lack of coherent development or even good driving factors and motives. Sakura is indeed one of the worst offenders, we pretty much agree on all that.

    But then again, ask yourself why do bother with that, why do even have the need for best representation of certain characters in a work like this? What your inner motives for doing so, being unsatisfied by this type of thing? I believe you’re just upset by the wrong thing, for something that has nothing to do with Naruto series and by far one of the least important points to critique on it. It’s a non-issue.

    I could throw all the cliches here (It’s a shounen manga, the story isn’t about Sakura, et cetera) but we do already know that the answer is that, in general, the range of interests of the female and male public is wildly different, just check the things both buys and compare. Themes like the ones Naruto presents (power, rivalry, fights, wars, sacrifice, and list goes on…) are better suited to a specific mindset of readers, composed mostly by boys; while it should be good to see better female characters in Naruto, it wouldn’t make the series much more better or appealing to this public.

    Other than that, powerful females do realize feminism fantasies of power but aren’t attractive to most men anyway, and I’m not talking about attracting sexually, I’m talking about someone buying the idea of a very strong woman that is clearly an alien archetype that defies logic and common sense — and not in a good way. Kishimoto did well for avoiding potential reader being put off by some strange element. He did some woman extremely strong like Tsunade and later Sakura, but not game-breaking strong, since it should simply not fit even in hyper fantastical setting like Naruto.

    You told about chakra as an equalizer, but in this series men are relegated to have more power anyway (the protagonists Naruto and Sasuke/antagonists at least), with chakra or not, since it’s important but not pivotal to the plot, not where we do have have a Maito Gai or a Rock Lee, and chakra is much more of a stamina to drive fantasy-like powers like tangling shadows.

    In the end, they had a narrative to fill, if they choose to do Naruto from a female standpoint, tell me, what the plot should be about? The recurrent theme about wars and to protect their families in encrusted in a men’s sense of duty, it’s baked in their DNA, it has history from since the first of the mankind days in caves, we already had lots of wars where hundreds of millions of man died.

    Can we backtrack any example of the opposite side? Where woman died to protect their man and not only their children? Why do we need to include woman in such slaughter, to begin with? it’s the reason I’m here to suggest you to review your viewpoints. It’s easy to some ideology take us the sense of reality that backs up most of the things. Ideologies creates needs that doesn’t exist, cause artificial insatisfaction with things that are perfectly fine.

    Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of spare time to just explain my point entirely, but I hope do you get most of what I’m trying to convey here. Have a great week!

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    1. Thank you for reading and responding. I have decided to quote parts of your comment and respond to most of your points.

      [A]sk yourself why do bother with that, why do even have the need for best representation of certain characters in a work like this? What your inner motives for doing so, being unsatisfied by this type of thing? I believe you’re just upset by the wrong thing, for something that has nothing to do with Naruto series and by far one of the least important points to critique on it. It’s a non-issue.

      I made this series because this is a topic that has raged since the manga was being discussed online, maybe even before. The treatment of females in Naruto not only bothers me but many other people who have followed the series for a number of years. Even guys who liked the series overall acknowledged how bad the treatment of females in Naruto was. They might not have had a problem with it but they didn’t blame anyone else for having a problem with it.

      And if I was to be perfectly honest, the treatment of most characters in the manga was pretty bad. I even acknowledged how males in the series were horribly developed, and that includes the titular character. However, at times, the females were singled out for bad treatment while their gender was mentioned. I even included quotes from the manga and the mangaka that demonstrate this point.

      I could throw all the cliches here (It’s a shounen manga, the story isn’t about Sakura, et cetera) but we do already know that the answer is that, in general, the range of interests of the female and male public is wildly different, just check the things both buys and compare. Themes like the ones Naruto presents (power, rivalry, fights, wars, sacrifice, and list goes on…) are better suited to a specific mindset of readers, composed mostly by boys; while it should be good to see better female characters in Naruto, it wouldn’t make the series much more better or appealing to this public.

      I am quite familiar with the “It’s a shounen” argument, but it doesn’t hold up. Being a shounen doesn’t excuse Kishimoto’s fear of properly tackling complex themes nor does it prevent him from properly developing his characters. BTW, I’m not even a Sakura fan, but the type of development she was given offends me. It was exceedingly bad, and it might go beyond her gender, but there was plenty of gender BS thrown in for good measure.

      Other than that, powerful females do realize feminism fantasies of power but aren’t attractive to most men anyway, and I’m not talking about attracting sexually, I’m talking about someone buying the idea of a very strong woman that is clearly an alien archetype that defies logic and common sense — and not in a good way. Kishimoto did well for avoiding potential reader being put off by some strange element. He did some woman extremely strong like Tsunade and later Sakura, but not game-breaking strong, since it should simply not fit even in hyper fantastical setting like Naruto.

      I think you are underestimating male readers and male connoisseurs of various media. There are many who don’t mind powerful females; in fact, they love stories that are well-written, just as many female followers do. Maybe some guys prefer male power fantasies, but if they hate powerful females in any work of fiction, they are the ones with the problem.

      You told about chakra as an equalizer, but in this series men are relegated to have more power anyway (the protagonists Naruto and Sasuke/antagonists at least), with chakra or not, since it’s important but not pivotal to the plot, not where we do have have a Maito Gai or a Rock Lee, and chakra is much more of a stamina to drive fantasy-like powers like tangling shadows.

      In general, I don’t have a problem with all the female characters being less powerful than Naruto, Sasuke, and any of the final villains. The story was about the titular character and his rival, so it would make sense for them to be the most powerful be story’s end. However, the problem arises when none of the females really have a place in combat despite being in a profession that requires those within it to put their lives on the line. That makes the females extraneous.

      Just look at the mini-arc with Hashirama and Madara. There were no women in it, but it was good because Kishimoto focused on character development. Many people, including women, would prefer a story like that, even if it meant that female characters were kept to a minimum. What we got instead was a story that talked about equality and the value of females but undermined those ideals at just about every pass and turn. It’s just another example of Kishimoto’s problems with showing and telling.

      In the end, they had a narrative to fill, if they choose to do Naruto from a female standpoint, tell me, what the plot should be about? The recurrent theme about wars and to protect their families in encrusted in a men’s sense of duty, it’s baked in their DNA, it has history from since the first of the mankind days in caves, we already had lots of wars where hundreds of millions of man died.

      Can we backtrack any example of the opposite side? Where woman died to protect their man and not only their children? Why do we need to include woman in such slaughter, to begin with? it’s the reason I’m here to suggest you to review your viewpoints. It’s easy to some ideology take us the sense of reality that backs up most of the things. Ideologies creates needs that doesn’t exist, cause artificial insatisfaction with things that are perfectly fine.

      If the story had been from a female standpoint, there is no reason why the main character would not be willing to put her life on the line. There are stories where women do that, so what’s preventing Kishimoto from making a story like that?

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      1. I really do enjoy your writing and effort you put in answering me. One thing we must agree, we prefer stories with better written characters, including females. Clearly Naruto isn’t up to that standard. It’s a average-to-good shounen, and that’s all. I think we could learn a bit from Naruto in order to write better stories, but I see Naruto as fine on their own for what was intended and proposed originally.

        In these times I just tend to see most discussions about sexism as fruitless and useless since most of the ones behind tend to push an narrative to further their agenda, to alienate something from their original public and fans, just for envy of the success of given franchise. You know that these guys do exist, right? Why they just don’t create their own franchises or support the ones that fits better their values?

        As a fan of some things, I don’t want to see my franchises kidnapped for someone who want to forcefully implant their values and views on that, and that’s all. I guess I don’t need to explain why, right? Everyone has their tastes and once I want to be challenged in my views I dare to try something else, to a good degree of finding some cool new stuff. I guess most people are like that, anyway.

        I really appreciate your answer and hope you can do understand my concerns. I have a critic against the attitude of some, but all I can see here is a good text with several good points. Cheers!

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        1. Thank you for responding again. I would like to first pull part of your comment and respond to that.

          In these times I just tend to see most discussions about sexism as fruitless and useless since most of the ones behind tend to push an narrative to further their agenda, to alienate something from their original public and fans, just for envy of the success of given franchise. You know that these guys do exist, right? Why they just don’t create their own franchises or support the ones that fits better their values?

          Of course, there are people out there who use discussions of feminism and sexism to push an agenda. Often, that agenda involves them upping their own stature or making more money. I can think of a few YouTubers who are like that and I can’t stand them. This is not what I’m doing. I just created this series because of the many threads and discussions I have read/been a part of regarding this aspect of the Naruto manga. Many of those discussions devolved into shouting matches and the worst behavior always came from people who called themselves “defending” Kishimoto; in reality, I feel that those who were disrespectful were really covering for themselves.

          Regarding your other point about hijacking the series, that’s a strawman. I never tried to petition Kishimoto to write the story the way I wanted to. That would be entirely fruitless and ridiculous, especially since his target audience is what it is and even he is surprised about the worldwide reach his manga had and still has. To be fair, there were plenty of developments I didn’t like, but I continued to follow the story based on its premise. I wanted to see Naruto don that Hokage cap. Granted, Kishimoto messed that up, too, when you consider that Naruto missed his own inauguration.

          All that said, this is what I would like to see from stories: Authors need to fulfill the promises they make, respect most of their characters, and be satisfied with the final product. They need to show more than they tell and not leave readers/viewers with too much unfulfilled hype. Unfortunately, there was so much unfulfilled hype in Naruto and it doesn’t just apply to the females. It applies to the titular character, too. In the case of the women, though, we have added gender-based epithets and I question their place in the story.

          In the end, if someone makes a story, that story is going to be criticized. Many people do that because they care and in looking at how a story if created, we learn something from it. The story might have themes we don’t like or messages we don’t agree with, but when we look at those themes, we can better understand how we think about certain things in real life. Fictional stories are not going to sway me, and I’m not going to start a riot because I disagree with the story’s themes or someone criticizes themes/ideas I might like or agree with.

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