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!


Have any thoughts on the subject? Time’s yours.

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