Revisiting an Old Naruto Post: Is It About Feminism?

is it about feminism, naruto, sexism in naruto, sexism, feminism

In 2015, I started this blog with the intention of reposting some old stuff, expanding on it, and adding more new content. And one of the topics I wanted to address in particular was the topic of sexism in the Naruto manga. My last post in the series, “It’s Not About Feminism,” was one of the most important posts I wanted to make.

In that post, I took some old thoughts and expanded on them. Overall, I wanted to voice my frustration with certain people in the Naruto fandom who always reacted harshly to the topic of how the women in the manga were treated. Specifically, if baffled me why people would get angry at the question; even more, I was baffled by people who got angry at the question and then proceeded to justify it by their disgusting behavior.

This year, someone responded to the post I had written and gave me a few things to talk about. Among the things this other blogger said was that this series was about feminism given of the type of literary analysis I was doing. I was in fact looking at a finished series through the lens of gender portrayal and Kishimoto Masashi’s own views and experiences had influenced how he presented female characters. So, when I said the series was “not about feminism,” I was ultimately undercutting my most important points.

Now, I will not go back and edit the post (outside grammatical and spelling errors, if I find them), but I want to clarify some things in this post.

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Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 25: Cartoon Network

Cartoon Network 2010 logo

I never had the chance to watch Cartoon Network at its inception, but I was somewhat intrigued by the original series it offered. When I got to finally view the network, shows like Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Powerpuff Girls. I think I liked the third show most of all. The story was simple but there was solid humor. The other two shows lost something in their later seasons.

There was more to see on Cartoon network beyond its initial offerings. Classic shows like The Flintstones and The Jetsons were occasionally shown. However, some of these would be moved to Boomerang (which would ultimately suffer from network decay itself). Despite that, the network would also feature more original shows that would come to be beloved. I still love Operation: Kids Next Door to this day and I respect much of the writing behind Teen Titans.

I also grew to love Adult Swim. I will talk about that later in this post.


What’s Wrong with Cartoon Network Proper Today

The lineup would suffer a sharp change in 2010. As I mentioned in Episode 1, Cartoon Network was sharply showing signs of network decay as its top executive wanted to move away from showing cartoons (!) and show original, live action programming. Former President and Chief Operating Officer of Turner Animation Stuart Snyder spearheaded this shift in 2009. There was a huge backlash from viewers and Snyder had to quickly change course. He finally left the company in March 2014 and would ultimately be replaced by Christina Miller.

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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.

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Sexism in Naruto: Weighing the Differences in Treatment

Before I dig into this part, I would just like to make the following points. This issue is complicated.

To be quite honest, I am comforted when readers have nice things to say about Kishimoto’s female characters. It shows he did something right in their creation and development in order for a number of people to be interested in them in the first place — and it is often their characterization that sticks out the most. Kishimoto in particular did enough for people to build interest in characters like Hinata, Temari, and Tsunade, for example. Personally speaking, I was already hooked to Naruto’s story by episodes of the Land of Waves Arc in the anime, but Tsunade’s introductory arc sealed the deal for me. Kishimoto made a number of his females sympathetic, and for that he deserves a tremendous amount of credit.

Another positive thing to say is how he largely shied away from using females as fanservice. Tsunade may be the outlier here, as she had abnormally large breasts and there was in-manga commentary on them by male characters. And while she and some other ladies in Naruto can be described by their beauty, I don’t believe it was the mangaka’s intention to reduce all the females to their sexuality.

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Sexism in Naruto: From Kishimoto’s Lips

Before I delve in, I should note that this section was admittedly the hardest for me to do. There was a lot of material to sift through and it needed to be given proper context. Also, I had read past interviews or heard the details of them, but some of that information wasn’t readily available.

While I had already had knowledge of or read several old interviews from Kishimoto beforehand, I needed to reread these and go over some material I had not yet seen. On top of that, I needed to vet this information and only stick to confirmed sources. Unfortunately, some trolls have put out fake interviews over the years and I will of course refrain from using the information from them.

Now, on the surface, I would understand if anyone who reads or has read the information in this post will argue against the words of Kishimoto being overtly or inherently sexist. Of course, I would disagree, most notably in the case of Sakura.

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Sexism in Naruto: What Do the Characters Say?

When you have a story where men and woman work closely together, they will inevitably mention gender. It’s true in real life, so of course this will be reflected in fiction. As one can rib another and make harmless jokes based on appearances, voices, opinions, and performances, men and women will make jokes about each other. Although many comments people make about each other are mean-spirited, other statements made can be relatively harmless.

As it pertains to Naruto, I think the in-manga statements about gender are quite troublesome. While many of the quotes one can find in this group may be harmless on the surface, I feel there were clearly times when Kishimoto inserted lines and references about gender that really had no place in the story. Of course, Shikamaru is the worst offender, and I feel that most if not all of his quotes were out of place.

I have made this list of the various examples I could think of and find from various chapters. This encompasses what was said and done to put things into context. However, it should be noted that I have left out some pages where Tsunade and Chiyo were call old hags. Take a look.

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Sexism in Naruto: About Tsunade & Sakura

I put these two characters together because their write-ups are the longest and they are more connected than some readers like to admit.

Of course, as one of the Sakura’s mentors the only real mentor Sakura had, Tsunade is inextricably linked to Sakura. There was also the parallel between the Sannin and Team 7. Much like Sakura was to her peers, Tsunade was far behind her teammates in terms of abilities. And much like Sakura, Tsunade had plenty of focus in the manga, relatively speaking.

Sakura’s write-up is long because as the “heroine” of the series, she subsequently garnered more attention than many other characters. Sadly, that attention was overwhelmingly negative.

Tsunade

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Sexism in Naruto: About the Females (Minus Tsunade & Sakura)

Upon writing this section, I realized that it ran pretty long, so this will be broken up into two parts. (I can still go over 10,000 characters! I can’t do that on NF.)

Like the males, I will write a rundown of each female character I think was shafted in some way. I will start with Hinata in this post.

Hinata

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Sexism in Naruto: On a Few Male Kage & Others

To conclude the section of the males in Naruto, I feature three Kage and three other Konoha shinobi.

Sarutobi Hiruzen

Of course, Sarutobi Hiruzen’s first appearance came in the manga’s first chapter. He was of advanced age, but considered the top Kage at the time. It was said that Sandaime Hokage knew about all the jutsu in Konohagakure. Hiruzen was also lwarm, caring, and highly respected, particularly by Naruto, although the boy gave the man headaches at times.

Considering his limitations and the eventual powerscaling, I still think Hiruzen’s fight against Orochimaru was still pretty good. Hiruzen was given a great measure of respect and there was a real emotional component to that fight.

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Sexism in Naruto: About the Male Villains

To be perfectly honest, there were only about two female villains/antagonists in the whole series, Tayuya and Kaguya. There is so much to say about Kaguya, but it’s mostly about things surrounding her.

Anyway, this is about the males and there were quite of bit who were antagonists. The six I list here are pretty much the only ones I think were hurt most story-wise.

Nagato

From all of the male antagonists, I firmly believe that Nagato received the worst treatment. Even though I personally never liked Nagato, I can recognize that much.

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