Warning: The following article contains NSFW content and discussion of rape and rape culture.
My earliest memories of reading manga and watching anime are filled with scenes of women being sexually harassed, exposed, and ridiculed.
Now, as an adult, I can understand that sexual harassment is wrong, and a violation of one’s personal space. But as a kid, I had no such understanding. Watching scenes of women being undressed, groped, exposed, and violated filled my head with the idea that this was natural and simply boys being boys. Why should I have any reason to suspect anything to the contrary?
I didn’t see anything wrong with this until middle school, when the faculty began holding assemblies telling students to stop sexually harassing girls. It began with a rumor that one of the girls had been raped, followed by lessons in the different forms of sexual harassment and why these were a violation of personal space. We were told about people sneaking phone cameras under girls’ skirts, running through hallways and flipping up skirts, and sneaking cameras into locker rooms. Initially, I had trouble understanding why this was wrong. After all, I’d seen this kinda stuff all the time in manga.
This is why such imagery can be toxic and damaging.
One of my earliest memories of reading manga involved taking a volume of Dragon Ball out of the library, reading it, and finding a scene where Bulma’s top was pulled down without her consent. While Dragon Ball was targeted more towards teens in the US, it is still essentially a kids series, meant for younger boys. These are the images that young boys reading this see and internalize from a young age. They learn that sexual harassment can be “justified” and that those who feel violated are busy-bodies and fun-ruiners.
Growing up and coming out as transgender has made me far more aware of how sexual harassment can be invasive, and how popular media can shape our worldview from an early age. Knowing this, I was disheartened to see that a lot of contemporary anime and manga still treats sexual harassment like a joke and consent like a chore. I really enjoyed the series “A Certain Scientific Railgun” but was dismayed to see several characters totally disrespecting the personal boundaries of others and forcing themselves onto them/exposing them.
You see similar things in shows such as Love Live, in which the character Nozomi makes a habit of grabbing other characters breasts, or Haruhi Suzumiya, in which Haruhi forces Mikuru to dress up in various “moe” outfits. Instances like these are often played off as a joke or nothing to worry about, regardless of how much other characters insist they don’t like it. And no, it’s not okay “because they’re both girls.”
It’s also disheartening, however, to go back to shows others have praised highly and see the same type of stuff. For a while now I’ve been trying to watch G Gundam and have been starting to warm up to it. I found myself groaning, however, at a scene where the Chinese Fighter Sai Saici ran in and pulled up another character’s skirt. Again, this scene is mostly played off for laughs in a “boys will be boys” manner. No attention is paid to the character’s objections or her personal boundaries being violated.
I’d say scenes like these come off as immature and childish, but they end up feeling more uncomfortable than that. In an age where celebrities and politicians tell women to cover up or get raped, scenes such as this just serve as a reminder that women’s bodies are not considered their own. It’s easier than ever to share photos and videos of people being exposed or to hide a camera in a changing room, and popular media treating sexual harassment as a joke only serves to spur such acts on.
It’s worth mentioning that this is hardly a problem limited to anime and manga, but I wanted to mention this medium in particular because that’s what I grew up watching. I know a lot of people were raised on anime and manga, and many still continue to consume it over other forms of media. So I often feel unnerved when I see things like this prevalent in modern anime and manga, and know that many people will simply laugh it off or champion it.
Respect people’s personal boundaries, and don’t treat sexual harassment as a joke.
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