The Bitch, Bitch, Bitch


Akanbeing so hard right now
January 10, 2011, 8:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I stumbled upon this fantastic article that discusses the tendency to neotenize toys for girls:

Girls toys also exhibit a strong trend towards progenesis- sexual maturity achieved in a juvenile state. Bagworms do it, so do mole salamanders. Normally induced by environmental stressors, progenesis in toys is the result of a cultural imperative for women to embody both the cute and the sexual.

The side-by-side comparison of toys when they came out versus their more modern, doe-eyed counterparts is both startling and fascinating. I mean, have you taken a walk through the toy aisle lately? It’s all bug-eyes and bobbleheads.

The lipid pools of these impossibly-huge-headed toys, this article suggests, bring out a nurturing instinct – babies (and baby animals, because, you know, evolution and whatnot) have big heads relative to their bodies, big eyes relative to their heads, with their eyes set low and far apart. Simply put: gaah, that’s cute.

From this, I have two considerations:

  • We’re subtly encouraging the nurturing instincts of girls (let it be noted that this juvenilization is scarcely found in boys’ toys, rather, the opposite)
  • We’re attempting to wrangle the appeal of younger and younger audiences – toddlers and babies are heavily focused on and drawn in by faces (especially eyes)

Which, y’know. Big shock there – replicate the status quo, and do it as early as goddamn possible.

However, one comment on the article suggested that American toys have just been copping Anime’s style, with big glittery eyes and superdeformed heads. I believe this wholeheartedly, as anime and manga have become so devastatingly popular that I have to stare down an entire aisle of Cardcaptor Sakura et al when I’m bumbling through Wonderbook and Video, and nary a step can be taken on my college campus before I stumble over a sweaty nerd reading a right-to-left volume of Naruto. And although anime’s popularity likely has more to do with it covering a broad range of audiences, providing a much-needed source of age-appropriate media for the tween-to-teen range (because most 14-year-olds don’t tend to identify with Chaucer all that well), there is certainly something to be said for the “cute” factor – cuteness and diminutiveness basically define expected feminine behavior in Japan, which, segue here – of course is not to say that Japanese women are, by default, cute and diminutive – rather, that is one of their cultural expectations, one that, much like American cultural expectations of women, I am sure that plenty of Japanese women chafe against. and it shows up in Anime and Manga in spades.

This is a point that I feel often goes ignored – oh, those crazy Japanese and everything KAWAII ^-^~ – but the fact that we are adopting and attempting to mirror a considerably infantilizing piece of another nation’s popular culture is worthy of concern.

Once upon my wild internet travels, when discussing the Bechdel test and the prevalence of strong female characters, someone mentioned that many Anime series fit the bill – in fact, many if not most anime series feature schoolgirls as main characters. More serious animes such as Ghost in the Shell feature strong female characters who serve more of a purpose than being accessories, and, at best, are the main focus of the show. What became of this conversation, however, is that in a nation where the mangas that feature powerful female heroines are at risk of being sandwiched between hentais that depict gratuitious tentacle rape, the existence of powerful female characters is just another element of fiction – in Ender’s Game, part of what’s compelling is the fact that advanced military acts are being carried out by a child, an idea that stretches the imagination. The notion of women as heroines is so far removed from real life that it simply becomes a compelling plot device.

So even if we are copying off Japan, this might not be the best way to do it.

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