Manga Cultures

Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze

(Now available from Palgrave)

The female gaze is used by writers and readers to examine narratives from a perspective that sees women as subjects instead of objects, and the application of a female gaze to discourses that have traditionally been male-dominated opens new avenues of interpretation. This book focuses on how female manga artists have encouraged the female gaze within their work and how female readers have challenged the male gaze common in many forms of popular media. By employing a female gaze, fans are able to view and interpret texts in a manner that emphasizes the role of female characters and emphasizes feminist themes. In addition, the erotic elements of the female gaze may be used to suggest subversive interpretations of the overt or implicit phallocentrism of many forms of mainstream media.

The central argument of this book is that the male gaze should not be taken for granted in the study of manga and other entertainment media, as an awareness of an active female gaze can broaden the range of ways in which we understand contemporary Japanese popular culture and how it has transformed transnational fan communities. Female readers and writers can find and create enjoyment and messages of empowerment even in works with flawed and problematic representations of femininity. The female gaze thus acts as a mode of resistant reading that allows alternative methods of interpreting the female characters and the gendered themes and issues of a text.

By focusing on watershed manga such as Sailor Moon and the various works of the bestselling artistic collective CLAMP, I demonstrate how the subversion of genre conventions by female authors can exercise a positive influence on the self-perceptions of female readers who have been socialized to understand female characters as the objects of a male gaze. I then use the works of female-identified fandom cultures, such as fanfiction, blog posts, and self-published dōjinshi fan comics, as evidence of the transformative interpretations that these women individually and collectively bestow on media ranging from video games to Hollywood blockbuster cinema. Along the way, I note the subtle and not-so-subtle changes that this fannish involvement has inspired in the mainstream media cultures of Japan and North America while acknowledging the obstacles to more diverse methods of representation and engagement on the part of female fans and creators.

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Cover illustration by Naomi Skye (@lightsintheskye on Twitter and on Tumblr)