Young Females as Super Heroes: Superheroines in the Animated Sailor MoonBy Victoria Newsom
Published in the “Girl Power” issue of Femspec 5.2
Girl power is a pleasure-centered form of empowerment tied to ideals found in third wave feminism (1). It is also a media construct that challenges feminine empowerment by limiting empowerment to a specific body type and active performance by young women. I define girl power as the ability for young women to achieve personal empowerment while maintaining a distinctly "girlish" style, in a U.S. context (2). In this context, "girlish" refers to a style of personal expression that both promotes and reclaims traditional feminine stereotypes, co-opting them as sites of empowerment, particularly personal empowerment. The personal empowerment of the girl power character is an ability to find both personal pleasure and success simultaneously. This definition is tied to issues developed within a loosely defined feminist movement known as third wave feminism. Third wave feminism is most clearly distinguished from other forms of feminism by its insistence on the concept of pleasure as a means of personal empowerment. Further, third wave feminism focuses on personal experience and empowerment rather than an organized attack on patriarchy with the goal of empowerment for all women.
Girl power is the most visible incorporation of third wave feminism into popular media. The girl power character has a heritage tied directly to nineteen-seventies fantasy and action heroines, the heroes that third wave generation women grew up watching on U.S. television (Baumgardner and Richards, 15; Stoller, 184). Third wave feminists consider current young female characters to exhibit a feminism that "was just a part of life" (Baumgardner and Richards, 151). These characters had a direct impact on how today's young women view femininity and empowerment. Sailor Moon, a Japanese animated cartoon that was translated and re-created for American audiences, is a powerful and feminine character whose power is dependent on her femininity; femininity is a literal requirement of being a "Sailor Scout" (the girl heroes in the series) in the Sailor Moon universe.
Girl power characters borrow stereotypes from the seventies superheroines but with one major difference: rather than working and supporting a patriarchal system these girl power characters directly attack the system. However, the stereotypical body types and attitudes of femininity portrayed in the current images are not any less confining than in the seventies characters. In fact, I argue that the fantastic systems in which girl power characters exist, as well as the victim role that the characters constantly resist, confine these images as much as in the past examples.
Through the traditionally favored body type of girl power images, the style of representation (including clothing styles appropriate for girl power practitioners) as well as the constant stereotyping of hyperfemininity and youth, girl power continues to be restricted by patriarchy. Girl power is a consumed and commercialized form of empowerment, restricted both by the mediated practitioner (wearing the right clothing and paying for the kickboxing lessons) as well as the general audience (our own purchasing of girl power artifacts). So while girl power suggests a means of personal empowerment and independence through personal pleasure, the restricted nature of girl power prevents anyone from fully developing an independent nature or an individual source of power.
Sailor Moon is a story about a fourteen-year-old underachiever, klutz and crybaby, named Serena Moon. Serena learns that she is the reincarnated princess of the Moon Kingdom, an actual extra-terrestrial empire destroyed 1,000 years ago by an evil empire known as the Negaverse. Serena transforms into a version of her earlier self, "Sailor Moon," to fight against the reincarnated minions of the Negaverse. Eventually, other reincarnated warriors from the Moon Kingdom join Serena: the princesses (Sailor Scouts) of Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. The show illustrates a fantasy of acceptance often associated with teenage life. Even as a superhero, Sailor Moon remains uncertain of her ability. Serena struggles to be a "normal girl." She is almost completely preoccupied with boys, dating, avoiding homework, playing video games, and food. Serena is generally afraid of fighting; only fighting when others are in danger, an example of her nurturing, hyperfeminine qualities.
I argue that these characters represent a "tough girl" style of feminism, marketed to the large purchasing power of teenage girls, encouraging young women to stand up for themselves and be independent, and to make their own shopping choices, while still allowing them to be strongly recognizable as female. These characters strongly exhibit and remain tied to traditional concepts of femininity. These girls are each, expressively, female. They are able to fight in a capacity associated with male heroes without necessarily "becoming" male. These young women illustrate that it is "okay" to be a girl and to "fight back." The characters are perceived in the press and marketed as role models for young women.
According to writers speaking from a self-proclaimed third wave perspective, such as Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards, Leslie Heywood, and Jennifer Drake, the third wave of feminism is a term primarily associated with young women who grew up in the seventies and eighties. It is significant that this period of time is after the sixties, when many struggles for gender equality had been brought to the fore. It is also a time when mediated feminine icons were often people who held positions of power, although these positions were generally in deference to male authority figures. These feminine/feminist media icons include Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, the original Charlie's Angels, The Bionic Woman, and Princess Leia from Star Wars. With the exception of Princess Leia, whose power was clearly political and therefore different from the other characters, these women all worked for men. The message spread in the media was therefore mixed: women could have any job but that job would probably involve working for men. Women can therefore access the power structure that exists and become personally empowered within it, but they could not challenge the structure itself. Further, a lot of what helped these women to succeed in their positions was the fact that they were attractive and undeniably feminine.
The paradox of girl power is that girl power focuses on empowering femininity, but restricts itself to patriarchal constructs of what it means to be feminine. The primary restrictions of girl power in patriarchy are the body type favored within the girl power construct, the style of representation, including clothing styles that are appropriate for girl power practitioners, and the constant stereotyping of hyperfeminity and youth. Girl power suggests a means for personal empowerment and independence to the practitioner, especially in terms of personal pleasure. However, the nature of girl power prevents the practitioner from fully developing an independent nature. The girl power body itself is a site of negotiation between these contradictory values.
There are two specific areas related to these characters that this article will explore, drawn from feminist and cultural studies. First, it will examine the actual physical representation of the Sailor Scouts as they are portrayed. Second, it will explore how the powers wielded by the Scouts may represent teenage physical development and the decisions faced by the characters regarding acceptance of their abilities and prescribed roles. "Girl power" is used as an expression delineating the ability for a female to be active, aggressive and self-sufficient while maintaining a strongly feminine appearance. All of these themes are linked because they reveal the conflicting personas of characters negotiating an identity crisis rooted in balancing their hero persona with their girlishness. This conflict is echoed by a similar conflict experienced by real teenaged girls, which may account for the show's popularity among girls.
This study is informed by the theories of Laura Mulvey, Mary Ann Doane, and Carol Clover's interpretation that strong female characters generally act as "honorary males." The characters will be analyzed in terms of theories that illustrate female characters acting as males, but the intent is to illustrate that the Sailor Scouts are ultimately acting as females. Feminist and film studies have provided a strong foundation for understanding a teenage female hero in a fantasy film or television show. Theories of masquerade provided by Mulvey, and Doane in particular, indicate that feminine masquerade de-stabilizes the male gaze while at the same time captivating that gaze. Further, the work of Carol Clover on female characters in the "Slasher" film genre is used to illustrate how these characters depict a balance of feminine and masculine characteristics. The physical appearance of the Sailor Scouts certainly could capture and hold the attention of the male viewer; however, it would be a mistake to relegate these animated characters simply to sex-symbol status, because their actions and hero qualities indicate that this extreme femininity is only part of a complicated female character.
Current studies of youth culture and the representation of female youth in film and television also reveal important themes in this study of girl power. These studies reveal that young women in America are often preoccupied with issues that concern their bodies and how their bodies are viewed in relation to cultural stereotypes, and that young women are also often concerned with the need to "fit in" to their cultural group. The fantastic heroes of girl power often reflect this need to sculpt the female performance to fit particular goals.
First while all the Sailor Scout characters are sexualized and presented as sexual, and therefore feminine, they also all act in capacities that are normally reserved for Classic Hollywood's male characters. Therefore, these characters do not stay within the gender boundaries established by the concept of the male gaze but they are partially constructed by these gender boundaries. Second, this gender blurring also applies to studies of these characters based on more current action and horror film theory. The characters all act as "heroes" in a way similar to other female characters; however, they are not masculinized and desexualized, as are the other female action and horror heroes. Instead, the characters are a combination of conflicting character types, such as victim and hero, established in the studies of action and horror. Third, the girl heroes are all performing as heroes that, according to the mythology of their "world," have to be female. The feminine traits recognized through film theory here signify a source of power for the characters. The characters struggle with negotiating their power within the construct of what they perceive as traditional femininity. Finally, built directly from this conflict is the identity crisis between their "hero" and "normal" personas. This becomes a conflict of two femininities: the stereotypical passive femininity and a more active countertype.
The ideology of girl power centers on the belief that items and icons of traditional femininity need neither be discarded nor relegated to the traditionally understood role of enhancing objectivity and submissiveness. In fact, these "trappings of femininity" can be used to indicate female power (Stoller 45). The hero characters of Sailor Moon are a site of the juxtaposition of traditional male and hyperfeminine characteristics; they look like objects and act like subjects. These characters reclaim feminine ideals by performing within created mythic institutions requiring female heroes.
Studies of the young female and her relationship to her body help to illustrate concepts that are used in the media representation of girl power. Concepts of body modification, including studies of eating disorders and youth subcultures, are adaptable to the constricted nature of the girl power body. The female youth in America are often preoccupied with their bodies. In her book discussing the history of bodies of American girls in the twentieth century, Joan Jacobs Brumberg illustrates that body modification has become a priority for American girls because they perceive it as improvement (97). This can be related to the constant sculpting necessary in the girl power body. A girl power body must be in excellent physical condition, because it has to perform a type of violent "fighting back." However, this confined body type is only one of the ways in which girl power negotiates with understood preoccupations and trials of teenage angst.
American Studies scholar Susan Douglass argues that girlhood itself teaches American girls how to behave and how to mask themselves in conflicting ideals about femininity. Douglass discusses a public ideal of femininity based on two contradictions. This is illustrated in terms of the author's own experience with girlhood:
- Was I supposed to be an American-individualistic, competitive, aggressive, achievement-oriented, tough, independent? This was the kind of person who would help us triumph over Sputnik. Or was I supposed to be a girl-nurturing, self-abnegating, passive, dependent, primarily concerned with the well-being of others, and completely indifferent to personal success? (25)
It is important to recognize that third wave feminists often identify themselves as having grown up in an era when, as described by Baumgardner and Richards, feminism and its ideology was "just a part of life" (151). Further, the mediated characters to which third wave feminists can relate also represent the era in which feminism became taken for granted. In their anthology Third Wave Agenda, Heywood and Drake illustrate a different interpretation of girlhood than that of Douglass:
- Call us 'Third Wave' feminists, or, perhaps more pointedly, white middle-class feminists on the cusp of a generational divide…We were raised to think that we could do anything (white) men can do, that we have the same opportunities, can compete with men equally, man to man. Indeed, many of us have competed with men, literally, proving our mettle in a concrete, physical way (42-43).
This generational contrast to Douglass's interpretation of girlhood is significant because it highlights changes in the way young women perceive themselves and their potential.
Girlhood requires a juxtaposition of both sets of traits, while disguising this dual appropriation of masculine and feminine characteristics with an ideal "normality." Being "normal" indicates "fitting in" or avoiding feelings of alienation and being marginalized, a fear of most teenagers. This disguise of "normality" is clearly central to the development of Sailor Moon's character. She states, "I just want to be a normal girl," in the "Day of Destiny," the final episode of the first season of Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon's wish for a normal life causes all the characters to forget their superhero identities by erasing the events of the previous year.
This not only reinforces the ideal of normality, it is also a tool that aids the program itself, since Serena and her friends get to relive an entire year of school, keeping them younger than they would should be. This was important because the cartoon or anime was based on the comic book or manga series. The animators were waiting for the second series of the manga to be completed before using those stories, so they created a "lost year" story arc to use until the manga was completed. It also re-instigated the challenge of Darien and Serena remembering their past lives and romance and allowing that relationship to be explored again.
Serena and Sailor Moon are clear examples of the juxtaposition of the superhero Sailor Scouts and their mundane personas, "typical teenage girls." Serena is a very expressive character who acts out the teenage angst faced by most teenage girls. Her preoccupations become a central focus for the program. The other Sailors, and their cat advisors Luna and Artemis, are extremely annoyed by Serena's ability to ignore danger, the Negaverse, and training until the last possible second. Her refusal to take her Superhero status seriously often enhances the struggles the girls face in each episode. This, combined with the lack of interest in saving the world, make her appear to be incredibly inept at fighting. Grigsby argues that the character of Sailor Moon juxtaposes traditionally female symbolic power and modern teenage anxiety. Sailor Moon is, predominantly, a teenager with teenager problems and self-identification. Serena is an unwilling superhero when she discovers her true identity.
Further illustrating the negotiation of femininity and empowerment, girl power characters are often represented in a fantasy setting. This is a particularly significant factor when interpreting these characters in terms of their fighting abilities. The heroes generally face fantastic villains that are often unmistakably evil, and are represented as protectors of innocents and humanity. This reinforces the ideal that girl power heroes should have a nurturing, protective nature: both one of the conflicting femininities described by Douglass and an aspect of femininity reclaimed within third wave feminism.
The Sailor Scouts are fantasy characters in more ways than one. The fact that they are illustrations, that they represent not merely superheroes but legendary fantasy heroes, alien in nature, adds to the sexual allure and hyper-feminine masquerade. One of the more specific aspects of Serena's representation is the fact that during her transformation in the second season and in her ultimate identity as Neo-Queen Serenity (her future self) she has wings. The wings are representative of her unearthly heritage. This strong, sexy, and unworldly female image is an example of woman as a figure of fantasy (Levi 130). This represents a type of fantastic "otherness" attractive to the male audience, the unattainable Goddess. Pairing the otherworldly female with a mortal male strengthens this. The male character becomes the means by which the male audience may experience the fantasy. Importantly, this otherness is intensified by the western appearance of the heroes; two are blondes and all have round eyes. This further illustrates the idea of the Scout as Western fetish, a purely fantasy woman. Fantasy helps to alleviate the threat of castration because these characters are not meant to represent reality. Thus, the threat itself is marked "not real."
Female power is central to the representation of the Sailor Scouts. This power is represented through the magical ability of each Scout and also through the physical characteristics illustrating each Scout's power. The power is divine in its institutional depiction as the Scouts are likened to the Greco-Roman pantheon. This is an example of the hyperfeminine qualities; the goddess images are extreme examples of femininity. The heroes of the program all have shared physical features that link them together as a team and mark them as "otherworldly." Among these features is a mark on the forehead of each of the girls, which appears to Luna, the cat guardian sent from the past by queen Serenity, and to the other Sailors. Each Sailor's mark is the symbol for the planet the Sailor represents. Serena's mark is a crescent moon as is the mark on Luna's own forehead. The girls also are recognizable in their similar body types and build. Although the general body type is the same, the girls are each of a different height in accordance with the size of the planet they represent. These characteristics are presented to the audience as a means of illustrating the girls' magical powers.
Serena and Sailor Moon are openly friendly and caring; they illustrate nurturing feminine characteristics. One of the major themes of the show is that Serena's unparalleled ability to love is her true strength and the source of her power. She is the most powerful Scout but only when necessary. Serena must rely on the others to manage most of the fighting, but it is always Serena who defeats, converts or destroys the enemy. In the "final" battle of each story arc, Serena must face the ultimate evil alone.
Sailor Moon's greatest powers are eventually revealed as related to her capacity to love, and through that love to heal. These traits are associated with traditional femininity. In fact, most of her greatest victories generally end with her "healing" the villains so that they become good. The most significant examples of her capacity to care for others are revealed when her lover from the Moon Kingdom, in his current incarnation as Darien, is captured by the Negaverse in the first season, and when their future daughter is captured by the Black Moon Family in the second season. Both of these characters are introduced as being marginally hostile to Serena. Their importance grows until their "identities" are revealed. When they are captured they both become incredibly powerful villains, until Serena is finally able to heal them.
The Sailor Scouts, and in particular Sailor Moon, are significant in their ability to emote. This is another reason that they are effective because they are female. This too is a product of third wave feminine ideology. The traditional heroine was self-sacrificing and extremely caring of others (Douglass 28). This characteristic is a trait claimed from stereotypical past ideals. Self-sacrifice is balanced with a strong desire for self-preservation. The characters' emotional capacities are important signifiers of their linkage with the heroines of the past, but this often contrasts with the actions they eventually take.
The emotional capacity of Serena and her friends is emphasized by the animation itself. The Sailor Scouts are all represented as characters with strong emotions. The most striking feature about the animated Scouts is their eyes. The eyes are all very large and round. The roundness is a common characteristic of manga and anime, representative of the Japanese fascination with western culture and images. Japanese women manga and anime artists typically draw their female characters tall and skinny with extremely large, round eyes (Schodt 174). "The eyes are used to convey a character's feelings. Sensitive characters have larger eyes than insensitive ones" (Levi ill. 1). Round eyes also indicate a desirable foreignness in Japanese culture, the west. Usually, round eyes in manga and anime belong to female characters. This adds to the mystique of the feminine in Japanese culture (125). Shojo Manga Eyes are a style of eyes commonly found in girls' manga and anime (11). These eyes generally shine and sparkle, and may contain hearts or other signifiers of the characters' emotions.
The Scouts are drawn as comical, exuberant young girls. The characters are all very vivid. The animation also is vivid in order to display these characteristics. As in much of Japanese animation, the characters' faces are inhumanly expressive. They argue, tease, cry, and generally act like teenage girls. The faces of the characters reveal over-stated animated examples of these actions and feelings. The large eyes allow expression to be animated. Larger eyes are usually associated with younger or more sympathetic characters. Interestingly, the males in this series all have very small eyes that are much less round. The girlishness exhibited thus becomes a means of presenting power without the outward appearance of threat, because it reinforces both the girls' ability to be compassionate and act on their emotions. Also presented is the combination of feminine and masculine qualities in a process of reclamation. By placing significance on the eyes of the characters, we recognize that the female characteristics are a source of power.
The eyes of the Scouts portray femininity, gentleness, and the innocence of youth (Shiokawa 118). Serena illustrates the quality of love very plainly throughout the anime. "Hearts" in Serena's eyes represent her feelings of romantic love for Tuxedo Mask/Darien. Her sensitivity to her friends is also revealed through her eyes. Serena's eyes symbolize her personality. Serena's eyes close to upside-down U's when she cries (wails). The glares between Rei and Serena, or Mars and Moon, often are illustrated by flashing lines connecting the gaze. These characterizations are examples of "typical" teenage exuberance and angst. The characters are clearly, through their actions and expressions, examples of "typical" teens. The animation reinforces this teenage identity.
Further, the Sailor Scouts represent deity-like figures from mythology. Sailor Moon, and the Moon Princess, are direct appropriations of the Greek myth of Selene. Selene was goddess of the moon, sister to Diana, who fell in love with Endymion, a human. This story is appropriated, becoming the core of the anime. Selenity becomes princess Serenity (Serena), and Endymion becomes Prince Endymion of Earth, a human (Darien). Darien is the mortal male blessed with the love of a divine Serena.
In the Japanese version of the anime, Serena's name, Usagi, literally translated means "bunny of the moon." In Japanese culture, this reference is linked to the Japanese belief that the image of a rabbit is imprinted on the moon. (This interpretation of the shadows on the moon is paralleled in America by the image of the "man in the moon".) Serena's character and that of Sailor Moon are both meant to be representations of the 'rabbit in the moon'. Serena's hairstyle, the incredibly long ponytails spilling from the 'buns' represents bunny ears. Queen Serenity and all of the female members of the Moon Kingdom's ruling family wore this hairstyle. This tie to the moon reveals the true identity of the heroine to the audience, before the heroine herself is made aware of her heritage.
The characters of the Sailor Scouts are drawn specifically, as direct representations of myth (Grigsby 194). Mary Grigsby, in her analysis of the "Social Production of Gender" in Sailormoon (the manga version) explains that the connections of each Scout to a planet are appropriated from pre-industrial concepts of the place of females both in and as nature. These concepts can be tied to the Shinto belief in the organic nature of the cosmos. It is also related to the western concept of Mother Nature. Greco-Roman mythologies are also included in the narrative, particularly the female goddess aspects of the moon.
Grigsby explains the juxtaposition of the fantasy elements of the characters with the modern struggles that teenagers go through. This suggests that Sailor Moon is a means of escaping the struggles of teenaged life, possibly explaining its popularity among young women in both Japan and the United States:
- In Sailormoon, female characteristics and symbols associated with ancient and orgasmic ideas and those of modernity are combined. Sailor Moon is a fierce fighter and protector who uses the crescent moon and her cat assistants to defeat evil, but she is also a crybaby who has crushes on boys and uses makeup and jewelry (195).
The Girl Power Body in Conflict
Susan Bordo defines the body as woman's enemy within patriarchal culture (145). The body becomes a prison for the soul. Women, and anorexics in particular, attempt to shape and control their bodies because it gives them a sense of personal empowerment: power over their own bodies. However, Bordo argues that this is false empowerment because it is reconstructing the female body to the confines of the patriarchal system. Teens are especially prone to this drive to control their body. The girl power characters in the media often have "perfect" bodies, while those bodies are often described as a prison. Serena's body is a prison: this the young adolescent can relate to. Her superhero alter ego Sailor Moon is a means for her to escape her normal body. Therefore the young adolescent can relate to the character. It is important to recognize, however, that these mediated bodies are generally unaffected by their surroundings and the lifestyles lived within them, at least as far as the audience is aware. Further, the characters themselves are often imbued with supernatural powers that help, or force the girl power hero to maintain her sculpted body. Teens are especially prone to this drive to control their body. The fact that Sailor Moon is animated, her body therefore unaffected by habit, and the fact that she is a superhero with magical transformative abilities create the illusion of a perfect, young body.
The characters from Sailor Moon are all animated figures, and therefore their bodies are extremely sculpted. However, they are illustrated as suffering from many of the same challenges that affect average teenaged girls. In one first-season episode, the central character Serena (Sailor Moon) is devastated to learn that she has gained three pounds. She immediately goes on a crash diet, but is unable to maintain it. Serena returns to her normal eating habits, gorging on food. However, Serena's sexually appealing body type is never endangered, other than in her own perspective. This is very similar to the anorexic preoccupation with self-image.
Most teenaged girls see their bodies as expressions of themselves (Brumberg 97). Serena's confusion over her new identity is something these girls can relate to. Sailor Moon has abilities and strengths Serena does not associate with herself. This struggle for her to understand her new identity echoes the struggle the average female teen has in dealing with her new feminine body after leaving the more androgynous child-body behind. Serena's struggle is the struggle of growing up, and it manifests itself in her physical being. Sailor Moon struggles with her abilities, unlike the rest of the Sailors.
The Scout body is further highlighted and fetishized by the clothing that the Scouts wear. The sailor suits worn by the Sailor Scouts are adaptations of a Japanese girl's school uniform. The school uniform is often illustrated in pornographic comic books (manga) in Japan, predating the creation of Sailor Moon (Grigsby 198). This schoolgirl image also appears as a fetish in the United States. The lyrics of a Barenaked Ladies' song relay the effect of this attempt at pornographic imaging in Sailor Moon and illustrate that the image carries over to the United States: "the cartoon has got the boom anime babes that make me think the wrong thing" (Robertson). The "wrong thing" is sexual attraction to the 14-year old "anime babes." Pop singer Britney Spears' schoolgirl outfits act in a similar fashion. The schoolgirl outfits reinforce the image of the Scouts as youth and therefore reduce the threat of the characters. This image becomes attractive to the male as object and the female as means of identification. The projected image is clearly harkening to feminine power. In particular, a comparison to Stoller's discussion of Courtney Love's song "Doll Parts" is clear. The Sailor Scouts are breaking the "stereotype of the demure, selfless female" (Stoller 45-46). They also indicate a doll-like quality. They are Barbie dolls empowered with female prerogative. However, it must be stated that the Sailor Scouts in no way flaunt breaking the stereotypical doll-like image to the degree of Courtney Love's characterization.
The girls are clearly acting as female adolescents. It is also important to note that the "hero" characters are not illustrated as being unlike their "school girl" counterparts. There is no difference between Serena and Sailor Moon. In fact, one of the characteristics of Sailor Moon highlights the point that the girls are unrecognizable in their Scout "disguises" because of magical auras that surround them. There is no reason why they should be any different, that they should attempt to disguise their "school girl" identities to avoid anyone making the connection, because the magic keeps that from happening.
The youthful bodies portrayed are all overly mature. The costuming contradicts that characteristic. This style of dress, school uniforms and sailor suits, is often featured in pornographic magazines in Japan (Grigsby 198). The Sailor Scout is portrayed in this fashion as both innocent and voluptuously provocative. Her clothing denotes purity and an ability to be controlled characterized by the schoolgirl image, but the body in the clothing is mature enough to denote sexuality beyond 14-year old aptitude. She is half-child and half woman, and as such appeals to the male as object and the female as a means of identification with the self. The Sailor Scout represents what women, especially young women see in themselves: a mixture of youthful idealism and experience. The Sailor Scout also is completely the object of male lust and desire (Grigsby 198-199). Her youth increases that desire by adding an element of the forbidden.
The concepts of male gaze and female identification with the characters on screen help to explain the rendering of the Sailor Scout characters. Laura Mulvey explains the male gaze as prevalence of male perspectives in the production of film and the representation of female characters as objects rather than subjects. Since, as Freudian psychoanalytic theory suggests, the female body symbolizes the threat of castration, in order to reduce the threat, the female body is objectified. The meaning of woman is defined as sexual difference and threat (that which is not male) very specifically in masculine terms. Because of this, it is desirable from a male perspective that she be contained. The female becomes the bearer rather than the maker of meaning (Mulvey 23). A woman on the screen becomes, specifically, the object of the gaze: of the male characters, the camera, and the audience. At the same time, this visually stunning woman projected on screen transmits the threat of castration. In order that she is fully contained, the woman is often either presented as a fetish by over-emphasizing a highly "feminine" trait, such as a body part or clothing style, or the woman is put "in her place" through punishment or by placing her in a romantic relationship with the man obviously in control. The fetish then acts as a phallic substitute, so that her power is tangibly illustrated.
The transformed Sailor Scout is representative of the concepts of male gaze and feminine masquerade. This masquerade then becomes a means of illustrating "girl power." The implied threat of their power is disguised behind a mask of hyperfemininity. In many of the episodes, including all of the transformation scenes and most fighting scenes, the skirts of the sailor costumes are blown up by the wind to give the viewer a glimpse of upper thigh. The stripped-down body allows a clear view of the Barbie-like form. Contrasting with the fact that the series was produced for young Japanese girls, this is a clear example of "woman to-be-looked-at" as defined by Mulvey (for a specific audience). According to Mulvey, "Woman displayed as the sexual object is the leitmotif or erotic spectacle: …she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire. The Scout transforming is "isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualized" (Mulvey 28). She is clearly an object; even within the context of the narrative she is a vessel for the power of the planet she represents. When the transformation is complete, the Scout is in a costume similar to that of a Japanese schoolgirl. She represents a stereotypical male fetish by distracting the spectator from her lack of penis and placing her into a position of passive desirability: the young, attractive schoolgirl to be lusted after.
The appeal is not necessarily limited to heteronormative ideals, evidenced by the homosexual characters created for the Japanese versions of the comic book and program. However, in the American translations, these characters are literally transgendered or castrated, reinforcing and encouraging a heteronormative gaze. One male homosexual becomes a female partner for his/her male counterpart in the first season. In the second season, when the lesbian sailors of Uranus and Neptune are introduced, the American version makes them cousins as a means of disguising the relationship. The heteronormativity of the U.S. version is clearly intentional in these cases.
The figure of the woman in these characters is clearly an identifiable, over-stated feminine body, with the sole exception being the slightly less feminine former male character in the first year. The Sailor Scouts clearly flaunt their femininity, both in their manner of dress and in their movements. The transformation poses are all examples of this: the girls all pose, as if for a camera, while their clothes are magically removed and then replaced with the sailor costume. What is particularly interesting is that it seems to be a natural function of the character, a normal part of their routine as a Sailor Scout. Quite literally this extreme femininity is a mask-their mundane identities are unrecognizable to others in their Scout forms. Yet, their bodies are not actually transformed. Each Scout "uses her own body as a disguise" (Doane 235). The audience is perfectly aware of who the disguised figures are, but the other characters on-screen do not share in that knowledge. Richard Reynolds, in a discussion on superhero costumes, describes the "most cunning mask as no mask at all - as when a hero has a secret identity so unexpected or so well-contrived …that context is a sufficient alibi for the familiar face" (28). The girls are either heroes or they are typical teenagers that other characters do not recognize as heroic, because the context of recognition is missing. Out of transformation, or undercover, the characters are less apparent. The Scouts' clothing is looser, covers more of their bodies, and gives less distinction to their physical outlines. However, the clothing remains completely feminine, in most circumstances, and the appeal remains, at a less heightened level.
When Darien, Princess Serenity's lost love and Tuxedo Mask, the only male superhero in the program, first sees Serena transform, the male spectator is given a male protagonist with whom to relate. Even before then, Darien clearly recognizes the appeal of the young women, especially Serena. In the episode entitled "Secret Identities," the two characters are trapped in an elevator, where Serena realizes that she must transform and reveal her identity as Sailor Moon in order to save him. Darien's focus, during the transformation, is (understandably) on Serena. He is not the primary focus of the scene, but his gaze, and his realization of Sailor Moon's identity, is. His gaze is voyeuristic, his reaction critical. Darien's jaw drops open, though whether this is because Serena is nude during the transformation, because she is Sailor Moon, or both is unclear. Darien is the protagonist Serena is in love with: she is marked as his property, as in Mulvey's description of the male gaze. However, this does not occur when, as Mulvey states, the female character "loses her outward glamorous characteristics (Mulvey 29)." Instead, the revelation of her glamorous side causes Darien to look past the awkward young girl he had known to that point, and recognize the glamour he couldn't see. The audience is able to share in Darien's experience, revel in his surprise (and the fact that finally they will recognize each other) and determine its own pleasure.
Naoko Takeuchi, creator of Sailor Moon, is a woman. She expresses an obvious delight in the creation of her characters, and intended them to appeal to young girls in Japanese culture, and eventually the United States. Takeuchi says of the television program: "The Anime has a slight male perspective to it, since much of the staff was male. My original version was written by a girl (me) for girls" (Takeuchi 21). The primary audience for Sailor Moon in both Japan and the United States is elementary and junior high aged girls and young adult men (Grigsby 197). The production of this cartoon appears to be affected by the fact that men produced it. Takeuchi suggests that there is a male perspective: this perspective can be easily interpreted in terms of Mulvey's "male gaze" that gives visual priority to male viewpoint. In particular, Mulvey's suggestion that woman is displayed as spectacle on screen seems evident in the presentation of Sailor Scout bodies in the Anime. These scouts are clearly identifiable as women; clearly depicted as sexually attractive creatures. The "hero" status of the girls, and their "toughness" is incorporated into their feminine masquerade. However, the female spectator is able to relate to these characters.
The Final Girl
Third wave feminist Deborah L. Siegel discuss the concept of bridging the gap between "power feminism" and "victim feminism" (63-64). Victim feminism refers to the Second Wave feminist approach that illustrates women as victims of patriarchal constructs (63). Power feminism refers to the third wave style of feminism that allows for feminine empowerment within these same patriarchal constructs (64). Heywood and Drake refer to popular culture as a site where the contradictory feminisms can be seen (4). Using Courtney Love as an example, Heywood and Drake explain that Love works as a "prototype of female ambition and a sharp cultural critic of both the institutions that sustain that ambition and those that argue against it" (4-5). Mediated figures that represent "girl power" are sites of negotiation between these two styles of feminisms. In the characterization of Sailor Moon this combination of character types is an example of the postmodern blurring of gender norms and the reclamation of femininity in a non-passive role accessible to female viewers.
Third wave feminists and Generation X are further described as having a strong focus on their body images and a struggle to maintain a specific body type. The "girl power" hero of recent popular culture and persons "practicing" girl power as a type of empowerment are marked by an attempt to control their bodies. There are two distinct aspects to this. First, the girl power practitioner literally carves the girl power body as an ideal body type through motivated sculpting. Second, to control the girl power body is a struggle to reclaim feminine ideals as part of the pleasure of being feminine. It is a body capable of operating and succeeding in a male-dominated system (feminism as personal power) while maintaining extreme or hyperfeminine qualities. There is an element of empowerment in the physical control of the female body, by the female. However, it cannot be overlooked that this empowerment draws on an older interpretation of femininity and feminism constructed by patriarchy (feminism as victims of oppression).
The victim/power duality is directly confronted in mediated girl power icons. This can be explained in terms of Carol Clover's analysis of the slasher film. Clover discusses two specific female character roles in the slasher film: the victim and the "final girl." The victim is the character, or series of characters, who is violently killed. The victim is generally hyperfeminine in representation. This character can be related to female victimization because she generally has no way to avoid being victimized. The final girl is ultimately the hero, but she is represented as almost asexual:
- The Final Girl is boyish, in a word. Just as the killer is not fully masculine, she is not fully feminine-not, in any case, feminine in the ways of her friends. Her smartness, gravity, competence in mechanical and other practical matters, and sexual reluctance ser her apart form the other girls and ally her, ironically, with the very boys she fears or rejects, not to speak of the killer himself (Clover 41).
Although it is of a different genre, there are similarities between Sailor Moon and the horror genre. Sailor Moon is also illustrated as both "final girl" and "victim," though not directly as the character-types originally were described by Clover. It is significant that this character is able to be both a victim and a hero, that she is a victim who can overcome her victimization and then reverts to her ideal of a "typical" girl. The Sailor Scouts are usually pitted against some type of monster or series of monsters bent on the destruction of the universe. Sailor Moon is very clearly identifiable as a "victim." In particular, this is revealed through her eyes and facial expressions, and constant screaming. Berenstein explains that the character-type "Scream Queen" must be particularly able to "let out blood-curdling yells" (121). Sailor Moon clearly excels at this. In doing so she is signifying both the dangers associated with the villains and with her role as hero. Further, she is beautiful, so when several of the villains fall in love with her it is not a surprise. Her attractiveness is clear.
Further, Sailor Moon is almost always in need of rescuing at some point in the program. Usually, her boyfriend Tuxedo Mask performs this service. Tuxedo Mask is her reincarnated fiancé, Darien, in his super-hero form. Interestingly, when he rescues her he also gives her a "pep talk" and encourages Sailor Moon to defeat the enemy. Without the constant efforts of Tuxedo Mask and the other Scouts, it seems apparent that she would literally be a victim of the monsters of each episode. Quite often it is Sailor Moon's own inability to function as a hero, because she is playing the victim, which causes her to need rescuing. This ties in directly with the romantic overtones of the program, rooted in the fact that Serena and Darien experienced a tragic love in the past. Sailor Moon's continuing efforts to act in a traditionally feminine role are illustrated by her desire to be rescued by a hero. However, Tuxedo Mask is not as powerful as the girl heroes, and Sailor Moon herself is always, ultimately, the hero.
Sailor Moon is always responsible for the ultimate defeat of the episode's villain. Serena is made aware of the danger she faces and her inability to choose not to be a superhero. As stressed earlier, Sailor Moon herself is usually the only one of the Sailors capable of the ultimate defeat of evil. Sailor Moon is always presented as the least capable and willing of the Scouts to track and defeat the Negaverse. Sailor Moon's ultimate success only occurs after all of the other hero characters, often including Tuxedo Mask, have managed to initiate the defeat of evil. However, her character is more clearly feminine than the other Scouts.
Sailor Moon's gender confusion is revealed through her own resistance to act as a male, while clearly being instructed to by Tuxedo Mask, the other Sailor Scouts and her cat advisor, Luna. The ultimate weapon generally used by Sailor Moon is a "healing" or "loving" power. These powers can be considered feminine, deriving from the role of caretaker or nurturer. These concepts relate to traditional goddess images. The power is also generated, very plainly within the narrative, from who the Moon Princess is. The heroism of Sailor Moon is coded as masculine, although the character does not always act in a particularly clear masculine style. This conflicting construct is further highlighted by the transformations of the other four Sailor Scouts. They are not yet strong enough to transform and control without their henshin sticks, the transformation wands, clearly a phallic connotation. If the girls lose this item they are unable to transform into Sailors. Once again, Serena herself is set apart because her icon for transformation is not a wand, but a brooch, a more clearly feminine icon.
The Sailor Scouts may be described as tough, feminine, and sexualized. Each of these characters performs in ways that include both feminine and masculine characteristics, seemingly masked by hyperfemininity. They also perform as both "normal" teenage girls and superheroes. The characters strive for "normality" in order to avoid social marginalization. This attempt to be normal is centered in the non-hero identity, while the hero identity becomes a place of extreme marginalization. Consequently, these characters are revealed as having two sets of conflicting identities, reflected through a layering of masquerades. This is performed in a very postmodern style of reclamation, utilizing traditional images as representing power. By heightening aspects of femininity, while acting in what is traditionally considered to be an aggressive, male fashion, these characters reclaim the images of femininity as strong, non-passive females.
The research performed for this article illustrates that Sailor Moon is an example of a third wave feminist reclamation of traditional feminine ideals incorporated into characters that act in traditionally male capacities. It is through combining masculine action and feminine compassion and sexual attractiveness that these characters exhibit "girl power." This is achieved through the creation of a hyperfeminine mask that not only disguises the male characteristics of the characters but also provides them with a means of realizing their potential. Although they act as males, they are not "representative males." In fact, their roles are created to exclude males; only females can succeed in their jobs. However, there is evidence that "girl power" programs and films appeal to both male and female audiences.
Sailor Moon is tough, feminine, and sexualized. Each of these characters performs masculine characteristics, masked by hyperfemininity as a way of reclaiming femininity as power. Ironically, this power is rooted directly in a concept that has previously been illustrated as a means of objectifying the female and rendering her primarily powerless. The characters also perform as both "normality" and as a source of power. In attempting to be "normal" as an escape from their heroism, they are marking those feminine traits they claim as normal as a source of strength. Consequently, these two sets of conflicting identities reveal two distinct valuations: both revealing that femininity can be used as power. This is, in the context of understanding these characters, the definition of "girl power."
The characters of Sailor Moon also illustrate struggle with teenage life. They are challenged by their bodies and by their lack of a firm position in society. This attitude is also evident in the way that the media markets the concept of girl power. The primary market for images of girl power is teenaged girls and young women. Girl power websites and commercials provide the consumer with traditional feminine icons, such as makeup and clothing, and advice on how to make themselves look and feel more appealing. Physical fitness, and a sleek body type, as characterized by the Sailor Scouts, is also highlighted. The characters in Sailor Moon illustrate girl power characteristics alleviating common teenage fears. They fear a lack of control over their bodies and their lives. Their calling as superheroes, their own bodies, and their society challenge them. This is masked through rigid control when they are acting as heroes and through femininity when they are acting as girls. They fear extreme marginalization, which their hero side must face, and concentrate on masking their sense of alienation with "normality."
Girl power heroes are partially constructed by both third-wave ideology and media interpretation of this ideology. One of the primary concerns of the media is that the characters sell and appeal to a young audience. Girl power recreates a particular style of cultural symbolism and cultural artifacts with value assigned that refers to a specific means of personal empowerment associated with a particular gender and lifestyle. Within the culture of girl power itself, this particular gender and lifestyle are highly valued, which provides a sense of empowerment, as in the third-wave ethos that perceives the girlish or hyper-feminine as powerful, although exclusively female. There is also a further distinction between victim and power feminisms. These styles of feminism are generally placed in opposition, one representing the type of feminist who fights back because she is a victim, the other representing the feminist who has a natural claim to power. Girl power incorporates aspects of both of these feminisms. This is particularly true in the case of the Sailor Scouts who fight back against fantastic forms of oppression while having a natural (and supernatural) right to power.
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(1)Third wave feminist writers are an eclectic collection, sometimes in conflict with each other, including authors such as Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards, Leslie Heywood, Jennifer Drake, Rebecca Walker, and Naomi Wolf. Third wave literature also evolves on web sites dedicated to the ideals motivating the movement. These sites include the online journals Thirdspace.ca and Sexingthepolitical.com as well as writers on politically motivated websites such as wwwave.com and Third Wave Foundation. Generally these authors claim a unique third wave space among feminists located in the so-called X and Y generations. The authors claim that these young feminists are unique because they grew up in an era where many feminist ideologies were an accepted part of American culture. Third wavers critique such empowerment as limited to the public sphere, and illusory. Third wavers promote a uniquely feminine empowerment which was not part of the former media image, and bring the ideals of such empowerment into the private sphere.
(2)There are varying definitions of girl power in popular culture and in academe. The popularity of the term is generally associated with popular culture icons such as The Spice Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, Ally MacBeal, and the witches on Charmed. The term is also used in many popular books. One book, among the earliest to use the phrase "girl power" is Girl Power: Young Women Speak Out (Carlip table-of-contents0). This text is about overcoming personal struggle and finding oneself. This is only one example of a number of self-help texts using the term "girl power" in order to sell. Girl Power: Self Defense for Teens (Konzak, Konzak, and Konzak) provides another example, this one exemplifying ideals found in third wave feminisms. Other scholars and writers have similarly defined girl power in relation to third wave ideals. Irene Karras's discussion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer identifies that character as an example of "the third wave's commitment to girl power by turning the victim role typical of the action and horror genres on its head with the character of Buffy herself" (1). Baumgardner and Richards place a similar empowerment in the "girlie movement" (16table-of-contents66). Feminist Cheryl Dobinson locates girl power as specifically female power (p. 9). Other third wave writers (including Debbie Stoller 45-46; and Kimberly Roberts in her dissertation) similarly define girl power as power located in both the feminine and the "girlie" movement, encouraging young women to find their own way in the world, regardless of the traditions associated with being female.