Friday, February 24, 2012

Gender Bending 102

Culture is a term that is often confused and interchanged with ethnicity when discussing people. The term culture is more of a descriptive of social norms and behaviors that passes from one generation to another. How people perceive gender is a cultural norm, and it changes from culture to culture. In my incredibly popular article entitled “Gender Bending 101”, I go over the various types of gender bending that authors use in the creation of anime and manga. In your second lesson of gender bending, I will go over historical use of gender bending and how pop culture use gender bending to convey a story.

Gender Bending is not a new phenomenon; it is actually a construct that authors used in the past to tell a story. One of the first major examples of gender bending was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. William Shakespeare wrote it in 1601-1602, it was a story that focused on mistaken identity, including gender-bending aspects. It was one of the first major works that had gender bending as a major theme and it is still a well-studied example of gender bending in literature. As seen in movies like Shakespeare in Love, women were banned from performing on stage, so men were expected to play female parts. Concurrently as the twelfth night was made in the west, a major form of storytelling was developed in the east that would use gender bending in the storyline. A female performer created Kabuki Theater in 1603. This form of art uses elaborate makeup and combines the art of singing and dancing. The first all-male Kabuki (yarou kabuki) started in 1629. Eventually it became an accepted norm that women were banned from performing Kabuki.

In response to the all-male Kabuki performances, an all-female musical theatre group formed in 1913 called the Takarazuka Revue. They became legendary for the incredible elaborate performances. There are five main troupes in the Takarazuka Revue that have different styles, some of the troupes have a more western-friendly style, while others have a stronger traditional Japanese focus. Some people have estimated that as much as 90% of the fans of Takarazuka Revue are female. There are two theories behind the incredible popularity of the Takarazuka Revue among women. The first theory is that women are drawn to the lesbian overtones in the revue. The second theory is that women are drawn to the idea of females in a position of power and freedom. Regardless of what theory is true, the Takarazuka Revue has had an incredible influence on anime and manga, especially shojo. It influenced shojo genre staples like Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight, Ryoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles, and Kuniko Ikuhara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena.

In pop culture, gender bending has been used has been used as a storytelling medium in the west and the east. In the West popular movies like Mrs. Doubtfire had gender bending roles. It has been used in American and British television for comedic effect in Monty Python, Mad TV and Saturday Night Live. In Japan, Yuichiro Nagashima is a well-known kickboxer. He is also well known for his crossplay that he has done in the past including Haruhi and Saber. This example of his devotion to anime and manga was even showcased in National Geographic’s Taboo. There is also Maid cafĂ©’s in Japan with men dressing up in female clothing known as Hibari-tei.

When it comes to anime conventions, cosplay is one of the most visible forms of displaying your love of the hobby. A large, ever growing subset of cosplay is gender bending cosplay. The first and most well-known version of gender bending in cosplay is known as crosssplay. This form of cosplay involves dressing up as a character of the opposite sex. It involves wearing female clothes and trying your best to look like the opposite gender. In American culture, crossplay tends to be more socially acceptable when a female is crossplaying as a male character than a male who is crossplaying as a female character. The second major example of genderbending in cosplay is known as a “genderbent” cosplayer. This form of cosplay involves dressing up as the opposite sex equivalent to the character. For example, Mio is a well-known and beloved character among many anime fans; a genderbent version of Mio would mean that it is a man who is dressing up in a male uniform that is equivalent to Mio’s schoolgirl outfit in K-On. The last form of gender bending cosplay is known as Kigurumi, where it is a full costume that involves a mask. It involves full body coverage so that it is difficult to determine the gender of the cosplayer.

There are a variety of forms when it comes to gender bending in culture. It was a form of storytelling in the past and it influenced many popular form of storytelling. Gender bending is used currently today in pop-culture as more of a curiosity and has not been well developed compared to other mediums where it can play a more serious role in storytelling. A shining example of where it is starting to flower is in the cosplay community where it is slowly gaining acceptance from the fandom. Gender bending is a complex theme, but it has been displayed in many other forms of media other than anime and manga.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast. 

Gender Bending 101

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