Online Exhibition: The Diverse World of Manga: Shōjo Manga and Female Manga Artists: Breaking Gender Roles: Women in Men’s Dress, Men in Women’s Dress, and More

Breaking Gender Roles: Women in Men's Dress, Men in Women's Dress, and More

Story Shōjo manga started with Tezuka Osamu’s 『リボンの騎士 (Princess Knight)』, whose protagonist is a girl in men’s attire. This work was inspired by the all-female musical theater group Takarazuka in which all roles, including men’s, are played by female performers. The motif of “dansō no reijin (a beauty in male attire)”---a woman wearing men’s dress and acting manly, or a woman who hides her true identity and pretends to be a man---has repeatedly appeared in shōjo manga throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Such characters were often depicted as matured, stylish, and independent individuals with strong will. In the story, such “dansō no reijin” character serves as the object of same-sex adoration by other characters and the juvenile girl readers. She helps develop drama, and provides a more exciting stage which girls could not normally experience. The concept---a woman giving up her femininity and acting like a man---may reflect the reality of women having very limited careers. Before Japan legally guaranteed equal employment via the Men-Women Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1986, women’s career path was extremely limited. In the male-dominated society of the 1970s, female employees in large companies were expected to resign when they got married, in order to be fulltime housewives. If they choose to compete with men and climb the career ladder, they were expected to work like a man, and give up the supposed “woman’s dream.”

To a lesser degree, shōjo manga presents men in girls’ dress. Oftentimes the masculinity of such characters is deprived, and they are depicted as more beautiful than other female characters. The role of such a character is often to enhance the manly personality of the heroine. As such, shōjo manga has produced many works which subvert the boundary of gender and gender roles.

Ribon no kishi (Princess Knight), 1953-1956

Ribon no kishiThis is a representative work for Tezuka Osamu from his early career, and is probably the first story manga created for girls. This fantasy story is about the adventure of a girl named Sapphire, who must hide her true identity and pretend to be a male prince to protect the right of succession from the vicious Duke Duralumin. In this story, God gives every soon to be born baby a heart; the one who received a man’s heart would grow to be indomitable and courageous, and the one who received a woman’s heart would grow to be kind and gentle. Sapphire received both a man’s and woman’s heart, so she can surpass her gender boundary. While she wears a mask and fights against evil as an unidentified knight, she also disguises herself as “a maiden with flaxen hair” and falls in love with Prince Charming. Sapphire’s adventure fascinated girls, who were expected to become a kind and gentle wife and mother when they grow up. The ideal gender role is clearly presented, but many dansō no reijin characters would follow this work and shake traditional gender roles.

(Image taken from the exhibition catalog below, page 18.)

Berusaiyu no bara (The Rose of Versailles), 1972-1973

Many contemporary shōjo manga dealt with describing the daily life of girls, focusing on the psychological state of adolescent girls. However, set in prerevolutionary France, this historical drama describes the life of Oscar François de Jarjayes, who is raised as a boy in order to succeed her father in commanding the Royal Guards. Soon after its conclusion, Takarazuka dramatized this work, which recorded this theatrical group’s highest revenue at that time. The extreme popularity of the work created social phenomenon called “Beru-bara boom.” The key to the success of this work lies in the creation of the protagonist Oscar. Author Ikeda Riyoko originally planned to narrate the life of Queen Marie Antoinette in this story, but the focus shifted to Oscar as she gained extreme popularity with readers. In the middle of the drama, Oscar leaves the royal court of Louis XVI and serves as a military commander of a regiment of the Gardes Françaicess. Then she begins to see the unfairness of the class system and the suffering of the oppressed. She eventually decides to renounce her noble status and joins in the “Storming of the Bastille” with the commoner guardsmen in her regiment. In these pages (v. 6, displayed at the exhibition), her father, who regrets that he raised her as a man while she appreciates that she was able to see the reality of the world, free from the narrow and closed world of women. Although Oscar positively accepts her destiny, however, to be able to see the real world, she needs to wear man’s attire and suppresses her womanhood.

Za chenji! (The Change!), 1987-1988.

Based on a juvenile novel by Himuro Saeko (1957-2008) and adapted by Yamauchi Naomi. Himuro’s novel was based on an old court story established around 1180 known as Torikaebaya monogatari (The Changelings). This tale is about a boy and girl set of siblings who look very similar, and whose mannerisms are those of the opposite sex. The girl disguises herself as a man to serve the emperor, while the boy disguises himself as a woman and serves the emperor’s daughter. This gender-switched, cross-dressing tale shows the perspectives of gender identity and the homosexual practices of the 12th century court aristocracy.

Bishōjo senshi Seirāmūn (Sailor Moon), 1992-1997

Originally published in Nakayoshi, a shōjo manga magazine for K-12, this is still one of the most popular manga works of all time, and still enjoys high readership worldwide. The series features Tsukino Usagi, a clumsy junior high school girl who can transform into Sailor Moon and fights against evil with other sailor soldiers. The anime adaptation started a few months after the manga work, and both were a smash hit; generating sequels, live action dramas, games, and musical adaptations. Concept-wise, this work combines both “mahō shōjo” genre and “sentai” genre, in which a team of five or six masked heroes fight against evil forces (in the US, this series has been developed as The Power Rangers series). Yet in this “sentai” genre, the protagonists are mainly men, with a limited number of female fighters. In 『セーラームーン』, all sailor soldiers are girls, and unlike Oscar and Sapphire, they are not forced to give up their femininity. Rather, their costume is a short skirt, and some wear high heels while fighting. The feminine beauty of the characters are emphasized. Indeed, cosmetics aid in their transformation to sailor soldiers. At the time of transformation, they shout the famous punch line, “Moon (or their guardian planet) prism power! Make up!” Characters then apply manicure and lip gloss, as well as wear earrings and hair accessories, so they literally “make up” themselves to fight. In this work, being beautiful is equal to being strong. This work also reverses standard gender roles. Chiba Mamoru, as Tuxedo Mask, acts as the guardian and supporter of the sailor soldiers. However, oftentimes he puts himself in danger and is saved by Sailor Moon, rather than him saving her. In addition, Sailor Uranus is an androgynous character and is romantically involved with Sailor Neptune, making this work one of the earlier works for K-12 shōjo manga which includes main characters on the LGBTQ spectrum. 

Ōoku (Ooku: The Inner Chambers), 2004-

Ōoku refers to the “inner chamber” of the Shōgunate, where hundreds of women serve the Shōgun. Therefore, usually novels associated with Ōoku are about a rivalry among women who desire for the love of the Shōgun. However, author Yoshinaga Fumi attempts to describe an alternative history of Japan’s Tokugawa period (1603-1868) with a unique twist. In this on-going work, characters are not cross dressers, but rather gender roles are switched. During the early Tokugawa period, an unknown disease kills most of the male population, including the Shōgun himself. Consequently, females rise to power and run the government, and as symbolically presented here (v. 1, pp. 18-19), the Ōoku, the inner chamber of the Shōgun, is established as a harem of men serving the female Shōgun. Yoshinaga successfully manages this radical plot, weaving historical figures and facts into this fictional story. This work has received many awards, including the Sense of Gender Award by the Japanese Association of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2005 and is included in the 2010 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, selected by the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services Association division. The cover image of volume one portraits a man in the Ōoku. The color of his kimono is red, which is unusual---since it should be white or pale color. He also applies red eye shadow. In this drama, these imply he is about to (sexually) serve the female Shōgun.

Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish), 2008-2017

Created by Higashimura Akiko, this story centers on the tenants of a women-only apartment called Amamizu-kan. Including the protagonist Tsukimi, all tenants are NEET and otaku. Calling themselves “Amars (nuns),” they are disinterested in having boyfriends and do not care about their appearance. One night, Tsukimi meets Kuranosuke, a cross-dressed boy, and by mistaking his sex, lets him stay in her room for the night. It is from this encounter that the strange relations between Amars and the cross-dressed beauty Kuranosuke starts, and with the assistance of Kuranosuke, the shy, reserved otaku girl Tsukimi is transformed into a beautiful and confident fashion designer. Men who cross-dress as women are called “otoko-no-ko,” but this term does not use the regular kanji 「男の子」which simply means little boy. Instead, the kanji characters for this term is 「男の娘」, though the character 「娘」means “daughter.” The basic plot of 『海月姫』 is simple and standard; a prince like boy meets and falls in love with an ordinary girl. But by making Kuranosuke a cross-dressed boy, this work adds a unique twist.

"Tsukiyo no doresu" (The Dress under the Moon Night), 1984

In this story, Akiyoshi Kyōko, a high school student who suffers from insomnia, goes out for a stroll at night. While out, she sees her classmate, and captain of the kendō club, Etō Hidekage in the park. To her surprise, he is dancing alone under the moonlight in a flared dress. Hidekage confesses that he tries to suppress his love of such feminine clothes and maintain a tough and masculine appearance, but when he is stressed out he subconsciously cross-dresses and wanders around. Although cross-dressing male characters have appeared in manga often, men wearing such attire was, and still is, out of social norm. Hidekage asks “Sometimes I wonder. If women wearing pants is normal, then why is men wearing skirts abnormal?” This comical short story bluntly criticizes society’s hostile attitude through Kyōko’s mouth; “Even thinking of it [men wearing skirts] makes me feel unnerved (pages 140-141)."Despite her sharp and merciless tongue, Kyōko protects his secret and accompanies his nighttime walk.

Baraō no sōrestsu (Requiem of the Rose King), 2013-

This story is a radical interpretation of Richard III and Henry VI, loosely based on Shakespearean dramas. Shakespeare depicts Richard as a physically deformed, cruel Machiavellian sophist who develops conspiracies in order to eliminate rivals who would come to the throne. However, in this work Richard is born as an androgynous. Cursed by their mother while being adored by their father, Richard desperately desires to be a strong man and support their father’s enthronement. One day, however, Richard begins to feel desire to be a woman when they encounter a shepherd. Richard’s fate is made more tragic and complicated when this shepherd turns out to be their father’s enemy, Henry VI. Richard’s secret creates confusion and misunderstanding, further inviting tragedies on their fate.