Book Project

Transnational Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze

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 project 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 to the overt or implicit phallocentrism of many forms of mainstream media.

The central argument of this project 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. 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 alternate 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 objects instead of subjects. 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 blockbusters. 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.

Outstanding Features

• Writing Women Readers would be the first monograph in English to examine Japanese female-centric fandom practices related to popular media and to connect these Japanese practices to emerging fandom cultures in a broader global context.

• Writing Women Readers engages with the most current discussions in the related fields of Anime and Manga Studies and Fandom Studies, especially discussions surrounding female and queer sexualities and the role of women in the creation and transformation of media cultures.

• Writing Women Readers challenges the portrayal of fans of Japanese popular culture as exclusively male, a characterization that is currently dominant in both Japanese and North American academic discourse. In contrast to descriptions of male “otaku” fans as antisocial consumers, Writing Women Readers suggests that female fandom cultures are acutely aware of how media reflects and distorts gender and gender-related social issues, and that fandoms produce fan works partially to confront anxieties generated by perceived misconceptions and harmful representations.