Feminism, Anime and Me

As I type up this article there is a singular overriding voice in the back of my head saying:

“this should not exist”

To understand the thought process behind such a comment, you really need to look back at the history of All Hail Haruhi. Part introspective, part love letter, I want to tell you about the relationship I have with feminism, anime, this blog and even my own identity. Truthfully nothing I can say on the subject can be spoken of in a vacuum. A thousand invisible and interchangeable parts have collided to bring me to where I am today. So allow me to take you back to the beginning…

It was 2014, not so long ago, but a bygone memory given the rate in which the world has changed over these last two and a bit years. I was still on Reddit back then, no Twitter, no WordPress, only the largest anime forum I could find at the time, aptly named /r/anime. I was never a big powerhouse user over there but I did comment from time to time. At the very least I had been on the website long enough to have a feel for the trends and to start noticing when content was being recycled. I was also becoming increasingly disenfranchised with the community. I had gone through a slow but terminal progression of commenting in any thread, to cutting back to episode discussions, to only commenting alongside folks I recognized. Finally, after less than a year, I stopped visiting altogether.

There is a slew of issues that made /r/anime uninhabitable, ranging from the normalization of piracy over quality services like Crunchyroll and Funimation, to the sea of hentai that was allowed “because it’s in the comments”. You’re often defined by the company you keep and I personally couldn’t feel more detached from the crowd if I tried. I resented having people tell me their blatant pirating was justified because the 2-3 hour delay for subtitles was “too long” or that the quality didn’t meet their arbitrary standards. I was considered a prude for not wanting the top comments in most fanart threads to be pornographic in nature. I disliked being treated as “one of the bro’s” in an already male dominated space by people who didn’t know me, yet attached an imagined identity to my username. Each and every which direction I turned, I found more reasons to value distance. The straw that broke the camels back however was a thread to Amelia Cook’s first article at The Mary Sue entitled “Hey Anime Fans: Stop Making Excuses for Fanservice”.

You see you probably don’t know me, but you will likely have heard of Amelia Cook or ‘Neutral Female’, the owner and operator of Anime Feminist. Yet what you might not have been around for was the stretch of time before that, when Amelia was a largely unknown prospective freelancer. It was during this time that she and I met. I had recently started the blog you’re reading from now and she had her own now-defunct website know as fanservicecheck. Naturally our opinions on fanservice intersected, making for an easy connection. Finding common ground in feminism inevitably followed and it was through all of this that I found out Amelia had gotten her first anime exclusive writing gig over at The Mary Sue. I was ecstatic. Not only was this great for Amelia’s prospects as a writer but it was also the first time I’d seen feminist commentary specific to anime hit a mainstream website. While the audience may have been intentionally niche, I don’t believe I can overstate just how important a milestone this was. Despite feminism being well established in academia, such specialized texts remain inaccessible and classist by default. Seeing a broader angle get adopted made for an important first step in the western anime scene.

Ultimately this meant that when the aforementioned post finally went up, I wanted to get it as much exposure as possible. As a Feminist myself and with a sensitivity to the gravitas such conversations attract, I was duty bound to draw eyes to it. I shared it everywhere I could from Discord to Facebook and from Twitter to Reddit. I let my enthusiasm get ahead of me, so no matter how innocent that was, it was a decision I would later go on to sorely regret.

The adage goes that there is no such thing as bad publicity. It’s a ridiculous phrase for big companies who’ve suffered losses due to public scandals to hear, but for a writer with under 200 followers on twitter, getting that kind of visibility early on could catapult them in to rapid growth and subsequent work opportunities. That was the other half of my intentions at least. Even if Amelia herself was conscious of the fact that breaking ground came with consequences, I knew, or at least hoped, she understood that my overzealous actions came from the same place her own motivation had come from.

Here is another adage for you. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. In posting to these sites without care for who might be reading, I unwittingly exposed both myself and Amelia to the worst the anime community has to offer. I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when I shared a feminist article in frequently anti-feminist circles like Reddit but I did, and so I faced the consequences. I remember telling Amelia at the time that I would brave the comments. “I have a thick skin, I can handle it” I proudly stated. The thing is, I had luckily managed to avoid experiences like this in the past, clouding my judgement. My so-called “thick skin” was adapted to name calling, to being isolated and betrayed, to threats and physical harm. But playing by the Internets rules is a distinctly different game. At any one time you can have a thousand voices crying out against you, and each and every one of them expects your time and undivided attention in response. It cut away at me deeply. I respected and wanted the best for Amelia, so when I posted her work around I felt that if I did not stand up and defend her from baseless criticism, I could not be justified when I made a statement about wanting more feminist perspectives in the medium. If I exposed her to all of this then left her out to dry, what does that say about me as a person, let alone as the blogger “All Hail Haruhi”? So I tried my best against all odds, and in doing so realized that I was not as strong as I thought I was. You can have the pleasure of reading some of the most tame comments I dealt with, which for the record, only involve the very first article written. You can let your imagination run wild for what was said about subsequent entries.

This whole article makes the assumption that I care what anyone else thinks […] I like anime because I can see different things in it, I don’t need anime to be forced into the mainstream to earn validation.

– In response to the topic of fanservice and how it can be an alienating component

You know what? If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

– When the article calls for people to acknowledge how fanservice effects the experience for a diverse audience

It’s a part of the industry. It’s like complaining about campy Bollywood productions. It just is. You can either live with it or watch something else.

– On the suggestion that alternatives are possible without causing harm, while still floating the idea of ‘voting with your wallet’ to readers

From the website that brought you such masterpieces as: [Lists three pieces not written by the same author]

– Upon reading the title

Nope. Wrong. There are a hundred new IPs every few seasons, and surely the audience isn’t in it for how human the characters feel.

– Asserting the notion that objectification of male characters is quantitatively equal to female characters and that is just how the market operates

Guess tits and ass still destroy the minds of impressionable youth and males worldwide. Better cry about it.

– In response to a point never made

Fanservice isn’t new. Anime isn’t special. Film and television, comic book, and video game fandom’s are all dealing with the same old objectification.

– Arguing that this was a hit piece, while ignoring requests to read it first

“Objectification of Women” When you want to shame straight men for their sexuality while trying to sound feminist

– Initially accusing the article of harking back to puritanism, later amending that statement to refer to the entirety of feminism

I think I can leave it at that.

Disheartened would be one way to describe things. Disgust as well, but that is largely exclusive to private messages and @ mentions. One of the more distinct comments I can recall was directed at Amelia, countering a point she made by referring to women as things to “sperm inside” (yes, he said it exactly like that).

A ghastly sight to behold, I truly felt at that point in time that Feminism had no future in the anime community. I no longer wanted to be a part of /r/anime. I no longer saw twitter as an escape from all that either, it was just as bad in fact. For a time this inspired me to get more vocal. I wrote two lengthy (since deleted) posts venting about how these conversations had played out, while planning a way to push back against it. I started including feminism in my twitlonger commentary on seasonal anime. I would give reading recommendations and share article links I felt were relevant based on what I have learnt in my studies. When Amelia’s second article came along, “Stop Pretending ‘Sexy’ and ‘Sexualized’ Mean the Same Thing”, I made sure not to post it outside of my own twitter. I even went so far as to keep people I had previously respected at arms length to avoid the consequences of their misfired actions. I was convinced not to make the same mistakes again.

Now there was obviously more going on at the time than could ever be encapsulated in a biopic of my life but the reality was that the anime fandom simply wasn’t healthy for me anymore. Irrespective of everything I tried, continuing was getting difficult and the damage was done. I hated myself for engaging with people that made me miserable. I hated myself for humoring arguments that had no chance of ever being intelligible for the sake of ‘discussion’. I hated myself for reading every word said against me. I hated it all. I hated me.

So despite toying with a number of different solutions, I decided the only way to stop these problems was to avoid them entirely. I quit Twitter and blogging, which was all I had left after giving up on so many other platforms, and in doing so, said goodbye to my belief for feminism in anime.

Or so I thought.

Because I was blind to it at the time. I didn’t have the strength of vision Amelia possessed. I couldn’t detach that hatred of feminism from the anime community at large. From where I had been standing  it felt like there were only a handful of soft-feminists who largely played to an audience of each other. I didn’t enjoy abandoning both a person and a concept that I had invested so much into previously, yet I couldn’t bring myself to dive back in to the fire.

When Amelia’s third article at The Mary Sue came along, “Moé, Misogyny and Masculinity: Anime’s Cuteness Problem–and How to Fix It”, the backlash exceeded all expectations. A hashtag was launched, abuse was hurled and in one instance I saw people discussing how to best mask their harassment. I didn’t sleep that night. I thought about all that Amelia must be going through and how I left her to it. In my mind this event validated my reasons for leaving, yet the taste of thinking I was right was a bitter one. I wanted so desperately to be proven wrong. In watching what was going on all I could muster was a discrete direct message, which felt paltry compared to the significant backlash that final piece got. I’ll admit it, I felt scummy. Giving someone the equivalent of a “Ganbatte!” while I took the unique privilege of sitting on the sidelines and letting someone else do the heavy work…words cannot do justice to how disappointed in myself I was. I didn’t expect a response, I knew she was incredibly busy and under a lot of stress, let alone the insignificance of what I had said given my position. So I let things fade to black once more, hoping that one day things could be different.

But as you can tell, Amelia Cook is not someone who sits things out and waits for the storm to pass. As I would later learn, she had been in conversation with prominent figures in the community, planning the eventual creation of Anime Feminist. Simultaneously an editorial website and a space for Feminists to feel welcomed, it was the first of its kind. Contrary to my pessimistic outlook that I had all but set in stone, people flocked to this new start-up. It had it’s dissenters there is no doubt about that, but the sheer size and scale of the support people had for Anime Feminist, right from the starting line, it blew me away. As it turns out all you need to have is a good old shift in perspective. Where one individual sees the rejection of feminist discourse, another sees that as desperation, stemming from the evaporating authority of reactionaries.

I was still out of the scene at the time, but the word eventually trickled its way down to me. I realized it was an actuality back in early November and couldn’t contain my excitement, something I had been missing for far too long. She’s done it, I thought. Feminism in anime was no longer confined to scattered blog posts with varying readership or suspect credibility. There was a unified source with an easily searchable name and a league of pre-established and talented writers. Yet in a masterstroke show of solidarity, Anime Feminist did not establish itself as an absolute authority, nor did it seek to shape the future of a foreign media industry. The idea was, at least through my admittedly biased and rose tinted glasses, to create a space that gave the silenced a voice again. If you were sick of exclusionary elements in the anime you watched, someone at Anime Feminist was speaking for that exhaustion. If you were sensitive to the fact that fanservice didn’t need to be outright censored unilaterally as much as mediated, Anime Feminist was aware of that. If you cared to hear what Japanese creators and audiences had to say, so did Anime Feminist.

It was a dream come true for me. I still kept conversation with Amelia to a solitary message, but the inkling had already set in, and within a month I had a fresh Twitter account and a passion for writing again. I don’t talk about feminism in anime all the time, in fact I consider my writings to span across multiple forms of analysis, so nothing was ever as binary as “If it’s not feminism I have nothing to say”. I do however feel the struggle of being feminist. I’ve been active in plenty of other circles before, especially in regard to systemic social issues, rather than those directly originating from media. That is to say, I know what it’s like to kick, scream and shout for it all to fall on deaf ears. If you’ve been a feminist for any length of time, then you will know first hand what it feels like to be the most judged person in the room. Anti-feminism itself is larger than ever as pop culture and academia struggle to find a balance, so I want to stress, underline and bold the fact that having a space for feminism in anime is so vitally important to have.

And that is why I am so incredibly happy. That is why the weight of the words I write seem lighter again. That is why I could finally tell myself it was okay to come back. Like I said prior, I could highlight a number of reasons for why I ultimately left anime behind, but one reason consistently rose above the others. I didn’t feel like my identity was a welcome one in the community. The presence of Anime Feminist, as well as all the patrons and silent supporters, made me feel welcome again. I am no longer positioned on the fringe but in an epicenter of like minded people. As I recently stated on twitter, I can’t even begin to thank Anime Feminist enough for that.

So yes, this article should not exist, but it does.

I hope you understand why now.

Thanks, Amelia.


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