gender, Hourour Musuko, Judith Butler, Nitorin, performance, performativity, sex, stage play, Takatsuki, theory
Hourou Musuko starts with questioning what little girls and boys are made of. It illuminates the role of sex in the construction of “natural” or coherent sexuality and gender, and the disheartening repercussions that the individuals, who fail to conform to what is socially accepted experienced. Further, the plotline sensibly uses the onset of puberty to intricately and realistically show that in this socially constructed world, we are bounded by to what has been “normalized”—boys must wear pants and girls must wear skirts.
Nitorin and Takatsuki are the two main characters, who both struggle with gender crisis. Nitorin is feminine by nature but trapped in a male body, same with Takatsuki who is masculine by nature however ensnared in a female body. Both clearly demonstrate the challenges of having a binary sex system or the practice of heterosexuality. Moreover, the story visibly shows that the supposed blatancy of sex as a natural biological fact indicates to how intensely its production in discourse is concealed. For instance, Takatsuki agonizes girlhood because no matter how hard she flattens her chest, she cannot avoid wearing a bra and can never stop her breast from growing. Likewise with Nitorin, he vacillates boyhood because as soon as his body hairs grow, it’ll be harder for him to wear skirts and dresses.
Interestingly, this is where the complex questions arise. How did biological factors create order and disorder? Indeed sex is by nature, but does it mean that we also have to naturalize gender?
Judith Butler coined the theory of sex as performative. It tells that through repetition or iterability of gender performance we regularize and create constraints, and these eventually produce the “natural” sexed and gendered bodies. Sadly, people who fail to conform to what is normalized are being alienated and suffer from regulatory discourses. For instance, when Nitorin went to school in a girl’s uniform, everybody made fun and isolated him—but not his friends. This is because he went beyond the bounded norm on how a boy should look like and disobeyed society’s definition of a binary sex system.
I like how Takako Shimura cleverly incorporated stage-play into the plot and used it symbolically to show that gender is performative. Nitorin’s school play is based on Romeo and Juliet. The boys were assigned to act the female roles, and the girls are assigned vice versa. I hadn’t experienced this kind of school activity in my high school years, hence it made me wonder and ignited my curiosity–why do people clap and cheer at stage-play cross-dressers, but mock and alienate real-life gender benders. As we have seen, when Nitorin went to school in a girl’s uniform everybody laughed at him, and on the contrary, when he went on stage in girl’s clothing during the school play, everyone was excited and gladly accepted him.
Lastly, small and intricate details particularly got me hooked onto this series. Hourou Musuko made me realize (again) that life is already a huge stage-play. Society dictates us what to wear, how to behave and execute our assigned genders. The only difference between “real-life stage-play” and a “school stage-play” is — in real-life you cannot run away from it — whereas in school stage-play you are always free to quit.
First, my understanding about Hourou Musuko heavily relies upon the anime. I haven’t read the manga and I don’t think I will read it anytime soon.
Second, this analysis is inspired by Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”.
Third, I’m neither a Philosophy nor Rhetoric major, if somebody is familiar with Butler’s theory of performativity and sees that my ideas are off — feel free to correct me. However, I require valid proofs before I acknowledge that my thoughts are faulty. :)
I really enjoyed watching Hourou Musuko. I also like how they use Romeo and Juliet’s story on the school play.
Someday I’m definitely going to do a Hourou Musuko marathon :)
Yeah, way to go. ^^
yeah can’t wait……
I’ve never really thought about the role of the genderbender play in the plot but what you’ve said makes complete sense. Interesting and very insightful article!
It made me wonder why they chose to have a school play, then after the whole series, it made me realize that using it is a good way to point out what’s going-on in real life.
I’m glad that you find this article insightful, and thanks for reading. ^^
Balloon Thief said:
Oh cool I didn’t see the whole “play showing that gender is performative thing”. That’s clever, very clever. I like how you stated that most peoples gender has been normalized and those whose gender hasn’t are treated like outcasts. This reminds me of this interesting thing that my teacher told me sometime in the last few weeks. She believes the society has a harder time accepting gay men than gay women for several reasons. One of which is that masculine women already fit into the tomboy stereotype so don’t seem that much different. This turns on it’s head with feminine men because they don’t really a predefined place in the social structure of society. Sorry if I said anything offensive, I just thought it was a similar concept and that was the only way I could create an analogy to this idea. Great post.
(except I have this nagging feeling that your smarter than me)-smoking British detective voice
Society is really hard to comprehend. We’re trying to simplify gender using a binary sex system as a result we’re naturalizing limited degrees of acceptance. Your example is a good one, how come if two hot chicks are making out, it’s hot. But if a butcher tomboy is involved it’s kind of…weird. I really don’t know the answer. It’s like asking me how come marriage involves only two people, why not three, four…?
I think media is a big factor in normalizing this and the concept of ideal female body. I noticed that lots of girl-to-girl make out involve “beautiful” girls. Take for instance Glee, why did they choose Santana and Brittany to be cheerleaders? –in pop culture, a cheerleader embodies the ideal girl in school. And as for gay men, aside from media, another factor is the Patriarchal System. For so many years men have been the dominant gender, hence if they failed to perform their supposed roles the negative impact is always much harder. But I guess there’s not much of a difference anymore between gay women and gay men relationships, unlike before.
“(except I have this nagging feeling that your smarter than me)-smoking British detective voice”
Haha, I’m not smart, I think it’s just because of my curiosity that’s why I’m came up with this post.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I’m glad you enjoyed my post.
Hourou Musuko is a wonderful series; I watched it till the end and now expect the DVD’s full last episodes. Your thought about the meaning of the play is very intriguing (gender is performative). But couldn’t it be something without that much meaning on it? We’ve seen ender-bender play in Cardcaptor Sakura as well. And I’m not sure, if this happens with ease till now in Japan, but Japanese surely have tradition supporting such plays in Takarazuka and Kabuki theatre.
In the manga we can see another gender-bender play in primary school, Rose of Versailles. So, I can agree to the point that the author’s intentions may be to pinpoint the difference between stage and real-life. Although before reading your article I thought this as a device to make the heroes’ feelings clearer and to let them express their true selves without constraints.
It’s possible that the mangaka didn’t put meaning on the play, but it’s also possible that he did because I find it as a piece that fits perfectly on this puzzle—gender bender theme. And aside from that, meaning only exist if we attach it on something. ^^
I happen to tie gender as performative on this post because it’s an actual theory written by Judith Butler. Her work is an interesting read if you’re intrigued about this theory. So basically, she’s telling that this notion of gender is something that we’re just performing… think about the example that I gave about wearing clothes in my Usagi Drop post.
One of the things I enjoy about Japanese culture especially manga and anime is it blatantly shows realistic taboos that we always try to avoid discussing, so with these it allow us to examine something without associating it to any real person.
I am going to check Butler on you tube for a first taste, since at the moment buying a book of hers isn’t so easy for me (unemployed…) and libraries here on my island don’t have many books of this kind- I’m pretty sure of it.
Yes, I don’t remember west comics centering around such subjects. Coming out stories can be seen in prose and in scientific articles but not so much in comics. There may be some queer characters here and there but as side characters.
If you like exploring gender in manga, I may as well suggest I.S. (aiesu) that deals with intersexuals, their lives and struggles- ongoing
I believed Google book has preview of Butler’s writings you can check it out. ^^
Also, thanks for your recommendation, I will surely check it out. I’m fascinated by intersexuals and gender related issues that’s why I enjoy exploring these kinds of topics.
Foxy Lady Ayame said:
Reblogged this on compass on my field trip.