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. :)