Magical Girls: Empowered or Objectified?This is a featured page

The magical girl or mahou shoujo genre in Japanese animation and manga features young girls who fight evil by means of a magical transformation, through which they gain magical powers and a costume change. Magical girls often lead a double life, keeping their alternate identity a secret from others. They are visually characterized by their often elaborate, stereotypically feminine costumes and imagery, with copious amounts of sparkles, stars and flowers constantly showing up as motifs. The 1990s anime and manga series Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon) is arguably the most well-known series of the genre, redefining the genre as a whole and laying the foundation for future series. Other prominent series include Cardcaptor Sakura, Pretty Cure and the recent hit Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Magical Girls: Empowered or Objectified? - Gender Studies
The magical girl genre presents a fascinating example of how girls and women can possess power without needing to renounce their feminine characteristics. While this focus on femininity may be problematic as it reinforces gender stereotypes of the ‘girly girl’ and implies a focus on outward appearances and physical beauty, it provides a great contrast to other attempts at depicting ‘strong female characters’ in the (mostly Western) media, where women are considered strong only if they take on masculine characteristics and act ‘like men’. Masculinity, specifically the hegemonic masculinity that dictates that men are in a position of power and authority, is prized over ‘feminine’ characteristics, which are seen as weak and inferior. As Ridgeway and Correll (2004) point out, domains that are culturally associated with masculinity are evaluated more favorably towards men while stereotypically feminine domains are evaluated less favorably towards women, due to cultural assumptions about men’s higher status and competence and differentiation between the genders. The magical girl eschews the need to be masculine in order to be powerful – in fact, she derives her power from her femininity. While she may engage in masculine activities such as combat with the enemy, this is cloaked in an ever-present layer of femininity.

The magical girl is commonly portrayed as being selfless and caring, filled with compassion for others and relying on friendship and love as a source of power and strength. The capacity to love and feel emotion is considered a traditionally feminine trait, as women are traditionally viewed as nurturing and empathizing. Magical girls are not shown as stoic or emotionally undeveloped – their displays of passion and emotion are not cast as weakness or irrationality, but as sources of great power. The magical girl’s battles are frequently won through ‘healing’ the enemy rather than outright destruction and physical force, which is connected to the cultural view of women as non-violent mediators who seek peaceful reconciliation.

Despite the overwhelming trend of femininity being recast as a source of power in magical girl series, it remains questionable if this form of empowerment is truly free of the confines of patriarchy. Magical girls are largely designed according to conventional ideals of feminine beauty, having lean and fit physiques, large eyes and clothing that plays up their childishness and innocence. Short skirts, ribbons and frilly ruffles abound. For instance, the female protagonists of Sailor Moon are clad in outfits resembling the Japanese school uniform known as a serafuku (sailor suit), which is a common subject of sexual fetishization. During transformation sequences, brief moments of nudity may be glimpsed and the camera tends to focus on the magical girl’s legs and chest, pointing towards a degree of sexual objectification that becomes apparent when one considers the risqué content of unofficial fanworks produced by the male audience of the show. Despite the target audience of magical girl series being young girls, the existence of a patriarchal gender system which infantilizes females and reduces them to passive sexual objects continues to exert its influence.

Magical Girls: Empowered or Objectified? - Gender Studies
Obviously, the magical girl genre is not without its problems. While femininity is constructed as a source of power, it remains confined within the limits of patriarchy, represented by the positioning of the magical girl as a male sexual fantasy. Gender stereotypes pertaining to ideal feminine beauty and feminine behaviour continue to persist. However, the genre presents a challenge to the assumption that masculinity is more desirable than femininity, that becoming more masculine is an ideal that females should aspire towards if they are to be deemed worthy of power and authority. The construction of femininity as power is clearly limiting and liberating at the same time.


Newsom, V. A. (2004). Young Females as Super Heroes: Super Heroines in the
Animated Sailor Moon. Femspec, 5(2), 57-81. (Retrieved 15 February, 2012)

Ridgeway, Cecilia and Shelley J. Correll (2004). "Unpacking the Gender System: A Theoretical Perspective on Gender Beliefs and Social Relations". Gender and Society 18(4):510-531

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