Female Empowerment and Strawberry Eggs

on

Watching the girls of Taisho Yakyuu Musume break with convention and gender roles to pursue their passion for baseball was an energizing experience. After spending a few weeks watching some comparatively safe shows, it was a delight to find something with a strong message to it. Incidentally, I had just finished a wholly different show before picking up Taisho, one which also deals with feminism and female empowerment, but goes about it in a very different direction. A show I had initially dropped before curiosity enticed me to pick it up again and finish it.

I My Me! Strawberry Eggs is a strange show, as its title already implies. I was so dearly hoping the title would somehow end up making sense, but I finished the whole thing and still don’t know what it’s on about.

Application

Whereas Taisho was a show about girls standing up for themselves and showing the world what they are made of, Strawberry Eggs goes about it differently. It’s an anime about a school that wishes it was a girls-only academy. Its principal is a fervent hater of men, which becomes an issue when the 20-something gym teacher Hibiki Amawa applies for a job at her school and is rudely escorted from the premises.

Not only does the school not hire male teachers, it also bullies its remaining male students, forcing them to do pointless chores, belittling them, and punishing them harshly for misdeeds they are always presumed guilty of. The girls, meanwhile, are given a very favorable treatment and educated in line with the principal’s skewed, old-fashioned worldview. Boys are demonized, sex-ed is mostly spreading fear and paranoia, and they must always wear long skirts so as to avert the corrupting male gaze.

In a way, the anime flips around traditional gender struggles. The girls are elevated to a position of power and control, as the boys are literally left to clean up after them and robbed of many of the opportunities that the girls are granted in abandon. It’s a reversed glass ceiling and the viewer is led to empathize with the boys. However, no glass ceiling inverted or otherwise is going to stop Amawa, whose landlady turns out to be quite the inventor and who has some lingering grudges with the school’s principal.

Bloomers
An episode where Amawa tries to get the girls to switch to gym shorts instead of skirts during PE.

With her help, Amawa dons the disguise of a beautiful young lady and is given a voice distorter so as to sound female and obscure his neck. With this guise, he returns with basically the same CV and wins himself the job almost without a problem.

Strawberry Eggs is primarily a shounen anime, so I do think it’s somewhat clever to reverse the roles like this. It’s not a show I was very passionate about myself, but had I seen it as a kid, I could imagine myself getting upset over the unfair treatment towards the boys and, hopefully, that would inspire some reflection upon realizing this is a reality for working women the world around.

However, whereas Taisho is very focused on its core idea, Strawberry Eggs is prone to distractions and muddles its theme of female empowerment so much that I often wondered if maybe it didn’t have a point to make at all and I was merely reading too much into it. The reversed glass ceiling is initially a clever idea, but its focus on the male cast and Amawa’s cross-dressing leaves the female students with little development of their own. Few episodes really focus on their struggles and, when they do, they often have to share those struggles with the boys.

Sleepover
Amawa has a sleepover with the girls to protect them from a peeping tom.

Fuko’s personal, academic, and emotional growth throughout the series would have been a great element to focus on, but this too is eventually overshadowed by Amawa’s story and she becomes a bit of a teacher’s pet character.

Being a romcom shounen anime also means that fan-service and perverted humor reign supreme in the show, which further trivializes the female characters. One episode has the girls receive a medical check-up where their measurements are taken and many of them use pads to give them an edge in the bust department. While this episode does include some commentary about body positivity, the majority of the runtime goes to the boys trying to spy on the girls for the sake of making a list of the hottest students.

The idea of a male teacher masquerading as a woman also remains a sore point and is not an idea that has aged gracefully. Amawa is well-intentioned, but he still ends up pushing his ideals on the girls, seeing them in compromising situations, and betraying their trust. I also didn’t quite register just how morally dubious this was until a friend pointed it out, which made me worry I wasn’t seeing Strawberry Eggs in the right context. I am very used to anime’s tropes and trappings, not to mention male, so I decided to get a second opinion on the matter.

Fanservice

I presented a synopsis of the show to a friend of mine and asked her a few questions. She has seen some anime, but isn’t as fanatically involved in the medium as most of my friends. I did redact some personal info, but otherwise left her answers untouched.


Question 1: This anime has a bit of a reverse glass ceiling where boys are held back in their education and girls are given favorable treatment. How do you feel about such a well-known struggle for working women being morphed into a boys’ issue for this story?

Answer: These issues haven’t necessarily been relegated to working women, but I can see your point. It’s tricky to say a lot about it when I don’t know much about WHY the women are given favorable treatment (life-givers, fairer sex needs greater protection, females rule boys drools thing?). 

I don’t at all take issue with the fact that boys are the mistreated and disrespected party, not at all, as the male gender has faced its own issues with toxic masculinity and what not. What I do take issue with is the fact that they use traditionally girl/women/female repressive actions to showcase the male struggle, instead of actually focusing on the more typically male challenges. This would have been a golden opportunity in my mind to juxtapose the fact that thinking about one gender’s issues does not exclude the thinking of the problems of the other gender (Whataboutism).

At the same time, why should chores be gendered, so it’s hard to take a stand, but there could perhaps have been an effort to actually make a good statement towards boys’ emotional health, for example. Boys to this day can experience discrimination in education, with the whole idea of boys maturing later than girls, having less writing and reading skill, falling behind in math, and not getting the adjustment to their education that they deserve. The topics are ripe for the picking. Going the traditional way of just switching the genders seem either lazy, ignorant or a quick way to make hype among people who say that feminism is against men.

Bust

Question 2: The school wants to be an all-girls place to protect their female students from corrupting influences and harassment. The main character cross-dresses and deceives everybody, partly to prove them wrong, but he then also ends up seeing his female students in compromising situations and draws the romantic attention of one. How do you feel about this part of the story and whose actions ultimately strike you as the more harmful?

Answer: I think this is the bit that eeks me out the most. It boils down to trust. This educator, cross-dresser, initiates his job on false pretenses. Being a teacher is such an important job where you shape young minds in way that may impact them for life. Starting such a relationship on these false pretenses is disgusting and harmful. Cross-dressing is not an issue, but the deception you mention is. 

An all girls school is also how you get corrupting influences and strings of harassment that never seem to end. Just look at the sexualisation of female catholic students.

Teachers and educators you need to be able to trust; that he gains such intimate knowledge of their lives, is icky through and through. It’s even worse than that gay friend who turns out to be oh so very straight trope. Boring, predictable and very hurtful.

And then the romantic attention. BOI DO I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS. Not only are you fucking up a young mind’s perception of romance, romantic/intimate relationships, and trust, for perhaps the majority of their future, you also suck as a person letting it get that far. I hope he doesn’t encourage it, because then I’d like to dip his fingertips in boiling water. In high schools, there was always gossip about elderly (male) teachers flirting with female students, having relationships with them and all that. And it is upsetting and hurtful and just UGH in so may ways.

So the actions who strike me as the more harmful would be the entirety of the cross-dressing teacher, again, because it boils down to trust in one of the most impressionable times of a teenagers life. I’m not saying the actions of the principal and the VP and such are not harmful, they crazy are, but IMO the cross-dressing teacher is more at fault.

Dude

Question 3: The show features fan-service and there is perverted humor as male classmates and the residents of the apartment complex perv on the girls. Do you feel that an anime can realistically empower girls while also making them the target of jokes about sex appeal?

Answer: Heck yes it can realistically empower girls, it’s not that fucking hard, just don’t treat us as objects of the sexual nature. But also yes to doing it realistically alongside those kind of jokes. BUT. Only if the show gives characters of both/all genders a chance to stand up against these jokes, call them the utter trashy things that they are and take down the ones that stand for this type of behavior. There needs to be opposition to this type of behavior. Having it in to make drama is not an effective statement and only hurtful in the long run.

Lasses

Question 4: How would you, in general, feel about watching a show like this? Would you give it a chance if you were given an opportunity to watch it?

Answer: I would not seek it out actively, but to get a better opinion formed I would perhaps give it a chance and view it. But it would make me uncomfortable

Question 5: Do you have any additional comments that you want to express?

Answer: Why the fuck does it have to be shorts? People can run fast in long pants. Female Muslims participate in the freaking Olympics in full body gear for crying out loud.

The whole peeping tom situation makes me extremely uncomfortable. Especially since the teacher is there helping them find him and he himself is technically a peeping tom, and it makes me shudder and feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Having had to lock doors and block them with heavy equipment in the showers after PE because the boys tried breaking in to look, this is hitting close to home. It brings back uncomfortable memories of the early days of social media, web cameras, icky people on the internet and MSN.

I don’t have a problem with these issues being portrayed, the problem is HOW they’re being used and portrayed. You have the same issue with rape and torture for drama and only drama in fantasy, and it is so tiresome.

VP
The Vice Principal on one of her schemes to out Amawa as male.

Watching I My Me! Strawberry Eggs was like listening to someone make a long-winded argument, but every time he’s about to make a strong point that could step on some toes, he laughs it off and pretends it was a joke all along. I don’t have the insight to know if series writer Yasuko Kobayashi intended the show to be a commentary on female empowerment in media or if it just had to be an amusing romcom thing with some gimmicks to set it apart.

It’s not a show that aged well, that’s for sure, and if this brief interview taught me anything, it’s that a show I register as “just a mediocre anime” could be seen as horrific or deplorable by somebody not used to the kind of weirdness anime fans have come to accept from the medium.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Ritvik says:

    Quite a compelling read, its always great to see active discussions of female representation in anime. I liked that interview segment too.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s