October 10th, 2006

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve recently become an Okami addict.  One of things I like best about the game (besides the fact that it’s gorgeous) is that it gives me a chance to play as a strong, non-sexualized female character, i.e. a wolf.  Yeah, yeah, laugh it up: The only way a women can not be sexual is to not be human.  But it’s a refreshing change of pronouns to be able to exclaim, “She just tore that guy to shreds!”

That’s not to say that Amaterasu’s gender isn’t a bit confusing.  Like Aile, she often gets talked to like a man.  Then again, other gods address her as “mother to us all”.  Of course, that in and of itself has got to raise some issues with the traditional male gamer audience.  Especially since Okami is, in a lot of ways, a Zelda game.  How do you go from identifying with the ultimate male heroic archetype to a female wolf?  It makes me giggle.

But it’s not the first time us Japan-ophiles (There must be a real word for that.  Someone help me here.) have encountered godly gender ambiguity.  Take the animals of Princess Mononoke for example.  The English dubbing features a female–if not feminine–wolf god; the Japanese a male.  And let’s not even talk about the gender of boars.

In a lot of ways, the issue is a cultural one.  If anyone out there has any insight [Thanks! Sometimes I'm a total space cadet] into how the Japanese view the gender of animals, now’s the time to speak up.  But it’s also a question of gender in general.  If sex is our biological difference, and gender is our constructed difference, than do animals ever have gender, or only what we project onto them?  I know I can’t be the only one who can’t kick the feeling that every cat is female, and every dog is male.

Tags: Blog

17 Responses to “Mother to Us All”

  1. Adam Says:

    My Japanese Culture instructor at EverGreen actually referred to himself as a Japanophile, so I think you’re good to go there. :)

  2. John H. Says:

    Link is the ultimate male heroic archetype? I don’t know….

  3. Bonnie Says:

    Link is the ultimate male heroic archetype? I don't know"¦.
    Ah, not the ultimate manly archetype, but he certainly fits the enormously “young male out on an adventure” archetype pretty darn well.

  4. FerrousBuller Says:

    I think “archetypical” or “quintessential” works better than “ultimate” in that sense, then.

  5. 100littledolls Says:

    I really dote on my cats, so in turn I take careful notice of their personalities (this includes past cats as well.) I always have to laugh when either roommates or friends come over, see my cats and promptly ascribe gender roles to them. It’s always: female cats are stuck up, or male cats are much more aggressive, or variations of the sort. Either way, I have to laugh, they’re usually way off base. I think a lot of the time, we feel the need to ascribe gender to animals because it helps us “understand” or rather compartmentalize, their behavior.

  6. MD² Says:

    @100littledolls:

    I think you’re right on that account.
    I know I do the contrary for the same reason. Never lived with an animal near me, and to me, they’re all just sexless drones. Part of me knows that they are sexualy defined, but that info only is used when relevent (i.e I can’t do otherwise).

    In french we have the word “japoniste”, from the japonism movement… even in french it sounds just enough elitist asshole to be pleasing.

    About gender of animals, I’ll have to go have a more detailed look (I’m betting for both, with japanese it’s just a matter of context after all. See the onnagata).

  7. Bonnie Says:

    In french we have the word "japoniste"
    Ooh, classy :).

  8. Krissy Says:

    hello :)
    I’ve only seen the Japanese version of Mononoke hime, but I’m sure that Moro (wolf god) was dubbed with a woman’s voice … just a really strong, deep, growly woman’s voice speaking in insanely archaic japanese. I think it’s the same form that the wise woman spoke in at Ashitaka’s village.
    Also, Okami sounds cool :) Does it work on Macs? (I was put off gaming in early highschool when I kept getting stuck as Princess Peach…)
    And re: gender pronouns for animals… I’m not sure. I can sortof speak Japanese and the thing that really bugs me is the lack of gender pronouns – I am lazy and would rather say s/he, rather than someone’s name or “that person” *all the time* – so I don’t know if there are animal-gender associations. (A friend of mine compared the Slovenian to English translations of the Little Prince and was really spun out to read the Fox as a “he” – it’s a feminine word in slovenian).
    Sorry to waffle. Probably male is the default (?) but depends on context (?)
    Foxes are associated with lustful/lecherous/witchy women tho.
    Cheers, K

  9. MD² Says:

    As pointed out in another comment (to another post, I just noticed) there are gender pronouns in japanese (even though we may have a long discussion about third person ones).

    Foxes are associated with lustful/lecherous/witchy women tho.

    Mostly but not always. I own several copies of japanese fairy tales in which foxes happen to be clearly sly devious males. They clearly are an exception (and I’d love to know if maybe a regional one) but still. This motivates partly my earlier comment about context…

    Moro was dubbed by an elderly woman in both japanese and french (Jeanne Moreau, amusingly). Can’t remember about the english version.

    A friend of mine compared the Slovenian to English translations of the Little Prince and was really spun out to read the Fox as a "he" – it's a feminine word in slovenian

    We have the same problem with Discworld’s Death in french, which seems to amuse Pratchett’s translator to no end. :)

  10. FerrousBuller Says:

    The original Moro was voiced by Akihiro Miwa, who is a drag queen. Make of that what you will. :-) That said, I’m pretty sure Moro is supposed to be a she-wolf.

  11. MD² Says:

    I stand corrected. :)

    Though I’m shocked: my teacher had introduced Miwa to me as an elderly “chanteuse” so in my head he was a woman. Now I have to stop that paranoid part of me thinking my teacher had an agenda. @_@”

  12. Mitch Says:

    I found it interesting that, although female, Amaterasu was as transfixed by cleavage as Issun was. Maybe that’s a whole new can of worms.

  13. Bonnie Says:

    I've only seen the Japanese version of Mononoke hime, but I'm sure that Moro (wolf god) was dubbed with a woman's voice.
    Just a bad call on my part? Maybe I’m thinking of the boars? I definitely remember some surprisingly gender-related voice acting casting when I watched the Japanese…?

  14. FerrousBuller Says:

    Now I have to stop that paranoid part of me thinking my teacher had an agenda.

    Maybe your teacher didn’t realize Akihiro Miwa is a he either! :-)

    Oh, and Akihiro Miwa was also the voice of the Witch of the Waste in Howl’s Moving Castle, so I think it’s fair to say he gets cast in female speaking parts. There are also a number of times where women play male parts – and not just of young boys – so turnabout seems fair. :-)

  15. dkh Says:

    For what it’s worth, I do agree that it’s refreshing to play as a female character (who is supposed to be beautiful, according to the blind dead priest and according to Shinto legend) who isn’t a sex object, but the sexism in the game still irked me. Not like with Kaguya (who came from Japanese folklore, believe it or not) but with Sakuya’s scantily clad form (even her original kimono for some reason exposed her ass completely) or Rao’s heaving chest. It felt completely unnecessary. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Beyond Good and Evil’s Jade, who’s definitely sexy and the like but not in an exploitive fashion.

  16. Lion Kimbro Says:

    My shinto priest was quite surprised (to put it lightly) that Amaterasu omikami would be conceived of as existing in the form of an animal. “This is not Shinto,” was basically his message. Paraphrasing further, he basically said: “Animals are sacred life, but the hands and feet have different purpose; Amaterasu Omikami cannot be confused with an animal.” She is explicitly female, and, yes, mother to us all.

    (Happy mother’s day, Amaterasu Omikami!)

  17. The Sixth Feminist SF Carnival | The Hathor Legacy Says:

    [...] Meanwhile, at Heroine Sheik, Bonnie Ruberg has discovered one way to enjoy playing a non-sexualized female character in a video game – play as a wolf. Check out her post on the subject, titled “Mother to Us All.” [...]

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