Can love end the gender wars?

“The Jian, also known as ‘the bird that shares wings,’ has only one wing. Unless a male and female pair lean on each other and act as one, they’re incapable of flight. They’re imperfect, incomplete creatures. But, for some reason, their way of life, struck me as profoundly beautiful.”
— Hiro’s interpretation of the Jiān bird of Chinese mythology.

Zero Two and Hiro
Zero Two and Hiro, the protagonists.

About the anime “Darling in the Franxx.”

It is set in the distant future of a world ruined by mysterious giant creatures called Kyōryū. People live in mobile fort cities called Plantations. These are defended by giant mecha called Franxx, piloted by boy-girl pairs of teenagers raised from birth for the job. They know nothing about their own cities or the outside world. Their days consist of battles and struggles to discover who they are and how to live.

Resolution of the gender wars will come from the creation of new ideas about the ways men and women can combine for work, play, and love. “New” means recombining and reconceiving our biology and the countless forms of life developed since we invented tools. Fiction is our laboratory. Japanese anime is one of the best.

I have watched only a few anime since my first, “Star Blazers“, in 1979. But “Darling in the Franxx” is the best I have seen. Its exploration of gender relations makes most US TV dramas look like chalk drawings on the sidewalk. We can learn much from its evolution in the first 15 episodes. This show has had an impact, as seen in large audience and the massive body of commentary about it (there are 170 pages of comments at Crunchyroll, where it streams).

Building new relations from scratch

The teens in this show know little about life. They are raised with no knowledge of romance. They have never heard of kissing, let alone sex. They discover these things for themselves. They are a thought experiment in the nature – nurture debate. “Darling” shows teens raised in a small team with absolute equality between guys and girls. The team alpha and team leader are both girls. The girls are the sexually aggressive ones.

They build their relationships starting with nothing but their BIOS, their hard-wired drives. Pairs are linked by working together as pilots in mecha, brought to a union that is physical, mental, and spiritual.

We see this process working in several pairs, most strongly in the protagonists Hiro and Zero Two. Hiro wants to bond in order to pilot a Franxx, since he is nothing otherwise. She needs a partner but despises the dependency it brings, as seen in her interpretation of the Chinese myth of the Jiān bird.

“The book I read about it a long time ago said it can’t fly unless a male and female support each other. They’re pitiful creatures. Unless it finds a partner, it must hide among tree leaves, wait with bated breath, and dream of the day it can take flight into the skies.”

In episode 15 they merge complete in their machine, making it incredibly powerful. It is an inspiring story of romance for teens in the 21st century, told with great skill to boys and girls in Japan and around the world.

Zero Two and Hiro

Love as the solution to the gender war

Drawing on deep sources in western life, Rousseau created modern romance as a means to counterbalance individualism and preserve the family structure (details here). Marriage was a business partnership, often arranged by the parents. He (and others in the 18th century) refounded it on love. This was one of the most successful philosophical inventions ever. It became the heart of our literature, as seen in the success of Jane Austin’s books (still selling well in their third century). Romance is by far the largest literary genre for adults.

Jiān bird

Now some propose doubling down on love as the solution to the gender wars. Work and home become a great fusion between equal loving partners, a couple with harmony in all parts of life.

These stories draw on the shift over six decades of romance from the home to work. The partners shifted from women and men as different kinds of people with different roles to essentially similar buddies (gender bending is a common trope). Diana Rigg set the mold in “The Avengers” (1965-1968), the independent kick-ass partner in both work and play. The “Mary Tyler Moore Show” took the next step, showing the work team as a “family.”  Now such stories outnumber stories of romance and family at home.

This is, of course, insane. HR executives must howl with horror at such shows. Work buddies screwing are disruptive in the office. People trying to form such relationships generate sexual harassment claims. Those that break up generate more claims. But those are the small problems with the these work-and-love buddies stories. Where do they go next? Do they marry and have perfectly equal home relationships? Does the kick-ass independent heroine and her usually subordinate partner settle down to domestic bliss?

Such stories could become the equivalent of the 1950s and 1960s family shows. But we do not see many of them because they do not work. If shown, people would see them as less plausible than fairy tales. In the real world peers meet at work and develop relationships (despite HR executives best efforts). Their marriages are part of the 40% to 50% that end in divorce. They are part of the problem, not the solution.

Love is not the answer. The search continues for new ideas to end the gender wars.

Gender War in
Gender War in “Darling and the Franxx.”

Revealing trivial details

As usual in modern shows, it describes guys looking at girls as “perverts. ” This is the opposite of its former meaning, and another indicator of the project to make masculinity a pathology.

Large body of anime about young and men jointly piloting giant robots, using these as metaphors for life. For an introduction to this genre see “When Mechs Equals Sex” by Nicholas Dupree at Anime News Network.

There is the usual prudishness by nerd commenters about portrayal of girls with large breasts. Many Dr. Who fans freaked out over Perpugillium “Peri” Brown. Star Trek fans freaked over the Orion slave girls in the “Enterprise” episode “Bound” (considering it “exploitive”, (SPOILER) although in the end we learn that the girls were the masters – and the men were the slaves.

There are the usual complaints over “Darlings” “straight-dude-perspective.” Why isn’t it “a scathing critique of heteronormativity?” Why does lead couple evolve into a partnership: “I’d like to believe we as a culture can properly appreciate good domme girlfriends.” Many feminists were outraged (of course) at this show. Example: “The outdated gender politics of DARLING in the FRANXX” by Caitlin Moore at Anime Feminist. That’s strange, since the show is hard-core feminists. The girls are leaders. The girls take the sexual initiative. The boys are betas in training (although there are hints in episode 15 that this might be changing).

See it for yourself

The animation is excellent, as are the dialog and characterization. It is streamed at Crunchyroll. See the Trailer…

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about women and gender issues, about romance, and especially these…

  1. Do we want to bring back traditional marriage? What is traditional marriage?
  2. Classic films show what marriage was. Facts show its death.
  3. Taylor Swift shows us love in the 21st century.
  4. Music videos show romance in our new society.
  5. Modern movies show the hidden truth about romance & marriage: they’re dying.
  6. Love in the new world, after the gender wars – Allan Bloom on the ‘fall of Eros’, from Love and Friendship.
  7. Second thoughts about romance in the #MeToo age.
  8. A college course teaches students to date. Fun & sad.

Two books by Professor Regnerus that help explain the situation

Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (2011).

Strongly recommended: Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy (2017).

See my posts about Cheap SexMisadventures of a young woman in modern America. and Cheap Sex is the Inconvenient Truth in the end of marriage.

Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying.
Available at Amazon.
Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy
Available at Amazon.

 

10 thoughts on “Can love end the gender wars?

  1. Just a precision, but I think it is useful: most fictions of this type in Japan are relatively segregated, in the sense that even if it has readers/viewers of both sexes, it is mainly targeted at boys (on the young side) and will have an overwhelmingly masculine reader/viewer base, girls being nothing more than a very small minority. Shonen are marketed at a specifically masculine demographics, are designed (art, story, character, language…) for boys, and advertise themselves, by this very categorization of Shonen, as made for boys (like Seinen, which are made for -slightly- older boys), like Shojo and Josei are for women/girls. Whether in a shop or in a search engine on a website, the sex categories are present via label, via the lettering and/or specific sections.

    So whatever conclusion or analysis might be produced about this specific anime, I think we should have that kind of element in mind: this is a product made specifically for boys. And for boys in contemporary Japan, where the young generations show an ever growing and actually terrifying high level of having little or absolutely no inclination towards sex, relationships,children…. A Japan where the “herbivore men” and other Hikkokomoris are an actually significant trend. The reasons are multiple, including in no small parts economics (salaries, costs of living, demographic pressure and its consequences) and societal pressure to overperform and work all the time, but with also a strong cultural element.

    1. Tancrède,

      “it is mainly targeted at boys (on the young side) and will have an overwhelmingly masculine reader/viewer”

      I know little about anime. But I know enough to say that’s not correct. There are many anime written for girls. Sailor Moon (based on the manga) is one of the earliest I know of (1991). Google shows many lists of “the best” anime for girls (not “all anime). I’ve flipped through a few of these lists, and doubt that many of them have a large audience of boys.

      That broad statement aside, I wondered about the target audience of “Darling in the Franxx.” From what I can tell from skimming the comments, it has a mixed audience.

      Which raises another question: what do young teen boys get from this? Lessons on how to become a beta, to experience the friendzone from hot girls.

    2. I was just pointing out the fact that this particular anime is a “Shônen”, aka an anime/manga targeted at a young male audience (and “Seinen” anime/mangas are for an older male audience, mostly young adults), and produced alongside criteria linked to the tastes of that audience. Just like “Shojo” (Sailor Moon is a Shojo) and “Josei” anime/mangas are targeted at a female audience (also subdivided by age groups).

      Pointing that our was, in my mind, a way to stress the specificity of such productions, made by really big workshops along quasi production line methods, where artists are trained in house or come from another comparable workshop (hence the enormous homogeneity in the art, but also in the narrative codes and tropes). Such a production system depends in enormous part on marketing research, which, with the size of the production (enormous when compared to US comics or Franco-Belgian ones) in sales and number of series (anime and mangas), allows for highly reactive industry that actively searches to stick to (rather than make) the tastes of each portion of the audience that is specifically targeted. They don’t really try to be prescriptive (as opposed to what’s left of the comic book industry in the US): what we see in a specific product is, with a rather short feedback loop, the reflection of what the targeted audience consumes.

      Of course, girls will consume some boys mangas/anime and vice versa, but the disproportion remain enormous within the categories. Girls that become afficionadas of some high profile anime/manga tend to attract a lot of attention (especially in the cosplay world, highly mediatic) and will figure prominently in group photos (like women in the military are always put on front of a unit, masking the ocean of homogeneous men behind)… But in the end, they are a small part of the Shonen/Seinen market. Just like boys are a small part of the Shojo/Josei markets. All are called mangas/anime, but in effect, these are mostly separated markets, with few exceptions garnering really mixed audiences. And if one realizes the size of the anime/manga market and the constant bombardment of products the young japanese public receives (thousands of titles) from a young age, one must realize the impact it has via a sheer quantitative effect, far more than what one product here and there will have if it gets a significant female audience. For the most part, audiences are quite segregated by their tastes, that the big manga companies follow as much as possible.

      What seems to come from this one anime is a rather classical environment and character definition, along lines I’ve seen becoming dominant over the last 10-15 years (I follow from afar: my manga period dates back to the beginning of the 90’s): the boys are extremely passive and generally idle, the girls extremely aggressive and busy being good at everything, the boys are constantly shamed except for those who say “no” and really mean it (with a backbone, a rare item in mangas). But all the girls dream to be girly inside and blush quite often over silly little things… And the boys are perverts who, for the most part, will fumble their way to peeping rather than asking a girl out. And few of them will grow up.

      That is, because of the way the anime/manga industry works, probably what japanese boys want, or the way they see themselves (at least those who consume these things…. Which is quite a lot): that way of presenting boys-girls relations (and perceptions of both sexes) is almost everywhere in Shonens. And, considering other trends in modern Japanese societies, like the aforementioned “herbivore men” and hikkokomoris, or the growing disinterest for relationships, sex, marriage or children (far more than in the west), I’d say that may reflect a very strong epidemics of aimlessness, whatsthepointism, and overall passivity. But I’d tend to say that it’s a lot less the anime/mangas pushing it (little ideology in these productions), and a lot more a case of them reflecting societal trends and their audience’s demands (which, granted, they enable and encourage).

    3. Tancrède,

      “I was just pointing out the fact that this particular anime is a “Shônen”, aka an anime/manga targeted at a young male audience ”

      How do you know who is watching it? Also, I wonder if the gender breakdown is different here? The comments at Crunchyroll and the anime websites appear (from a skim) to be from both guys and gals — in the English language websites. I’m an ocean and three or four generations away from their target audience — that’s far far away — but this seems to me more designed for girls than guys. We’re a long way from “Star Blazers” (1974 in Japan).

      “That is, because of the way the anime/manga industry works”

      That is interesting. The other anime recommended to me recently by young men is “Overlord.” Your description of the lead character, a young man, fits him with respect to his relations with girls (although that is explained by the plot). Otherwise, however, he is somewhat masterful.

      If you see anything about this topic, please post a pointer to it. This is interesting.

      Thanks for posting this background information!

    4. Tancrede,

      “I was just pointing out the fact that this particular anime is a “Shônen””

      Thanks for the explanation. I misunderstood your original comment.

  2. Reading feminists’ commentary about “Darling in the Franxx” illustrates how disconnected many have become from life.  Here’s a typical one: “The outdated gender politics of DARLING in the FRANXX” by Caitlin Moore at Anime Feminist.

    “The boys’ relationship to sex is primarily defined by scopophilia: the derivement of pleasure and power from looking. Although most of them haven’t yet had any real sexual contact – they don’t even really understand what kissing is—they look at the girls’ bodies and understand them to be sources of pleasure.

    “That is not reciprocated by the girls. Their sexuality is defined by being looked at, which makes them feel embarrassed and ashamed. Although some of them appear to be developing some romantic feelings — Ichigo clearly likes Hiro and Kokoro seems drawn to Mitsuru—they have not expressed any interest in sex at all, other than Zero Two, who is presented as an anomaly.

    “By tying the girls’ sexual development to the boys’ gaze, the series expresses the viewpoint that the dynamic of looking/looked at and feelings of shame are natural parts of human sexual development.”

    She goes on a long time in this vein. I’m unsure if she is disappointed that the characters in this show are like real people, or that the writers didn’t image a fantasy kind of people. The latter is like a common whine in science fiction that authors use present day measurements instead of fantasy metrics, since metric system probably won’t be used in the distant future (a common response is that English won’t be used, either – so should they write in a fantasy language?).

    My guess (guess!) is the former. She doesn’t like gender relations in the real world — so ideologically unsatisfying!

  3. Have you ever considered that perhaps you don’t have a healthy relationship to the opposite sex? Have you ever thought that maybe in old age, intellectualizing your emotional hangups about women might not be the best way to deal with these issues?

    1. timbabuta,

      Has you ever considered that the 40% plus divorce rate of marriages shows something is seriously wrong with the institution? That the increasing number of women complaining that they cannot get married shows a serious social problem? Have you evaluated the evidence that the stress on the institution of marriage — one of the most important in our society — might drastically as generation Z adapts to the new circumstances?

      Have you considered that silly psychobabble shows a refusal to respond intelligently to evidence and analysis?

  4. This isn’t the first anime to propose that love can overcome the gender wars. The earliest that I know of is Macross: Do you remember love? which takes a literal approach. Vandread and Prison School takes this to comic extremes.

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