Let’s Talk About Sailor Moon

I think a lot about girls saving the world.

When I was a child, I was one of those irritating girls who had trouble identifying with all the boy protagonists dominating my fantasy. I was aware that I was a girl and I noticed that a girl’s role in the books I loved was to be the love interest or the mother.  It bothered me.

So at age twenty or so, I dropped out of college, moved to California, and eventually started writing a book. This book was my first stab at trying to equalize the scales by producing an epic fantasy about a chosen girl, and I used a whole bunch of ideas inspired by Final Fantasy games to get there.*

Meanwhile, I was hearing about Sailor Moon in the background. Some weird online friends were into it. I didn’t pay that much attention because anime = sex, tentacles and Robotech, right? But one thing led to another and I learned just enough to think my teenage sister might enjoy Sailor Moon, so I got some fan subs for her. By the way, this was back in the day when you sent $4 per VHS cassette to a fansubber and she manually ran you a copy, then shipped it priority mail. Hardcore.

I don’t think I ever gave those fansubs to my sister. I loaned them to her, oh yes, but I watched them first as any good big sister would, and— and—

I started with the third season, which everybody agreed was the best season. And holy crap.

Look, Sailor Moon was a monster-of-the-week show about some teenage girls who used magic cosmetics to transform into superheroes. It wasn’t high art. It wasn’t Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

But it was about a girl who, with her friends, saved the world. Who did it more than once, who learned and grew from those efforts and made new decisions. Who was funny and silly and childish and intensely feminine and compassionate and strong and heroic. Who was able to draw lines in the sand and say ‘not this time’, in a badly animated show directed with enough charm that you hung on through all the cheese and silliness and repetition. It was full of stories about friendship, and how real human relationships could provide a lifeline for those lost in darkness. And season 3 had lesbians and sacrifice and innocence and ruin and love, and I lost my own heart.

I devoured seasons 3-5 and then I started converting others. I knew the right episodes to use and oh, I used them. Sailor Moon mattered to me. I don’t do cosplay or fan art, I don’t do fan fiction or any of that. I’m not a fandom kind of person. But I internalized it and I evangelized. Yet at the time I’m not sure I could have identified why it was so important to me that everybody I cared about developed a healthy respect for Sailor Moon.

I understand now. It was what I was reaching for, in a silly, easily dismissed package. She was the chosen one, and she saved the world, and we didn’t have enough of those. She had a half dozen female friends and they were all people and they talked about things, they supported each other even when they bickered; they passed the Bechdel test with flying colors and we still don’t have enough of those.

I was never a Buffy girl. Buffy isn’t my thing. But Sailor Moon… Sailor Moon’s humor was self-aware and self-depracating. It knew exactly what it was and that it didn’t have to take itself seriously.  The klutzy teenage heroine is a thing now but with Sailor Moon, it worked. It made her human, it made her sympathetic. She was mostly adorable, which made the moments of astonishing awesome all the more breathtaking. It hit me hard.**

This July, Sailor Moon starts up again with Sailor Moon Crystal, which will restart the series and follow the manga without turning it into an afternoon monster-of-the-week show. I am breathless with anticipation.

It will be simulcast online and, oh please, I hope all the people who found something they’d been looking for in My Little Pony take a look at it. I hope the internet is flooded with wonderful fan art and Moonies (or whatever they’ll call themselves). I hope there’s ships and new fanfiction and that people who still laugh at the thought of silly Sailor Moon will see something that makes them look twice, look three times, then decide to give the show a chance. Because it’s girls saving the world in a story aimed at girls, full of feminine ideals and feminine accoutrements, and, yes, because it’s good.

*One day I’d like to go back to that setting, which was about an Industrial Revolution powered by enslaved angels.

**And Sailor Moon wasn’t even my favorite of the gang, to be honest. Ask me about my essay about SuperS and Chibi-Usa. Ask me about my painted figure of Sailor Venus. But Sailor Moon was undeniably the heart of the show.

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How Feminism Has Changed My Brain

My baby, 18 months old, has started saying NO. Actually, he says “Uh-uh-uh,” and he shakes his head. Sometimes, if he doesn’t feel like shaking his head, he shakes his butt instead. It’s adorable. And also a little infuriating because he says it to almost everything, and if you ignore his stated preference, he wails like you just dropped him off the roof. (That’s hyperbole. I’ve never dropped him off the roof, honest. But I’ve seen how he wails when he falls on his face and I can extrapolate!)

And you know, it’s hard. Harder than it used to be, when I was young and innocent, because I want very much to bring up people who know how to listen when somebody else says, “No, stop.” And who believe it’s worth saying, “No!” when it needs to be said. And that starts with listening to them, as often as I can, and respecting them, as often as I can. Which is, let me tell you, damn hard. Because no, you CAN NOT run into traffic. No matter how hilarious you think it is. And yes, because you think it’s hilarious to run into traffic, sometimes you have to hold my hand. Or your brother’s hand. But fine, no, you don’t have to wear a shirt.

I can’t help but think that tomorrow’s change starts today, you know?

*

I was exploring Google Image Search without Safe Search turned on yesterday, for Reasons. (And if discussion of naughty pictures bothers you, perhaps you will want to skim to the next topic.) I wandered into sexy anime art. And I noticed something I’ve vaguely noticed before: You get two girls on the screen and they’re posing sexily, sort of making out, and they’re looking at the camera. They’re touching each other, but they’re posing for you.

When you get two boys on the screen, they’re touching each other (or sometimes not quite) and often they’re looking at each other. There’s emotion there. A relationship is implied.

Unless you’re searching for named couples, good luck finding a heterosexual pair. It’s even rarer luck finding one that’s interacting as equals.

I’ve never been much interested in yaoi or slash. But if you want sexy imagery between equals with emotion behind it, there’s not much else out there. I used to find sexy pictures of women just as hot as sexy pictures of men. I usually don’t, anymore

*

I grew up being told that we had Now Achieved Equality. Women had the vote, guys! Women could hold any job they wanted, nobody could stop them. And women weren’t drafted but that was good– the draft was terrible! And there weren’t a lot of women in many professions but there was always one or two (except for men’s professional sports, of course. But y’know, there are differences between males and females. We just want to be fair.) The opportunities were there now.

And I had trouble finding fantasy novels where the girls equaled the boys in role or number. Which bothered me a little, and I’ve written about before.

But equal, guys! And comments on your looks as you walked down the street was a compliment.  I was the kind of girl who would totally tell the boys I was with that I didn’t care if they objectified women because, you know, compliments. Flattery. Right? (Alas, I didn’t get much objectification that I noticed, even then.)

And it took me years and years and lots of native, confused frustration and even some identity confusion to start getting past that. To start even noticing that boys and girls were still being treated differently in hugely fundamental ways and it wasn’t fair or right to claim it was just ‘nature’ because I was, actually, a girl. I counted. I mattered. Or at least I should.

Here’s the weird thing I discovered: I think sexy pictures about girls making out are pretty hot, too. When the girls are interested in each other. When more is going on than posing for a man.  I notice how girls and boys are treated differently in naughty pictures.

I think a second badass girl on the movie poster really adds to the overall appeal. I notice when it’s just one.

I think I’ve always had good women friends, and I wonder why so few women in the books I read seem to. I notice.

I notice, and I can’t unsee it.  I notice and I know it doesn’t have to be that way and that it’s better when it’s not that way. It’s better in every way but the most shallow, most unthinking, habituated-response gut-reaction way.  Think enough with your brain and you start to see it.  And that’s what feminism did to my brain. It helped it learn new ways of seeing and new ways of thinking. And it’s not always comfortable, it’s not always convenient. But neither is letting my baby run around without a shirt, spilling juice all over himself.

Gotta start somewhere.