If I have any reputation at all in the anime blogosphere (which is optimistic), it’s for being critical of feminist criticism when applied to anime. So, when a site crops up that’s all about applying feminist criticism to anime, you might think I would be against it on principle, but that’s not true; in fact, it’s the opposite.
I don’t plan to support AnimeFeminist on Patreon, but I don’t have a problem with what they’re doing. A site by feminists, for feminists? Sure; that’s not my jam, but so what?
So why talk about it at all, when it has nothing to do with me? Mostly just because I see anime fans demonizing the site right from the getgo, which– in addition to coming off as just mean-spirited–implies that they don’t understand what the most dangerous problem is with current anime criticism. The problem is not the fact that feminist criticism, as one particular lens through which to examine media, exists; it’s when it’s treated as the default for ALL criticism, and anyone who doesn’t agree with its usage is in serious danger of being branded a misogynist.
Let’s look at AniFem: it’s clearly by feminists, for feminists. It wears what it’s doing 100% on it’s sleeve. There is the whole Patreon angle, but the only people who are going to contribute are people who genuinely want to read this kind of criticism; no one else is forced to pay one red cent. If you don’t find value in feminist criticism, you can simply not visit the site and it will never effect your life.*
Now let’s look at other sites, like Anime News Network and other sites that want to be Anime News Network. These sites use terms like “toxic masculinity,” “male gaze” as though they’re completely accepted mainstream terms, with no indication that these terms are associated with a certain ideology. Typically, fans who ask inconvenient questions like “Is masculinity really toxic?” and “Why are you using the original form of gaze theory, and ignoring how the concept has evolved?” are ignored at best, branded misogynists at worst. There’s a generally unspoken rule (although some people take care to make it explicit) that if you have any issue with the terms of academic feminism being engaged in pop culture criticism, it’s because you’re an anti-feminist, a.k.a. misogynist.
Perhaps worse, in this environment, anime criticism that doesn’t use feminist theory is seen as not doing its due diligence; it’s basically taken as an article of faith that a review MUST come from a feminist perspective, or else it’s lacking in intellectual rigor.
Now let’s compare ANN and to AniFem. If ANN were say, Anime Feminist News Network, it would be one thing, but it’s not: it is THE anime news network. You can ignore it if you want, but then you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot; ANN provides a valuable service in terms of providing otaku news from Japan for English- language fans, and you’ll have a hard time keeping current on anime (and several related fandoms) if you refuse to use either ANN, or sites that source at least partially from ANN. Basically, it’s a hotbed of feminist criticism that you literally cannot avoid if you want to participate in the fandom.
Everybody is allowed to do whatever kind of criticism they want; if a bunch of Marxist fans want to set up a site to review anime from a Marxist perspective, they’re welcome to do that; wild horses couldn’t drag me over to read it, but that’s beside the point. If mecha fans want to build a site that critiques anime solely based on the inventiveness of a show’s mechanical design,** they’re welcome to do that. Many people feel burned out by feminism because of the feeling that they can’t escape from it on major outlets; that doesn’t mean that feminists don’t have the same right as absolutely everyone else to make sites, with their own labor, that cater to their own interests.
TLDR: Even if you have no interest in patronizing AniFem, and even if you blatantly disagree with the show’s approach to criticism, for me it’s still part of the solution, not the problem, because engaging with feminist theory via the site is 100% a choice.
I think the anger of the fandom should be directed at those situations where we don’t really have a choice.
*Of course, you might see references or links to it in your Twitter timeline, but if you’re such a special snowflake you can’t even handle THAT level of engagement with views you disagree with, then you’re just being a hypocrite. After all, one of the best arguments in favor of letting all kinds of shows exist, no matter how ‘offensive’, is that if you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it; similarly, if you don’t like an anime criticism website, you don’t have to visit it.
**I’d kind of like to see more stuff like this, although I can’t guarantee it doesn’t already exist and I’m just ignorant of it– for better or for worse, I spend more time watching anime these days then keeping track of anime fan projects online. I’m sure I miss stuff.