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Feminspire | April 16, 2014

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Sailor Moon and the Virgin-Whore Complex

Sailor Moon and the Virgin-Whore Complex

Let me start out by saying that I am a big fan of Japanese anime. Cowboy Bebop, Paranoia Agent and Bleach are key words when explaining my favorite television shows. The bright colors, exaggerated facial features, extravagant costumes and character design, and the unique humor found in this particular genre has turned me into a bit of an anime junkie.

I am particularly fond of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon. The story of average students-turned-superheroes with color-coordinated outfits, superpowers, and astrological connections have made both the manga and anime versions of Takeuchi’s idea incredibly popular.

And who wouldn’t want to be one of the Sailor Senshi? With bright miniskirts (or seifuku, for Japanese schoolgirl outfits) and knee-high socks, the characters of Sailor Moon are truly adorable. Yet there is something slightly perverse in the fact that these characters are originally meant to be young girls in their early teens. What is it about this age bracket and their innocence that is so fascinating to us?

The idea of purity intermingling with sexuality (intentional or not) has been present for ages. With media stimuli in the form of music, fashion, magazines, television, and other mediums providing an endless stream of imagery and expectations, the perception of women and girls has changed to become something inherently sexual.

While popular culture isn’t anywhere as conservative as it once was, there are still undercurrents of traditional values that have yet to disappear. One extreme is the feminine archetype of overt sexuality usually displayed through provocative clothing and behavior. In contrast, there is the “virgin” standard portraying females as pure, innocent, and naïve when sexually inexperienced.

Betty BoopThe constant sexualization of the female body has ultimately crafted a feminine dichotomy: part sex kitten, part baby doll. Cultural icons exude this duality, sometimes prominently, other times with much more subtlety. The girlish yet sexy 1930s cartoon character Betty Boop is famous for her representation of both female roles. And who could forget the disturbing world of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita? The creepy story of a coquettish young girl and her much older legal guardian is burned into many a reader’s mind.

Even my beloved Sailor Moon is liable to fall into this category from time to time. Those barely-there outfits may be adorable, but I cannot ignore the sexual implications that lie within such a popular anime.

This brings us to examine the connection in modern culture with what some refer to as the “virgin-whore complex,” a belief that women must either be debased to be desired or saintly to be respected, with no middle ground. This notion was championed by the infamous psychologist Sigmund Freud, who dubbed it the Madonna-whore complex, in which men were unable to view women as anything more than one sexual extreme.

Cultural values often raise young women to believe their sexual inexperience is their utmost worth. This lack of experience (and penetration, let’s be frank) is regarded as “purity” and “innocence.” Yet in my opinion, there is really no significant difference between a woman who has had sex and one who hasn’t.

Some will rely on the argument of intact hymens to establish a distinction between virgins and non-virgins. While we don’t need to elaborate on the issue, anatomical studies have shown that relying on an “intact” hymen is not a good litmus test for proving virginity, as exercise, use of tampons, masturbation, as well as sexual penetration, can cause tears to the tissue. Virginity is still so highly praised in our society that hymen reconstruction surgeries are now possible.

Not only is the obsession with virginity creepy and invasive, it is also largely founded on double-standards and misogyny. While male virginity is insignificant, even embarrassing to some, female virginity is supposed to be cherished. Closely tied with slut-shaming, the virgin-whore complex posits that while women should be virgins to earn moral purity, they should also be sexually desirable to men, whose role in society is to lose their virginities in symbolic acts of their virility, strength and masculinity. Quite complicated and hypocritical.

If pop culture is anything to base our judgment off of, having sexual experience before marriage isn’t an absolute taboo anymore. So why the obsession with virginity and purity in a sex-fueled world? This is a reflection of the twisted dichotomy implicit in our culture, where the word “feminine” is largely synonymous with “girly.” Yet to be feminine, society expects you to be a woman, and many women are sexual creatures, aren’t they?

The obsession with purity when concerned with women is misogynistic and unsettling. It is a cultural paradox that needs to be examined on a public level. It is incredibly contradictory when girls are expected to play with dolls such as Bratz that put emphasis on commonly sexualized features of the female body, yet grow up to retain naivety and purity. Not only are these values expected of females, they are forced on women for purposes they will not benefit from.

Does it matter what the status of my body is when the right to it will be given to only those I see fit? Will I stop loving schoolgirl outfits or Sailor Moon, even if they are mildly reflective of this female sexual dichotomy? Probably not. Those miniskirts are too damn cute, whether I’m a “virgin” or a “whore.”

Do you feel virginity is a genuinely physical concept, or is it just another cultural construct that oppresses women? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Kevynn Gomez 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jennifer-Elford/714525520 Jennifer Elford

    I think virginity was originally synonymous with value for women, but it has, of course, (at least here in Canada and the US) become just a simple description of whether or not a person has had sex. In other areas of the world however, virginity is the most important thing to them.

  • Litost

    I cringed a bit inside at the mention of Bratz dolls haha.

    One thing I loved about the way sexuality was portrayed in Sailor Moon was the two lesbian characters!! When they transferred it to the U.S., they made Sailor Uranus into a man so as to not portray homosexuality; ridiculous!

    One of my pet peeves is the way women are presented in anime!! It drives me insane. My boyfriend watches this show One Piece and all the female characters are literally the exact same body (huge boobs, impossibly small waist) with different revealing clothing and hair colors. Like Sailor Moon, hooray for female heroes but do they all have to be wearing impossibly short skirts exposing their pelvic bone with J cup boobs?

    • Agentenaranja

      I agree with the Bratz dolls comments, but can’t help but wonder which Sailor Moon version you watched? I clearly remember Sailor Uranus being a girl in both “english dubbed” and japanese versions (I even have the doll :p) but she did cross dress (in both versions) if that’s what u mean by made into a man. I love the way they portrayed sexuality as well but there was no issue in regards to homosexuality. If anything it was nudity (your comment concerning the pelvic bone, and the “english dubbed” removing transformation scenes are evidence),as Americans we are slight prudes in our desire to cover the human body whereas other cultures view it as natural and beautiful. Also, take a good look at Barbie before you judge these Anime charachters

      • KC410

        In the English dubbed version Uranus and Neptune were made into “cousins” instead of lesbians. There was also the blurring of transformation sequences (literally taking out all of the lines and curves)

  • Tinyobserver

    Worth a read, on the topic of the Sailor Moon series and Purity

    http://girlsbydaylight.tumblr.com/post/44891880892/thighhighs-usagi-is-a-great-character-we-watch

  • here

    The idea of “virginity” has gotten out of hand. I went to college in a very religious area and knew girls who would judge women on birth control, or who had sex. But on their off time did everything but. The only value they saw was the hymen and that the church said they needed to have one. It is great if you are saving yourself for marriage because that is your belief and your decision, but if you are finding all these loopholes that are technically not sex, then what’s the point?

  • Daisy

    It’s weird for me to look back at Sailor Moon this way. I was in first grade when the Sailor Moon craze hit, and at that age, 14 seems completely grown-up and adult. Bizarre to look at it now and realize they really are so young for those skirts.

  • http://twitter.com/paperjournal PaperJournal

    Pretty shallow reading of Sailor Moon, imo. Take a look at this interpretation, which is more empowering – http://thighhighs.tumblr.com/post/44735847276/usagi-is-a-great-character-we-watch-her-grow-from

    • Kylie Lacusky

      Yeah, I was going to comment about the same thing before I saw you already had. There are pretty clear cultural markers of Usagi’s sexual activity, but you have to know what to look for because it’s a different culture.

      Also the two lesbian soldiers are pretty frank about their own sexuality and sexual activity, including one of them saying “she doesn’t like to hear that kind of talk outside of the bedroom” when her partner tells her she should eat less.

  • ProfessorWhat‽

    “Do you feel virginity is a genuinely physical concept”

    Well… . . . (._. ) . . . duh, yes. Not that I expect to come across all that many a hymen in my age this day, but a first time can be genuinely painful for some so I payed attention to this SHARED detail; I became an unwitting part of a couple first-time horror stories when I was ill-informed and they had no clue what was coming so two of the notches on my belt come from technical traumas. And to be honest, knowing it was a girl’s first time brought a grin to my lips and drove me to be all the more impressive and memorable.

    Oh, your take on culture from a pop reference was actually pretty much just outright shitty in view of the culture your supposed reference came out of. Your whole argument about what you’re projecting onto Sailor Moon is baseless. Japan is so far more liberal with women and the female form that it’s even acceptable for high school girls there (though, admittedly not praised) to be -well gosh!- sex-workers of all things!

    http://wonderfulrife.blogspot.com/2011/07/japanese-schoolgirl-prostitutes.html

  • daruma

    I almost always have issues of people using Japanese animation to exemplify these western “social justice” ideas. Sure, there are feminists in Japan and they have issues with anime like this, but I have RARELY seen articles that bother to do research into the actual country/culture’s ideas around the topic. (or even bother to look up feminist movements in Japan for that matter.) I only say this because I am a big fan of anime, and i’m tired of people not bothering to look into the LONG history of gender in Japan and instead rely on the “12 year old girls in short skirts!!” gut reaction.

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  • Curtis Garcia

    Boring article.