Feminism in Pokemon
A Pokémon or “pocket monster” is a popular anime that is based on the story of a young “Pokémon Trainer” “Ash” in his journey to become a “Pokémon master”. This means capturing and training Pokémon to create an elite team of the strongest so that you can say you are master of all Pokémon hence a Pokémon master, this also consists of capturing every type of Pokémon and completing your poke-dex (a electronic encyclopaedia on Pokémon that automatically records the amount of different Pokémon seen and caught).
Whilst it may seem very friendly and childish the story is open to interpretation and could be viewed from a feminist standpoint to be actually misogynistic. The first female character introduced in the series is Ash’s mom, she is introduced as the stereotypical mother however if we look closer at her we can see how see is trapped in a life of servitude and loneliness. That is why she is so attached to her son. There is a clear absence of Ash’s father that is often left unanswered; this could be interpreted to mean that the mother figure in a boy’s life is far more important than that of the father.
The reason that Ash father is not present throughout the series is left deliberately vague however there is a reference to him becoming a Pokémon trainer and starting his own journey.
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With this information I would say that it isn’t that much of a leap to say that perhaps he abandoned Mrs Ketchum (Delia Ketchum). The fact that it is “Mrs” shows that she married Mr Ketchum who had abandoned her; she also took his name. She runs the only Pokémon restaurant in Palet town and has to take care of her child Ash and in return she again is deserted by him as he leaves on his adventure.
This however doesn’t seem to be an abnormality and shows that it is common for women in Pokémon to be imprisoned by their “duties” and not free to follow their dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer like the males, instead they become housewives however there is a sense of equality as women are given the liberty to start the adventure, if they are not burdened by their duties. However despite all her misery she is still expected for her only desires to be to help Ash and to serve him as it is her “duty”.
The next female character we are introduced to is Misty, she is portrayed as a “tom-boy”, with romantic affections towards Ash, she desires to help Ash and serve him, although her ego would never admit it. Once she develops a character with greater dimensions she is forcibly removed from the story line by fading her into the background completely dissolving and any love interests between her and Ash showing that their relationship was meaningless and that she could simply be tossed aside. She is then replaced by another female companion for Ash, another “play-mate”.
She is forced to stay with her sisters and stay in the gym. Again like Delia Ketchum she is forced to abandon her dreams due to her duties and is deserted by the man she loves. Another important female character is Jessy she is described as manipulative and is working in the evil cooperation of team rocket attempting to steal rare Pokémon. James is her weaker male partner and Jessy is far more dominant. He is constantly forced to dress up in a disguise along with Jessy however Jessy disguises herself as the dominant male whilst James the female showing the symbolic difference in power between the two characters.
This may be interpreted to be a positive sign as a woman may rise to the power of a man and a man sink to a woman but the very fact that this idea is conveyed shows a sexist ideology and is anti-feminist as it shows inequality within the sexes. In other words the idea that because Jessy is stronger she should be male and James is weaker and should be female is conveyed by their cross dressing. Woman in Pokémon dress in skimpy clothing, including Misty who is supposed to be pre-teen. This could be interpreted to the liberation of women, as they are allowed to wear what they want when they want.
However another interpretation is that they are viewed as mere sexual objects that are open to sexual flirtation, this is why Brock, who is a notorious womaniser, is constantly shown flirting with female characters throughout the show and is entitled to make passes on them. However this is quickly ended by Misty who would grab Brock by the ear and throws him to the ground. This may seem like a humorous practice however this could be interpreted into Brock showing sexual aggression and him seeing women as a mere outlet for his sexual desires.
That is why Misty must quickly throw him to the ground to prevent him from enacting his dark desires. When Misty fades away another female companion comes along to prevent Brock, in other words they are a “Brock block”, but none are as aggressive as Misty. He often flirts with Nurse Joy, the fact that she is identical to all the other Nurse Joys shows that women in the poke-world that pursue a medical carer can be simply casted as the stereotypical “Nurse Joy”. A one dimensional character that is ruled by her emotions to help heal Pokémon.
Notice how it is “Nurse Joy” not “Doctor Joy” implying that she can only ever rise to a rank of a “Nurse” an assistant to a “Doctor”. He also flirts with Officer Jenny; she also is identical to all the other officer Jennys this shows that women in the poke-world that pursue a career in policing can be simply casted as the stereotypical “Officer Jenny” or “Nurse Joy. A one dimensional character that is ruled by her emotions to help prevent crimes. Although it is a relief that women can pursue a career in policing and medicine they are still thrown into the stereotype of the typical “Officer Jenny”.
Also they are presented as loud and presumptive, believing that the Ash is often the culprit but within minutes apologising for her presumptive nature showing her ignorance and naïve nature. An interesting new aspect of Pokémon is Competitions, Pokémon Contests were first introduced early on and Contests originated in the Hoenn region. In them, Coordinators show how beautiful and skilful they and their Pokémon can be. Showing that the very focus is on the trainers and Pokémon’s appearance, this shows how judgemental and cruel the Pokémon world really is.
I would argue that it is similar to shows like “America’s Next Top Model”; these shows are fixated on broadcasting a false image of women and create an expectation that is impossible for women to measure up to. This was made explicitly clear in a banned episode of Pokémon where Misty is forced to compete in a swimwear contest and is threatened by James who cross-dresses and wears inflatable breasts; this shows the emphasis on big breasts as a sign of beauty and worth in both our society and the Pokémon society.
Overall I believe Pokémon is remarkably similar to our own society and the issues faced by women, although women are also allowed to start of their own journey and even join the elite four (The Elite Four are four Pokémon Trainers who are regarded as the toughest in their regional Pokémon League, short of the Pokémon League Champion. Those who challenge the Elite Four must have won all eight Badges from that region and face all four and the current Champion consecutively without losing to any of them. there is inequalities that is not only caused by the double standards and expectations of women but by their lack of liberty and burdens of responsibility. If we look back at Delia Ketchum she is abandoned by Mr Ketchum and forced to look after Ash whilst maintaining a restaurant passed down to her from her mother and is never allowed to pursue her dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer and model. She is not shown any sympathy or pity she is merely marginalised along with many other characters and this practice is ongoing, Misty was just another victim of this cruel system.