Shi�jo: The Power of Girlhood in 20th Century Japan
Sexualized portrayals of ‘cute’ young women in Japanese cartoons and other animated media are prevalent and popular throughout both Japan and the world. Whether the women (shōjo) depicted in these cartoons serve as an embodiment of feminism or just the opposite has been debated heavily in academic communities. As the historical relationship of shōjo culture to feminism had yet to be explored in depth, this topic required research from multiple points of entry, including history, feminism, art movements, and popular culture. Considered in tandem, these perspectives illuminated the origin, evolution, and history of the shōjo as shōjo culture relates to feminism. This thesis proposes that the style and behavior of these young women originated out of a need to escape traditional gender roles, and that the efforts of the earlier women’s liberation movement made that escape possible. However, shōjo imagery and their iconic style were appropriated and popularized by mass media, significantly contributing the economic success of Japan in the 21st century, but also leading to a popularized image that no longer reflected the original intent of shōjo culture. Given the negative stigma contemporary Japanese generally give to real women acting or dressing in the shōjo culture style, it is important to understand the origin of this unique cultural phenomenon, especially with regards to the prevalence of shōjo tropes in globally enjoyed pop-culture media.