Seizing my own revolution.
What I’m about to discuss is actually something I have never discussed with anyone. Also, contains some spoilers.
Growing up, I had a bit of a complicated time as regards gender and gender roles within society. I wasn’t confused on my own part about whether I was a girl or a boy (definitely a girl) ever; instead, I had a hard time working out exactly how to be a girl when the messages of my society were overwhelmingly one of girls being passive types who wore pink all the time. I’m sure someone will disagree with me on the notion that American society still hews fairly closely to gender roles of the past, but the fact remains that there is a lot of reinforcement of those gender roles when it comes to the messages sent to young girls.
So, really, the issue for me was this – I was a girl, yes… but I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be tough. But my society was making it clear to me that in order to be both of those, I had to be a boy. So I spent a good deal of my early years wishing I was a boy, because then I could be a tough person… and I could also pursue my childhood dream, which was to be a professional baseball player.
Once I got past the age of my mother basically exclusively dressing me, I began to shift over into a fairly masculine way of dressing (although my hair remained pretty long). I found puberty to be fairly painful, as while I was trying to come across as strong as possible, and therefore as masculine as possible, I suddenly was dealing with having breasts and having a period. I was quite honestly in denial about the whole menstruation thing for a solid six months. And I hated my breasts; I kept wishing they’d stop growing so I could stay pretty flat. I was so thoroughly uncomfortable with my body that I showered in a bathing suit throughout all of middle school.
But the fact remained that I was a girl, and that, honestly, I didn’t actually want to be a boy, I just wanted what I saw as the benefits of being a boy.
And into this equation came Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Originally, I read RGU’s manga first. The manga is pretty different from the TV series, as the manga itself is fairly straight-up shoujo overall. But Utena is still the girl who wants to be a prince, and manages to be both obviously (and happily) female while at the same time being a strong heroine who protects people. Its fairly important to remember, though, that it is this iteration of RGU that I had first contact with, though, since I came away from it with none of the understanding the TV series. This meant that I could want to be or emulate Utena, which I could not do once I finished the TV series. But more on that later.
Utena of the manga seemed to have it all – she was a fighter, she was tough, she was cute and definitely female, and she could protect someone. I found myself absolutely captivated – here was a girl who had the benefits of being a guy! And she was still a girl!
It was if a veil had been lifted from me. I could love jeans and miniskirts. I could be a military cadet but still paint my nails. These are all superficial in a sense, but its indicative of the overall fact that I didn’t have to ditch being a girl in order to be a strong person physically.
I like to think of Utena as giving me the ability to carve out my own personal take on being a girl. Fuck what society thought, I was going to do it my way.
But the RGU manga also gave me this weird hang-up about trying to be a prince, which ultimately was solved when I watched the anime a few years later and realized that my conception of being a prince, like Utena’s initial conception, was seriously flawed. I tried to act as a prince to some of my more wayward friends in the sense of someone saving another. But one of RGU’s messages was that you can’t truly save another person; they have to save themselves. You can certainly enable them to take that step forward to save themselves, but you can’t do it for them. Utena shows Anthy that she doesn’t have be trapped in her brother’s eternal sadistic game, and so Anthy is able to leave Ohtori behind even though Utena herself is gone. I personally really like the movie version of this message, as Utena literally turns into a car which Anthy uses to escape from the brilliant birdcage that is Ohtori Academy.
I figured myself out a lot because of RGU. It gave me an example of a strong girl that allowed me to take the first steps into emotional maturity, and then later showed me that my approach to others was in need of change. It revolutionized my world. And because of all that, it probably is my favorite anime series of all time.