Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby allimalli » Sat Feb 18, 2017 5:49 pm

This is my first post to this forum, so I apologize if there is a better place to post this type of thing. I was asked to write a paper on gender messages in any media. I don't really care for gender messages, but I do love Evangelion, so I wrote about it. This short essay is my first college paper, and I hope you will at least find it interesting. I'm sure I have missed/excluded a ton of stuff, but my professor will never watch this show, so it doesn't matter too much. :) I welcome any feedback.
Best Wishes

Gender symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion is vital to both advancing the plot and conveying Director Anno's messages. However, a great deal of it goes unanalyzed, simply because people tend to focus only on the religious symbolism. While the various religious symbols are certainly fascinating, ignoring the rich gender symbolism is a mistake. With topics ranging from perceived expectations of gender appropriate personalities to the damaging effects gender roles have on society, there is something for everyone.

When creating Neon Genesis Evangelion, Anno decided to ignore gender stereotypes in favor of something more realistic. The main protagonist of the series, Shinji, pilots a giant robot, has a key role in a secret international organization, and is the son of the director of NERV, the aforementioned organization. (01) He is literally the savior of humanity. (02) Media has conditioned people to expect Shinji to be stoic, competitive, tough, self-confident, and generally a stereotypical masculine figure. In actuality, he is none of those things. The deliberate reversal of the strong male trope is Anno's way of bringing the trope to the attention of his viewers. People almost never fit into gender roles, and trying to fit into those roles can be damaging to those who attempt it.

Continuing on the topic of not following gender roles, Asuka, one of the two female pilots, acts like the complete opposite of Shinji. Asuka is the confident, aggressive character who needs to be the best. She is also portrayed as strong and athletic. While it is clear that Asuka is fine with ignoring most gender related expectations, she still acts stereotypically feminine around her romantic interest, Kaji. (03) Kaji would clearly prefer that Asuka be herself, but she cannot see this because she is thoroughly convinced that men desire women who fulfill gender roles. The desire to be seen as attractive (normal) is overpowering to a girl of 14. This is a prime example of conformity to gender roles making a situation worse.

Rei rounds out the trio of main pilots, and like the other two, she does not fit common stereotypes. Rei is usually considered masculine by the first time viewer, although this perception is false. Rei is entirely androgynous. The personality void created by having a female character with no masculine or feminine qualities causes the viewer to believe she acts masculinely, simply because of the contrast between her androgyny and a “normal” feminine girl.

All three main pilots can be summarized fairly well as gender swapped stereotypes. Shinji is the shy, weak girl, Asuka is the confident, aggressive jock, and Rei is the cool, silent guy. The purpose of this swap is to show how strange and perverse these stereotypes seem when removed from their normal niches. Neon Genesis Evangelion was an attempt to create characters with real personalities. Characters that you might actually meet in real life. To do that, Anno had to make sure that, superficially, they did not match any stereotypes. He did this to force you to look into each character without defining them by a generic label.

From a more literal angle, the EVAs themselves provide a great example of using male/female symbolism to show a relationship. The pilot enters the EVA through an “entry plug” that is obviously designed to look phallic, while the EVA does nothing, remaining passive and accepting. (04) This mirrors the pilot/EVA relationship, with the masculine entry plug and pilot controlling the feminine EVA's every move. Later in the series, all of the main EVAs go berserk with increasing regularity. (05) This clear act of feminine defiance shows that gender roles in our society are breaking down and becoming irrelevant as time passes.

Near the end of the series, Shinji accidentally merges with EVA01.(08) Shinji is completely unable to leave by himself and remains trapped for a month. During that month, several external attempts are made to salvage him, but without success. When Shinji seems lost forever, the soul of his mother, Yui, forces him back into existence, once again overturning the dual stereotypes of feminine weakness and masculine force.

While Neon Genesis Evangelion is quite progressive when it comes to the young characters, the older generations conform to many gender roles. Misato is depicted as a housewife, living with and supporting Shinji, although she also has a high ranking job at NERV. (04) Gendo, Shinji's father, is a workaholic who is distant and controlling, and is apparently uninterested in his own son. (01) Dr. Ritsuko is a kind of middle ground, a character who is at once a traditional woman and a brilliant scientist. Two decades ago, Anno Hideaki knew that society was about to change, and he knew exactly what types of people would facilitate those changes.

Shinji's mother, Yui, was swallowed by EVA01 in an experiment a few years after Shinji's birth. (06) She could not escape, demonstrating the belief held in the past that feminine forces (the EVA and Yui herself) cannot overcome masculine ones (the science that accidentally merged them). However, Yui (as EVA01) is able to go berserk, destroy her restraints, and thereby free herself from the control Gendo, Fuyutsuki, and other masculine characters have over her in the present. (05) This juxtaposition of past and present, old and new, constraint and subsequent freedom, shows Anno's knowledge of our dark past and his belief in a better future.

Toward the end of the series, a tank of Rei clones is shown deep under NERV. (07) The clones are soulless and designed to look unsettling. The point of this scene is to show that even though the clones are physically beautiful and structurally perfect, they are ugly due to their emptiness. Anno wanted to show his viewers the logical conclusion of the submissive woman stereotype. The fact is: although the Rei clones are close to the stated ideal partner for a vast number of people, no person would actually be able to love one, because real love is based on personality, not physical form.

Eventually, Neon Genesis Evangelion climaxes with the realization that all of the characters, and Shinji in particular, fear abandonment deeply due to a perceived lack of self-worth. (02) The root of this perception lies in unfulfillable societal expectations related mainly to gender and age. Deep within his own mind, Shinji comes to terms with his fear, and he realizes that he must cast off his worries about gender roles, expectations and what other people think in general in order to be truly happy. This message is far reaching and concise, but many people still have trouble understanding and applying it to their lives.

Neon Genesis Evangelion contains many interesting gender messages. Gender roles will destroy any person who tries to fulfill them, because they are so unrealistic as to be unfulfillable. Gender stereotypes ofter lack key characteristics of real people or, more commonly, are just plain wrong, The idea of anyone being exclusively masculine or feminine is absurd, although that does not stop many misguided people from trying. Learning to separate the truth about your self from role related fiction is a valuable skill for everyone.
Last edited by allimalli on Sat Feb 18, 2017 6:46 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby pwhodges » Sat Feb 18, 2017 6:28 pm

Thank you - that was nicely done; I was particularly stuck by your comments on the Rei clones in the Reiquarium.
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Re: Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby allimalli » Sat Feb 18, 2017 6:46 pm

You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.

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Re: Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby SoryuUberAlles » Sun Feb 19, 2017 12:36 am

View Original Postallimalli wrote: Neon Genesis Evangelion contains many interesting gender messages. Gender roles will destroy any person who tries to fulfill them, because they are so unrealistic as to be unfulfillable. Gender stereotypes ofter lack key characteristics of real people or, more commonly, are just plain wrong, The idea of anyone being exclusively masculine or feminine is absurd, although that does not stop many misguided people from trying. Learning to separate the truth about your self from role related fiction is a valuable skill for everyone.


This is an interesting complement to the well-known theory of Evangelion as 'deconstruction'. The idea that at a literary level it takes the tropes of mecha, action and escapist fiction and either perverts them with their own logic and dramatizes their inequality to reality. Shinji is tragic failure of Kensuke's fantasies; the kind of world where they don't save the earth at the end and this might even be a good thing.

Interestingly, for a while you could even have said Gainax was a light feminist kick. Taking young women and making them the protagonists of adventure and military fiction. And then you read Sadamoto's 'Der Mond' interview:

The character design request from Anno was that "the lead character is a girl, and has an older-sister type figure like Coach next to her," so it was structurally similar to "Gunbuster". So I first designed an Asuka-type girl as the lead character, but after "Gunbuster" and "Nadia" I felt some resistance to making the lead character a girl again. I mean a robot should be piloted by a trained person, and if that person just happens to be a girl then that is fine, but I couldn't see why a young girl would pilot a robot... So I remember saying to Anno, "It's a robot story, so let's make the lead character a boy."


Eh? Shinji is conceptually based on Noriko Shinji is actually physically modeled on Nadia. And all of sudden they get antsy about a female protag? Perhaps it is the spirit of...deconstruction. Happy endings for those that vanquish gender role and the rest - get deconstructed!
"You're just turning this into a mixture of gibberish and fan service! That's not the Evangelion I know!" - An Asuka, one of many.

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Re: Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby pwhodges » Sun Feb 19, 2017 4:46 am

SoryuUberAlles wrote:

This is also consistent with Sadamoto's making Shinji generally more sassy in the manga than he is in the series.
"Being human, having your health; that's what's important." (from: Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi )
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Re: Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby Mr. Tines » Sun Feb 19, 2017 6:24 am

View Original Postallimalli wrote:All three main pilots can be summarized fairly well as gender swapped stereotypes. Shinji is the shy, weak girl, Asuka is the confident, aggressive jock, and Rei is the cool, silent guy. The purpose of this swap is to show how strange and perverse these stereotypes seem when removed from their normal niches.
There's one bit of the notorious canonical copypasta on the subject

Image

( text quoted here) that you missed, and, indeed, the relevant character seems to have escaped analysis entirely.

While it is quite striking on initial acquaintance to see that the pilots and and the forefront (~30 year old) adults are spilt 2:1 in favour of the women, it's also worth examining things in context.

On the anime side of things, NGE builds on predecessors like Tomino's Mobile Suit Gundam and Space Runaway Ideon, Go Nagai's Devilman, and even Anno's earlier Nadia : Secret of Blue Water, and it is in many ways evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. Similarly, certain quirks of Japanese culture can mislead Western expectations vis-a-vis "traditional" roles -- the long working hours expected of the sarariman lead to fathers who may at best be more like affable uncles (or divorced fathers with only occasional visiting rights) in their rare domestic down-time, and at worst are distant like Gendou; and it is the mothers who of necessity run every other aspect of the household and are expected to be the stronger willed of the parents.

As an anime example, this scene in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha : StrikerS where Vivio falls while running towards her adopted parents
Image
In being the one who is, in effect, saying "Rub some dirt in it, rookie!" Nanoha is not being the husband in the relationship as one might expect when viewed through the prism of traditional Western gender roles -- she is, instead, being the wife who is preventing the soft-hearted husband from coddling their little girl.
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Re: Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby SoryuUberAlles » Sun Feb 19, 2017 10:00 pm

^ Yeah, I was a little hesitant to bring that one up again. That thread is even home to one of my all-time favorite Reichu posts People really got into it at the time. There's this but there used to way more. It's only recently it got replaced in the search results by 'gender has nothing to do with love'!

View Original PostMr. Tines wrote: While it is quite striking on initial acquaintance to see that the pilots and and the forefront (~30 year old) adults are spilt 2:1 in favour of the women, it's also worth examining things in context.


I'll just note that looking up this stuff on the wiki I found that the Evangelion Proposal systematically asserts each of the female leads' relationship with men:

Misato: 'Quite stubborn with men.'
Ristuko: 'Surprisingly mild in front of men.'
Asuka: 'hates to lose and hates boys'
(except Rei)
"You're just turning this into a mixture of gibberish and fan service! That's not the Evangelion I know!" - An Asuka, one of many.

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Re: Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby Reichu » Sun Feb 19, 2017 10:46 pm

allimalli: Good essay on the whole, well-written and -organized. This is one of my favorite Eva-related topics, though I tend to focus on the less obvious, much weirder aspects of it. :devil:

Just a couple of things that leaped out at me:

View Original Postallimalli wrote:From a more literal angle, the EVAs themselves provide a great example of using male/female symbolism to show a relationship. The pilot enters the EVA through an “entry plug” that is obviously designed to look phallic, while the EVA does nothing, remaining passive and accepting. (04) This mirrors the pilot/EVA relationship, with the masculine entry plug and pilot controlling the feminine EVA's every move.

The entry plug may seem most obviously like a phallus, but once it's inside the Eva it becomes a symbolic womb as well -- that which contains and shields (with amniotic fluid-like LCL) the child within it.

Another interesting element of this is that, while the entry system is used as a way to control the Evas, it's implied that the Evas can regain control of their bodies by forcing the system to reverse on itself. (Instead of pilot accessing the Eva's body through the medium of the Eva's soul, the Eva accesses her own body through the pilot and associated interface.) That is to say, the Eva-pilot interface permits both control and a way to get around that very control.

Misato is depicted as a housewife, living with and supporting Shinji, although she also has a high ranking job at NERV.

This strikes me as a very odd claim to make. Misato doesn't have any "housewife"-like qualities. It's established from the get-go that she is a slob, concerned very little with keeping the house in order and putting the minimum amount of effort into meals. Shinji is the housewife, really, being naturally inclined toward cleaning and cooking, and Asuka taunts him about this by calling him a "housebroken male".

Shinji's mother, Yui, was swallowed by EVA01 in an experiment a few years after Shinji's birth. (06) She could not escape, demonstrating the belief held in the past that feminine forces (the EVA and Yui herself) cannot overcome masculine ones (the science that accidentally merged them).

Being absorbed into Eva-01 was actually Yui's plan, though Fuyutsuki was the only one who knew about her intentions in advance. You could instead comment here on Yui's refusal to be forced out of the Eva by the salvage operation spearheaded by Gendo. This resulted in Gendo's personalized Instrumentality plans, wherein he is the one whose soul must join Yui's in Eva-01, rather than Yui's soul being expected to join him on the outside.

View Original PostSoryuUberAlles wrote:one of my all-time favorite Reichu posts

I'm flattered that you have a favorite by me at all, though disappointed that, of all the thousands of highly idiosyncratic and inimitable posts you had to choose from, something so comparatively boring and generic would be the one you pick. :p
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Re: Gender Messages and Symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Postby SoryuUberAlles » Mon Feb 20, 2017 3:19 pm

View Original PostReichu wrote:allimalli: I'm flattered that you have a favorite by me at all, though disappointed that, of all the thousands of highly idiosyncratic and inimitable posts you had to choose from, something so comparatively boring and generic would be the one you pick. :p


Honestly though, I don't actually have list, it's just one I always remember because that was just one of the first mega-threads that got me into this website. Back then, the fandom was in its prime, anifandom as a whole was in its prime and everyone was going crazy for genderbends (remember that Haruhi one?) Haha but seriously though...

if Rei was male, he'd be the awesomely silent/cool/calm guy.

View Original Postallimalli wrote: All three main pilots can be summarized fairly well as gender swapped stereotypes. Shinji is the shy, weak girl, Asuka is the confident, aggressive jock, and Rei is the cool, silent guy.


You could say one of the clearest proofs is that Gendo IS like that. When he struts into every scene I still faintly hear the bassline to Jamiroquai's Soul Education gently strumming.

Ray Ayanami, Oscar Langley Soryuu... Imagine a world where Evangelion was seen as a 'classic deconstruction of the Romance Fiction genre' ^_^
"You're just turning this into a mixture of gibberish and fan service! That's not the Evangelion I know!" - An Asuka, one of many.


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