Sailor Moon is heralded as an iconic 90s anime and for good reason. Besides being an excellent super hero show, it encompasses everything awesome about “girl power.” It’s not just that the central characters are all female or that they all have shiny attacks that set things on fire or occasionally make them explode. It’s that they’re all multi-faceted, well-developed characters and traditional feminine clothing/objects/what have you is a source of strength.
Before I go into aspects of the show itself, I need to clarify my framework because it might get a little confusing.
How feminism and femininity don’t always line up and why that’s a problem.
Feminism has always been about empowering the disempowered and since its inception it has divided into numerous branches as people continue to critique what traditional feminism leaves out. For example, womanism came about due to feminism’s lack of consideration of issues that specifically affect women of color. Egalitarianism, which isn’t exactly feminism per se, rejects the tendency to villainize men and perpetuate fear of them. It focuses instead on building healthy attitudes
toward men and women and dismantles the idea of gender roles that are set in stone.
Unfortunately, nobody thinks this is feminism. When most people hear “feminism,” this is what they think:
-girls who hate anything remotely feminine with every fiber of their being
-oversensitive girls who just want attention
The list goes on. And it’s a problem.
So what I’m looking to address here is the whole “girls who hate anything remotely feminine” thing. Basically, we’re taught that if we’re gonna be good feminists, we should chop all our hair off and never wear dresses again, but you know where this idea comes from? The fact that femininity as a whole is still seen as weak and undesirable, which is exactly what patriarchy does in the first place.
This is why we have so many tomboy characters whose strength and likeability come from spitting in the face of everything girly. Girliness is seen as weak, petty, erratic, and shallow, mostly because it’s portrayed that way.
And trust me, girls don’t want to be any of those things. So, when everything remotely feminine is associated with those qualities, it’s really no surprise that girls who pride themselves on their knowledge and rationality won’t present in a way that makes them look fickle.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to wear dresses or fighting against crippling beauty standards. The problem comes with the idea that we’re conforming to weakness if we choose to express our gender in typical feminine ways.
It’s a fundamental truth of society that the more masculine someone is, the more respect they get. A lot of people probably don’t agree at all, but this is more of a subconscious thought process. That is, most people don’t actively behave in a way that supports that notion, but that doesn’t mean its effects are gone. For instance, it’s not a big deal for a woman to wear pants, not use make-up, and keep her hair short. This is because what is masculine can also be gender neutral. What is feminine can’t. Feminism has done an awesome thing by loosening the standards on how women can present themselves. On the flip side, it is a big deal when a man wants to wear dresses because the underlying question is Why would a man want go backwards? If you’re a person who isn’t expected to be feminine, why partake in any of it at all? It’s more acceptable for a woman to be a man than it is for a man to be a woman because femininity and the feminine are not seen as sources of strength, power, and intelligence.
This is why we need shows like Sailor Moon. As utterly vital as the Katnisses and Meridas are, we need stories and characters that combine strength and femininity.
Jewels, wands, and tiaras: accessories that obliterate evil.
The most powerful item in the entire Dark Kingdom arc is the Silver Crystal, which in the anime consists of seven smaller crystals that span the colors of the rainbow. I wouldn’t expect to see that in a more masculine series. However, this item isn’t just a pretty jewel. It can cleanse any evil in the entire galaxy. Once Usagi obtains it, the Silver Crystal rests in a brooch she pins to her school uniform. Here, power is directly tied to femininity as the Silver Crystal’s container is a decorative accessory. The most powerful jewel in the galaxy could’ve had some intense treasure box as its hiding place with crazy metallic locks and a velociraptor guardian, but it doesn’t. Its presentation and power rests in that which is completely feminine.
Then there are the different types of wands shown throughout the series: the transformation wands and Sailor Moon’s constantly evolving healing and attack wands. Actually, most of them are more like pens, but whatever you call them the fact remains that they’re still pretty girly items. I don’t see the Power Rangers transforming with something like that, you know? But these pens/wands allow our ordinary protagonists to don the power of sailor senshi, the guardians of the galaxy. Even the following transformation sequences display how femininity is equated with power.
Although each sequence is different, there are some common patterns. The inner senshi get an instant manicure and the outers get lips gloss. They might also get long ribbons on their clothes, new earrings, high heels (like Sailor Mars), or a number of other super feminine decorations. Wings, hearts, bubbles, stars–all of this stuff is coming from a transformation item that is ultimately preparing these girls to rid the planet of the next dark organization trying to take over the entire galaxy. The transformations make them more feminine, and the more feminine they become the more power they have. This is especially obvious in Sailor Uranus’s and the Starlight’s cases. Haruka wears men’s clothes all the time, but she can’t save the galaxy unless she’s in her really feminine sailor suit. Likewise, the Starlights are disguised as men in the anime, but they can’t use their power until they’re in their uniforms. Once again, the correlation is obvious.
Finally, there are the tiaras. Although Sailor Moon and Sailor Jupiter are the only ones with special tiaras, the accessory itself is one of the first forms of power we see. Sailor Moon’s renders enemies to dust after only one hit. One hit. It’s easy to watch that and just think “Oh, that monster was weak.” I think that stems from the tendency to portray femininity as weak. If we didn’t subconsciously think that a rather plain looking tiara couldn’t do much, our natural reaction would be “Wow, that’s a strong attack.” Sure, plenty of the generic monsters are weak and the one-hit wonder doesn’t work on everyone, but the fact remains that Sailor Moon wears a tiara that kills things when she throws it. Sailor Jupiter’s tiara is even more awesome because she uses it to summon lightning from Jupiter. She’s basically the Thor of the series. This amazing power is being channeled through a tiara–a feminine accessory.
The Sailor outfit: strength is a pleated skirt
While the senshi’s outfits don’t look much different from regular school uniforms, they’ve become iconic in their own right, so much so that people will see characters from completely different series and say “Is that Sailor Moon?”
As I mentioned before, the main characters become more feminine when they transform. Their clothing isn’t just there to look pretty: they’re warriors’ uniforms. They wear those clothes into battles to protect the planet. For Sailor Moon, uniform changes become more feminine with each power-up. This is especially noticeable in the Stars arc when she becomes Eternal Sailor Moon (wings, shiny white boots, an even more colorful skirt). Also, the more she resembles her past self as Princess Serenity, the stronger she becomes and the better she can use the Silver Crystal.
Like accessories, clothing in Sailor Moon creates a direct correlation with femininity and power. It’s important to recognize and think about this because I think it’s hard even for women to connect the two. We grow up hearing phrases like “you hit like a girl,” which translates to “you’re weak. There’s no way you can hurt me.” This mindset becomes so ingrained into us that it’s extremely difficult to unlearn and sometimes it’s hard to recognize in the first place. Femininity is not inherently weak and Sailor Moon helps us see that.