2DT, blogger and endless fount of writing prompts, recommended I watch Girls und Panzer (GaruPan for short) for unspecified reasons which very quickly became clear: the show presents a world with different rules for gender roles. During the informational video played at the end of the first episode, the girls of Oarai are told that “tankery” (the “sport” of tank-mounted combat) is one that emphasizes grace and beauty and is as a result ideally suited to young women with poise and drive. Because in our world, men wage war, this alternate reality represents a progressive vision where women lord their martial might over men… WRONG. And, frankly, it wouldn’t matter even if that were the case. And here, I think is an opportunity to say a few things about choice.
Third wave feminism (to which I subscribe) really boils down to “more choices for more people.” On the whole, we’re not seeking the complete inversions of current gender roles because that doesn’t increase freedom. The right to equal pay, for example, is about equality. It is not a movement to make it so than men are paid 70% of what women are (despite what some people might think). Gendering the sport of tankery in this manner takes something from the province of men and boys and places it in the hands of girls and women–at least when compared to our social norms. The show plays on a subtle inversion of how we normally align gender roles. Since waging war is currently considered mainly the province of men, the idea of high school girls doing it implies an upending of the social order and therefore seems progressive. But it really isn’t.
Placing any activity in the province of “girls only” or “boys only” is limiting, regardless of the activity. And tankery is no exception. Just because we don’t encourage our young girls to ride around in tanks doesn’t mean that the informational video shown by the student council isn’t a prime example of gender enforcing. I could cite the uniforms, or the fact that the world of GaruPan makes cheerful spectacle of a supposedly violent act, but I see no need. Most telling however, is that girls in the show consider the possibility of boys doing tankery to be absurd. This outlook indicates that the world of the show has merely changed the trappings of gender, not broken down the binary.
Yes, yes. GaruPan is all in good fun and no, I’m not planning to take every show to task for failing to further the cause of feminism (it would take too much time to nail every show that comes out to the wall). Instead, I’m trying to get you all to think a little when you watch shows in alternate worlds and novel settings. It’s one thing for a show to have “gender A does this thing that normally gender B does!” and it’s another for the show to say “thing B is open to all genders”. Look for the latter. Not the former.
P.S. It’s worth mentioning that 8dayswithoutme, the bro-est bro who ever bro-ed serves in the American military. Claiming to her face that soldiering is not for women will probably end poorly for you, but this show clearly operates under the idea that girls in tanks is an unusual enough juxtaposition as to be funny and clever.