Annalyn’s Corner: Girls, Tanks, and Gender Stereotypes

I avoided Girls Und Panzer for a long time, because “panzer” sounds a lot like “pansu,” which, well… I’m sorry, more innocent fans, but I won’t explain further. Thankfully, my first reaction to the title was completely off base: “und Panzer” isn’t a Japanese (or even Engrish) phrase, and it has to do with tanks, not undergarments. Girls Und Panzer is about a group of girls who take a class on sensha-do, or the art of armored tanks (translated on Crunchyroll as Tankery). It’s ridiculous, and you have to suspend disbelief frequently, but it’s relatively harmless.

In Girls Und Panzer, competing with armored tanks is considered a distinctly feminine pursuit. The student council at Oorai Girls Academy plays this up in a bit of propaganda at a school wide meeting, in attempt to get more people to take the elective. Here’s a taste of the speech:

…an art that aims to make girls and women alike more polite, graceful, modest, and gallant. It could be said that learning Tankery is to train the part of you that makes you feminine. Intense and strong like its iron, adorable like the clattering of its track, and passionate and precise like its main cannon. If you train in Tankery, you will become a better wife, a better mother, a better female worker. You will become healthier, kinder, stronger, and men from all over will like you. Everyone should learn Tankery, and train your body and mind to become a healthier and more beautiful woman.

The speech is accompanied by a very inspirational video about this noble, feminine tradition.

Later, the cafeteria buzzes as girls discuss this “perfect training for women.” One girl comments, “Well, it’s true that I’ve never heard of men doing Tankery.”

Haha, what?

In the real world, armored tanks are for real combat, a traditionally male arena, although women are starting to have a more active role in the field. If we expect any youngsters to obsess over tanks, collecting toys, models, and information, we expect only the boys.

So a world in which Tankery is a girls-only zone? That’s a bit strange. In fact, to call Tankery feminine seems an arbitrary and ridiculous distinction. Not that the characters recognize this, of course. To them, it’s a matter of tradition and honor.

But hey, it’s an anime. In this show, people let high schoolers drive and shoot dangerous weapons at each other. The gendered approach to armored tanks is just another plot device, not to be taken seriously. It’s not like we make such silly, unfounded distinctions in real life, right? We know that random pursuits and hobbies don’t make you more feminine or masculine just because they’re societal tradition.

… right? 

Actually, I’ve noticed many pursuits and character traits that we unnecessarily categorize as “manly” or “womanly.” Sometimes, these are fairly harmless distinctions. But sometimes, they’re taken too seriously, used to either validate or tear down someone’s identity as a man or woman. And sometimes, they’re downright unbiblical—especially when we talk about character traits.

Let’s start with a few silly examples before we get serious.

First, there’s fashion: in certain scenarios, if a man dresses fashionably in daily life—accessorizes with stylish hats, pays attention to details in his attire in an obvious way—people will start to whisper. And if he also happens to be friendly with a fair number of girls? People will inevitably ask each other if he’s gay, which is code, in this case, for “effeminate” (and in conservative circles, it may also be code for “sinful”). Now, that question is problematic on many levels, but I also find it just plain annoying. Come on, a straight guy can’t be stylish outside of wedding processions and magazine covers? Really? Don’t discourage the art of fashion, folks. Everyone with working eyes benefits when someone likes to make themselves look good.

Second, there’s genre: movies with explosions and fights are “guy movies,” and romantic comedies are “chick flicks.” Now, I never liked romcoms myself, and I never felt discouraged from watching action movies. At worst, I’d get left out of fun movie nights because guys forgot I preferred “their” movies, and I’d cringe in misery during a girls-only movie night.

But I still believed the stereotypes—especially going the opposite direction. Girls could like guy movies without their womanhood being questioned, but why would a guy like a romance? When men did enjoy a romantic movie, I’d hear them give a qualifier, like, “it was actually alright, for a chick flick.”

Then I got involved in the anime community, where guys were the fiercest advocates for romance and drama like Clannad and Usagi Drop. Many guys would even discuss shoujo romcoms like Ouran High School Host Club or Kaichou wa Maid-sama without the slightest bit of hesitation. And when I reached college and took History of Film, my male professor lauded quality romcoms and belittled Transformers, showing that a good production is a good production, regardless of its genre, and can be appreciated by everyone—while no amount of explosions can make up for plot and character problems.

There are many other silly stereotypes—sports are for guys and “tomboyish” girls (uh, no—my girl cousin loves soccer, while her brothers have increasingly nerdy, indoor interests); girls aren’t interested in gaming (Ha! Try telling that to Emdaisy1 and Cutsceneaddict here at BtT); cute shows and merchandise are for girls only (many otaku, including our own Stardf29, would disagree, as do I—why is it that the only cute entities guys are supposed to like are girls?); etc.

Those are all surface-level stereotypes. They can become harmful, because some men and women, insecure in their own identities, feel they must exclude the opposite sex in order to assure themselves of their own manhood or womanhood. Or they belittle their own sex for stepping outside the box and enjoying the “other side’s” pursuits—again, due to identity issues. Some people give too much power to external interests, as if a hobby or pastime can change how manly or womanly you are. The same people often base their identity or purpose primarily in their gender. And humans get vicious when they feel they must defend their identity, whether as individuals or as demographics.

Saori keeps the team’s tanks in contact with one another while Mako expertly steers their tank. Note the pink curtain and seat cushion on Saori’s side. (ep 1)

But there’s another level, one that’s more dangerous and unbiblical: we start assigning character traits to men and women. It gets even more dangerous in Christian circles when people spiritualize these stereotypes, focusing more on what marks a “godly woman” or a “godly man” than simply a “godly person.” Take the following two lists of traits:

  1. Meek, gentle, patient, loving, forgiving, modest, supportive
  2. Bold, just, strong, capable, able to lead

What do these lists have in common? Both are important traits for every Christian. And yet, in some circles, the first set of traits is highlighted primarily for women, while the second is highlighted primarily for men. Meekness (gentleness, submissiveness) is still considered, by some, to be a more feminine trait. So a woman who struggles to be gentle or meek may feel she fails not only as a Christian, but also as a woman. And a man may feel that if he is meek—allows others to make decisions and actions contrary to his own interests, or allows people to inconvenience or undermine him in anyway—he is less of a man. Even Christians are respectful of male pride and may consider it a lesser sin than other kinds of pride.

But the Bible shows meek men, submitting themselves to the will of God and to the persecution of men—and it shows bold women who lead their people to victory, seek learning and forgiveness, financially support men, and more. There’s a balance of meekness and boldness—and for Christians, male or female, it’s better defined in the Bible than by society.

I could go on, but you get the idea: some of our gender distinctions are ridiculous, harmful, and unbiblical. Yes, men and women are different, and that’s part of what makes humanity so interesting and beautiful. But we have the tendency to draw unnecessary lines in the sand, to define gender in exclusive, arbitrary, subjective terms that include things like hobbies, careers, and shallow interests—and then to make those definitions of “men” and “women” hold the weight of our identities.

I don’t think that’s right. We are, first and foremost, humans. All of us, regardless of sex, are more alike than different. We have a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses—and if they manifest differently in men than in women, it’s as likely to be for sociological reasons as biological ones, I think. And for a Christian, the next part of our identity to look at is not “male or female,” but “Jesus-follower or not.” All Christians should be united in purpose—and, from our perspective, all people have the same primary need: to know Jesus Christ and be reconciled with God. Our womanhood or manhood is part of our identity, yes, but not the primary part. When we recognize that, it’s much easier to explore what our womanhood or manhood means—and it’s less threatening to hear others’ perspectives, or to explore interests that our culture has historically attributed to the opposite sex.

Okay. Wow. I took a silly anime about girls and tanks, and I went deep. But look: in Girls Und Panzer, girls of all sorts become passionate about tanks. Boy-crazy girls, athletes, girly girls, tank nerds, military history nerds, and gentle traditional-minded girls unite in this combative pursuit. And in that way, I don’t think it’s unrealistic. It shows how a variety of girls unite in a single “feminine” (but considered IRL to be “masculine”) activity without losing the other parts of their identities. They have balance.

Meet the tank nerd, the gentle spirit, the anemic, the boy-crazy, and the reluctant leader (and stuffed bear nerd), joined together in one sport: Tankery.

That’s all I’m asking for: balance. Know where your identity lies, and don’t let stereotypes or political wars mix you up. Enjoy learning about both your interests and your biological makeup. If you’re a girl, don’t feel unfeminine for enjoying “masculine” things—but don’t feel like a traitor to feminism (the good kind, of course—feminism isn’t a bad word, folks) just because you enjoy traditionally feminine things. It’s okay to fit into arbitrary, ridiculous stereotypes set by society—just don’t take them too seriously, and don’t mix them up with God’s perspective.

I don’t have it all figured out, but I say with relative confidence that the topic of gender is a lot less stressful and messy if you don’t take it too seriously. Face it: we’re often as ridiculous about gender stuff as Girls Und Panzer. Let’s seriously pay attention to how God treats the topic, in context with how he emphasizes other topics—and let’s seriously laugh at ourselves when we get get mixed up.


Housekeeping: First, I apologize for my irregularity lately, and for not replying to comments on my last couple posts. I’ve been a bit busy and distracted, but that’s no excuse for ignoring your comments. I will try to do better. Second, you’ll notice that today is Tuesday, not Monday. My column’s schedule has changed to every other Tuesday, starting this week. It works better for our blog’s schedule right now… and for my schedule. Thanks for sticking with me, dear readers!

5 thoughts on “Annalyn’s Corner: Girls, Tanks, and Gender Stereotypes

  1. I’ve never watched Girls Und Panzer. I must admit, as I read your article I found it hard to think of “Tankery” as an entirely feminine practice. I kept thinking, but if girls used tanks, wouldn’t they paint them pink, make them more stream-lined, and less ugly looking with all the extruding parts? But then, as I thought about it, I remembered a real life instance of something transitioning from being a traditionally male pursuit to a markedly feminine one: Horses
    Of course, there were many women who learned how to ride in the past, but horsemanship was more associated with warfare and sports, which in past opinion were decidedly masculine pursuits. But as horses became less used for warfare and labor the association grew less over time. As stereotypes about riding changed, women began to ride more often. Many girls love horses for their beauty and enjoy riding. There are still some guys who ride in rodeos or go to different events, but it’s much less common. I even remember one man who knows horses well remarking on how girls were better with horses. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I think it was something to the effect that guys gravitated more toward the rougher aspects of riding like cattle roping. Perhaps someone might say that men appreciate the powerful, noble aspects of horses and women appreciate their social, non-predatory nature, but I think that many men and women admire them for the same things. Horses really are beautiful. I’m a little bit too lazy to handle all the trouble of riding gear and feeding, but I can’t help but be struck by their beauty and personality. It’s truly interesting to see how different genders have emphasized the same creature over time.

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    1. Thanks for commenting! I hadn’t thought of horses, but that’s a great example.

      I never went through a horse phase myself, but I suspect you’re right that men and women admire them for the same reasons.

      Also, I echo LGrey: some of the newbies did paint one of the tanks pink, though I think they realized that wouldn’t work well when they needed camouflage. And they did things to make the inside of the tanks more comfortable, as I pointed out in one of the screenshot’s captions—after all, they spent a lot of time in there, so why not?

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      1. They also keep eggs & milk in a cooler box somewhere inside the Mk. IV tank, apparently.
        (Garupan der Film, around 00:02:08)

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