I think one of the biggest issues with Naruto, for me as a female viewer of color, is Kishimoto’s/the animators’ treatment and portrayals of female characters. Even if you were to argue that the target audience is mostly male, this should not excuse or validate sexism and, in some cases, misogyny.
Some of these point may be overlooked but it’s worth saying anyway in terms of how I view the roles and typecasting of female characters/kunoichi in the show.
- There is a strict gendered separation of male and female characters that is maintained throughout the series.
- Females are members of the team but there’s no way to really say that these male characters are actually friends with them. They are typically either 1) villains, 2) love interests/mothers, 3) team members/colleagues/comrades, or 4) sexual objects. I definitely think Kishimoto and the animators are more interested presenting fraternal relationships.
- With the exception of Ten Ten who is rarely seen in the main story arc, many of the primary female characters may be fierce fighters but Kishimoto has firmly seated/stereotyped them as nurturing and motherly with the concept of medical ninjutsu and chakra control. As if females are natural healers and nurturers with natural propensities towards innate chakra control. It’s a useful skill to have but this idea is nonetheless sort of problematic, because it presents female ninjas as natural healers and softens their strength and abilities by placing them in the mold of “the healer type”, as if to cater to a largely male audiences needing motherly figures/nice girls to not feel emasculated. How many male characters do you see presented as healers, with the exception of Kabuto (a villain) and nameless medical nin who appear throughout the series? Because, obviously, guys’ chakra control is too poor so they get all the cool physical/flashy jutsu, yeah. So Kishimoto definitely plays to heteronormative gender roles, albeit in a way that can be overlooked.
- The only brown female character so far is presented as a brute (Karui of Kumogakure). Nobody can tell me that two or three or more of the ninjas from the Village Hidden in the Clouds are not racist portrayals, and that includes Killer B.
- Ten Ten is the only openly feminist-like character, or at the least the only person inspired by successful, powerful kunoichi (not just their beauty), in the whole series and it seems she gets the least airtime out of the Konoha female shinobi. (And there’s going to be some people who pop up and argue that Sakura’s also an exception but, just to let you know, I’m tired of Sakura, honestly.)
- Is there any female ninja whose beauty or big breasts isn’t the focus of what’s great about her?
- Many female characters are presented as sacrificial lambs, so to speak. For example: the f*king 5th Hokage, in all her years of combat, training, and experience, never developed a justu that could protect the entire village or kick Pain’s ass (one of Pain’s asses at least). Not that it’s something to be overlooked, but she instead protects the villagers by nearly sacrificing her own life with a passive justu that used her chakra in conjunction with Katsuyu. Annnd then…Naruto swoops in to save the day.
- Of course there’s only one female shinobi per team and she will always need a male shinobi to save her at some point.
- The younger female characters of the main cast are presented as boy crazy! Ten Ten and Temari, probably less than others but it comes out sometimes.
Additional Relevant Thoughts:
- Are there no females who have the sharingan?
- How is it okay for Jiraiya to invade women’s privacy in hot springs and this is largely treated as it is supposed be funny? I like Jariya as character—without the peeping. It’s really starting to bug me. You could have made him an imperfect character without that extent of perversion and sexism/objectification.
- Is it too much to ask for a cool fat female character who’s not presented as a complete joke?