Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pokeffects: Exploring Gender Roles in the Pokemon Franchise

I used to love Pokémon. Scratch that, I do love Pokémon. I love Pokémon enough to care about putting the accent on the “e” every time. So it breaks my heart to hear how Pokémon is sexist. This article makes some good points, and you should read it if you’re interested, but upon closer personal inspection, I have some points of my own to make.

Pokémon, for the most part, are modeled after real-life animals (see above, Stantler, Noctowl, Rattata), which as we all know, never appear to be only male or female. Therefore I find it strange that some Pokémon do (see below Jigglypuff, Lopunny, Jynx). I remember growing up with these games, and my brother would ridicule me if I had a Jynx in my main lineup (regardless of her rarity and kickass ice/psychic combination). Does the Pokémon company mean to suggest that boys can have Machamps and Rhydons but not Chanseys? I think this is unfair.



It’s also kind of messed up that the original Pokémon games’ only playable character was male. Although it’s true to the TV show in this sense (Ash Ketchum is the protagonist in EVERY SEASON), the TV show is unfair as well! It took the game designers until Crystal Version to decide to put a female option in the game.

Ash and Pikachu
Some attack moves, such as Attractor Charm,  are only learned by these female-looking characters, and only work on Pokémon of the opposite sex. That’s right, apparently there are no homosexuals in the Pokéverse. (Fortunately, Ditto almost makes up for this with his ability to breed with either gender)

I also remember how all my friends became outraged when we heard that Ash’s Pikachu was a girl. Were we brainwashed to boycott strong females at such a young age, or simply afraid of contracting cyber-cooties from playing too much Gameboy?

This all being said, I do believe that myfavoritechildhoodgameintheworld has some redeeming qualities. Since the second generation Pokémon games, coinciding with the addition of breeding, the Pokémon have had genders. To avoid argument (and prevent us from breeding many many more of them), legendary Pokémon do not have genders. Furthermore, I find it refreshing that gender does not play a part in any attack/defense/speed statistics that the Pokémon have. If they did, I’d be condemning the series and accusing them of gender sterotyping.

The Pokémon that are only male or female tend to be fairly balanced (see Nidoking/Nidoqueen, Miltank/Taurus, Volbeat/Illumise), so while boys can train one and girls another, their abilities are very similar. Even if you do find this specification sexist or segregating, the immense variety of available Pokémon make up for these few outliers. The vast expanses of the Pokéverse allow for a few species like these (the solution to pollution is dilution, right?).
Volbeat and Illumise

At first I was going to cite Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny, two working females in the TV series, as examples of the show using female characters merely as love interests and nothing more, as Brock tries to make moves on them constantly. However, since they never reciprocate his infatuation and sometimes act as crucial elements in the storyline, I believe they might actually be positive role models for young female viewers. By watching these characters, one can see how it’s possible to be confident, successful, and happy, all without a man in your life.

I hereby conclude that, while Pokémon has been accused of sexism in the past, and arguably might retain some of those controversial qualities, overall it is a positive influence on our youth by promoting equality and including confident female characters.


  1. Sorry everyone, the pictures were formatted much better before I hit "Publish." I promise I didn't mean for them to be so obnoxious.

  2. I agree with you in that while Pokémon does have some elements with gender that one could nitpick and find something to complain about, it is overall not a sexist show. The thing that really proves it for me is actually in the Pokémon that exist in both genders. You mention that they are equal in strength, which actually seems counterintuitive, considering in real life, females are statistically proven to have less physical strength than men. Call me sexist, but it's biology! However, the fact the the show made them equal proves that they strive for equality of the genders.

  3. Although I think that the show definitely did make an effort by adding female Pokémons equaling their male counterparts, I think that the fact that they had to add female characters displays gender inequality regardless. Why can't girls like male Pokémons? And similarly, why can't boys like female Pokémons? I definitely think the whole "cooties" idea is depicted in the presence of characters of both sex. While I do think that the creators should have had characters of both sexes all along, I think that the children who enjoyed Pokémon then tended to choose their favorite characters with their sex as one of the most important qualifications. Why are children raised believing that the opposite sex has "cooties?" On the other hand, allowing young girls to play the Pokémon games as female characters certainly instills the image of strong female characters within their minds and can serve as an empowering activity. I think the entertainment industry as a whole should take the effects of their portrayals of character's genders [and the corresponding qualities] with more seriousness, because it is an are which has remarkable influence on the development of children's thoughts, beliefs, and confidences.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.