Tokyo Mew Mew and Second Grade

I received this email this morning from a PPBB Community member and I could instantly relate to her. I would be upset if my child brought this home from his or her elementary school library, and the librarian and the principal would definitely be hearing from me. I would be angry, but I would give the educators the benefit of the doubt that they were not aware of the sexualized content and illustrations, perhaps the book was purchased as a way to expose children to multicultural manga texts/graphic novels, or maybe they are just clueless about how the sexualization of childhood impacts kids. While I feel it is the librarian’s job to know the content of the books offered, I can also see where is might be impossible to know every book on the shelf. I would use this as a teachable moment, and work with the understanding the educators will act immediately to remove such highly sexualized content out of the reach of their elementary aged students.

 

Hi Melissa, I follow you on Facebook and really enjoy your posts. You’ve opened my eyes to many things regarding sexualization of girlhood.

My second grade daughter brought home a book called “Tokyo Mew Mew” from her school library. I am appalled that they have such a book and its allowed to be checked out by a seven year old.

The girl characters (Tweens and teens?) are outrageously dressed. Playboy bunny costumes! Large breasts/cleavage in bustiers! And on and on. I’ll send the photos separately.

I will write a letter to the school librarian but I’m wondering what further advice you might have or any other suggestions you or your readers could come up with.

Sincerely,
Rebecca

I am not a fan of manga or anime so I had to look up the book title on Wikipedia. Turns out this was a popular series from 2000-2003, but it was not without criticism like this, “Conversely, in writing for Manga: The Complete Guide, Shaenon Garrity criticizes the series, calling it “uninspired”, “insipid” and “creative[ly] bankrupt” and feeling it was “clearly designed by its publisher to ride the magical girl tsunami for all it was worth: the creators’ marginal notes are filled with references to big book signings, photo shoots, and models hired to dress as the scantily clad preteen heroines.”

So how does this end up in an elementary school library and in the backpack of a second grader? And what can a parent do about it?

I would email or call the librarian and the principal and ask for a twenty minute meeting regarding concern over the content of a book my child checked out from the library. I would have a pre-written list of talking points that I would like to address right before I request the book and others like it be taken off the shelves of the elementary library. Some of my talking points would be:

-The images in these books are for older teen and adult readers. They unfairly place adult concepts of female sexuality onto the young children who would be reading this book. It is age inappropriate.

-The images show young looking girls in sexualized dress and poses, suggesting that prepubescent girls are available and willing sex partners or sex objects.

– The images of the sexualized girls suggest to female readers their sexuality (or pending sexuality) is the number one characteristic they will be valued for. Similarly, it suggests to young male readers that objectified female sexuality is normal and even to be expected.

– The image of an angry looking male grabbing a smaller, younger looking female by the shoulders while telling her she “needs to wear a bell” is dehumanizing and shows tolerance for dating violence.

-Exposure to early sexualization can cause body image issues, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, poor school performance, bullying, and early promiscuity in girls. This has no place in our schools.

An illustration from the book "Tokyo Mew Mew".

A second grader brought home "Tokyo Mew Mew".

Another illustration from "Tokyo Mew Mew".

So what would you do and say if you were in Rebecca’s shoes? And how would you explain this to your young child?

 

Comments

  1. As my six year old would say “That’s unappropriated.” Luckily, we wouldn’t need to explain it as she would not like it for that reason.

  2. I’m a teacher and one of my university degrees is in Japanese culture. I was heavily into manga and anime before the birth of my daughter.

    I am a huge proponent of using graphic novels and manga in the classroom to encourage children to read (using manga was the only way to get my reluctant-reader nephews to read anything). However, I am also very much aware of the gender issues in Japanese culture (which I am not a fan of despite my love for the culture in general) and how apparent they are in media created for the Japanese market.

    There are many manga titles that are suitable for young elementary school students, but Tokyo Mew Mew is not one of them for the reasons you described above. A lot of that content makes perfect sense if you know about Japanese culture (understanding it, not condoning it in any way), but I agree that it isn’t something we want impressionable children reading before they’re old enough to question what they read and have developed proper media literacy skills.

    I’ve worked in school libraries before and sadly the librarians aren’t familiar with every item on their shelves, and since manga and graphic novels are relatively new they rely on the rating systems publishers have on the back on the books. I don’t remember what Tokyo Mew Mew was rated by the publisher but I personally would never place it on elementary school shelves. Middle school possibly (I’d have to go back and examine the content), high school probably.

    There are manga series and graphic novels that her daughter could read that are more age-appropriate if that’s what she is interested in. She can seek out the proper channels (not necessarily the school librarian in this case) and find something more suitable. A comic book store should have someone knowledgeable enough to give her an appropriate recommendation.

    If the school is elementary-only (up to grade 5 or 6 in the US?) then that book should not have made it onto the shelves. I don’t usually agree with censorship of material for students (parental control and oversight, yes), except in the case of keeping inappropriate material from the younger age bracket.

    If the school includes the middle school grades (7 and 8), then she can request the title be moved to the sections meant for the older children. All the elementary schools in my school board go up to grade 8, and there is definitely young adult material in the library for those grades but they are on separate shelves and the younger children are only allowed to take materials from their approved section.

    • Andrea-
      Thank you so much for all of these insights! 🙂

    • Great response, Andrea! As an aspiring children’s librarian, I had a similar reaction. Comics and manga can be wonderful learning tools and entertainment, but they should be age-appropriate as well. My suggestion would be to look up some of those age-appropriate titles (or ask other parents and kids for their recommendations) and offer those alternatives to the school librarian when discussing concerns about the material in question. That makes a parent part of the solution: encouraging kids to read!

  3. Frankly, I’d print out Angela’s response and take it to the school library worker. (Remember, the nice folks who run a school library are seldom actual librarians. Librarians are highly skilled experts with Masters Degrees. That level of proficiency is not affordable in most schools. The school library lady probably didn’t realize what she was putting out there and should be more careful, but vetting a multi-age level collection is tricky sometimes.)

  4. I’m all for manga, but like any other form of literature or television and movies it has different levels of maturity. It also has different levels of depth. Ghost In The Shell has a main female character who runs around half the time wearing what looks like a bikini. Something quite odd for a cop, but she is still a strong female character who depends less on her looks than her intelligence, experience and ability to get the job done. And for this, is respected by the officers under her command. I also like an anime called Crayon Shin-Chan, about a kindergartener, his family and his class mates. However, I would not let an elementary school child watch this, as it is full of very mature humour. Nothing sexual (at least, not directly; case in point being his “elephant dance”), but quite a lot of jokes that would either be outside of a childs understanding, or outside of what you would want your child to understand until they are older. Just like any other form of entertainment, I feel that there is an age boundery which should be explored first by adults before simply letting a child read or watch the material.

  5. Definitely speak to the librarian. As a volunteer in my daughter’s school library, I know first hand how it is really quite impossible for the librarian to know what is in all the books that come into the library no matter how much we try. There isn’t enough time in the world for one person to keep up to date. The librarians count on parents, teachers, students and librarian resources to help weed out inappropriate books.
    I think of one book in particular which was a rather very good book, but it had one paragraph that was completely inappropriate which we would not have known about had the student not brought it to our attention. It’s really quite disgusting the little bits of propaganda that gets slipped into modern juvenile literature and we must always be aware.
    I caution to hold back judgmental words, but rather approach the librarian in good faith and then take it from there.

  6. I have been both a children’s librarian and a school library media specialist. I think there is probably a larger issue here, and that is the library’s selection policy. Every library should have one. It should specifically indicate what the criteria are for choosing books, etc. for the collection, and also what the procedure is for a challenge (although hopefully this situation will be defused before a formal challenge– and I would go directly to the librarian first rather than involving the principal,because if there is a challenge it should go through the process indicated in the selection policy without the principal short circuiting the process). If the librarian ordered this title, which is extremely age inappropriate, she may not have set criteria and resources for choosing graphic novels and manga for her collection. It’s possible that she has no selection policy at all, and probable that she does not have the resources and knowledge to choose graphic novels and manga. Everything should be laid out in this formal document. So, beyond this particular book, I would respectfully ask to see the policy and, if it’s unsatisfactory, offer to review it and give suggestions for revising it to reflect appropriate criteria for graphic novels and manga. It is impossible to know the content of every book in a library, and one word or sentence shouldn’t be a determining factor in removing it from a library collection (although there were many school librarians who refused to buy the Newbery winner “The Higher Power of Lucky” because it had the word “testicles” in it), but I think that it’s clear that if the librarian ordered a title that is this age inappropriate (for all we know, she inherited a collection that contained it– the series is ten years old, according to Melissa’s research) then the selection policy needs to be addressed.

  7. Tokyo Mew Mew the anime was licensed in the United States by 4Kids, a company notorious for taking shows for older kids and editing them for American children’s programming standards. That might explain how it got onto an elementary school library shelf. That and the cutsey covers and premise. Japan also has different standards for what their children watch.

    That said, I agree with the previous comments. I used to work at an elementary school and our librarian was great at handling controversial books and very open to suggestions from staff and parents. I’m sure this school’s librarian would appreciate the information.

  8. I don’t really see the big deal and the pictures you showed don’t show much (What was so offensive with the last 2 shown?). There is some silhouetted nudity but it was for nothing sexual. It’s a common thing in magical girl stories to show a complete transformation, showing a girl’s purity but NOTHING is shown (think a Barbie doll without its clothes). Have you actually read the books to know if what you’re showing made sense in context, or did you just glance and assumed it was something inappropriate without doing proper research?
    I suggest you do that before complaining to the librarian about it.
    Tokyo Mew Mew was meant for children and what they show is actually really tame compared to many other anime and manga out there. The only reason I wouldn’t show this to someone that young is because they probably wouldn’t understand the circumstances of the events in the story itself.
    Tokyopop’s version rated it 10 and up, which I agree with. Kodansha’s translation is 13 and up, due to some added mild profanities. If you feel that your child is to young to read it, then wait until she’s the proper age as the book ratings suggest.

  9. As much as I love manga, a seven year old with Tokyo Mew Mew?! Just no. Try looking up some more appropriate manga. Japan has a higher tolerance for these things, which explains that. But don’t be all against manga. I always teaches lifelong valuable lessons. And usually have a strong female character.

  10. It says on the back of the book the age for reading, Please teach your child to look on the back or inside a book to see if she is old enough to read it.
    I do think it is sexual if you look for sexual thing’s kids see way worse on a day to day basis and at that age I liked sailor moon which was as bad or worse than Tokyo mew mew, I never seen anything sexual about it, even the outfits I was a child and children are innocent you need to remember that.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I honestly expected it to be allot worse than that, I expected it to be outrages sexualization. In Heinz sight it’s nothing your child has not seen a women at the swimming pool wear. Cleavage isn’t something that is completely sexual, unless they are implying it in a suggestive matter. The anime of the manga is not “sexualized” as the girls are all flat chested if you are still interested in the series, tho the story line is not that good, and it’s basically Ichigo playing the “notice me senpai” card.

  12. It’s not OVERLY SEXUALIZED. The rating of the series is 13+. I looked at it and that’s what it said the rating was. It’s not inappropriate if it’s being read by its target audience.

  13. Oh no! How dare a teenage girl have breasts! This Idea that the female form is inherently sexual and must be hidden from children at all costs is idiotic and harmful. The Mew Mews are meant to be superheros, saving humans and the planet. Those images you include are all taken wildly out of context too. If you actually read the books before scoffing at it, you’d see the series has strong themes of love, friendship, and even Environmentalism. If Tokyo Mew Mew is so bad then Barbie and Disney princesses must be akin to soft core porn in your book.

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