The Belldandy effect

Recently the exasperated rantings of a woman with an absurdly large nose over the seemingly ridiculous expectations that men have of their ideal woman got me thinking about something I wrote a while back regarding what it means to be a truly beautiful woman.

The Goddess and the Nerd

If you enjoy watching anime (most- though not all- nerds generally do), at one point or another you have surely come across a series called "Oh! My Goddess" (or "Ah! My Goddess" in the Western releases). And if you have read the manga, watched the OVA, or watched the two anime series released in in the mid-2000s, then you have certainly come across the central character Belldandy.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the series, the plot basically focuses on a nerdy, socially inept student named Keiichi Morisato who dials a number by accident and ends up calling a goddess help line. The goddess Belldandy is sent down to answer his wish, and he half-jokingly wishes for a goddess like her to stay by his side forever. The wish is accepted, a contract is formed, and he ends up with a stunningly beautiful, extremely powerful, and exceptionally kind-hearted young woman living with him. The rest of the series focuses on the mishaps and comic foibles of the two main characters and various other supporting characters.

What makes Belldandy unique is that, considering she was created in Japan, her characterisation is radically different from that of most anime women. Unlike many anime series that I've watched, Belldandy is not a Strong Independent Woman wielding guns and kicking ass; nor is she a brazen hussy or a sex symbol; and she does not start off as cold or callous. She is quite unlike anyone or anything else in the series- her younger sister Skuld is depicted as a bit of a youthful airhead, while her older sister Urd is a voluptuous, almost brazen hedonist. She is instead depicted as a woman of great intelligence, beauty, and selflessness, a woman who makes all who encounter her feel happy and peaceful- and she is absolutely and uncompromisingly loyal to her man.

There is actually a word in Japanese for her particularly set of characteristics- "kirei". Translated literally, it simply means "beauty", but there is a deeper meaning to the word when used in the context of describing a woman- something along the lines of "gracefully feminine". In the series, she is described by others as someone who brings calm and serenity to an otherwise tangled world. Her entire existence in the series focuses around using her powers to help those around her, with her attentions focused at all times on making Keiichi happy.

And interestingly, the very fact of her presence in his life makes him happy- to the point where his happiness is so great that the attempts by Belldandy's demonic rival to make him unhappy completely fail.

The Role Model

When you watch a show like this through Westernised eyes, you find yourself quite startled at the fact that the Japanese are comfortable with allowing something this old-school onto their TV sets. It's like watching a TV series from the late 1950s- "I Love Jeannie" comes to mind- where the only real interest of the female lead is to make her man happy. Unsurprisingly, this has led to rather polarised opinions among American critics about the characterisation of Belldandy- either she is the perfect girlfriend, or she is a completely ornamental doormat of a woman.

I'll give you one guess as to which side of the fence I sit on with regard to that particular debate.

I have said this before, and I'l say it again: there is nothing whatsoever wrong with modern women in today's society striving to act like Belldandy. The simple fact of reality is that there is a great deal of good to be had when a woman returns to a traditional role- wife, mother, homemaker, supporter of her husband, a source of security and comfort to him in times of need.

It must be recognised that women who rant and rage about being Strong and Independent generally tend to be quite oblivious to the fact that the reason they are where they are is because of men. The reality is that feminism is a luxury of a wealthy and decadent society. And no society that has allowed feminism to dictate its future has survived for very long as a result.

We have lost something very important by stressing that a woman should be Strong and Independent and Live Her Own Life without paying heed to the consequences of her choices. We- men and women both- have enabled young women of past and current generations for the last 50 years to pretend that there are no consequences for going to universities to earn pointless degrees, for having no appreciable domestic skills, for having no-strings-attached sex, and for delaying marriage, childbirth, and motherhood for as long as possible in pursuit of some nebulous dream of "having it all".

The hard, painful truth is that women who strive to be equal to men are not worthy of respect or admiration- not by the men that they seek to emulate and in many cases dominate, and not by their fellow women.

By contrast, women who seek to be good wives and mothers, or who at least try to be the best girlfriends they can be, have unquestionably earned the respect and admiration of their peers.

The Template

To argue that young women today should seek to emulate an immortal fictional goddess with colossal power, stunning beauty, and a limitlessly kind heart might sound quite ridiculous to many. And when phrased in that manner, indeed, it is ridiculous.

What is not ridiculous is to argue that women should:
  • Take time and care over their appearance;
  • Grow out their hair and maintain it;
  • Learn as many domestic skills as possible;
  • Improve their minds through reading- and I'm not talking about the modern chick-lit trash that passes for "literature" these days;
  • Be pleasant sources of quiet serenity;
These ideas are nothing new. They are in fact very, very old- we've just gone and forgotten them, to our great loss and to society's inevitable sorrow. I say that, instead of criticising the depiction of Belldandy and characters like her, women should try to emulate them.


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