Welcome back! This time we’re briefly touching on Misty, femininity, body-shaming, and the competitive drive in Kanto family dynamics.
Quick summary: Ash and co. arrive in Cerulean. Ash goes to the gym to challenge the leader, finds it’s three young women who are more into synchronized swimming than battling, realizes Misty is their younger sister, battles Misty, stops Team Rocket, gets a badge because of course he does, everything is handed to Ash, the end.
Misty’s sisters are much better at the performing arts than the art of battle. They run a synchronized swimming show which, apparently, fills a lot of seats, and let me tell you, Pikachu is into it in a big way. It’s kind of weird. Ash doesn’t get it.1
Misty doesn’t get it any more than Ash, apparently, because we find out she left “to become a great pokémon trainer.” Her sisters tease her, saying that she’s not one of “the Sensational Sisters” (crappy swim team name) but “the runt.” They also laugh at her because 1, she’s only been gone a few weeks, and 2, she’s not as beautiful as they are. They’re actually really mean. Sample dialogue–
Lily: Misty, you left here pretending you wanted to become a Pokémon trainer because you couldn’t compare with us. Because we’re obviously much more talented and beautiful than you are!
Misty: That wasn’t the reason!
Daisy: Well then, I guess, like, you came back because you couldn’t make it as a Pokémon trainer.
Misty: … The only reason I’m here is because he wanted to come!
Daisy: Well, he’s totally not someone I’d choose for a boyfriend – but you’re no prize yourself!
God, no wonder she left. I can’t help but wonder how much Misty is driven by the twisted and emotionally abusive body-shaming she gets from her sisters. Misty clearly admits she’s trying to prove something to them: “If I battle [Ash], that’ll prove I’m not a quitter and I’m just as good a trainer as you three!” I’m not convinced that Misty actually feels inferior to her sisters, but she does want to make them realize that she isn’t.
I mentioned in the last post that a culture of competition had affected Brock’s life– his desire to be a breeder and his father’s absence. Here we see that there’s some pretty toxic sibling rivalry behind Misty’s drive to be a trainer. They tease her because she can’t even compete when it comes to their swimming, and she leaves to be a trainer. The show doesn’t spend a lot of time on either Brock’s or Misty’s family issues, and we aren’t obviously meant to consider how battling has affected the characters’ home lives; but any consideration at all leads us to realize that the culture of competition has created lasting scars in two out of the three families we’ve encountered.
Also, I think we could read Misty’s desire to prove herself specifically at battling as motivated by her sisters’ mean girling. Unable to perform (attain? model?) the normative beauty standards mastered by her sisters, Misty instead seeks social standing/worth, not in the way she presents her own body, but the way she controls the bodies of others (i.e., pokémon). This also supports the idea that in this world there’s often an extension of a trainer’s social self (social standing, self worth, professional aspirations) into their pokémon– literally, in Ash’s case (see the last post), more metaphorically in Misty and Brock’s.
And here’s where it gets even sadder. So when we finally get to see Misty battle Ash, she’s good. It’s more satisfying because Ash has been sexist from the start of the episode. He assumes the town’s gym leader is a man several times and is shocked when it’s three sisters (see the picture of that moment of discovery that girls can be in positions of power, too). Later, when Misty sends out Staryu and the Pokédex tells him that many people use the cores of staryus as jewelry, Ash quips, “Just like a girl to show off her jewelry.” It’s misogynistic (that subtext of scorn and disgust is just, ugh, I cannot even, Ash) as well as obliviously mean, since Ash just saw the way Misty is put down by her sisters. It’s also completely unwarranted as, in the end, that “girl” has a better handle on strategy and does objectively better than Ash, and you’re pretty close to going on my list Ash you do not want to be on that list.
Ash’s attitude toward Misty as “a girl” (not “the girl,” not “my friend who happens to be a girl,” but the dismissive, reductive, generalizing, stereotyping, erasing, nearly-dehumanizing category) underscores Misty’s motivations and choices. As ostensibly as this episode follows Ash, Misty is the star(yu). The pokémon Misty controls are not cute, either– staryu/starmie are faceless and fight like spiked and demented frisbees. Misty’s training style is… professional? Utilitarian? She’s a good trainer, but not as emotionally engaged with her pokémon (that we can see) as Ash. She doesn’t have Pikachu as her cute little friend, and Misty seems to be (purposefully?) avoiding coded-feminine markers in the same way she scorns synchronized swimming. Misty has been constantly reminded that she can’t be what her sisters define as the “best kind” of girl– beauty queen performer. She has decided to perform her gender in such a way as to escape the paradigm/category in which she would judged as “a girl” and evaluated in comparison to her sisters. And still Ash continues to see her as “a girl.”2
Conclusion: Misty is pretty complex, and her temper makes sense– she prob. has some baggage from living with her terrible sisters who bombard her with body-shaming for years. She and Pikachu actually have a lot in common– both react pretty violently to irritations, (maybe) both have painful pasts– and Pikachu loves her so, so much. He misses her when she isn’t with them at the beginning, his little eyes light up when she comes back to battle Ash, and he refuses to battle against her because she’s his friend. I’d love an alternate series where she and Pikachu just take off together and live in Fuschia City and help each other heal and maybe run a bike rental service. Pokémon indie flick meets Studio Ghibli film. Somebody make that, please. Or do a comic? I’d settle for a comic.
And that’s it! Thoughts? Something to add/nuance/correct about my framing of bodies/gender politics? Do comment.
1. I’m pretty sure he actually says “I don’t get it.” I might start a counter, because I think he says that a lot. I wanted a video, but if you google “Ash I don’t get it supercut,” instead of a humorous video of Ash being repetitively clueless, you get a bizarrely high number of hits for a Supercuts in Ohio. So cool, maybe this blog is filling *some* kind of void, I guess? UPDATE: Ash actually says “I can’t understand it,” but sadly that phrase doesn’t turn up any funny videos, either.↩
2. When my sister was little she couldn’t pronounce the “sh” sound so she talked about “Ass Ketchum.” Little did she know how right she was. href=”#ref2″>;↩