Just to set the record straight, I’m not big on feminism, despite the fact that I am, actually, female. And before you start crying foul, I am a supporter of equality. I’m just not in favor of supremacy, which is what modern day feminism has sadly become. That being said, there has been quite an interesting discussion on feminist prospective on anime over the past few years. It’s only logical that Fullmetal Alchemist, one of the largest shows to hit America in the past decade, was put under the magnifying glass too. Especially the main female lead, Winry Rockbell.
The two sides are pretty predictably split: one side says Winry is the typical female lead and thus over-rated and the other side claims Winry is the new “feminist” heroine. Oddly, both these sides are right and wrong.
Tackling the idea that Winry is some attempt from Japan to show a more pro-feminism side: probably not. The first reason being that Japan is a whole other nation and thus sees “feminism” differently than America. So applying American standards of feminism is a tricky thing. Secondly, the more modern idea of feminism often (though not always) involves taking ground from men and dominating them in some form. This is not the case. Winry is, thankfully, far more realistic. She knows alchemy isn’t her thing, so she focuses on what is: automail. She works hard at her job and seeks to improve herself in it (something that is more apparent in the Brotherhood version). Winry never forces Ed and Al into her point of view. Nor does she force herself into their world. Often she sits on the side, ready to help when needed (or ready to force help when it is needed), but never taking over.
I will admit that in the first animated version of FMA, Winry is more forced upon the brothers. However, in the re-booted version, Brotherhood, Winry is far more focused and she realizes early on that her calling is with automail and that is where she is most powerful, not to mention happy. And to the joy of feminists, automail repair and construction isn’t really a “typical” female role. So while Winry isn’t every feminist’s dream, she does hold a lot of power and voice, something not all females leads have.
Ok, on the more negative end, Winry does follow some stereotypical behavior at times. Specifically her violent tendencies that often end in Edward knocked unconscious via a steal wrench. So it’s understandable where some have claimed that Winry is a run-of-the-mill female lead. Some of her outfits can lead to confusion as well. When she’s working she will occasionally have her jumper top down, revealing not much more than a thin tube top and outside her job she commonly reverts to a black miniskirt. On the surface, this looks a bit demeaning. However, it’s worth asking why it’s such a bad thing for Winry to wear feminine clothing. While it may not be as conservative as many would like (including me), it’s not nearly as revealing as it sounds. In fact, fanservice from Winry is pretty rare in the series overall (both versions). So Winry is clearly more than eye candy.
Of course, those who believe Winry to be a stereotypical “female” enjoy citing the many instances in the series where she cries. My question being: Why is crying such a bad thing? Crying is neither feminine nor masculine. It’s human. Humans cry. And having emotions like any normal person would makes Winry that much more realistic. Also, in case you missed it, Ed cries in the show, too. As do Roy Mustang and Armstrong. Well, Armstrong isn’t a surprise really, but you get the idea. In no way is FMA pushing its female characters off as “typical women.” In fact, FMA has some of the more complex females seen in anime. Hawkeye and Lan Fan being other good examples.
In the end, the refreshing thing about Winry that I personally have come to appreciate is that she is very realistically female. She has a job that may be considered male-dominated, but that doesn’t stop her or even slow her down. In fact, she never even thinks about gender roles with her job. She just goes for it. But she never fears the joy of being a happy-go-lucky girl either. She wears skirts when she wants, bakes when she wants and then pulls another automail all nighter afterwards. For Winry, gender never fits into the equation. She knows what she loves and she really doesn’t care if society thinks it’s feminine or not. After all, if the world won’t judge you on your gender, they’ll find something else to nit-pick. True feminine strength is not in recreating some system, but living life to the fullest regardless of whatever system tries to stop you.