What My Hero Academia ignores with the absence of female mentors

One of my favorite series My Hero Academia just wrapped its second season today. Over this past few months, I definitely enjoyed watching new episodes each week, and it saddens me to see it end. As a lover of both shonen and the superheroes genre, it almost seems like MHA and I were meant to be. It’s not perfect, of course, not even close. In fact, even though I’ve been a big fan of both genres since forever, as a woman, they aren’t always easy to love.

Like its name says, the target demographic for shonen are boys, and the two biggest companies –DC and Marvel– making superheroes comics today still prioritize its male audience. Most of their creators are also men, and one of the downsides of that is that sexism is far too common in a lot of the stories they tell.

The most typical shonen rarely portrays relevant, compelling female characters with motivations where no men are involved. Female characters that aren’t exploited for fanservice are rarer still. But the girls of My Hero Academia not only feel like real people with their own lives: they’re girls I would love to hang out with. The series handles female character better than a good part of its predecessors, yet it’s not without its flaws (like Mineta’s existence, for instance). The second season in particular displays a lot of the sexism the series can struggle with, which requires its own in-deep analysis. But’s that’s a discussion for another day (edit 23/02/18: I wrote about that here). The subjects I want to focus on are mentors and representation in particular, which came to me after watching episode thirty-five: “Yaoyorozu: Rising.”

While Momo Yaoyorozu doesn’t have as much protagonism as other characters, I’ve been paying attention to her since season one. It wasn’t until the tournament arc that I could see why: a tall girl, academically overachieving, yet slow in practical situations. Momo’s smarts are no joke, but she’s not the kind of quick thinker Deku or Bakugo are. As a result, she underperforms in her fight against Tokoyami, which severely damages her confidence. In Momo and her conflict, I could see a part of myself. Having the ability to do well, yet losing the chance to do so thanks to your perceived weakness; it’s a problem I’m familiar with. And when you’re someone with big expectations on yourself, failing to achieve them can be mentally draining.

“Yaoyorozu: Rising” brings her internal conflict into focus, and attempts to resolve it. For her final exam, Momo is paired with Todoroki against their homeroom teacher, Eraserhead. After Todoroki gets caught by the teacher’s trap, watching Momo indecisiveness and reluctance to take the lead isn’t easy, yet at the same time, it feels real. As a manga reader, I’ve been wanting to watch the moment she overcomes her insecurities animated for months, but after finally seeing it, I noticed that something’s missing.

After pondering for a while, I realized two things. First, Todoroki’s words are what spring her into action. Second, when she thinks her plan wasn’t successful, Eraserhead’s words are what finally gives her the confidence to enjoy her victory. Now, I take no issue with classmates motivating one other, or teachers comforting their students, regardless of gender. Being her closest teacher, I can’t think of anyone better suited to guide Momo. However, that’s exactly the problem. Excluding All Might, I can’t, for the life of me, think of a different mentor that could have helped her, much less a female mentor, since they’re practically non-existent in MHA world. Just take a look.

UA teachers
Midnight is the only female instructor at UA (that we know of)

Out of ten instructors, only one is a woman. If we take a look at the students from class 1-A, out of twenty students, only six are female. Let that sink in for a moment. MHA is telling us that only six girls were good enough to have a place at the top class in the best school for heroes, while fourteen boys made it.

This leaves me with the impression that the hero profession is a male-dominated field. Even the villains are practically all male, with the exception of Toga, one of the show’s most recent additions.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that this doesn’t bear any resemblance to reality: we could make an alphabetized list of all the fields women struggle with professionally, based only on gender. What the show ignores, however, is that gender-based discrimination, even if unintentional, can have a real impact on our lives.

And Momo isn’t the only case where this issue becomes noticeable either; just take a look at Ochako’s admiration for Deku. There is nothing wrong with it per se: Deku and Ochako’s relationship is based on camaraderie and mutual respect. I have no doubt that just how Ochako admires Deku’s determination to become the best hero, Deku also finds admirable qualities in her. Yet unlike Ochako’s feelings, this never takes the spotlight, mostly because a big part of Deku’s character centers around his admiration for All Might.

As the symbol of peace, All Might perfectly embodies ideals of pure heroism and is well deserving of the praise and admiration he receives. It’s also clear that he made strong impressions on Deku and Bakugo, since he’s the kind of hero both are aiming to become, albeit for different reasons. Yet who is a girl like Ochako aiming to become? While Deku is a source of inspiration, as a classmate, he’s still on her level. We know Ochako wants to become a rescue type heroine, yet when looking for examples, only male hero Thirteen comes to mind. When she wants to become more versatile, she is shortly trained by male hero Gunhead. In other words, when it comes to inspiration and training, no women are involved. And how about the rest of the girls? Who inspires Momo? Who inspires Tsuyu? Ashido? Jiro? How about Toru?

girls from my hero academia
A bunch of girls that deserve nothing but the best

Sure, we don’t know who inspires the majority of the male cast either, but we do know there are male superheroes like All Might, who generally inspires everyone, or Crimson Riot, who Kirishima admires so much it inspired his hero name: Red Riot.

Even when we look outside of UA, we still have trouble finding heroines. During the internship arc, everyone has male mentors, with the exception of Mineta, Momo and Itsuka (from class 1-B). Mineta has an internship with Mount Lady, who makes him clean her house while she enjoys her free time, and Itsuka and Momo spend their internship with Uwabami making commercials. It’s not like Mineta deserves any better, and it’s reasonable to search for profitable side jobs. Like Uwabami says, you have to make a living. Yet it’s hard to ignore that while the students with exciting experiences on the field are those with male mentors, those with female mentors barely do anything (on the field) and even end up disappointed.

Taking all of this into consideration, the pro heroes ranking becomes even harder to ignore. Thanks to Bakugo’s internship, we know Best Jeanist is number four on the list. The top hero is All Might, of course, followed by Endeavor, Todoroki’s abusive father. Meanwhile, as far as we know, there are no women on the top five. Their absence, plus Endeavor’s place on the ranking serves as a painful reminder that in the real world, there are far too many abusive men in positions of power, revered by the societies they live in, while many women struggle just to get better job opportunities.

girls from my hero academia

My Hero Academia often emphasizes how the characters are constantly working hard to become the best heroes they can be. However, the lack of female role models for the girls to look up to and take inspiration from, makes me think of our own struggle with female representation in our media. In my life, I had heroines like Wonder Woman and The Powerpuff Girls to inspire me while growing up, yet they were exceptions. Most of the cartoons and comics I consumed were so male-dominated that at some point I reached the conclusion that girls were less because I was rarely shown a girl who was good enough to achieve what their male peers did. I even remember acting “like a boy” because I thought that was the only way I could pursue the things I liked. It took me years to unlearn that. And the kind of stories that convinced my younger self that girls aren’t good enough also influence many people who are still convinced of that. While lack of representation is not the sole culprit, it does help perpetuating those stigmas, and they can manifest as obstacles for women.

That’s why, based on my experience, I find it hard to believe that the lack of heroines doesn’t have any significant impact on the girls that grow up on MHA world. When kids or teenagers are unable to see themselves recognized in any way on the world that surrounds them, they notice it.

While I don’t really expect the show to acknowledge the struggles women can face, I have come to expect more than what it’s currently giving us. I expect pro heroines saving the day, heroines little girls can look up to just like little Deku looked up to All Might. I expect to see women making the same impact men do, showing aspiring heroines they can also reach those heights. Of course, for this to happen, the show would have to give its female characters more spotlight than it’s used to. But the girls from My Hero Academia deserve that much.

Edit: Out of consideration for the readers that only follow the anime, please refrain from discussing detailed manga spoilers in the comments. 

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7 thoughts on “What My Hero Academia ignores with the absence of female mentors

  1. Hate to be that guy, but Best Jeanist was actually ranked 4th, not 5th. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s important, though at this point in the manga, we still don’t know who the #3 Hero is, though things have changed anyway. And we do have a female in the top 10, if that helps.

    I don’t disagree that female Heroes not getting representation is a thing, but a lot of it is arguably just based in that there are far more males in the industry. That doesn’t mean that excuses it, it just means that there’s that tendency to write what you know and males don’t necessarily have a lot of female archetypes to go for, or even necessarily consider. I’d say the series is getting better about it, but there’s always going to be more male focus just by the nature of it being shounen.


    1. Yes, Best Jeanist it’s actually 4th, my mistake. I wanted to focus more on the anime here, but I’m up to date with the manga, so I’m aware. I too believe the series is taking some steps to get better with its heroines, although it’s not quite there yet.

      Sticking with what you know it’s reasonable and I don’t pretend to change the most basic nature of the genre. However, I’m able to cite works done by women for women that also features a compelling male cast that never gets undermined, while I have a harder time doing the same when it’s the inverse.

      Most entertainment industries are male dominated, I didn’t get into too much detail because it would have been to long. I’ll add this much though: that’s precisely why it’s a lot more difficult for women to get into those industries, and succeeding is even harder. Representation can give girls hope and strength, while it can help boys understand (and accept) women better. While things are better than they used to be, there’s no reason to stop working to get even better.

      At this point, Horikoshi has already proved that he has the ability to write compelling female characters. In the manga, he has also introduced some very interesting female characters. If we oversimplify my criticism, we could say that what I ask of him is to give those women and girls more spotlight.


      1. The problem seems to be assuming that women will necessarily have this perspective merely because there aren’t as many when generationally, one would think it’s actually far more likely to find a female role model in general. And if it’s fine for females to admire male heroes but not for males to admire female heroes without it being sexual, then it seems like there’s still some double standard here.

        Not to sound sexist at all, but the pattern may still be that women just aren’t common in those industries to begin with, as in their interests tend elsewhere. Service industry, etc, versus creative industries that just have more men for one reason or another in terms of interest and skills.

        My only concern is where people will draw the line in terms of equality versus equity in terms of representation, because the former isn’t remotely the same as the latter.

        When your main cast is primarily male, giving females a lot of time is almost asking the impossible as Horikoshi still seems to expand major players in the cast as more often male than female (Inuarashi for instance)


      2. Rather than assuming, I’m sharing my perspective; my point being that the media doesn’t really give us many female role models.

        Sure, things like skill and interest are generally what get you into industries. But is not always lack of them what holds women back. Here are some examples:


        Going back to My Hero Academia. Like I said on my post, I’m not really expecting Horikoshi to address those difficulties. I never implied getting female characters more spotlight means to give them more or equal “screentime” than the male characters either. Imagine getting an arc that reveals Jiro backstory for instance (just like how the tournament arc revealed Todoroki’s) and discovering there was a heroine that inspires her like Crimson Riot inspires Kirishima. It didn’t take much time or effort to give Kirishima that. I don’t really believe I’m asking Horikoshi something that he can’t give.


      3. Of course there are going to be people who reinforce those negative stereotypes, but if we’re noting this in regards to My Hero Academia, are you suggesting that females who want to be heroes are similarly discouraged by society or shoehorned into stereotypes like the sex appeal Midnight and Mt Lady bicker about in one of the episodes of the second season? Or the obvious fashionable “women are all about appearances” Uwabami? Ryukyu, Mrs. Joke ( both of whom we likely won’t see until season 4 unfortunately) and Sirius from Tsuyu’s internship seem to be heroines who aren’t defined by being female so much as their Quirks and how they use them in general versus their image, thankfully.

        It’s not impossible, and even the side story Vigilantes seems to suffer from limited female presence, though Pop Step being a major focus of sorts helps, even if she seems to be treated in a somewhat similar fashion to Ochako/Deku with regards to Crawler, albeit that’s making it ambiguously romantic alongside the admiration of Crawler as someone who saved her. And in contrast, there is a decent female antagonist, though she fits into an archetypal female that’s a manipulator rather than Toga, who’s more proactive, even if her Quirk lends itself to female deception as a trend, even vampiric in a sense

        We did get backstory on Tsuyu, though people wouldn’t know it if they didn’t look through fansubs of the OVA released early this year or late last year that is in that ambiguous area of filler using manga material (albeit with Tsuyu and Habuko, that was more omake, not something we saw in the manga proper). But it suffered that stereotype of women being purely about emotions and friendship, not giving us any motivation as to why Tsuyu wanted to be a hero beyond helping her family, it seems.

        We also got a bit in regards to Mina alongside Kirishima’s flashback, even if she was meant to be a contrast. But it was a good one in how she wasn’t necessarily fixated on an idol so much as the general idea of being a Hero, which made it easier for her in a way, her major difficulty being a ditz (which could be objected to for encouraging that stereotype if we didn’t see that there were plenty of intelligent women to break that accusation apart)


  2. I really appreciate this article. Thanks for the good write up.

    It kind of hits on why I can’t find myself loving Shounen anime overall. Even if the arcs are great, the powers are excellent, and the fights dynamic… I kind of just want to stop looking at the same male character archetypes again and again. I don’t even care if they replace them with women who have the exact same personality. I think it kind of becomes more and more apparent and grating as the years go on and shounen (and comics, Marvel and DC) keep forgetting that fifty percent of the population is, and has always been, women. Super powers should feel like an equalizer, but they never seem to be.


  3. You describe exactly how I feel about MHA and the shounen genre in general. This is why, even though I love MHA, it’s not an unconditional situation for me (in the way it is for Haikyuu!!). The odd thing about anime is that, while there is an overabundance of male leads in certain genres, overall it is a lot better at producing shows with female leads in comparison to Western animation. That allows me to be stricter about what I view these days: if a season is too male dominated, I find an older series. Even Hunter X Hunter had a good, prominent female mentor. It’s not rocket science.

    When I see how well done the female students are in MHA it doesn’t make me want to settle, it makes me demand more. At this point, I find arguments that suggest “that’s just the way it is” and “at least there’s this one female character in this arc” inadequate. It can be done, it’s not hard, and anything else is complacency. Women have been doing it for years surrounded by male figures IRL, on the page, and on the screen. It’s time men get smart about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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