Female objectification in Persona 5

Okay, so I want to preface this post for any new readers: Persona 5 is my favourite game. I have played it (and Royal) for several hundred hours. I love each and every single thing about it (mostly). I feel like that is important to know when going into this post.

But here I am. About to – kind of – critic my favourite thing. It feels wrong. But I know it’s the right thing to do.

Dramatic intro over, time to dig in deep about the objectification of women in Persona 5/ Persona 5 Royal/ Persona 5 Dancing In Starlight (yeah… I got it for Christmas, but that’s for a whole other post…).

My immediate thought while thinking of women in Persona 5 was… defensive. It has a bunch of female Phantom Thieves that are just as capable (if not more so) than the male Phantom Thieves. Awesome, right? Yeah, then I realised how low my standards were.

So, for those of you who don’t know, the Phantom Thieves consist of: Joker (male, leader, protagonist), Morgana (male, mascot), Ryuji (male, comic relief), Ann (female, sex icon), Yusuke (male, probably autistic), Makoto (female, huge feminist icon in my opinion), Futaba (female, shut-in), Haru (female, daughter of a rich guy), and if we’re talking about Royal, there’s Goro Akechi (male, kinda a douchebag but a lovable one I guess- unless we’re talking about the original game, in which case he can burn in hell), and… Sumi Yoshizawa (female, the main point of Royal, trauma victim). This post is going to go through all of the female Phantom Thieves in detail, some of the other female confidants, as well as their possible treatments by the player character and the male characters in the story. For once, I will be thinking about this game objectively (or as objectively as I possibly can) as I believe that this is an important topic.

Spoilers for both Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal (as well as minor spoilers for Dancing in Starlight).

I’ll cover the female Phantom Thieves first, and I’ll go in the order that they join the group, which means Ann is up first. Now, I am going in the order that they joined the group for simplicity, but Ann is actually a pretty good place to start as she is… well, she’s the obvious place to start.

Ann stands out from the crowd, and she is ostracised by her peers due to the way that she looks. Now, I don’t know much about Japanese culture but throughout the game, it’s common that when her looks are brought up, so is the fact that she is not Japanese. It seems like the men in the game have some sort of fantasy about girls from the West. Maybe it’s because Ann is different and not something that they are used to, but the emphasis on Ann not being Japanese definitely sticks out when talking about her looks. It is almost always brought up by male characters. There’s one scene quite late on in the game when the girls all have to wear bikinis to get a creepy old guy to give them something. Without even knowing Ann, he brings up that she isn’t from Japan. It’s just something that stood out to me. A huge reason why Ann was excluded by her peers was because of her looks, because she wasn’t from Japan. It is a reflection of a society that is known for xenophobia. Despite not wanting to be involved with her, she’s put on a kind of silver platter for the exact same reason. This is a just an observation on my behalf, and I thought it should be shared.

Ann starts the game being sexually harassed by her teacher (Kamoshida). Her best (and only) friend gets abused regularly by this teacher, and Ann sees it as her duty as Shiho’s best friend to keep Kamoshida nice. She knows that if she outwardly turned Kamoshida down, Shiho would lose her starting spot on the volleyball team. The volleyball team is the school’s pride after the dismantlement of the track team, and the coach is an Olympic champion. That would look good on any college application. Ann feels the need to not only protect the school’s reputation, but also Shiho’s future.

Ultimately, Shiho gets sexually abused by Kamoshida, tries to commit suicide by jumping off the school roof, and Ann joins the Phantom Thieves. It’s difficult to talk about female objectification here, because it is literally everywhere. Kamoshida’s arc is full of it, and that’s the point. Kamoshida uses people, not just females, to get whatever he wants. It is the objectification of people that help players hate Kamoshida. He literally uses people in whatever way he sees fit, and it is repulsive. It makes Kamoshida a worthy first target for the Phantom Thieves, and it puts the culture of ignorance into perspective. Something that is interesting is there is a cognitive version of Ann in Kamoshida’s palace. Now, I need to jump ahead to Okumura’s palace in Royal because that’s really the only other time we see a cognitive version of someone else we know well: Haru. The difference is, cognitive Haru is not human. Cognitive Ann, however, is human. A sycophant, but still human.

But I think that’s the thing- the chance they got to physically objectify Ann was there, but they did not do it. So why does the most objectified person in the game not have a cognitive object counterpart? Because the whole point of Ann’s arc is that she isn’t an object.

Now, stay with me on this. Ann is someone who has been cast out and looked down upon the whole time she has been in Japan. She is objectified by students and teachers. Grown men even look at her as an object, evidenced by the scene in Shido’s palace. But she is so much more than that. Her confidant arc shows her wanted to try harder and be something else, something more than what they expect from her. It’s not the best arc, because it centres in on her looks. However, despite that, what you see most is her trying harder to be better.

Ann is the most objectified female in this game. Even the audience knows her as the stereotypical blonde girl who is good for nothing but her looks. However, players have the chance to see far deeper into Ann than what scratches the surface.

So, what’s the point of Ann’s constant objectification? We live in a patriarchal society. The majority of the Persona fanbase are male. There’s several points that the game creators could have been making here. For one, they’re telling the player that they are part of the problem and how they can change (which is a point that you’ll see come up time and time again through this post). Another could be that they are trying to show the player that this shouldn’t happen, but it does. A lot of people are blind to so many bad things in the world, and it’s so easy to just ignore it all. The overall message of Persona 5 was that you shouldn’t ignore wrong doings just because it doesn’t involve you and someone who is behind it has some kind of power. I feel like they tried to show this with Ann. Female objectification is engraved into our brains because of the society we live in. The game is telling us that it’s there, that it needs to be recognised and that it needs to be changed.

Makoto is next, and I have personal experience of people sexually objectifying her because my partner always jokes about it. However, the game makes so many jokes about Makoto being a robot. I know I’m probably going to get comments or messages saying that I don’t understand humour or whatever… but think about it. It’s like the game is saying that an educated women with power, who understands the rules of society and is smart enough to get around them… is a robot for not understanding her (younger) peers. A women who prioritises her education and her future is less of a person because they don’t socialise. We’ve all picked the robot jokes in the dialogue options, and it’s funny in the game. But we really need to look at the kind of person Makoto is, and why this joke keeps reoccurring. Why Makoto?

So for a little bit of background if you haven’t played the game or need reminding: Makoto Niijima is a third year student who is student council president. She’s first introduced as a very minor antagonist as the principle asks her to find the Phantom Thieves. She finds them, and asks them to prove their justice. Her family background is… a tough one. Her parents are not around, and she lives with her older sister. She has to go to a prestigious college in order to succeed in the world and stop being a burden on her sister. So, of course she would do whatever she could to get a good letter of recommendation. However, Makoto needs the Thieves help with a problem involving the students of Shujin. Some of them were falling victim to the Mafia, being threatened etc after doing a ‘part-time job’. Ultimately, Makoto helps the group and then joins them when she awakens to her persona (best awakening of the game and I will die on this hill).

So the game doesn’t sexually objectify her (at least not to the game extent as they do with Ann, and definitely not as much as the fan base does), but it does still objectify her.

So, now there is the question of why the game does this. With Makoto, this kind of thought bubble of hard-working women comes into the picture. Sae points out a few times that it’s harder for working women to get to the top, and that Makoto needs to work hard to get to the top. Makoto’s story really shows this. She works so hard, and she is so determined to come out on top. Makoto represents how hard it is to get to the top in a patrichal society. She works so hard that she might as well be a robot. The objectification of Makoto shows that how hard women have to work to be successful in today’s society is not normal, and not to human standards. I understand that the game just passes it off as a joke, and in the game it seems like it’s just because she follows the rules. But in a game that is about society being compliant… it seems to be a deeper jab at society to me.

Futaba’s objectification is very… subtle. The fan base tend to be very divided on Futaba as she is 15. A lot of people think dating her would be gross, despite Joker being 17 in the game… and having the option to date fully grown adult women. Each to their own, but it you think a two year age gap is weird and gross, but then go on to date Kawakami… just check yourself.

For reference for anyone who has forgot or is new to Persona 5, or just likes reading my posts: Futaba Sakura is the adopted daughter of Sojiro Sakura, the café owner who takes the main character in at the start of the game. Futaba was a shut in until August (in the game), when she gets involved with the Phantom Thieves, enters her own palace and then joins the Phantom Thieves in order to find answers about the death of her mother, and what happened to her mother’s research on cognitive pscience. She is a stereotypical nerd, and she is the navigator of the group who doesn’t actively take part in battles (she provides support, such as SP and HP boosts).

Futaba – similarly to Haru – is quite pure. She heavily relies on Joker when she goes outside after being a shut in for so long. Rather than objectify her in the same way that the game objectifies Ann, the game puts her in this box. She is the only character who cannot function without Joker. Even at the end of her confidant arc, she still needs him around. Everyone else has improved to the point where they will be okay when Joker has to leave at the end of March.  Futaba, however, still seems to need him. In a way, I wouldn’t say that this is objectification, but rather a stereotype. The game puts Futaba into a ‘little sister’ kind of role, and makes her dependant on Joker. Rather than the usual uplifting ‘this is the game making a jab at society’… I think this is just to please the player. To make the player feel better about themselves. So they can think ‘wow, I just fixed this person and now they rely on me, I am so amazing’. There’s no uplifting side to this. It’s just the game trying to please the player, and to be honest, that’s okay. Not everything needs to be a jab at society. Sometimes, the game is allowed to be just a game.

I feel the need to add a note that this does not make Futaba’s character any less amazing. This girl got through so much trauma, and the fact that she even got through it is amazing, no matter how she did it and who helped her.

So, Haru is next. Haru’s character is actually a huge oxymoron. She’s this sweet, innocent girl that’s actually a massive sadist once she gets comfortable around people. She is easily the scariest member of the group, which is weird to think of because… it’s Haru. She’s the sweetest. This isn’t much of a spoiler (for Strikers) but when she comes in contact with someone in the police force, she tells them that they hate them… with a smile on her face. She’s the type of person who can tell you that your wedding dress looks awful but you look great.

Little bit of background again, just in case: Haru comes into the group after Morgana runs away. She takes him in and they start to explore her father’s palace. She wants to make her father a better person, because she knows that he has gone too far. She is introduced to the group as ‘beauty thief’, which is a joke everyone laughs at because who the hell calls themselves beauty thief? Haru eventually becomes a very strong, independent woman. She is probably the one who strong women should look to as inspiration because although she is weak at the start, she pulls through every time and becomes- amazing. I’m not going to say much about Strikers, but she is so strong in that game in particular. Even when her father dies in the game (and she believes that it was their fault, at least for a little bit), she is still okay. She pulls through.

Haru is the personification of elegance, and that’s shown in every single game (okay I can’t speak for Q2 because it’s expensive and when I bought it, it was the Japanese version but still). In Dancing in Starlight, it is said that Haru actually took ballet as a kid, and whenever she dances, her elegance is almost always mentioned by the other Phantom Thieves.  She is what society thinks a woman should be.

Her Phantom Thief attire is arguably more sexualised than Ann’s, however. This is important to note because Haru nearly gets sexually assaulted during the game, and it is implied that her fiancé only wants to use her for his own sexual desires. Despite Haru being what society thinks a woman should be, she is highly objectified by the characters in the game. Of course, not all of them. The Phantom Thieves don’t objectify her and try their best to comfort her when she is objectified. They point out that it’s wrong, that Haru is a person and should be treated as such. So who does objectify her? Well, her aforementioned fiancé, and her father.

Her father thinks that Haru is something to be sold on in order to make his life better. She’s just a tool to use, a deal to make. He knows that her fiancé would be sexually attracted to her and would like to use her, and he encourages this. He just wants whatever is best for him, and sees Haru as a way to get that.

I don’t really feel comfortable talking about her fiancé because he is so creepy and I’m not in the best headspace to do that right now. But his whole motivation is based on Haru just being an object to please his sexual desires.

Sumire was objectified by the staff at the school. She was just used as a way to get a better reputation, especially after the abuse committed by Kamoshida was revealed and the news was talking about it. When Sumire was not performing to the best of her abilities, she was talked down to and treated poorly. They did not see her as a person. They saw her as a trophy to make their reputation better and nothing else. They don’t even acknowledge her sister, and that is just proof that they did not care about them.

I know some people might just say I’m overthinking here… but that’s my whole thing. There’s a reason for everything in games, especially in Persona 5 when the game is literally about society and how we should fight injustices.

Also, I want to talk briefly about real world stuff for a little bit. Women’s safety has come up a lot in the news and on social media. I hope anyone who plays Persona 5 realises that the whole ‘not all men’ thing is something Kamoshida would have said. I talked to Josh about it recently because I felt like it was important, and I think we came to an understanding so I hope you know that this isn’t biased just because I’m a girl. One person being ‘bad’ is enough to scare everyone. So when girls are told to do certain things over and over again to keep themselves safe… we’re going to be scared. There’s a reason to be scared, because you don’t know who the bad person is. Like in Persona 5, you never know who has a palace for sure before they come to your attention and you check the nav. We don’t have the ability to do that in real life. So we have to be scared of everyone until they give us a reason not to be. I couldn’t do a post about females right now without mentioning this. So many people have lost their lives, or had their lives ruined because of compliance. It’s time to stop and it’s time to take action.

So that’s all for this post, Gamers. Leave your thoughts in the comments, if you liked this post then give it a like, don’t forget to follow my social medias to stay updated (they should be linked), and if you are looking for people to watch streaming, head over to Twitch and follow 2nerds_1game where Joshua and I stream almost every day (I’m currently streaming Strikers every Monday and Wednesday). See you at the next post!

2 thoughts on “Female objectification in Persona 5

  1. I apologize in advance for probably a novel of a comment, but I thought your post was really interesting! I am also a massive fan of P5 – it’s the only JRPG I’ve ever been able to get into. I also can’t stand the way women are treated/portrayed in-game. Ann especially, as you say, gets the brunt of it. I don’t think the game does anything to discourage, or even make any sort of negative commentary on her objectification – if anything, I think it actually encourages it. Her entire character revolves around her looks and sexuality (I mean, her abilities like “Sexy Technique” as well…) and even though her character arc seems like an attempt to transcend that stereotype, it never amounts to anything. Ann still gets treated the same way by every creepy man, and the males in the group as well. Playing Strikers right now, she’s treated the exact same way – I’m thinking specifically of the beach scene in that game as well. Even her costume and the way she stands is hyper-sexualized, and I think it’s pure fan service.

    Haru is treated the same, in a somewhat more subtle way, but I think Makoto is actually treated the opposite – is there such a thing as de-sexualized..? Because she’s portrayed as so cold/robotic and intelligent, I think the game actually pushes you away from sexualizing her/romancing her – the fandom has done that by itself. She’s one of the only female characters that doesn’t really suffer from the same objectification, however, it’s because they’ve portrayed her as so un-feminine that she’s almost not an option? Don’t know if that makes sense. That’s kind of why Makoto is my favourite girl – because she actually seems like a normal person, and not some sexual caricature of what a “feminine” woman should be.

    Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now! Great post, it was a fascinating perspective to read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment! ☺️ I agree with you on most things. I know with Ann, Ryuji does make comments about how she gets treated is bad, especially (obviously) when it comes to Kamoshida. I really feel like the whole thing is more there to highlight the problem and show how easy it is to just be compliant and treat people how everyone else is treating them. They did Ann such a disservice in her arc. Like you said, it doesn’t amount to anywhere 🙃 i thought it would have been better if she wasn’t a model/ had any sort of character development that wasn’t to do with her appearance 🙃 so I understand completely what you mean.

      Obviously I’ve written this post and I don’t want to be repeating myself but I really, strongly believe that they did that to Makoto because she’s powerful. Like powerful women can’t be attractive. You obviously have to keep in mind that most of the persona fan base are male, but idk it might be because it’s my favourite game but I feel like it’s much more a message on how society treats women. Would be interesting to look into Japanese society and whether these views are what is expected and/or reflected in the game 🤷🏻‍♀️ might be a future post! Haha 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: