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Say I love you or they won’t want you; sexual capital in Sukitte Ii Na Yo

I read quite a bit of shoujo manga. As such, I was quite pleased to see that Sukitte Ii Na Yo  received an anime adaption this fall.  It’s an interesting one, because, while stubbornly about teenagers’ romantic involvements, it really isn’t. If you’re watching Sukitte Ii Na Yo, or if you’ve written it off as ‘just another shoujo show’, you’re missing the point. Sukitte Ii Na Yo is an examination of sexual capital, disguised as a shoujo series.

First off, let’s take a look at the idea of sexual capital. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

a form of social worthiness granted to an individual, as a result of his or her sexual attractiveness to the majority of his or her social group… sexual capital is convertible, and may be useful in acquiring other forms of capital, including social capital and economic capital.

Sexual capital, just like economic or social capital, is the perceived desirability of a person in regards to a specific way of interacting with the world. In the case of economic capital, that way of interacting is through money – what is a person’s perceived buying power, based on social cues such as the way they dress, or the things they own? In terms of sexual capital, that way is through sex.

The second thing of note about sexual capital is how it is interchangable – between people – for different kinds of capital. Prostitues suck off a John, exchanging sexual capital for economic capital (money).

Catherine Hakim, in a paper titled Erotic Capital, describes six traits by which sexual capital can be measured.

  1. Beauty, which is a relative term in relation to a particular culture’s viewpoint. This idea is typically skewed towards facial features.
  2. Sexual Attractiveness, which typically skewed more towards features of the body, but is also related to a person’s lifestyle, sexual appeal, and other varying factors. Hakim describes the difference between beauty and sexual attractiveness as “Beauty tends to be static, hence is easily captured in a photo. Sexual attractiveness is about the way someone moves, talks, and behaves, so it can only be captured on film.”
  3. Social Skills, such as grace, charm, charisma, and flirtation.
  4. Liveliness; or physical activity, fitness, and energy in general (particularly in social situations)
  5. Presentation, how a person dresses, makeup, smell, hairstyles and other things. Note that an element of this is also a social capital issue: things such as clothing and accessories are reflective of our bank accounts.
  6. Sexuality: This is described by Hakim as “sexual competence, energy, erotic imagination, playfulness, and everything else that makes for a sexually satisfying partner.”

Naturally, the formative years for a girl or boy’s sexual capital are when they first emerge as sexual beings – typically, this is around 17 (give or take a few years). Not coincidentally, this is also the age of our cast.

So let’s take a look at how the series has played out thus far:
Tachibana Mei is not only shy, but openly resentful of her peers. She goes out her way to interact with others as little as possible:

And is openly resented back (without inviting this, at all) by her peers:

Let’s analyze this, in terms of sexual capital:

In terms of liveliness and social skills, Mei is fairly close to zero, if not in the negatives. In terms of Presentation and Beauty, she seems to go out of her way to be as plain as possible, and has very little value in this regard, either. So why, then, do her classmates tease her in this way? It’s because they, presumably being on the other side of the fence (i.e, sexually active and aware of their own sexual capital) see her as a threat.

This is because, when it comes to women there’s a second part to the idea of Sexuality which explains this uninvited taunting. Mei’s her open resentment of her classmates, as well as her complete lack of sexual activity, makes her a modern Yamato NadeshikoThe idea of the Yamato Nadeshiko seems at odds with the theory of sexual capital, yet it fits in perfectly. The impossible purity of the Yamato Nadeshiko stereotype makes the potential of her sexual awakening all the more tantalizing. After all, the sexual currency of the man who deflowered the Yamato Nadeshiko would be incomparably high. The girls who taunt her and resent her resent her because she has something they have given up – their purity. While their sexual capital may be higher, they know that if Mei ever got a boyfriend, her sexual capital would rise to untold heights, at the very least up until the moment she had sex with that boyfriend, in which case, a large portion of that capital would transfer to him. Purity is scarce, and therefore valued.

However, for the moment, Mei has next to no sexual capital. She’s not playing the game, so to speak, but she soon will be, thanks to a dashing kiss from a prince charming.

Now. Let’s look at the opposite side of the equation, Kurosawa Yamato.

His sexual capital is made immediately obvious:

Yamato rates high in almost all six areas of sexual capital. He’s tall, good-looking, treats everyone equally nicely, and is well-groomed and coiffed. But this doesn’t entirely explain the swarm of girls vying for his attention. As we quickly discover:

Yamato’s Sexuality is fairly high as well. Our lovely bishounen boy has been around the block a few times. At the tender age of 17, and in the microcosm of a suburban high school, we can assume that Yamaoto is one of a handful of sexually active boys. Since he rates so highly in terms of beauty, presentation, social skills and liveliness, this easily makes him the person with the most sexual capital in his school. In the case of men – unlike with women – sexual promiscuity drastically increases sexual capital.

As soon as Mei and Yamato become an item, Yamato temporary transfers some of his sexual capital to Mei. Suddenly, she’s the talk of the town.

The boys around her start thinking she’s suddenly cuter, suddenly more interesting, suddenly worth talking about. Why? Because Sukitte Ii Na Yo will eventually see our Mei through her first sexual experience, and, as mentioned above, the potential of taking the virginity of a Yamato Nadeshiko is more exciting than what happens to the Yamato Nadeshiko thereafter. Simply by being associated with someone with as much sexual capital as Yamato has, the excitement surrounding her eventual sexual awakening is that much more intense.

At this age, sexual activity – at all – is the biggest contributing factor to a person’s sexual capital. But only for men. And this is why Aiko is so sadly mistaken when she thinks that her own sexual activity should place her higher on the sexual capital ladder than Mei.

Her irritation is understandable. After all, Aiko spent time and huge amounts of money trying to increase her sexual capital.

However, as she did this – the first time, for an old boyfriend, the second to try and win Yamato, she ruined her body.

Which in turn leads to an unexpected drop in her sexual capital:

A woman’s sexual capital is a careful balancing act. Be promiscuous enough that it’s known you’re sexually active ; but don’t be too promiscuous, or else you’re a slut. Be thin and beautiful enough that you’re the envy of all the other girls (this is called social proof); but don’t be too skinny, or you become disgusting. Be charming and personable, but don’t be overly friendly – after all, you’re aiming to be a Yamato Nadeshiko.

Nothing in Sukitte Ii Na Yo is free from this complex set of sexual capital. Even the title of the series suggests a power play:

Sukitte Ii Na Yo is actually a bit of a colliquialism. The full, dictionary correct phrasing would be Sukitte Ii Nasai Yo. Affixing a phrase with nasai turns it into a command, and yo is used as an emphasizer, much like an exclamation point. Instead of a simple “Say I love you”, what we’re being told, commanded to say it. The suggestion that, in a relationship, there is a dominant person demanding this show of affection hints at the series darker undercurrents.

Ultimately, Yamato has more to gain from this than Mei does, and Mei has everything to lose. Under the guise of a sweet, innocent romance between two children, Sukitte Ii Na Yo exposes us and its characters, sneakily, to a different view on reality, where women are measured on their purity and beauty, and men are lauded for their promiscuity and charm.

6 replies on “Say I love you or they won’t want you; sexual capital in Sukitte Ii Na Yo”

This post is so great in analysing reality yet at the same time makes me sad and angry… :/ It’s not just how society treats women, it’s also how this terminology makes sex an emotionless commodity. I do understand the logic behind it, yet it’s still so hurtful, since I’m a woman, and a bit of a romanticist.

Well, let me just clarify a bit. I’m also quite a romanticist (as I mentioned – I read a shitton of shoujo manga) :p but it does bother me that people, both men and women tend to buy into their own gender roles without question. I catch myself doing it at times, and I catch others.
I wouldn’t say that its particularly bad in Japan, but it’s a collectivist society – the nail that sticks up gets hammered down, as the saying goes. There’s huge pressure, particularly on teenagers to conform to society rules. In this case it means that there’s a huge pressure on girls to be the girl that boys want.s Similarly, there’s a huge pressure on boys to be the ‘bad boy’ type, I think.
Sex is by no means an emotionless commodity – loving, sexual relationships do exist in the world, I’m in one – but what I’m trying to point out is that our sex lives interplay with the way that society sees us. It’s by no means the be all and end all, and there are other things at play in Sukitte (such as loving, caring emotional relationships). The characters of Sukitte Ii na yo are barely on the precipice of this themselves; which is why it’s an interesting look at how sexual worth is formed.

When I talked about sex becoming an emotionless commodity, I referred to the term sexual capital. If your sex appeal and sex itself can be taken advantage to decrease or increase someone’s value… we do talk with economical terms that are calculative and emotionless.
Sukinayo by the way has not yet convinced me about the caring part. I mean, Yamato does seem fake and I wonder if he’s not playing around. On the other hand, I can’t deny that the show talk about very important things and kinda judges the bad ‘scripts’.

I think I understand FLA’s feelings about this post. Celeste’s analysis of this aspect of the show is spot-on, but ironically it’s also merely an analytic restatement of the belief system most of the characters in the show are unconsciously operating under… a belief system that is the source of their continuing inability to understand the relationship between Mei and Yamato.
For me the key narrative driver in “Sukitte Ii Na Yo” is Mei and Yamato’s ongoing struggle to transcend the world of social capitalism they exist in (whether from their classmates or even the adults around them).
That they share such a goal in common is elegantly (and beautifully) ironic given their respective starting positions: Mei with no capital at all, and no interest in participating in such a system; Yamato with all the capital anyone could hope for, yet also the sensitivity and intelligence to see how empty the system is, and how unfulfilling it is for him.
Wonderful art, by wonderful artists.

What a great post. I love how you’ve compared Mei, who cares nothing about romance or fitting in, to a yamato nadeshiko because it completely highlights my biggest problem with this type of character. So many people seem to feel that the recent trend of female shojo leads who are smart and uninterested in romance like Maid-sama’s Misaki and Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun’s Shizuku is a ‘refreshing’ change from the boy-crazy, dense girls we often find in shojo manga – but as you point out, their purity and passivity is still upheld. It’d be nice to find more representations of female sexuality that do not uphold the ‘Madonna-whore’ complex.

” It’d be nice to find more representations of female sexuality that do not uphold the ‘Madonna-whore’ complex” Read western romances. They are filled with sexual experience and promiscuous heroines.

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