The ‘Sukeban’ was a unique subculture in Japanese society during the 60s, one that unfortunately has been forgotten. Now it has become history and its objective has relinquished. 

The Rise Of Sukeban Gangs

The Sukeban gangs rose after Japan’s defeat by the Allies in World War II when the country was occupied by the U.S. and British troops between 1945 and 1952. The national morale was low, and the population was bedeviled by alcohol and drug abuse.

This environment gave rise to groups of delinquent boys who were closely related to organized crime. When the male gangs refused to accept female members, the sukeban emerged in the ‘60s and remained a cultural force throughout the ‘70s.

A sukeban gang

The term ‘sukeban’ was created by Japanese police to categorise and elucidate the rise of all-female teenage street gangs in the 1960s. Its meaning translates to ‘delinquent girl’ or ‘girl boss‘.

These were groups of teenage girls that protested against society, stereotypes, patriarchy and espoused extreme violence with their altered fashion, radical solidarity and being pertained to offences such as violence, theft and drug use. 

But these gangs rebelled using their actions and their fashion to prove that being strong and being a woman wasn’t contradictory. Their main motive was to protest against mainstream gender norms and feminine expectations in a male-dominated patriarchal society.

The idea of a woman ‘behaving badly’ went against the gender norms of how a woman is supposed to act and provided an exciting way to challenge society and its norms. The expectations of how a woman should dress were constraining and sexist, and that was not acceptable by the sukeban

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The main change began with their school uniforms. The western sailor-style uniforms were undesirable and a restrictive symbol of tradition. Popularised by the education system in the early 20th century, these sailor-styled seifuku uniforms became unpopular among the young girls of Japan in the 1970s. 

By the early 1970s, the sukeban began to modify their school uniforms. They rolled up their sleeves, used bold colors to dye their hair, school shoes were replaced with Converse sneakers, skirt lengths were increased and blouses were cut short to expose the waist.

Even after members of the sukeban graduated, they continued to wear their uniforms and would customize them further with embroidering roses and anarchic kanji characters and gang symbols into their blouses –  this movement is quite similar to the British punk movement.

Their clothing served beyond the antagonism of their patriarchal culture, it was used to conceal weapons. The sukeban used their clothing to hide chains, razor blades, and bamboo swords.

The popular sukeban uniform

But the sukeban weren’t just a group of girls with an interest in looking a bit edgy. They served as a worthy rival to their male equivalents. In every fashion movement, aesthetics is inherently linked with function.

The layering of the school uniform provided a perfect opportunity to conceal weapons; knives, razors, and chains. Sukeban groups faced off with rival factions, punished girls in their groups, and participated in a reasonable share of petty crime in their local community.

The largest group had over 20,000 girls, larger than some Yakuza groups at the time, so these customised uniforms symbolized serious business and were just not a fashion trend. They used fashion and their actions to revolt against the patriarchs. 

Another reason why the long skirts were revolutionary was that they wanted to end the sexualisation of the Japanese schoolgirl uniform. Regardless of the petty crimes they were respected and brought about considerable changes in society for women.

How sukeban characters are portrayed in anime and manga

Sukeban members were from working-class families and were aware that they would probably never rise out of their social situations. Their desperation fueled their will to join these groups and the groups provided them with a sense of belonging.

The Sukeban inspired notable films like Lynch Law Classroom and Girl Boss Guerilla. It has also become popular in manga comics and anime TV and movies. They became representations of the social, cultural, and political dichotomies that Japanese society was experiencing at the time.

Time To Bring The Sukeban Gangs Back 

The idea of women ‘behaving badly’ has always been appealing to me, specifically because it is a challenge to the way women are universally taught to act. Seeing this type of resistance to those expectations is thrilling for most and cathartic for women. This movement didn’t stop irrespective of the love or hate these girls received, this movement gave way to the feminist movement in Japan in the late 60s. 

Isn’t it just sorrowful that even these revolutionary women were victims of objectification and became an embodiment of male fantasies? In animes, movies, and manga these women have been materialised, sexualised and misused as a selling juncture.

They were portrayed to fuel male desire as it was appealing for them to see women ‘behaving badly’. 

I would like to ask our readers, is society any different now? Has the male gaze stopped? Has objectification, sexualization, and commodification of women stopped? 

Image Credits: Google Images

Sources: Vice , Perspex , Groovy History

Connect with the blogger: @GhoshSohinee

This post is tagged under: girl boss, culture, Japan, country, anime, manga, movies, society, sexualised, objectified, materialised, women behaving badly, sukeban culture, sukeban gangs, groups, Lynch Law Classroom and Girl Boss Guerilla, fashion, skirts, long skirts, waist, weapon, razors, knife, guns, violence, torture, patriarchy, world war 2, revolt, revolution, history, US, British, punk culture

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