Cowboy Bebop: The Theme of Masculinity and Femininity

A Play on Names and Meanings

Masculinity and Femininity, and gender as a whole, are a low-key theme in Cowboy Bebop, but the episodes which deal with it most are the two parts of Jupiter Jazz. The sequence announcing part 2 makes quite a few allusions to masculinity and femininity. The episode deals with the absent Julia. The name Julia is the female version of the name Julius which is the Roman name for Jupiter, the ruler of the Roman pantheon of Gods. The episodes revolve around the moons of Jupiter. We see Spike hunting for the woman Julia and running into the drag queen Julius, a male by birth but identifying as a woman. The meanings of names seems important here since the same episodes also reference the meaning of Faye’s name i.e. ‘Fairy’.

The episode is based on Callisto, which is a moon of Jupiter. Titan is another moon of Jupiter. Both Callisto and Titan are names in Greek mythology, which also features the God Hermaphroditus. He is the God of male and female sexuality and possesses organs of both sexes. Hermaphroditus was formed post merger of Hermes and Aphrodite’s son with a nymph who fell in love with him, two halves making up one entity. Gren is the same, with both male and female organs. This theme in the episodes seems to have both occidental and oriental influences, much like most of Bebop.

Yang Qi and Yin Qi (Yin and Yang)

The oriental influence seems to be from the concept of Yang Qi and Yin Qi in Taoism…essentially Yin and Yang, or the composite of masculine and feminine energy. Callisto is a satellite which is very visibly pointed out as being cold but it is inhabited only by men. Cold is a trait associated with Yin, or feminine energy. There is imbalance in both the satellite and its inhabitants with both featuring extremes, and an absence of the other balancing element. Even the drag queens are very visibly male, with five o’ clock shadows and beards. That’s why it seems to be depicted as a crime-infested area housing criminals who are mostly male because generally such acts would be associated with the “masculine” aspect of humanity.

Taoism is a major theme in Bebop with different elements tied to it like Jeet Kune Do, Spike’s ‘whatever happens, happens’ life philosophy, Zuangxhi’s Butterfly Dream as the base of the CB Movie, references to Taoism’s tenet of life as a dream, and an entire episode dedicated to Feng Shui.

In Taoism, it is the combination of the ‘masculine’ energy Yang Qi and the ‘feminine’ energy Yin Qi which birthed the Five elements and the world itself. An individual needs to maintain a balance between these two within themselves to be whole and healthy physically as well as psychologically. These energies also represent other opposites like light and dark, night and day, with both needed to form a whole, neither able to exist without the other. The combination of Yin and Yang is not dependent on how we choose to identify our gender but rather are aspects or traits present in each individual. Someone born male but identifying as a woman or as non-binary would still need to balance their masculine side (logic, dominance etc.) with their feminine side (intuition, emotions etc.) to live a healthy life. It’s a human requirement, common to all, rather than based on the chosen gender of the individual.

In Taoism, rather than correlating to physical sexes, Yin and Yang are more traits which exist within each individual. At the deepest level of our self or soul we are neither male nor female, there is no gender to the pure self. Rather, we are both and neither at the same time. A similar thought process is found in Buddhism and Vedic Hinduism. The soul is formless, traitless, pure consciousness.

I feel to completely understand Bebop as well you need to tap into both of these aspects. If you just look at it from the surface level, practically, logically, you can miss out on a lot.

Hemingway’s Masculinity and Femininity

This is not too different from the Yin and Yang concepts. Hemingway seems to be a huge influence on the storytelling of Bebop in general and his stories deal heavily with the themes of masculinity and World War I, talking mostly about men who have returned from war broken and damaged (just like Gren and Vicious).

Hemingway held fairly misogynistic opinions and his stories glorify the strong, silent, emotionally-controlled man. These characters are more similar to the emotionally-stunted characters of Bebop like Spike, Vicious, and Faye and are contrasted by more intuitive characters with greater “feminine” trails like Gren and Jet.

Imbalanced Characters

During the episode as well, we see characters reflecting this balance or imbalance in their behaviours. Both Gren and Jet operate from a space of being in touch with their ‘feminine’ aspect i.e. emotions and intuition. Gren is an amalgam of both masculine and feminine and, even in the flashbacks, we see him as someone more tuned into his emotions against the contrast of Vicious, who is emotionally suppressed. Gren immediately understands the emotional implications of Faye running away and Jet remains concerned about her well-being despite the damage she has done. He catches on to the fact that she left their zipcrafts undamaged. Jet is very “typically masculine” in his external appearance but he is balanced with his “feminine” side, his emotions and intuition.

Both of these are juxtaposed against Spike and Faye, both imbalanced in their energies, both cut off from and suppressing their emotions, but also overwhelmed by them and deeply hurt. They are well in touch with their “masculine” energies, being able to be forceful, aggressive, but out of touch with their “feminine” sides, unable to feel fully. The episode also ties in with Spike speaking about his “other half” at the end. Yin and Yang are both halves of a whole, they complete each other, each needs the other to survive and to be defined. Night is pointless without day. Both of these characters are imbalanced, they are not whole.

Spike sets off at the beginning of the episode looking for someone he believes he needs, someone who he believes loves him back and can make him feel whole again. He doesn’t find the person and remains unfulfilled, partial. He is so driven by his emotions that he acts very pompously toward Vicious, “flexing his muscles” metaphorically by taunting him through his affiliation with Julia, asking him if he is seeing Julia behind Spike’s back, likely repeating something Vicious may have asked him earlier. Vicious responds back with a taunt of his own and then in the latter parts of the episode, we see Spike less emotional, more thoughtful, evaluating the situation rather than acting on impulses.

There is also the theme of warning. Gren has the imbalance of being too emotional, too trusting. Even before what happens to him, he trusts Vicious, giving in to the emotions he feels for the man rather than using logic to identify who he truly is. He is a soldier, a typically masculine profession, but he is an artist and that is what he remains on the battlefield as well, thinking of playing the tune on his sax once he is back, missing out on the danger right in front of him. He trusts Julia blindly as well, never once questioning her motives or the coincidence of her appearance. We see him do the same with Faye, who could have been equally dangerous to him. His emotions leave him bare, vulnerable.

Spike is in a similar space. He is run by emotions in the beginning, driven by them to abandon his home, fight with someone who cares about him. These emotions have already made him once leave someone else who truly cared for him (Mao) and he is repeating the pattern. It’s required for him to look through the lens of logic and see the destructive nature of the path he is on to make a shift toward balance. He does do that I feel and swallows his pride (something which goes against masculinity) to return back to the ship. Jet greets him with the classic “masculine” reticence, allowing him back on the ship without any explanation or detailed exchange, understanding him wordlessly as only a comrade can.

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