By: Shelby Long

This is Kyoko. She’s an actress and she’s awesome.

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Like scary awesome.

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This is Saena. She’s an amazing lawyer. And she’s Kyoko’s abusive mom.

Courtesy: Tumblr

The central theme of Skip Beat! Volumes 37 and 38 is — in the words of Nicki Minaj — “You’re not gonna tell me who I am, I’m gonna tell you who I am.”

Courtesy: Tumblr

This theme is implicitly foregrounded in scenes where, for the first time in Skip Beat!, Saena’s story is told from Saena’s perspective rather than from Kyoko’s usual point of view.

By primarily telling events from Kyoko’s perspective, Skip Beat! has often conformed to the pattern of telling a “single story” (see: Chimamanda Adichie’s TED lecture on the dangers of telling a “single story”), which has been perhaps most obvious where Saena is concerned. Up until now, what little readers have seen or heard about Saena has always been shown through the fragmentary, hazy lens of Kyoko’s flashbacks of her painful childhood. These flashbacks have painted Saena as a cold, unhappy looking, abusive mother.

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However, Skip Beat! Volume 37 starts to delve into Kyoko and Saena’s relationship, and in Volume 38 we learn about Saena from her own perspective for the first time. When we begin to hear Saena’s story from her own POV, it quickly becomes apparent Kyoko’s perspective has not done and cannot do justice to describing Saena’s experiences. For example, contrary to what’s been implied up until now from Kyoko’s point of view, Saena’s always-frowning visage may have less to do with Saena’s feelings for Kyoko (or Kyoko’s dad) and more to do with Saena having (what she calls) bad “interpersonal skills.” In a flashback narrated by Saena, it is implied she has been regularly frowning (and misunderstood by people because of her frowns) since she was a kid. For instance, Saena reveals “even when I was little people would snap at me, ‘Why are you so angry?!’”

 

While Skip Beat!’s switching to Saena’s point of view is memorable for a number of reasons, (including that it’s the first time an adult woman is telling a story), I regard it as being especially important because it frees Saena from the caricature of being “just” Kyoko’s mom. It explores motivations for Saena’s undiluted hatred for motherhood – a take on motherhood that all too often gets played down or marginalized in media.

 

Note, I do not want to trivialize the abuse Saena may have committed. However, I am not going discuss the details of Saena’s story, as the details of Saena’s story and her relationship with Kyoko are still largely unknown and expected to be explored further in the next volume of Skip Beat! (yet to be released in North America). What we know from Skip Beat! Volumes 37 and 38 is that Saena sees falling in love and becoming pregnant as the “worst” mistakes she’s made in life. Furthermore, it’s confirmed by Saena that Kyoko’s estrangement from her mom (e.g. living apart from her mom from a young age and growing up with Sho’s family) was arranged by Saena and Saena’s boss, who is a relative of Sho’s mother. This suggests Saena cared enough for Kyoko to know she could not care for her daughter and distanced herself from her child in part for Kyoko’s sake.

 

In short, the aforementioned theme is implicitly reinforced through Skip Beat!’s switching to Saena’s point of view and thereby challenges the idea that Kyoko’s perspective is adequate or desirable for telling Saena’s story. Through the scenes told by Saena, and the scenes shared by Saena and Kyoko, we are able to learn a lot of things about Saena.

However, the most important lesson highlighted by Saena telling her own story in her own words is that moms of all ages are people who deserve to have their stories seen and heard. For those of us who are Americans, this is a point we need to pay especial attention to. For example, research has shown that American movies and television shows over-represent young women. One study that surveyed 2000 movies found the majority of female characters in movies with speaking lines were “women between the ages of 22 and 31” whereas the majority of men with speaking lines were “aged 42 to 65”. This trend is especially concerning because it means we are getting a “single story” of women. That is, the trend of disproportionately depicting young women in American media sends the message that “women are still more valued for their youth – and hence possibly the conventional notion of beauty – than their social and professional accomplishments” – a message Jiyeun Lee and Sung-Yeon Park also found in their survey of South Korean television dramas (Lee & Park 2015: 403). We need more representations of adult women like Saena and women who are older than Saena (who also need to be written, directed, and played on-screen by adult women) so the rich complexities of womanhood can be given equal opportunity to be recognized and celebrated with the same frequency the stories of adult men are glorified in media. The outcome of not doing so is disastrous — Americans will continue to receive reinforcement that predisposes them to conform to narrow definitions of racial and gender roles that encourage men to be powerful and successful at the expense of women’s right to live and prosper.

Who are the women (fictional or real) that were good role models for you because they were bad role models? Have you also experienced being encouraged to see women as either moms or people rather than being encouraged to see them as having unlimited potential to do and be many things, which may or may not include being a biological mom to someone?

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