Why Fullmetal Alchemist is a feminist narrative to me: Part 3 Winry Rockbell is the hero of her own story
Again, Ed and Al try to keep Winry out of things in the typical male hero narrative style. But slowly, they realize that Winry is involved in their lives and as a person who is impacted by their decisions, has a right to have a voice in their decisions. They realize that keeping things from her hurts her. They also realize she is a considerate person who has valuable insights and is part of their team, their family, so her thoughts are worth hearing.
And when Ed keeps what happened to Winry’s parents from her? The narrative has it fucking blow up in his face. Hiromu Arakawa makes it clear that this is Winry’s life and Winry had a freaking right to know about her own life and to choose what to do with that information, and Ed fucked up big time by trying restrict Winry’s choice in the matter. In showing what a DEVASTATING effect keeping this from Winry has, Arakawa sort of condemns every male hero who keeps a lady out of the loop, deconstructing it and showing the actual consequences.
A lot of people misread the “your hands are meant to save lives” scene but it’s really about Ed VALIDATING Winry’s choices. Winry could not shoot. She is ashamed that she couldn’t. But Ed reassures her that her choice comes from who she is as a person and her accomplishments mean so much more than taking lives ever could. He lets her know how she has inspired him and influenced him, citing when she delivered the baby where he could not, the fact that she’s helped teach him the value of life, the fact that she saved him by giving him the limbs he needs to move foreward. He openly admits his awe of and dependence on her. And for once he acts as the emotional crutch and support for HER, when she’s spent so much time being his emotional (and physical ahahaha) crutch. He supports her and takes on her pain.
She’s cried for him so many times, now she finally gets to cry for herself. Ed also later admits that he was scared by Winry’s anger and feels bad that he might have forced his fear on her and is also regretful that he failed to notice how much pain Winry was in and troubled her, meaning he is actively troubled thinking that he might have overstepped in some way by getting in between her and Scar, and admits it came from a place of fear and shame, not because he believes he knows better than her or wanted to save her from herself. The narrative actively criticizes the idea of making choices FOR Winry by having Ed express this guilt.
Winry is frustrated that she has to wait for Ed and Al to come back to her, that she’s in this position, because it makes her feel helpless and dependent. But what brings her back from the brink?
Knowing there are people that need her, that are dependent on her, that need her help, that would be lost. Her reminder that she has her own life, her own mission, her own purpose is what saves her. Essentially, she is reminded that she is the hero of her own story. Ed and Al are an important part of her lives, but they are not the only part. There are many people important to her and there are many people that need her. The reason she’s not a constant part of Ed and Al’s world is that she has her own world- it intersects with theirs, but it isn’t subordinant to theirs. Her choices affect the people who need her the way Ed and Al’s and her parents choices affect her.
And the moral is that Winry has her own life, that she deserves to be in control of it, that she has agency, that she is needed.
When Winry is put in a hostage situation, she immediately expresses anger at being used as a tool against the people she loves and comes up with a plan to turn the situation back on her captors and escape while simultaneously freeing her allies so they can save the country. She refuses to be a burden. This once again shows how the narrative is about Winry asserting her agency,making her own choices and being effective in doing so. Whenever she is treated like a prop or a non-person or a tool to be used against the main characters, she gets angry at those responsible and overcomes them. She actively subverts the role they are trying to force her into by proving her value, agency and personhood. She uses the expectations of her captors against them, pretending to be a crying wreck so she can sneak in with Ed and Al, pretending to be taken hostage so she can allow everyone to escape. When Ed tried to argue with her about the risk of her plan, she points out to him that she is involved in this now, this is her life, and she has the right to decide what she chooses to do with it.
And Ed? He respects her choice. He gives in. Not only has he learned from his mistake to be honest with her about any situation that impacts her, he knows he has no say in what she does with her life and respects her choices and good judgement.
And what is Winry’s main concern after narrowly escaping death? That her customers in Rush Valley may be without her for a very long time now that she’s involved in Ed and Al’s shit. Even when she’s in the middle of all this, she keeps her profession, her life independent from all this and the people who need her at the top of her mind.
And let’s talk about one of those choices- her decision to help Scar. It is she who seeks him out. It is she who tells Ed she has a right to confront him. She comes in right in the middle of Scar about to explode Ed and Al, and because of her interference the fight just stops. Ed and Al are saved because her mere presence has an impact, this lets the reader know “OKAY PAUSE ED AND AL TIME NOW IT’S TIME FOR WINRY AND SCAR’S FACE OFF YOU GUYS STEP BACK THIS IS HER FIGHT”. Scar is WINRY’S adversary to overcome, not theirs and they accept this and step aside for her to talk openly with him and make her choice.
Scar and Winry’s relationship has nothing to do with Ed and Al. And she chooses to honor her parents legacy, to heal and move on with her life, to end the chain of hatred. And she makes it clear this doesn’t mean she forgives him. She is still angry, she has a right to be angry, and she owns that anger and wears it proudly. But she’s made the choice that fits with her values because she refuses to let anyone change her or make her go against what’s important to her. Once again, she asserts her agency WITHOUT fighting or killing, and shows feminine healing to be way more effective than fighting- because she helps influence Scar. Her actions remind him of what his people told him and form a step on his way to becoming the man who will help save the country. If she hadn’t saved him, the country would be screwed. But her choice saves everyone.
When talking about legacy, it’s important to remember Winry comes from a legacy of active, effective women. Her grandmother raised her and helped inspire her love of automail. Her mother is just as important as her father, and the narrative even has her mother point out that Rockbell women are fearless and tenacious, which is of course supposed to remind us of Winry and make us realize her strong traits were passed down among the women in her family. Women strongly shaped Winry, Ed and Al (I’ll get into the latter in another post). And Winry helps and is inspired by other women in turn- Paninya, Riza and Rose are all shown to both influence and be influenced by Winry.
Finally, Winry asserts her choice one last time when Ed requests she leave the country. The “You must leave to protect yourself” is a common trope for guys to pull on girls in fiction, which completely ignores the fact the girl involved should have a stake in whatever’s threatening too. Winry points out that she does have a stake and tears Ed a new one. She reminds Ed this is her country too and he can’t tell her what to do. She tells him straight up that if he’s should be concerned with protecting EVERYONE, and if he’s given up on that, she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She cares about the people around her and she can’t just leave. Once again, she makes her own choice about what to do. Once again, Ed accepts and respects her choice and abides by it.
And how does it end up for Winry? She gets her boys back and she continues living her life. She’s not upset when Ed leaves for a while because she wouldn’t like him if he sat around. She’s not sitting around. She’s got things to do. She even is an active participant when Ed proposes her. She can choose how much of her life to give him, thank you very much, she doesn’t have to follow his guidelines. “why is everything about alchemy with you? What’s with half a life? Here I’ll give you my whole life. Well, no, that’s a lot, 70, 75 maybe 85 percent.” Ed laughs and admits she’s gotten one over on him.
So, every aspect of Winry’s narrative is about her being her own person and controlling her own life and making her own choices and whenever people try to control her life for her she resists them, overcomes them and takes back control of her situation. She is shown to be needed, depended upon, admired by men and women alike, influential to men and women alike, effective and even more competent than the male characters in a lot of situations. Her skillset is shown to be indispensable and valuable, more valuable than violent or traditionally masculine skillsets in a lot of situations. Her choices both drive her own narrative and drive the main narrative when she appears. Her love interests narrative is largely tied up in learning to respect her and her choices. Her love interest admires and is influenced by her and respects her skills. She is the hero of her own story and she refuses to be treated like a prop ever.
And that’s what makes her a feminist character. That’s what makes her a GREAT character. Because ultimately, feminism is about choice, about women being respected and regarded. And every inch of Winry Rockbell upholds that and also subverts the typical male centric narrative.