Usually I link to previously answered related asks at the start of answers like this, but dang at this point there are a lot of them. Okay let’s see here… I wrote about Oda’s reluctance to have ANYONE hurt Sugar in asks here, here, here, and here. I wrote about my issues with Zoro and Monet’s fight here and here. I’ve written about Sanji a million times, but I’ll just link to here, here. And I wrote about Oda’s huge lack of prominent female characters who fight at all here and here. (What is this like half of all the asks I’ve done of this subject? A third of them? Ugh who knows.)
Maybe the two most asks I’ve answered before that relate most directly to what you’re talking about are this and this, so if anyone’s going to read any of these links, I’d suggest these two.
Obviously I don’t think Oda’s intentions on all this are anything negative. Oda’s not trying to dismiss women, or anything like that. I think it’s mostly about what Oda’s comfortable with, regardless of whether or not it encourages anybody else to act any certain way. If Oda was worried about teenage boys hitting people because of the fictional stories they read, he wouldn’t be writing a battle manga at all. Hell, Zoro had canonically murdered someone and smirked about it when he recalled it (here), but no one’s going to go cut anyone because Zoro makes it look cool. I think it’s mostly about Oda just not being comfortable drawing women and children being hurt by characters who are supposed to be protagonists. It’s not necessarily about not sending the wrong messages, I just think that he personally is uncomfortable with it.
That’s not anything wrong by itself. Why should anyone be comfortable with drawing 30 pages of fight scenes where a woman gets brutally hurt and put in a coma by the hero of the story? If Oda doesn’t want to draw that, I can’t blame him for it. But I think it is important to recognize that there are issues here nonetheless. Oda’s refusal to have his male protagonists fight women as equals relegates them to a position that places more importance on their sex than it does their individual qualities, such as their strength, their actions, and how dangerous they are. It’s an idea that SOMETHING about women—that they’re weaker than men, intrinsically purer than men, or whatever else—means that no matter what kind of human being they are, a man can’t treat them in the same way they’d treat another man. Even assassins and child murders get treated with kid-gloves when they’re women. It also takes away exposition from women and closes off avenues of life to them. It’s just so normal in One Piece for women to be absent from battle. 1 out of the 5 Yonkou is a woman. 1 out of the 10 Shichibukai members is a woman. 1 out of the 11 Supernovas is a woman. 3 out of 50 Marines at Captain rank and above are women. And only 2 or 3 out of of Whitebeard’s 59 Division Commanders and allied Captains are women. In the entirety of One Piece, men outnumber women 21 to 5. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s good to treat the absence of women as normal.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a good quote related to this a couple years ago: “I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’ve been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that” (source). The Supreme Court didn’t have a female member until 1981—it went 192 years being run by men alone, and the Presidency is still that way. A lot of people don’t see any problems with this, but if you flipped it around and asked if they’d be fine with women being the majority of Congress, the Supreme Court, and holding the Presidency for two hundred years, a lot of those same people would say it would be unfair. Even if Oda means no ill by all this, it still promotes a view of the world where men are the default, and women get to be tokens whenever they do happen to be in positions of prominence and power. Something doesn’t have to be done with deliberate bad will to be a problem. That’s why a lot of problems are STILL problems—too many people don’t recognize them as such.
Plus, some of the disconnects get to me too. It’s okay and funny for Sanji to try to peak on Nami in the bath, for him to play with her body on Punk Hazard like it’s his own toy to fondle and undress, even though she was right in front of him and kept telling/showing him how much it upset her? (You can see all this stuff in this post here). So it’s not okay for a man to fight a female professional assassin, or a child murdering pirate, but it IS okay not to respect women’s bodies for your own sexual gratification? That’s why I really really hate the fact that in so many manga and anime, boys peeping on girls is treated as a joke, and almost even as a right of passage. It’s all over the place and I am not happy about it.
So yeah, this wound up being a really really long ask. I hope my main point got across. Putting women on the back burner in fighting roles and refusing to have male protagonists fight female villains isn’t helping anything. It’s just normalizing their absence from places of prominence and neglecting to depict them with the full range of human expression, both as heroes and villains, saints and sinners, on the basis on their sex.