First of all, bullies come in all shapes and sizes. It's very common for males to pick on females, because females are physically weaker. You don't need to be a buff dude to do that.
Second of all, take a closer look at Gou's face. She obviously looks hurt, hence the tears. There's no smirking or evil look on her face. Some jerks took her notepad, her friends and brother came in to help, the bullies get intimidated and just hand it back to her. That's as simple as it gets, I don't quite understand where you're coming up with all these other elements you mentioned.
From my experience, females pick on males just as often, especially the unpopular ones. They also pick on isolated girls, especially if they have buff "friends". The term "Alpha Bitch" doesn't exist for nothing FYI. Sure, females are less violent... in appearance. If given a chance, female bullies are just as violent and just as vicious, if not more, than bullies with a penis.
And just because a girl looks hurt and puts on the waterworks, it doesn't mean that she isn't smirking inside. Seen it way too many times. If there had been a little comic to support your claim, I just might give some credit to your story, but then again just her brother or Makoto would have sufficed, not the whole crew to take on 2 scrawny guys, one of which she could easily overpower since he's merely an inch taller . You're just pushing a wish fulfillment here, nothing else. And a "woman = always the victim, never the instigator" mentality that I kinda dislike.
No offense, but I feel like you're being rather hypocritical here. Since the mentality you're going for is "blaming the victim". You instantly accuse the girl of being the instigator based on outward appearance alone and that she has tough looking friends. Hence, you jump to false conclusions.
Why can't the whole crew stick together? Also, saying a girl can easily over-power one guy isn't exactly true. Sorry to say, but guys are physically stronger than girls even if they are shorter. Not all girls are very strong you know. There's no comic, but this anime is a CANON series. And it's been mentioned in the series that Gou (the girl) isn't athletic, let alone strong enough to fend off one guy. If you know anything about these characters, they're pretty close-knit like a family. To the boys she is their sister. If you saw your sister (who isn't a fighter) or someone like family getting harassed, wouldn't you want to jump in to help anyway even if you outnumbered the bullies? Of course, no one here is saying a woman can't be an instigator. But most of us here who have watched the series know this isn't the case here. After all, this is FAN ART. Try not to look too deep into things.
Victim-blaming mentality? Please, don't turn this into a tumblr post. Teenage girls are instigators at least 50% of the time, anyone who's been in high school knows this. You're a woman as well, you know just how much our fellow women can be manipulative. So no, I don't jump to false conclusions, the girl being an instigator is also possible (as you acknowledge) and this is what the picture conveys. I'll repeat myself: if the offenders were taller and bulkier, I'd be more inclined to believe you.
Their sister? Close-knit family? It's a bunch ot teenagers! Don't transpose your personal wish-fulfilment on this series, especially when they all part ways in the end. Sure, Gou might be no fighter but she's not a 2 year-old baby either. As I told you, Rin or Makoto were enough to deal with these guys who are no more athletic than Gou is. Yes, guys are physically stronger on average but that doesn't mean girls are made of kleenex, even if they're untrained.
You may be right, I might be looking too deep but I just voiced out a different interpretation which is just as valid as yours. A picture alone conveys a different message depending on the beholder, that's what I wanted to underline.
"Teenage girls are instigators at least 50% of the time, anyone who's been in high school knows this. You're a woman as well, you know just how much our fellow women can be manipulative."
Wow, way to sound totally sexist. Where are you getting these statistics from? If 50% of those instigators are girls, then what's the other 50%? Guys. Which is what this picture also conveys. So what makes a girl more manipulative than a male? You'll never know unless you hear the whole story. Don't jump to conclusions just yet. Since you watched the anime, you should know Gou is not a mean character.
"Their sister? Close-knit family? It's a bunch of teenagers! Don't transpose your personal wish-fulfilment on this series, especially when they all part ways in the end."
For god's sake, it's an ANIME. A work of fiction. They aren't being portrayed as real-life teenagers. They are portrayed as characters from a story. It's not meant to be realistic. In the first season of Free, it mainly focuses on the relationship of these characters. Even in Season 2 there were episodes focusing on relationships, especially when the main cast had to part ways. This whole anime was more about the bond between friends then it was about swimming. I'm not transposing a personal wish fulfillment, I'm clarifying the canon of the series. If anything, you're pushing your personal wish fulfillment by making Gou look like the bad guy in this picture.
"Sure, Gou might be no fighter but she's not a 2 year-old baby either. As I told you, Rin or Makoto were enough to deal with these guys who are no more athletic than Gou is. Yes, guys are physically stronger on average but that doesn't mean girls are made of kleenex, even if they're untrained."
But Gou is weak. The creators even confirmed that Gou is poorly athletic. If she can barely run, do you really expect her to fight? There are plenty of girls who are not aggressive at all. Not every girl can defend themselves, just like not all of them can be manipulative. All girls are DIFFERENT. Again, guys don't have to be big and bulky to be stronger than an untrained petite girl. Being a scrawny guy does not indicate you have the same strength as a girl. Just like how being muscular doesn't indicate you are a skilled fighter.
The boys here are pretty much just shielding Gou. They're not looking for a fight. Having an equal number of defenders won't always make bullies back off. Some bullies can be pretty cocky even if the opponent looks more fit. And going by the canon of the series, some of the boys in Iwatobi are not really the aggressive type. But if you outmatch an opponent in numbers, you can end things peacefully without throwing a fist.
The difference between you and me, is that I'm going by the literal interpretation of the artwork while you're going by the one in your own view. Some guys took Gou's notepad for laughs, Gou's upset, her friends and brother come in to help, the bullies are intimidated so they give it back. If you acknowledge that I could be right, then we don't need to have this debate. I'm only trying to tell you the real story to clear up the misunderstanding, that's what I'm underlining. There's really no reason to keep arguing about this. If you really want validation, just contact the artist themselves.
Well, don't judge things on how it looks. That's the worse thing you could do. Ever heard of "Don't judge a book by its cover"?
The real story is that she was being bullied by seemingly scrawny jerks who had no idea she had buff friends that cared about her a lot. So obviously her friends wanted to help her. I actually find this heartwarming. And before you say anything, you said your opinion so you have no right to judge mine.
See? Even you know that you're just pushing a wish fulfilment. And aren't you yourself judging a book by its cover?
The picture just might be saying this too but there's no need to have the whole crew then. Only Makoto or, better, Seijurou would have been enough to tell off a couple of scrawny guys, one of them only being an inch taller than Gou. 6 buff men against 2 short ones? No honor and no merit there. You can't say "don't pick on the weak" (and Gou ISN'T weak) on one hand and then have 6 strong guys picking on weaker guys for you. That's called hypocrisy.