Porn in Japan

The best houses do not exhibit the women in cages.
The Nightless City or the History
of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku, 1899 report
on a red-light district in Japan (Dworkin, Pornography)

Something has happened to the women of Japan.

I am not Japanese,  but having lived in Japan for nine years now, I do find myself asking questions.

What is their unwritten herstory?

In Europe and America, the witch craze has kept women silent and cowering for centuries until the present day. In China, it was foot binding. In other countries it has been FGM. In India it is widow-burning. Western psychiatry (lobotomies), gynecology (sexual torture and hysterectomies, and clitoridectomies), have been exported abroad. I don’t need to keep listing the atrocities against women.

What has happened to the women of Japan? I caught myself wondering one day as I looked around. Something has happened here. What is it?

The women of Japan, especially the women of Okinawa, were hit hard during the second world war when local governments set up brothels to serve the American soldiers. (by 1945 there were 70,000 women in brothels designated specifically for soldiers) And let’s not forget the mass suicide of women at the Cliffs of Marpi, who all jumped to their deaths upon hearing that Japan had been defeated and they were being invaded. So there is a history of colonization that can’t be ignored.

I don’t mean to draw attention away from the crimes that Japanese men have committed against women in China, Korea and elsewhere– but today I just want to talk about Japanese women.

I believe it’s the pornography that has killed the spirit here. Japanese porn.

While Japan has no monopoly on porn, the porn produced here seems to be… how can I put it…? Well, read on…

When I was attacked in Japan three years ago, it was the strangest, most bizarre sadistic incident, that I literally don’t have the words for. I’ve talked and written a lot in a general sense about what took place, but I haven’t told anyone what really went on. And I don’t think I ever will. It was based on pain and torture. It tipped me over the edge. I began searching on the internet for clues of what had happened to me. I wanted to know what was behind the attack for it to have happened in that particular way, to have taken that particular form.

I found Japanese porn. Seeing some photographic images brought a few things to light and answered some questions. I found Japanese porn to be very specific. I don’t watch porn, but I was shown it in college. I have an idea of what is out there today. But when Andrea Dworkin speaks of “that Asian woman hanging from a tree”, I know now that she’s talking about Japanese women. She’s talking about a form of BDSM porn that originated in Japan and involves rope bondage.

There is something specific, definitive, identifiable and chilling about Japanese porn.

Japanese women have managed to organize against pornography politically. An organization called the “Women’s Action Group” began a protest against sports papers in 1987:

‘…using the slogan, “Rush Hour is Porno Hour,” referring to the fact that on crowded trains during rush hours male commuters often read sports newspapers, which contain explicitly pornographic images.’ (Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future

edited by Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow)

Another organization of Japanese housewives  fought successfully against the vending machines which sold porn on the streets during the 1980s.

Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow, the Japanese editor of Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future, draws a clear “second-wave feminist” link between pornography and violence against women. I admire her work. The example she cites is interesting from a radfem point of view, because it involves a prostitute killing a john:

The theme of pornography in comics, videos and advertising is the use of the nude or partly nude female body or disassociated parts of female bodies. Depictions of women bound, beaten and raped are crude and highly suggestive. Apologists for pornography emphasize that it is not reality but, rather, fantasy, not fact but fiction. …

 

The death of a john during a struggle with a prostitute in a hotel room in the Ikebukuro section of Tokyo in 1987, after he filmed her with his video camera, exemplifies the link between pornography and sexual crimes, the symbiosis of prostitution and pornography, and the difficulty of drawing a clear line between fiction and fact. While verbally abusing and physically torturing the woman, the man forced her to repeat after him like a parrot. “A woman’s vagina is a man’s public toilet.” Fearing for her life, the woman tried to break loose. They fought, and, as a result, he died. The film and tape recording made by the dead man were proof enough of the unequal power between the prostitute and the man who paid for her, yet the woman was arrested on charges of murder. Although the charges were later reduced to “excessive defense,” that she was prosecuted at all is  a clear indication of society’s insistence that all women fulfill the passive, objectified role presented in pornography and advertising.

The incident is notable for several recurring characteristics: one, in most instances of prostitution there is coercion; two, pornography, claimed to be harmless fantasy, is based on the negation of women’s existence as human beings; three, the mass media that report such incidents are owned by men. Had the incident resulted in the death of the prostitute, the pornographic film and tape would have been enjoyed, and judged by men to have been a fabrication, and the newspapers would simply have reported that a woman had been found dead in a hotel room.”

She then goes on to describe recorded incidences of men and high school boys, who acted out their pornographic fantasies of killing women in real life (resulting in real, dead women).

None of the above is new, or surprising to radfems. Radical feminists are now able to articulate the extent to which the pornography phenomenon exists and we know, thanks to Mary Daly, that women needed to find the words to name what was happening. Dworkin used the tool of naming to describe what porn was and feminists began seriously critiquing it. I am grateful to Gail Dines for writing “Pornland” because it brought me up to date on the kind of porn being produced in the US and UK. But what I am trying to say, I think, is that the Japanese have taken the creativity of patriarchal necrophilia to another level, because there is just so much  of the shit here.

It’s hard to put into words the way that Japanese porn draws an parallel, and a link, between female sexuality and female death. I need more words. I don’t have the necessary ones. I know Sade’s women ended up dead in his novels. But I feel that porn, and popular culture in the West goes out of its way to show that sex and rape, although degrading, although painful, do not cause death. Correct me if I’m being naive here.

Radical feminists have pointed out that intercourse (PIV) is dangerous to women because pregnancy, under patriarchy, is dangerous to women. Women lose their lives to pregnancy and childbirth all the time. So “sex” is not a benign activity. It also causes women to catch, and die of, diseases. Western (American/British/German) porn seems to try to attempt to minimize and invisibilize the harm. However, the message you get from Japanese porn is that female death is a beautiful and erotic thing to behold. I can’t explain it. It’s as though they go one step further. They’re showing that the killing of a woman is poetry itself. Pure art.

The killing, therefore, should be done in a properly artistic way, as is fitting with the intellectual posturing that seems to go on in Japanese porn. We have the similar posturing from politicians and writers in the West who define porn as radical, edgy and sometimes revolutionary.

Dear men: there is nothing radical about hurting and degrading a politically and economically disenfranchised group of people.

I have since learned that prestigious and famous Japanese artists, those who are celebrated in the public eye and who are shown in galleries around the world, have drawn pornographic pictures of women nearing death, or dead. They date from the 19th century, but the artistic and creative practice of binding criminals  with rope in order to torture them to death dates back further. Women, remember, have been regarded as criminals under the flimsiest of pretexts. Prostitutes are criminals, by default.

I went into the home of a man (European) who was involved in Japanese pornography. He had all kinds of paintings on the walls of his house, but there is one that I remember well because I just couldn’t quite believe what I was looking at. The setting was Japan. It was a Japanese painter. Women were being brought on a ship, by men, to an island, where the victims– all women– were stripped naked, tortured, beheaded, and their heads were put on stakes. I kept staring at this painting because I just couldn’t believe that such a huge and glorified piece of art, from a renowned painter, was showing what my eyes were telling me it was. Women being lead to their death.

But the hanging women are the worst.  Artistic depictions of pregnant women, hanging upside down, one dying while an old hag presides over her. Women hanging, slowly dying, while men smoke, drink and play cards in the corner of the room. Old women, hanging. Women of ideal beauty, hanging with their genitals on show. Women orgasming while hanging, with a particular look on their faces that I now realize is supposed to depict the shame of being exposed coupled with sexual pleasure. And another one that stood out for me: a woman in a kimono with autumn leaves falling about her, Autumn leaves representing the beauty of her death. All the women are intricately bound into varying contortions and positions by rope (the tying and binding itself being classed as an “art” in its own right.)

These images are the inspiration for Japanese pornographers today. A popular image is women in snow. Seasons are important in Japan. I have seen images of women, real women, whose hands and feet are so cold that they are blue. Not only from the cold, but from the ropes which cut off their circulation. Photographers proudly take pictures of the damage the rope has caused on flesh. The images are easily googleable. Real women. Real rope. Real trees. Real snow.

The genre has spread. It is popular now in the US, the UK and Germany, as well as Eastern Europe. It is almost exclusively white women who are used in these countries, and the pornography niche is driven by white men. In case anyone tries to romanticize this, I should mention that the degradation of the women is absolute. Faeces and enemas, designed to be as humiliating and disgusting as possible, are part and parcel of this “style” of pornography, both in the West and in Japan.

There is nowhere left for this post to go because it’s not an analysis, it’s just a description of what I’ve seen, and a pondering on to what extent Japanese pornography affects Japanese women today. If I was to attempt to draw a conclusion, it might be that the clear link between female sexuality and death is absolutely terrifying for any woman who beholds the images commonly shown in Japanese porn.  These images infer that no woman matters. A woman’s death is less than meaningless, less than incidental. Daly talked of the banality of death under patriarchy. Death becomes banal when it happens too often, when life has been devalued too much, making it easily expendable. But you get another feeling when you see Japanese porn. Her death is banal, yes. Inevitable, yes. But you realize in the way the image lingers on the eroticism of her death that the slow death is there to be enjoyed, in a sexual sense, in all its beauty. Dworkin wrote of how the photographs of Jewish women in the death camps upped the antes in terms of pornography, that they surpassed Sade’s greatest dreams and expectations. But they are almost rivaled by Japanese porn.  There is no sense of her childhood dreams having turned to dust. Or that she is completely alone and in pain. Or that somebody might be waiting for her to come home. Because her death has surpassed even banality. On the contrary, she will remain pornography until her body finally decomposes in the ice.

I love Andrea Dworkin II

From Right Wing Women

From their own experience– especially in being coerced and in being exchanged– the women found a first premise for their political movement: that freedom for a woman was predicated on, and could not exist without, her own absolute control of her own body in sex and reproduction. This included not only the right to terminate a pregnancy but also the right to say no to sex, to say no, to not be fucked. For women, this led to many areas of sexual discovery about the nature and politics of their own sexual desire, but for men it was a dead end– most of them never recognized feminism except in terms of their own sexual deprivations; feminists were taking away the easy fuck. They did everything they could to break the back of the feminist movement– and in fact they have not stopped yet. Especially significant has been their change of heart and politics on abortion. The right to abortion defined as an intrinsic part of the sexual revolution was essential to them: who could bear the horror and cruelty and stupidity of illegal abortion? The right to abortion defined as an intrinsic right to control her own body, in sex too, was a matter of supreme indifference.

Material resources dried up. Feminists fought the battle for decriminalized abortion– no laws governing abortion– on the streets and in the courts with severely diminished male support. In 1973, the Supreme Court gave women legalized abortion: abortion regulated by the state.

If before the Supreme Court decision in 1973 leftist men expressed a fierce indifference to abortion rights on feminist terms, after 1973 indifference changed to overt hostility.: feminists had the right to abortion and were still saying no– no to sex on male terms and no to politics dominated by these same men. Legalized abortion did not make these women more available for sex; on the contrary, the women’s movement was growing in size and importance and male sexual privilege was being challenged with more intensity, more commitment, more ambition. The leftist men turned from political activism: without the easy lay, they were not prepared to engage in radical politics. In therapy they discovered that they had had personalities in the womb, that they had suffered traumas in the womb. Fetal psychology– tracing a grown man’s life back into the womb, where, as a fetus, he had a whole human self and psychology– developed on the therapeutic Left (the residue of the male counterculture Left) before any right-wing minister or lawmaker ever thought to make a political stand on the right of fertilized eggs as persons to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is in fact the goal of antiabortion activists. (page 97)

 

Sexual compliance or submission was presented as the wife’s natural function and also her natural response to her sexual circumstances. The compliance was never seen or presented as the result of actual force, threatened force, possible force, or a sexual and social cul-de-sac. It has always been essential to keep women riveted on the details of submission so as to divert women from thinking about the nature of force–especially the sexual force that necessitates sexual submission. The mothers could not ward off the enthusiasm of sexual liberation– its energy, its hope, its bright promise of sexual equality– because they could not or would not tell what they knew about the nature and quality of male sexuality as they had experienced it, as practiced on them in marriage. They knew the simple logic of promiscuity, which the girls did not: that what one man could do, ten men could do ten times over. The girls did not understand that logic because the girls did not know fully what one man could do. And the mothers failed to convince also because the only life they offered was a repeat version of their own: and the girls were close enough to feel the inconsolable sadness and the dead tiredness of those lives, even if they did not know how or why mother had gotten the way she was. The girls, having been taught well by their mothers to like men because they were men, picked flower-children boys over their mothers: they did not look for husbands (fathers) as dictated by convention but for brothers (lovers) as dictated by rebellion. The daughters saw the strained silence of their mothers on sex as a repudiation of the pleasure of sex, not as an honest though inarticulate assessment of it. The disdain, disapproval, repugnance for sex was not credited as having an objective component. What their mothers would not tell them they could not know. They repudiated the putative sexual conservatism of their mothers for so-called sexual radicalism: more men, more sex, more freedom.

The girls of the counterculture Left were wrong: not about civil rights or the Viet Nam war or imperial Amerika, but about sex and men. It is fair to say that the silence of the mothers hid a real, tough, unsentimental knowledge of men and intercourse, and that the noisy sexuality of the daughters hid romantic ignorance.

Times have changed. The silence has been shattered– or parts of it have been shattered. Right-wing women defending the traditional family are public; they are loud and they are many. Especially they are loud about legal abortion, which they abhor; and what they have to say about legal abortion is connected to what they know about sex. They know some terrible things. Right-wing women consistently denounce abortion because they see it as inextricably linked to the sexual degradation of women. The sixties did not simply pass them by. They learned from what they saw. They saw the cynical male use of abortion to make women easier fucks–first the political use of the issue and then, after legalization, the actual use of the medical procedure. When abortion was legal, they saw a massive social move to secure sexual access to all women on male terms– the glut of pornography; and indeed, they link the two issues, and not for reasons of hysteria. Abortion, they say, flourishes in a pornographic society; pornography, they say, flourishes in what they call an abortion society. What they mean is that both reduce women to the fuck. They have seen that the Left only champions women on its own sexual terms– as fucks; they find the right-wing offer a tad more generous. They are not dazzled by the promise of abortion as a choice, as sexual self-determination, as women’s control of her own body, because they know that the promise is crap: as long as men have power over women, men will not allow abortion or anything else on those terms.

Right-wing women see in promiscuity, which legal abortion makes easier, the generalizing of force. They see force in marriage as essentially containable– contained within the marriage, limited to one man at a time. They try to “handle” him. They see that limitation– one man at a time– as necessary protection from the many men who would do the same and to whom they would be available on sexual-liberation terms– terms fortified and made genuinely possible by abortion rights. With all their new public talk, they continue the traditional silence of women in that they are silent about forced sex in marriage: but all they do is predicated on the knowledge of it, and they do not see how more force is better than less force– and more men means more force to them.

Right-wing women accuse feminists of hypocrisy and cruelty in advocating legal abortion because, as they see it, legal abortion makes them accessible fucks without consequence to men. In their view, pregnancy is the only consequence of sex that makes men accountable to women for what men do to women. Deprived of pregnancy as an inevitability, a woman is deprived of her strongest reason not to have intercourse. Opposition to birth control is based on this same principle.

Right-wing women saw the cynicism of the Left in using abortion to make women sexually available, and they also saw the male Left abandon women who said no. They know that men do not have principles or political agendas not congruent with the sex they want. They know that abortion on strictly self-actualizing terms for women is an abomination to men– left-wing men and right-wing men and gray men and green men. They know that every woman has to make the best deal she can. They face reality and what they see is that women get fucked whether they want it or not; right-wing women get fucked by fewer men; abortion in the open takes away pregnancy as a social and sexual control over men: once a woman can terminate a pregnancy easily and openly without risk of death, she is bereft of her best way of saying no– of refusing the intercourse the male wants to force her to accept.

The consequences of pregnancy to him may stop him, as the consequences of her pregnancy to her never will. The right-wing woman makes what she considers the best deal. Her deal promises that she has to be fucked only by him, not by all his buddies too; that he will pay for the kids; that she can live in his house on his wages; and she smiles and says she wants to be a mommy and play house. In order to keep pregnancy as a weapon of survival she has to accept illegal abortion and risk death, she will do it– alone, in silence, isolated, the only reproach for her rebellion against actual pregnancy being death or maiming. In this mess of illegal abortion, she will have confirmed what she has been taught about her own nature as a woman and about all women. She deserves punishment; illegal abortion is punishment for sex. She feels shame: she may consider it the shame of sex but it is in part the shame that any human in captivity feels in being used– women being used in sex feel shame inseparable from sex. The shame will confirm that she deserves suffering; suffering in sex and birth and aborted birth is the curse of her sex; illegal abortion is deserving suffering. But illegal abortion also serves her because it puts abortion out of sight. No one has to be confronted with another woman making a choice, choosing not to be a mother. No one must face women openly with priorities other than marriage and conformity. No one must face a woman refusing to be bound by pregnancy. The women who rebel against their function must do it secretly, not causing grief, embarrassment or confusion to other women isolated in their own reproductive quagmires, each on her own, each alone, each being a woman for all women in silence and in suffering and in solitude. With illegal abortion life or death is up to God: each time, one submits to the divine hand, divine finger on divine revolver pointed at the already bloody flesh of a woman, divine Russian roulette. It is a final, humiliated submission to the will of a superior Male who judges absolutely. Death is a judgement and so is life. Illegal abortion is an individual hell; one suffers, does penance: God decides; life is forgiveness. And no one need face it until it happens to her– until she is the one caught. This is the way in which women are moral idiots in this system: ignoring whatever has to do with other women, all women, until or unless it happens to oneself. Right-wing women also believe that a woman who refuses to bear a child deserves to die. Right-wing women are prepared to accept that judgement against themselves; and when they survive, they are guilty and prepared to pay– to martyr themselves for an act of will to which they had no right to as women. There is no better measure of what forced sex does to women– how it destroys self-respect and the will to survive as a self-determining human being– than the opposition of right-wing women to legal abortion: to what they need to save themselves from being butchered. The training of a girl to accept her place in marriage means the annihilating of any will toward self-determination or freedom; her personhood is so demeaned that it becomes easier to risk death or maiming than to say no to a man who will fuck you anyway, with the blessings of God and the state, ’til death do you part.

I love Andrea Dworkin

I love this woman’s writing so much. I wish I could have gone to see her speak. I get chills when I read her. The next few posts are going to be random quotes from Right Wing Women, in random order!

If an idea is stupid, presumably it is stupid whether the one who articulates it is male or female. But that is not the case. Women, undereducated as a class, do not have to read Aeschylus to know that a man plants the sperm, the child, the son; women are the soil; she brings forth the human he created; he is the originator, the father of life. Women can have their own provincial, moralistic sources for this knowledge: clergy, movies, gym teachers. The knowledge is common knowledge: respected in the male writers because the male writers are respected; stupid in women because women are stupid as a condition of birth. Women articulate received knowledge and are laughed at for doing so. But male writers with the same received ideas are acclaimed as new, brilliant, interesting, even rebellious, brave, facing the world of sin and sex forthrightly. Women have ignorant, moralistic prejudices; men have ideas. To call this a double standard is to indulge in cruel euphemism. This gender system of evaluating ideas is a sledgehammer that bangs female intelligence to a pulp, annihilating it. Mailer and Lawrence have taken on the world always; they knew they had a right to it; their prose takes that right for granted; it is the gravitational field in which they move. Marabel Morgan and Anita Bryant come to the world as middle-aged women and try to acti in it; of course they are juvenile and imprecise in style, ridiculous even. Both Mailer and Lawrence have written volumes that are as ridiculous, juvenile, despite what they can take for granted as men, despite their sometimes mastery of the language, despite their genuine accomplishments, despite the beauty of the story or novel. But they are not called stupid even when they are ridiculous. When the ideas of Lawrence cannot be distinguished from the ideas of Morgan, either both are smart or both are stupid; and similarly with Mailer and Bryant. Only the women, however, deserve and get our contempt. Are Anita Bryant’s ideas pernicious? Then so are Norman Mailer’s. Are Marabel Morgan’s ideas side-slappingly funny? Then so are D. H. Lawrence’s.

A woman must keep her intelligence small and timid to survive. Or she must hide it altogether or hide it through style. Or she must go mad like clockwork to pay for it. She will try to find the nice way to exercise intelligence. But intelligence is not ladylike. Intelligence is full of excesses. Rigorous intelligence abhors sentimentality, and women must be sentimental to value the dreadful silliness of the men around them. Morbid intelligence abhors the cheery sunlight of positive thinking and eternal sweetness; and women must be sunlight and cheery and sweet, or the woman could not  bribe her way with smiles through a day. Wild intelligence abhors any narrow world; and the world of women must stay narrow, or the woman is an outlaw. No woman could be Nietzche or Rimbaud without ending up in a whorehouse or lobotomized. Any vital intelligence has passionate questions, aggressive answers: but women cannot be explorers; there can be no Lewis and Clark of the female mind. Even restrained intelligence is restrained not because it is timid, as women must be, but because it is cautiously weighing impressions and facts that come to it from an outside that the timid dare not face. A woman must please, and restrained intelligence does not seek to please; it seeks to know through discernment. Intelligence is also ambitious: it always wants more: not more of being fucked, not more pregnancy; but more of a bigger world. A woman cannot be ambitious in her own right without also being damned. (page 47)