Brian Ashcraft, let me do your homework for you

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This post is several years old and may not reflect the current opinions of the author.

In Kotaku’s grand tradition of shoddy reporting and lack of any decent research, Brian Ashcraft has written an impassioned but so supremely hypocritical article on the RapeLay controversy (link roundup) that I felt compelled to briefly bring this blog temporary out of retirement in order to take it down. Since this topic is triggering, the rest of the article will be behind the cut. Continue reading

At this rate, there won't be any games left for me to play

I have been feeling rather unhappy with Capcom for a while, but this takes the cake:

Resident Evil 5 producer Jun Takeuchi tells Kotaku that calls of racial insensitivity haven’t affected the game’s design. Takeuchi tells the site that the team didn’t “set out” to make a racist or political statement and he feels there was a misunderstanding about the initial trailer.

Takeuchi says there are Arab and Caucasian targets for Chris Redfield’s bullets in RE5 and insists they were always going to be included in the game — despite the initial trailer showing a less ethnically diverse group of zombies. We’ll have to take a “wait and see” approach on whether Japanese developers will continue to fuel the fires of black/white racial tensions across the ocean.

I know Japan is pretty racially ignorant (from my experiences, but here’s a wikipedia entry on the matter), but Capcom is an international company, serving an international audience. The fact that it seems that their research only involved going to the location (without, you know, spending like 5 seconds looking into the history of black/white relations in the US, where their protagonist is from) is bad enough. Takeuchi’s tactic of “it’s not racist because I didn’t mean it!” is infuriating, but expected. I am also not appeased by the inclusion of Arab and Caucasian zombies, because:

  1. An American killing an Arab. UH, HELLO? How is that not problematic given the current anti-Muslim (which, to the average anti-Muslim American translates to “Arab”) climate in America? And, I mean, with the Afghanistan and then Iraq wars, which made international news, it’s not like Takeuchi has an excuse not to know about those tensions.
  2. Adding a sprinkling of whities to get gunned down isn’t some magical panacea for racism. It doesn’t address the What These People Need Is a Honky problem, and it doesn’t change the way that the black people, even pre-infection, are portrayed as savages.

I have loved the Resident Evil series, even with all of its problems. I have done my best to play the games, even though I suck at survival horror (mostly because I spend most of the time thinking, “OH NOES TEH ZOMBIE IS GOING TO GET ME!!!111eleven”). I could tolerate stupid shit like Jill being sexualized and put in a dress for RE3, Ashley being completely useless in RE4, and the fact that they apparently thought there’s no difference between Mexican Spanish and Spanish Spanish. I didn’t even mind so much that all of the protagonists were dayglow white (after all, it isn’t like that’s unusual). The abominable trailer for RE5 wasn’t even enough to convince me to not buy the game.

But I can’t take it anymore. I feel like I have no other choice but to boycott Capcom because I simply cannot support what they’re doing.

Capcom/Takeuchi no longer have an excuse. They can’t claim ignorance, because they’ve been made aware of the issues and still chose to ignore it. They quite simply don’t care that their game is problematic from a racial angle. And I can’t support that. I can’t support people who willfully engage in racism even after the racism is pointed out to them by multiple people because they can’t fathom that, in their lack knowledge regarding racial tensions/issues, they could unintentionally create something racist.

I’m about to be twenty-six fucking years old. I’ve grown up. Is it so wrong for me to wish that the games I love would grow up with me?

They're called "hosts", tyvm

When Jill linked to an article on “geisha guys” in a recent link roundup, I thought to myself, “I bet they’re talking about hosts. I mean, what would an article about Japan be without using Othering terminology to emphasize how Different! And! Exotic! it is.” And lo and behold, CNN’s Kyung Lah did not disappoint with the article, Japan’s ‘geisha guys’ the latest accessory.

Now, first off, hosts have been around for long enough that it’s just ridiculous to call them “the latest accessory”. What that really translates to is, “the latest thing that racist foreign media has picked up on to titillate their readership about that ‘wacky land of the rising sun’.”

Just in case you think that the “geisha guys” reference was an unfortunate choice of a copy-editor choosing a title or somesuch, observe this quote:

It’s a dizzying reversal of traditional gender roles in a country long known for geishas pampering male clients with conversation, singing and dancing. Now a new breed of entertainer has cropped up — think of them as male geishas.

Now, there are several things wrong in that one little quote that I don’t have the energy to get into. But to the assertion that we should “think of [hosts] as male geishas”, I say, “Let’s not.” Seriously. Hosts, like their hostess counterparts, are pretty much escorts. But I suppose that since escorts are available in most countries, using that comparison just doesn’t invoke the same “exotic Japanese sex worker” vibe that “geisha” does.

Whatever influences the sex work industry here may or may not have gotten from geisha culture doesn’t make it accurate, or a good idea, to conflate everything and anything under the header with geisha. It’s Othering. It’s fetishizing Japan. It’s racist. Full stop.

Japanese women are the biggest users of Wii and DS… ORLY?

From Nintendo’s women gamers could transform market:

Japanese women have overtaken their male counterparts to become the biggest users of Nintendo’s Wii and DS machines in a seismic shift that the company said would “transform the video games industry”.

This is tekanji’s total lack of surprise.

I see more women playing with their DS on the train then men. The genres that are aimed at women aren’t confined to crappy “girl games” (which in America all too often equal “simple because teh wimmins brains can’t handle real games”). Women game here, and they are much more recognized for the thriving market that they are.

Anyway, the article is worth a read, even though it ventures into bingo territory a few times.

Report on Violence Involving Sexual Minorities in Japan

I was recently made aware of a report from the Institute for Global Health by Anthony S. DiStefano documenting violence involving sexual minorities in Japan in 2003-2004. The report, entitled Report on Violence Involving Sexual Minorities in Japan, is available in both English and Japanese.

This study aimed to determine whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Japan experience violence: 1) directed against them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e., bashing); 2) occurring within intimate partner dyads; 3) by or against family members; and 4) toward the self. Additional goals were to identify the perceived health impacts of such violence, describe how these issues are defined and understood within the Japanese context, characterize the socio-cultural environment that influences the occurrence of violence, and identify specific areas of inquiry that future studies can examine in further depth.

Via the feminist LJ.

Short post on disability and my school

As some of you may know, I’m currently attending language school in Japan. There is a student dorm, but most of the housing is apartments rented out to students. When I first got here, I was a bit surprised to see that there was no elevator, but outside of being annoyed that I couldn’t get my heavy stuff up the stairs easily, I didn’t think too much about it.

But something happened a little over a month ago: a guy who lives in my building got into a car accident and is now in a wheelchair. He was told that, due to fire regulations, he could no longer live in our apartment. You see, even the first floor apartments require going up one flight of stairs and in the event of a fire that just isn’t safe. These apartments, I would like to point out, were built just last year.

And then this caused me to realize that all of the kids in the school are able-bodied. Indeed, I have the sneaking suspicion that they would reject anyone who wasn’t because of “undue hassles” (they kicked out one student who was having frequent panic attacks, but wouldn’t/couldn’t take her to the hosptial because she didn’t have Japanese insurance). My building has an elevator and therefore should be accessible, but the building that’s used for the other program as well as private lessons not only has no elevator, but the easy access is a set of pretty dangerous outside stairs. It’s supposedly going under rennovation because of the influx of students, but I’d be surprised if they added an elevator.

On the one hand, I can sort of sympathize with the school: they are becoming increasingly popular and it’s been hard to deal with the influx of students because there isn’t enough space or teachers to accomodate everyone. I’ve also heard that, in terms of buildings, getting through the planning stages is ridiculously hard. But, on the other hand, I would be surprised if this was the first time a problem like this has occurred. My friend is not the first person who I’ve known has gotten into an accident during his stay at my school.

I just… I dunno. I like my school and sympathize with their plight, but at the same time I’m not altogether thrilled with the way they handle students who have specific health needs.

Japanese Beauty, Indeed

Japanese Beauty, Indeed
Japanese Beauty, Indeed

As all of you know, I was in Tokyo last weekend (it was a fun trip; thanks for asking!). There was an advertising campaign that I saw on the train whose tagline was “Japanese Beauty.”

The first time I saw this ad, it was in the form of a commercial being played on the screens in the train. It featured a clearly white woman — the same one as in the above image — in Japan doing traditionally Japanese things and wearing traditionally Japanese clothes. My feeling of WTFerry grew and grew until it culminated with a picture of the white woman with the words “Japanese Beauty” printed clearly in the corner. I sort of made an indignant noise, but none of my friends had been paying attention. Nor, if they had been, do I think they would have cared.

It brings to mind a line from Tanizaki’s essay, “In Praise of Shadows,” which focuses on the Westernization of Japan. In it, he has a sort of love/hate relationship with Westerners and Westernization in which he both argues for the merit in traditional Japanese culture while putting Westerners above the Japanese in terms of ideology, inherent qualities, and as for women, whites are more “pure” and more “white”:

The Japanese complexion, no matter how white, is tinged by a slight cloudiness… But the skin of Westerners, even those of a darker complexion, had a limpid glow. Nowhere were they tainted by this grey shadow… Thus it is that when one of us goes among a group of Westerners it is like a grimy stain on a sheet of white paper. The sight offends even our own eyes and leaves none too pleasant a feeling.

And, really, that’s the feeling I get from this ad: that it’s buying wholeheartedly into the fallacies that excuse cultural imperialism. To me, Japanese beauty is about Japan, not some white woman “being Japanese.”

Because sexual harassment is hilarious

I’m not sure what bothers me more about 行殺! Spirits (“Line-Kill Spirits”): the game itself or the response to it.

Screenshot from Line-Kill SpiritsLet’s start with the game itself. It seems like a typical cutesy all-girl fighting game. The art style employed is one that is generally associated with pre-adolescence – it tends to be used in children’s manga and lolita porn. I’d put the girls at middle school at the latest, personally. Still, that sort of thing isn’t unusual; I’ve known plenty of fighting games that employ those marketing tactics.

What is unusual, however, is an added game element: picture taking. Not just any kind of picture taking, however, panty shot pictures. As anyone who has watched anime knows, there is a seemingly cultural fixation in Japan on women’s underwear. In particular, men and boys lifting up unwilling women’s skirts to look at their underwear. I can’t speak for how common it is in real life (not being a Japanese woman, nor living in Japan), but I do know that harassment is a part of women’s daily life there. One example of this is the women-only trains that companies began to run because of the unnervingly high instance of sexual assault (groping, mostly, but I’ve heard stories about men using women’s asses for masturbation aids).

To add fuel to the fire, it is not creepy old men taking these pictures (which would be bad enough), but the other girls themselves doing it. Showing women participating in their own objectification (ala. Levy’s “raunch culture”, girly kissing culture, etc) only serves to normalize the behaviour. After all, if the girls are willing to do it then it must be okay, right? While I wouldn’t think that anyone would confuse LKS with reality, having the girls do it to each other rather than a man doing it to a girl undoubtedly helps the players to rationalize the game as “harmless fun”.

And, indeed, that is exactly what many of the commenters did on the Inverted Castle thread. I counted six overt “that’s funny” kinds of comments – four instances of “hilarious”, one pertinent “lol”, and one “amusing” – and five comments that the gameplay was “interesting”, “innovative”, or something along those lines. The ones condemning it, even in part, were an overall minority. Two people called it “weird”, two people called it “disgusting”, four people used “disturbing” (two in direct context to the girls’ ages, rather than the mechanic itself), but only three people addressed women in particular. Out of 61 comments only 4 addressed the obvious gender issues of the panty shot mechanic, one of which was posted by the same person. For a game that is blatant objectification and sexual harassment, that is just sad.

To get an idea of some of the worse comments out there, I’d like to post a few of my… ah… “favourites”.

dj kor said:

dj kor like panties and japanese girls.

NoShit Boy said:

If that’s not innovative, then I ask, what is?

Although, I happened to like the comeback posted to that one: “The Nintendo Revolution’s remote control, of course.” (commenter’s handle was Revolutionary Remote)

MasterBaytor said:

Where can I get me one of these? Seriously, this is why Japan is one of the 3 most creative countries on Earth, according to a recent study (the other two are Sweden and Finland).

Of course, the three parties speaking up didn’t exactly give the game a ringing condemnation for its treatment of women.

Thoughtless said [emphasis mine]:

I don’t know if it’s supposed to represent little girls as sexually appealing; then it’s pretty sick, but obviously the panty shot was meant as humiliation. This is an interestingly insightful; if odd insight into real cat fighting tactics. I don’t know if my distaste for the game is my American prudishness(I didn’t watch the clip) or a genuine effort to avoid prurient material of most disgusting nature. Some perverts like little girls in panties sexually, but most of just yell at them to put closthes[sic] on or they’ll catch their death going outside. If this game gets girls playing video games then I say it’s good if it’s designed for perverts it is illeagal[sic] in the USA(and should be).

He starts out really well with the humiliation angle; one of the best tools for control is shame. Humiliating a woman (or girl) by exerting ownership to her body (in this case, the unalienable right to take pictures of her private areas) is one of the oldest tricks in the book. I think this game displays this tactic quite obviously, but in a way that reinforces its ideology. Certainly, the amount of people who didn’t think to comment on its use of women speaks volumes about how invisible this issue is, even in our so-called “equal” Western societies.

I can understand Thoughtless running with the first part of his initial sentence (the paedophilia angle), as that is what was most commonly focused on by the detractors of the game, but his insight into the humiliation tactics had really had me rooting for him to be a guy who gets it. His second sentence, however, made me weep with frustration. Real. Cat fighting. Tactics. Why, thank you, Thoughtless, for being one of the billion privileged men who is not only uncritical of the term “cat fighting”, but has no problem reinforcing the idea that women do things (like getting into fights) solely for men’s amusement.

And on what planet would a game of women taking panty shots of other women get girls playing video games??? It’s not erotic. It’s not cute. It’s not interesting. And it’s nothing new. Newsflash for you gamer guys, since so many of you seem to be blind to this small fact: a great many games have some implication of girl-on-girl action and we women (especially the ones who love other women) are not amused.

Moving onto Ms. I’m-not-a-feminist-but, Noneofyourbusniess said:

This is so childish and this game so turns to perveted[sic] males(as always). No i am no feminist but you get rather tired of seeing games that always is about less cloth, more boob bouncing etc. I mean really. I at least dont wanna buy a game cause i can see boobies or something. There is adult games for that(not that i like them either).

Not the deepest reading into it, but it doesn’t need to be. The message: objectification of women isn’t cool.

She adds:

A second thought on that game. Why would a girl take a picture of a girls pantises?[sic]

The same reason two straight girls would kiss: fulfillment of male fantasy. And there’s no doubt that LKS’ purpose is just that.

The third and final commenter, ditchwitch, took issue to NOYB’s feminist bashing:

Feminist isn’t a dirty word btw, and you shouldn’t feel the need to qualify your statements. Just say what you think. Anyway I am of 2 minds on the game, on the one hand it’s pretty amusing, at the same time I object to media which consistently links sex and violence together, and it’s hard to argue that this game doesn’t.

It does make me a bit sad that she saw any kind of amusement in this game. This kind of treatment of women, even in a video game (especially in a video game), just doesn’t strike me as funny in the least. But at least she sees the link, which is more than I can say for 98% of the other commenters.

I guess, in the end, I have to say that the overwhelming response to this game is worse than the game itself. In a way, the game is just a response to the demand. While it undoubtedly perpetuates the stereotypes it utilizes, it only exists because of the invisibility of the harm caused by this kind of “entertainment”. Until we – the gamers, the bloggers and readers, and our societies at large – educate ourselves on these kinds of issues and unabashedly speak out against it, games like these will continue to be made and distributed. And, while this kind of thing might be on the extreme end, make no mistake that the kind of attitude it holds towards women can be found in a majority of mainstream games both in Japan and the West.

Via New Game Plus.

In Support of an Empress

This has been in the works for a while, but apparently the cogs of bureaucracy have started moving:

The panel last week recommended revising Japanese law to give an emperor’s first-born child of either sex the right to head the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy.

The revision, if approved, is expected to make Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako’s only child Aiko — who celebrated her 4th birthday Thursday — second in line to the throne, behind her father.


Support for the change is high. A recent poll by the nationwide newspaper Asahi showed 78 percent of the respondents were in favor of a reigning empress.

78% popular support doesn’t suck. It’s not the prime ministry, but the imperial family is a huge part of Japanese culture and, if nothing else, they serve as the cultural and spiritual leaders of the country. And, there’s something to be said of changing sexist laws, even if only because there doesn’t seem to be any other choice.

Via feminist.

On "sick" states and birthrates

So, I was over at Amptoons reading a thread entitled Even For Pro-Lifers, Banning Abortion Makes No Sense, in which Amp makes a bunch of points about reducing the number of abortions that I couldn’t agree more on. Read it, go, I command you. Anyway, I went through the comments and ended up writing a response. Due to my bombastic nature, I decided to cut out one part entirely ’cause it was off on a tangent that deserved more than the page it already had. Ergo, I’m posting it here for your viewing pleasure.

So, first of all, some stats.

Abortion rates in various countries [via Amp]:

As I’ve said in the past, pro-lifers should be asking which countries have the least abortion? Belgium has an abortion rate of 6.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. The Netherlands, 6.5. Germany, 7.8. Compare that to the USA’s rate of 22. Even better, compare it to countries where abortion is illegal: Egypt, 23; Brazil, 40; Chile, 50; Peru, 56.

Approximate net birth rates (births per 1000 – deaths per 1000) [via Robert, formatted for space]:

Belgium: 0.3 Netherlands: 2.4 Germany: -2.3

Compared to:

USA: 5.9 Egypt: ~18 Peru: ~14.7 Chile: ~9.6

(Source for Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, US: | (Source for Egypt, Peru, Chile:

And finally, top 5 countries with highest standard of living [via AndiF]:

1. Norway (birth rate rank 179 of 226)
2. Sweden (birth rate rank 195 0f 226)
3. Australia (birth rate rank 172 of 226)
4. Canada (birth rate rank 186 of 226)
5. Netherlands (birth rate rank 151 of 226)

I think the stats on the top five countries with the highest living standards makes a powerful statement: equal opportunity seems to lead to a true “culture of life” – higher standards of living, less unwanted pregnancies, less abortions, etc. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the countries with the highest standards of living are in general the ones that have gone a long way in encouraging equality and freedom for all and instituting good social programs. Using the birthrate stats, this achievement is often accompanied by a drop in population size, but if a society is looking for the best living standard for its current citizens wouldn’t it make sense for the birthrate to drop off until the number of people was equalized with the country’s resources to maintain a base standard of living for said people?

So, with that in mind I’d like to move on to the comment that sparked this tangent. This particular part of the debate focuses on birth rates and their correlations to “good”/”bad” societies. The main argument posited by the “negative birthrate = bad” side is that those trends will inevitably lead to the demise of the race/culture/country. I’m, obviously, going to be arguing for the “negative birthrate can be good” side.

Glaivester said:

I do believe that a society that refuses to reproduce at levels sufficient to maintain its population is a seriously sick society (unless, of course, this is a conscious and temporary trend to deal with overpopulation, e.g. Japan).

Glaivester’s implicit criticisms on those of us who choose not to reproduce aside, I’d argue that the “refusal” to reproduce at replacement levels is an indicator of a sick society, rather than a cause. Of course, my idea of “sickness” is a society in which people are not free to pursue their happiness to its fullest extent, which may or may not be Glaivester’s idea. To me, a 100% “healthy” society is an ideal one; one in which equality thrives and opportunities are available to all.

Now, since we’re using Japan as an example, I’d like to state my meagre credentials: I’ve done some minor studying of Japan, as it was one of my focus countries in my Asian Studies degree. I wouldn’t be quick to exempt them from the “sick society” label, even by Glaivester’s definition, as their conscious trend in lowering birthrates may not be as temporary as simple overpopulation awareness would be.

Overpopulation is a problem, yes, and one that I would agree the negative replacement rate is helping to combat. But other problems are also leading to the low birthrate, problems that seem to be gaining more attention as women and men make the conscious decision not to reproduce. One such problem is the institution of heterosexual marriage/partnership – because of issues such as the traditional work environment couples rarely see each other due to long working hours. Once kids are introduced to the mix, it falls to the mother (who is expected to have given up her career regardless of her feelings on the matter) to parent the children while the father is consumed by work. Not a healthy situation for any involved, so many married couples are opting out of parenthood. On the same issue, because of pressures such as those I’ve noted, many women are foregoing marriage altogether in favour of keeping their freedom to live their life as they want. These aren’t necessarily people who don’t want kids, but they are people who have decided for various reasons that it’s unacceptable to bring children into the world they live in.

These decisions have started to garner media attention. Sure, most of it is the “oh no! we have an aging population to support, what are you selfish kids doing? underpopulation is a huge problem!” alarmist malarkey, but as more people come forward with their reasons for not having kids the awareness of these social problems is spreading. Unless the government wants to try to institute forced conceptions, a policy that I doubt would fly, it has the choice of accepting the steadily declining birthrate, or improving society in order to make having children a possibility for those people who would want kids in a reasonably healthy society.

What, then, does Japan’s case say about the possible correlation between higher living standards and lower birth rates? Well, my theory is that a lower birthrate is a natural attempt to promote healing of the society. Like I said above, societies without unnatural enforced childbearing (whether it be socially mandated or legally mandated) tend to have a negative birthrate that in turn gives them a greater pool of resources from which to build a strong social network that raises the standard of living in general. So, on one level, Japan’s population drop will increase the resources available to the general populace. However, the political statement made by childfree groups like the NOKS goes beyond population concerns, or even the personal desire not to have kids.

Only time will tell whether or not these declining birthrate countries die out or level off at some point with a high standard of living for all. Still, if I had to bet money on the outcome, I’d wager that, barring unforeseen external events, countries like Norway and Sweden will continue to thrive and Japan will begin seeing some radical policy changes during the next few generations in response to the people who choose not to marry and/or have kids.