A case for sex-positive education, or just "othering" Japan?

(Trigger warning: The referenced article may be triggering in its description of sexual acts with objects-perceived-as-girls.)

I'll admit, I struggled to find a way to approach this story, about an outgrowth of the otaku* subcultures in Japan. Fortunately, I'm not alone in this contributor thing, and got some significant help from Liss on this one, so thanks Liss! Errors and omissions may be safely attributed to me, though.

(A brief precis of the article, so people don't have to risk being triggered just to join in the conversation: there is an interview with a fellow who claims to be "in love" with a pillowcase rendition of a particular anime character; then the author delves into a bit of background on this specific type of otaku, including comments from an author who has written on the topic, and from a producer of material for the 2D-love fandom. Let me be clear that my post is not meant, for even a moment, to suggest that otaku-style fandom is all, or even largely, in agreement with this ad absurdum extension of their fandom, and there is an interesting rebuttal of the article to be found here.)

Japanese society, as most others - including mine and most of the readers here - has a strong component of traditionalism, particularly in matters sexual. One of the effects of this can be seen in the survey reported in the article:
According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex. One of the biggest best sellers in the country last year was “Health and Physical Education for Over Thirty,” a six-chapter, manga-illustrated guidebook that holds the reader’s hand from the first meeting to sex to marriage.
So there's that - to me, a suggestion that sex-positive education is of more value to people in a modern society than traditionalist approaches to such topics. Leaving aside the extremely problematic construction of "virgin", and not knowing how the survey was conducted, both of which could have a huge effect on the numbers, that's a fairly high percentage of over-30 adults to have not had sex as they self-define it. It seems to me one of the ways in which, yes, the patriarchy hurts men too (edited to add: men who do not choose to be asexual, or who would choose to be in a relationship, that is - thanks to Shaker Quinara for calling me on that).

Note: the article at Mutantfrog Travelogue includes a critique on this very point, which raises some good questions about the applicability of those numbers in a general Japanese context.

But there's also a strong aspect to this of reinforcing that set of traditionalist ideas, as can be seen in the quote from Toru Honda, who has written several books on the 2-D love "movement" (though it doesn't seem to be organized as a movement as I would ordinarily recognize such things - more a club, if you will, of like-minded individuals seeking one another out, than one intended to advocate for change in some manner):
“I’m not saying that everyone should throw away hopes of real romance right away. I am simply saying that guys like me who have gotten to a point of no return can be happy living in 2-D.”
In other words, men who aren't conventionally good-looking, and who don't have conventionally desirable bank accounts with which to attract women (how about trying "being a decent human being"? - is that too much to expect?). There's even a hint of that old Nice Guy thing going on: Since Nice Guys can't get a break with real women, they need to turn to body pillows draped with pre-pubescent girls in erotic poses, who will be appropriately submissive and willing to give their owners exactly what they want, with no backtalk or lip or demanding of attention to their needs or desires.

I mean, they even get into talking about how great it'll be when there are "girl robots" to date. But we're not really talking about robotic women: we're talking about something to own that has its own ladybits, since it's so hard to find women who are willing to be owned solely for that: something that'll bat its eyelashes and speak basic Japanese.

So, I'm betting, a few people reading this - maybe more than a few - are wondering whether this "movement" is really a problem for a feminist. I mean, Honda is actively advocating that 2-D lovers turn their backs on 3-D (meaning, interaction with other living human adults) love - so how is this a problem for those real adult humans?

And the answer for me is that it's another piece of the objectification of the bodies of girls**, another piece of the male gaze determining the value of a girl by her sexual availability/desirability, another piece of sexualization of children for men who feel too challenged by the concept of dealing with actual adult women.

I'll quote this little conversation with "Momo" (Toru Taima, proprietor of Youkouro, translated here as "Furnace of Child Love", at the which let me say, "EWWWW!") here, again from the article:
“Her existence to me is like daughter, younger sister and bride all put into one.” Does he have sex with her? “Yes.”
He then goes on to claim, moments later, that he is not a consumer of child pornography. As our blogmistress has been known to say, WTP? You've "had sex with" a pillow draped with an image of a prepubescent girl, and claim there is no link with child porn? You define the object of your sexual desires as "daughter, younger sister, and bride", but are not a pedophile? How do you figure that?

In the end, though, I'm not sure what, exactly, is meant to be the point of this article in the NYT. Given it's a description of people who like to fantasize about sex with prepubescent girls, I'm a little mystified by the uncritical acceptance of everything the fantasizers have to say about their fantasies - it feels like rather a soft-soap approach to what is basically child pornography.

Why is this news? And if it's news, why isn't more than one side depicted? Why do we not hear from people who do work against child pornography, and its effects on our societies? We hear constantly from the NYT about how their journalistic integrity requires they give voice to both sides of issues - where is the other voice here? Where is someone saying hey, dude: child pornography, this is it? Do they get a free pass because they've sexualized the girls only in an Impossibly Beautiful way?

Further yet, do these questions even matter when the biggest question seems to be: Is this just another way to "Other" Japanese people? When we were talking about this via email, Liss pointed out that Slate just had an article about Japanese "herbivores" last month ("grass-eating men who shun sex, don't spend money, and like taking walks"), and said, "These 'trend' stories are certainly construed (if not intended) to say anything about Japan, and Japanese culture, and Japanese people, but I suspect they have as much value in telling us about Japan as 'Girls Gone Wild' would have in telling us about the US. Why is it that any American can tell you that schoolgirls' panties are available via vending machine in Japan, but hardly any of us can name their prime minister?"

For the record, it's Taro Aso.

* "otaku" as used in the West, referring to "serious" fans of a given fandom, generally of Japanese cultural products such as anime, manga, or video games, though in Japan it has the general meaning of "serious fan" as well, and people can be railfan-otaku, or various other types. It isn't immediately obvious to me in which sense the author - a Tokyo-based writer - is using the term.

** I say girls specifically in response to the article, which focuses only on this phenomenon as a heterosexually-oriented one: it is "mostly male(s)" who are going to the conventions and so on, shopping in the stores, and it seems to be almost exclusively girls depicted in the 2-D milieu. Girls, not women. Prepubescence, or peripubescence, appears to be an integral part of this particular phenomenon - and again, this is not otaku in general.

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