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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, Girls Got Game! as a whole.
Early last month, Niche Gamer reported that CEDAW — the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women — launched an examination of Japan’s record on women’s rights. This is already an important matter to discuss all on its own, but it’s of interest to us because their proposal included the “banning of the sale of video games or cartoons involving sexual violence against women.”
A few days back, Niche Gamer had an update for us. Kumiko Yamada, representative of the Japanese wing of the Women’s Institute of Contemporary Media Culture, spoke against the ban. Her refutation brings several old issues to the table: the representation of gender and sexuality in media, the question of fictional violence especially in video games, failure in policy due to cultural divides, freedom of artistic expression, and the trouble with the breed of feminism that most institutions and political bodies are attempting to apply to policy.
We are absolutely in agreement that the protection of the rights of women in Japan is important. On the other hand, we think it should be carefully and seriously evaluated whether the measures taken to ensure those protections are valid ones or not. If we are asked to consider whether “Protecting Women’s Rights in Japan” requires us to “Ban the Sale of Manga and Video Games Depicting Sexual Violence,” then we must reply that that is an absolute “no.”
Reasons for Our Opinion:
Reason #1 – The so-called sexual violence in manga and video games is a made-up thing and as such does not threaten the rights of actual people; therefore, it is meaningless in protecting the rights of women.
Reason #2 – In Japan, and especially when it comes to manga, these are creative fields that women themselves cultivated and worked hard by their own hand to create careers for themselves. If we were to “ban the sale of manga that includes sexual violence,” it would do the opposite and instead create a new avenue of sexism toward women.
The proposal in itself is contentious because it seems to come from people who don’t actually play video games. Its similar to how reactive laws towards the Internet come from nations with low Internet literacy, or how reactive laws against reproductive health come from nations with ultra-conservative religious groups and crappy educational institutions. The United States of America has a hell of a time with gun violence, and since the Columbine Massacre, video games, violent comics, and other “dangerous” material have been blamed – yet incident reports of mass shootings continue to go on the rise. You can check the data out for yourself.
Has censoring violence in their media helped them at all? Doesn’t seem like it. It seems even LESS credible to blame video games and comics when you realize that other countries with depictions of violence in their fiction – like, let’s say, Japan – have far lower crime rates than they do.
It goes without saying that the rape and other crimes of actual real people who experience sexual acts from partners without consent is an actual violation of their rights concerning sexual violence and should obviously be forbidden by law, and that it’s necessary to protect and support victims. However, the figures in manga and video games are creative fictions that do not actually exist, and thus this is not a violation of any real person’s human rights. We should focus on attacking the problems that affect real women’s human rights as quickly as possible.
The boldfacing of those statements comes from my end because I feel like this drives home a REALLY important point about fiction. People often forget that there’s a really shaky connection between how violent a person is and the amount of imaginary violence they consume on a daily basis. There have been no definitive studies on how participating in fictional violence affects the way a person interacts with their world. The studies that do exist are, frankly, often myopic in their coverage, exclusively focusing on analyzing the media that the subjects of the study consume rather than their environment. One of the most basic tenants of psychological and sociological study is the fact that a person’s sense of self and their actions come as a result of a MULTITUDE of factors. You can’t just look at what they read and play, and determine, from there, whether they’re future serial killers or not.
Let’s go down to our own experiences as gamers and avid geeks. Sure, we participate in imaginary blood baths. Sure, some of us play games that raze towns, or involve beating up gangsters and fucking prostitutes on a regular basis. How many of us will actually DO these things in real life? How many of us actually think that what we do in our video games is acceptable human behavior? The logic that every single one of us is a ticking time bomb of violence boggles me. It doesn’t help, of course, that trolls on the Internet are real, as is the issue of cyberbullying, particularly cyberbullying against women – but that begs the question whether these perpetrators really can be seen as the majority of the demographic or not.
Stop making the exceptions to the rule — aka, people who have crossed the line and committed atrocious acts against other people and just happen to play violent video games, people who are just part of the reason why the stigma against mental health needs to end — the standard by which geeks as a whole and the things that we love ought to be treated.
In Japan, and especially when it comes to manga, these are creative fields that women themselves cultivated and worked hard by their own hand to create careers for themselves.
In this way, it can be predicted that if we were to ban the sale of “manga that depicts sexual violence,” a great deal of publishers would cease publication of a huge amount of works. In the creative field of manga, the effect would be that women who have worked so hard to create a place for vibrant careers would have that place shrink right in front of them, as well as have their efforts negated. In addition, if we were to put ourselves in the places of manga readers the chance to know about the history of the sexual exploitation of women would be lost, as well as a method for them to come to know about it. If the creative fields of manga were attacked, trampled on and destroyed with such prejudice, it would damage not only the women manga writers, but also spread to other women creators in the field, as well as the female readers. This would be a sexist punishment that only narrows the career possibilities of Japan’s women.
Female manga artists like Keiko Takamiya, Akimi Yoshida, Naoko Takeuchi, Rumiko Takahashi (who is a nominee to the Eisner Hall of Fame) and CLAMP have formed the shoujo and josei manga as genres that deal with women’s issues. Through their stories, they continuously interrogate gender stereotypes and the existing patriarchal structures within their own society. Subversion and parody allow their readers to explore topics that are viewed as “taboo” for women (such as sex and female sexual pleasure) — and I haven’t even BEGUN to talk about the place of dojinshi and dojinshi artists in the grander scheme of things.
In the hyper-conservative society of Japan, rebellion against the status quo — men are the breadwinners and heads of the household, women are expected to stay at home and rear the children — isn’t violently punished; it’s rendered invisible through shaming. Said invisibility has had many adverse affects on their populace, a few examples being the lack of upward traction for women in the workplace, an aversion towards romantic relationships, and the suicide epidemic. Women’s manga and dojinshi are popular spaces of interrogation, and also serve as possible social weather vanes. Where are they going to be able to do this if that space is taken away?
It is noted that on the other hand when it comes to “manga that depicts sexual violence” a certain segment of people are going to find it unpleasant. Nevertheless, to ban expression and commerce unilaterally based on feelings of whether or not something is unpleasant, or viewpoints on what should be moral, is a practice not to be condoned. The basis for feelings about what is or is not repulsive, and moral viewpoints, will differ based on the individual or their region and that culture’s segmented local society. The basis for the values in Local Society A and the basis for the values in Local Society B are not necessarily going to match.Therefore it stands to reason to suddenly use one local society’s standards as the standards of a society as a whole would only prompt a massacre of discord in conflicting values among the people in the greater society.
If we are to aim for the smooth operation of society as a whole, then there might be workarounds we can implement so that a certain type of person can avoid suddenly running into “unpleasant expressions” they don’t want to see, but these should be limited to regulations in zoning and circulation only. We should not ban any manga that depicts “unpleasant expressions” under content guidelines that enforce moral standards unilaterally on society.
This pushes so many of my buttons, particularly those pertaining to the actual rights and responsibilities ascribed to freedom of speech, and feminism as a whole. Political correctness is a hot button topic in light of the rise of cyberbullying, internet censorship, and representation. This discussion should go hand-in-hand with an understanding that what works for one demographic of people doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else.
Authority figures and powerful institutions should not be allowed to ban or censor works based solely on their personal preferences, or on the cultural context that they come from. To simply erase that which is offensive to a person is denying their existence. In denying their existence, one denies everyone else the right to understand its history, and talk about how things have changed, or how things have stayed exactly the same. You can always choose not to listen. What you can’t do is completely mute it out for the people around you.
There is nothing to be gained from regulating fictional sexual violence. However, while you’re trying to fix the rights of fictional characters, you’re leaving the human rights of real women in the real world to rot. As well, in Japan, the entire reason we have a media genre such as manga that developed to take on themes such as the sexual exploitation of women came from an attitude to tolerate “drinking the pure and the dirty without prejudice.” It’s because we had the freedom to express our views and with that to express the view of a world of humans that live and die, that there are pure and wonderful things and dirty and nasty things mixed with each other.
I’m ending on this quote because I would like, once again, to remind everyone to stop what I call cookie-cutter feminism. There is NO “one size fits all” when it comes to discourse on women’s rights and empowerment: the issues an American woman faces differ from an African woman, which differs from a Chinese woman, which further differs from a Filipino woman. And I exclusively talked about race there. What about differences in sexuality, in social class, in location? What about women of mixed races, or women who hold several passports? What about women who have families versus women who are single, or women who have graduated from college versus women who never managed to finish high school?
The underlying issue behind feminism is an issue of power and agency, and such things are always informed by cultural contexts. Can we really say, without question, that the boob jiggling and skimpy outfits of Dead or Alive objectify women? Can we insist upon the sorceresses of Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt being “weak” for falling in love, and Geralt of Rivia being in a position of power simply because he’s a man who knows his way with a sword? Sites like Feminist Frequency have encouraged us to develop some sort of universal standard for feminism. Critical frameworks die the moment you enforce a single measuring stick on everyone.
I’ve got my fingers crossed for how things go down. Hopefully, the United Nations will see reason.
What do you guys think of all of this? Comment here and let us know what you’re thinking!