This is an entry of a 5-part series on the threats to the cohesiveness and health of the Otaku community.
Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:
- Bullying of Adolescent Otaku
- Deletion of Racial Differences
- Body Shaming
- Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori
- Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes
Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes (Note: This is now an edited version that has updated material 1/2015.)
If one lets Japanese media speak for itself, it appears that Japan’s society leans more toward the binary, traditional idea of gender roles than America. In media designated for a general audience, female characters are relegated to being a prize or a nemesis. When they are integrated as members of a team of protagonists, their distinguishing characteristics are often purity, gentleness, and beauty. The population acts in accordance to such perceptions of women by emulating role models put forth by media. Thus, one would expect the societal and economic role of women to remain more firmly tied to domesticity than ambition. The Economist published an article in May 2014 proclaiming, “Women’s lowly status in the Japanese workplace has barely improved in decades, and the country suffers as a result.” The article went on to include explanation of the term the “bamboo ceiling” that bars women from promotion to the top of corporations, after the American “glass ceiling.” The bamboo ceiling, by comparison, is not nearly as transparent as the American equivalent, and much sturdier. While the media portrayal of gender roles is not the singular factor in the shaping society and economy, it remains a salient contributor to the molding of such norms.
Japanese media’s influence does not stop at the Pacific Ocean. We have seen many examples of the strong trade and importation of Japanese art and the ideas that come with it. For Americans, the transmission and edification of ultra-conservative gender roles influences our culture in different ways. Once again, reaction to this is split between healthy and unhealthy individuals.
Some react in healthy ways. Otakus, especially adult women Otakus, emerge from the influx of varying ideas of societal and gender norms as strong, assertive, self-assured individuals. I see similarities between women in the Otaku community and women in STEM: they are so well-acquainted with sexism and boy’s clubs mentalities that their confident personalities are forged into a no-nonsense, straight forward manner to boldly face all challenges, whether they be gender-specific or not. On the other hand, less strong women in both communities conform and defer to the normal gender roles and biases, sinking into the background with more demure temperament rather than rocking the boat.
If one follows the idea that the mixing and superimposing one culture onto another can influence the macro-psychology of a population, we end in the very alarming of concept of two distinct rape cultures merging to transmit very destructive ideas on a group of people.
Rape is an issue in both cultures, and is increasingly incorporated into narratives in both Japanese and American media. Shoujo has used rape scenes in character development so often that it has become a trope. Hana Yori Dango has at least five attempted rapes, and even the positively viewed Ouran High School Host Club features an episode revolving around the necessity for the female protagonist to not “ask for” being raped by engaging boy bullies. As for American major motion pictures, we recently saw our first on-screen rape attempt in which a girl protagonist was pinned down and straddled by a man who held a position of power over her in the film Divergent. Using such scenes is a double-edged sword: some will walk away feeling less alone in the knowledge that there are other rape survivors, and others will believe the idea of raping someone is normal.
More often we see examples of less violent aggression against women. As the roles women play in media are flattened to a binary, so is the consumer’s expectation of women in real life, consciously or subconsciously. The objectification of women has been a problem for both countries at least since post-World War II. In Japan, there is the perception that many salary men seek out paid companions to appease sexual appetites that their honorable wives do not fill. In America, we have the term “madonna-whore complex” to describe a person who sees women as either pure and wholesome or sexual and debase. This psychological complex is often cited as the reason why serial rapists commit their crimes.
As two cultures that are oppressive of women converge on a population, we may expect to see individuals with very strong, toxically unhealthy ideas of gender norms. With two different cultures presenting varied, nuanced explanations for the objectification, infantiliziation, and sexualiation of women, an unhealthy individual could be socialized to be destructive force.
The story does not end here. In the Otaku community, we have seen women, especially female cosplayers, fight back against unwanted masculine attention and objectifying behaviour at cons. “Cosplay is not Consent” is the slogan for a campaign of young women to gain recognition and respect from their fellow community members after fighting an increasing amount of privacy invasions, micro-aggressions, and personal assaults while wearing costumes of their favorite characters.