Tag Archives: Orientalism

PUAs in Japan: when misogyny and Orientalism mix

(Content note: misogyny and violence against women, abuse mentality, racism)

Readers might already be aware of the pick-up artist (or “executive dating coach, as he apparently prefers to be known) Julien Blanc, aka RSD Julien, who has received opprobrium for the manipulative and often violent tactics he advises men to use to attempt to attract women. In particular, a video of him using these tactics against women on the street in Japan has gained attention for the openly violent actions he is shown using- putting women in headlocks and thrusting their heads into his crotch, for example. The backlash has begun, with feminist activist Jennifer Li starting a Change.org campaign urging hotels in Australia to refuse to host Blanc’s seminars, which has already successfully persuaded the Como hotel in Melbourne to cancel one such event. (Li is also behind the #TakeDownJulienBlanc hashtag.)  In Japan too, commenters are raising awareness of Blanc’s planned return to Japan in mid-November, hoping to prevent him assaulting any more women.

I’d like to urge everyone who hasn’t already to sign Li’s petition, and to spread the word that this man’s actions, and those of PUAs more generally, constitute harassment or even assault of women. In this blog I’d like to focus a bit on the Orientalism that underscores Blanc’s behaviour towards Japanese women in his video, and how that Orientalism is reflected in attitudes towards Asian women among not only the pick-up artist community, but also among Western (generally white) men in Asia.

(For the purposes of transparency: I studied Japanese at university and spent a year in Japan as part of my course, where I observed the behaviour and attitudes I discuss. This obviously means my impressions are limited to one country in Asia and are of course subjective in nature;  I cannot pretend to be an expert on Orientalism or the dynamics of how Western men conceive of Asian women or Japanese women in particular. Feel free to let me know whether you think my observations are valid or not.)

Anyone who, like me,  is driven by some masochistic impulse to spend any time reading into the PUA movement- men who seek codified, systematic ways to seduce women- will probably come to the conclusion that manipulation is central to the approach these men adopt towards women. The central idea that PUAs/”dating coaches”/whatever advocate is that there are foolproof shortcuts available to men (for a fee, of course) to essentially trick women into sleeping with them. For a sizeable portion of PUAs, in fact, the central pleasure of sexual conquest seems not to be sexual, but the “conquest”- the sense of having “beaten” or “won” against the woman in question. If like me, you believe in patriarchy as a social system and a mindset that values domination and control above all else, the connection seems obvious. So too does the frequent characterisation of PUAs as seeing women as enemies in a video game- if you consult the strategy guide and use the right techniques against the “enemy”, you will be able to control them and gain a victory, without fail. PUA communities therefore buy into the unstated patriarchal imperative to exert control over women, and the dehumanisation and essentialist attitudes (“women are all the same, they all respond predictably to these actions”) that one must adopt in order to use manipulation against an entire group of people without encountering moral conflict.

There are differences in how these men see separate groups of women, though, which lead to differing approaches against said groups. In particular, PUAs and others in the affiliated internet “manosphere” view Asian women through the lens of Orientalism, buying into crass stereotypes of them as submissive, subservient, demure, and focussed on pleasing the men in their life. This is often held up as an ideal model of womanhood, contrasted against Western (generally American) women who are characterised as too demanding, selfish or even “ruined” by the influence of feminism. (This antipathy never seems to stop PUAs from attempting to seduce Western women, funnily enough.)

While the manipulative or even outright abusive techniques PUAs champion are themselves forms of violence (Blanc and at least one other pick-up guru have characterised the Duluth Power and Control Wheel as a how-to guide on “gaming” women, which is unusual only in its frankness), it is less common that they explicitly recommend an escalation into physical violence of the kind displayed by Blanc, at least when first meeting a woman. So why does Blanc feel so confident in assaulting Japanese women? Certainly, he utilises this outright aggression against women around the world. But he seems particularly brazen about this behaviour in Japan, bragging that “When you go to Tokyo….if you’re a white male, you can do what you want.” He also gives voice to abusers and rapists everywhere with the pronouncement that “Every foreigner who is white does this.”

Here, the racist conception of Asian women as submissive and non-retaliatory intersects with the misogyny inherent in the PUA outlook on women in general. Because Japanese women are believed to be too submissive to object to abuse, and because women are believed to be property men can do what they want with, Blanc feels entitled to assault with even more impunity than he would against white women. And because of the belief abusers hold that all men treat women like they do, he feels confident enough to display this abuse online and promote it to other men- every white man in Japan does this, or they would if they could. Unconsciously, he makes explicit the power that white privilege gives him, even in a majority non-white country like Japan. Because unfortunately, unless someone decided to file a complaint and press charges against him, he likely will get away with this. The influence of white supremacy around the world means that often when white Western men harass or abuse Japanese women, nothing gets done.

Obviously, few white men in Japan engage in openly abusive behaviour like Blanc’s. But the Orientalist view of Asian women that spurs such behaviour on is not uncommon among those men. During my time in the country I quickly became aware of the other exchange students who spent most of their time trying to seduce Japanese women, who would sometimes openly profess their “appreciation” for said women over those from their own country. The point is not that international relationships are a bad thing- happy, respectful partnerships between white men and Japanese women happen all the time. However, men who travel to Japan (or other countries in East Asia- the stereotypes in question are rarely sensitive to nationality) with a preconceived notion of the country’s women moulded by Orientalism are more likely to fetishise those women than to treat them as individuals worthy of respect. Even if they don’t use physical violence like Julien Blanc, they are likely to feel more entitled to harass women in these countries, to ignore signs of discomfort or shrug them off as “natural submissiveness”. This behaviour is all too common against women in Western countries; buying into Orientalist stereotypes can only make it worse.

It’s a good thing that Blanc’s abusive behaviour, and his promotion of abuse to other men, is being exposed and opposed. With any luck he will soon find it impossible to profit off of his behaviour, though I won’t hold out hope that this will cause him to question whether what he is doing is acceptable. What Blanc does, however, is at the extreme end of a spectrum of behaviours. While it’s easy to focus on the PUAs who, like Blanc, openly harass and assault women, we also need to pay attention to the racist and misogynist ideas behind their behaviour. Few will take them to such extremes, but they underscore the outlooks of far more men than just the relatively small pick-up artist community.

Personal Bullshit IV: finding inspiration where you can

ambergray

I’ve done some rambling, self-obsessed posts in my time, but this might be the most self-absorbed piece I’ve ever done. Read at your own peril.

I feel like this is an odd attribute in someone who went to study Japanese at university, but I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of anime. I enjoy the work of Studio Ghibli, of course, and the film version of Akira was very influential on me when I saw it as a teenager. But I’ve been somewhat wary of delving further into the medium, mostly for a reason that’s probably unfair: the fans. More than the stereotype of Western anime fans as socially awkward and obsessive to an uncomfortable degree, what put me off was the way some fans would latch on to this one particular aspect of Japanese culture, and act as if their appreciation for it gave them some unique insight into the country and people. To appropriate this area of Japanese culture without necessarily understanding it seemed to me an uncomfortable expression of Orientalism, the uncritical, adoring flip-side to the xenophobic Japan-bashing of something like Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun. I didn’t want to come off as one of “those” Japanophiles, so for a long time I avoided delving too deeply into anime, or indeed manga.

Recently though, I’ve started to think that these concerns about the people who consume anime shouldn’t prevent me enjoying the best of what the medium has to offer. A few weeks ago I watched an entire anime series through for the first time: namely, Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most famous and well-regarded examples of the mecha (giant robot) genre. I came to the show via an odd route. Given its large profile I had obviously heard of Evangelion before, but only became really interested in it because of the references to it in the music of Gridlink, the recently disbanded grindcore outfit whose final album Longhena has been one of my most frequently-listened to this year. I may therefore be one of the few people who heard the music referencing the show and then watched it, rather than the other way around.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the show and its accompanying movie conclusion The End Of Evangelion, in spite of some major technical and narrative flaws. The show’s producers were in dire financial straits by the end of its run, unable to even afford to produce animation frames, which is immediately obvious in the last few episodes when certain scenes feature still images for as long as a minute at a time. The attempts at humour in the show’s early run mostly fell flat for me, as did the episodes that merely reproduced the formulaic, monster-of-the-week format of shonen anime rather than subtly deconstructing it. By the end of the series, though, the show’s tone had taken a more serious turn, focused more on character than overarching plot, that resonated with me, particularly in terms of the insights it gave into its protagonists. The teenaged central cast, tasked with protecting humanity from invading “Angels” using the titular biomechanical Evangelions, felt real to me because of their responses to what, realistically, would be highly traumatic events.

Main protagonist Shinji Ikari, in particular, already suffers from low self-esteem  before being forced into war, and by The End Of Evangelion appears to be affected by full-blown depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, the character of Asuka Soryu Langley is initially introduced as confident to the point of arrogance, and at first seems to be a brash, cheery girl in the vein of so many other anime heroines. But she too struggles with self-esteem issues and emotional repression. Having linked her self-worth to her performance in battle, she is devastated by defeat, lacerates herself for her failures and eventually succumbs to a mental breakdown. I appreciated that a fantastical science-fiction setting would devote this much attention to the consequences of its events upon the mental state of its characters. But these characters’ feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred were especially resonant to me as someone who has struggled with the same emotions for most of my life.

It’s for a similar reason that the music of Gridlink strikes such a chord with me. Lyricist and vocalist Jon Chang has explicitly mentioned Evangelion as an inspiration (“It’s a really interesting theme which goes back to Evangelion, of characters who don’t like themselves; who don’t like their lives, and they really don’t like the world that much, but it is up to them to save the world”), and drew upon the imagery, themes and atmosphere of the series and other, similar anime and videogames to create a version of grindcore that retained the genre’s trademark furious anger, but also made room for the sadness and despair of these media’s central characters. The melancholy that accompanies the fury was more evident on Gridlink’s later releases, but their first album Amber Gray features a song directly inspired by Evangelion that balances the two on a knife edge. In just over half a minute, “Asuka” manages to neatly summarise the aforementioned Evangelion character’s emotional struggle, as well as some of the show’s central themes:

In the walls of your heart
I’ll always be no one
In the walls of ourselves
Kimochi Warui
No one hates you
as much as you hate yourself
in your own heart
Die

I can’t entirely explain why, but the “No one hates you/As much as you hate yourself” line in particular is tremendously evocative to me. To live with depression is to forever have that self-hatred accompany you. For myself in particular, the fact that you are always accompanied by yourself is what produces self-hatred. If you spend enough time with anyone you’ll grow frustrated with them at times. Being around myself at all times, and remembering the bad and hurtful things I have done, is a major reason I often hate myself. In the context of the rest of the lyrics, the line could be read as an accusation, an expression of frustration at someone’s depression from someone outside of it who does not understand how mental illness affects people. But it could also be read more positively, as an affirmation. Yes, self-hatred is a frequent feature of my mental state. But it is unlikely anyone in the world hates me to that extent- they don’t spend as much time with me, they don’t know all about me, they likely do not think about me unless I initiate contact somehow. In an odd way, I find it reassuring to hear Jon Chang scream that lyric, and to hear my mind screaming it back. I might not be able to remove self-hatred from my mind, but I can take some small comfort in the fact that others probably do not hate me as much as I think they do.

People, particularly my parents and other family members, sometimes ask me why I consume angry, despairing or melancholy media to the extent I do, with the implication that it is partially responsible for my emotional state. I wonder if it is precisely because it deals with the emotions I feel most regularly- anger, despair, depression, self-loathing- that things like Gridlink or Evangelion resonate with me. Or perhaps it’s because these things are skewed towards negative emotional states, that the inspirational messages I am able to take from them feel more real to me.