Saturday, August 2, 2008

Overlooking the Easy Solution

An image that can launch a thousand perverts' wet dreams.

There's an old joke that starts with a man who goes to a doctor and says, "it hurts when I bend my arm like this." The doctor says, "then don't bend your arm like that." I'm guessing this joke is so old that Borscht Belt caveman comedians were telling it in the Saber Tooth dinner theater as patrons noshed on roast bison. The crux of the joke is that if something creates a problem, then don't do it. It's a bad joke, but a good point is embedded in it.

There has been a problem in Japan for quite some time with men who grope women on the train. One of the most appealing targets for such men has been schoolgirls. Part of the reason for this is that they are less likely to draw attention to themselves and cry our or react if a pervy old goon starts feeling them up. The other part of the reason is that Japan has a fetishistic fascination with schoolgirl attire. In particular, the skirts which reveal tender young legs and carry the potential for a tantalizing peak at underpants preoccupy the minds of deviant men.

The problem is not a limited one by any stretch of the imagination, though I'm hoping the attention given to the problem in the past decade has decreased the aggressiveness with which such men act on their desires. I've mentioned this problem to nearly every female student I've taught at one point or another and only one said she wasn't groped as a schoolgirl. One of them was groped every day and was once "gang groped" by a whole pack of men. Another said she sunk her nails long and hard into any hand that strayed her way. I think the perverts can sense who is confident and will fight back and who is timid and will suffer passively. They probably have a "how-to" guide somewhere out there which they pass around (along with their schoolgirl naughty pictures, I'm sure).

My husband has also discussed this topic with students. For the record, neither of us go out of the way to bring it up, but we both teach from the same textbooks on occasion and this topic is a natural off-shoot of one of the lessons. One of his students told him that her friend was not only groped on the way to school (on the train), but found when she arrived that there was was semen on her skirt. This is a good indication of how flagrant such behavior can be. A man can stand on the train with one hand on a school girl's private parts and the other on his penis and no one notices or stops him. Granted, the trains are crowded, but someone in the proximity ought to notice such a thing.

During this discussion, my husband proffered a possible solution to this problem which is easy and glaringly obvious. Why don't the schools have the girls wear slacks as a part of their uniforms instead of skirts? Pervy men with mirrors on the tips of their shoes couldn't peak up skirts and those who are excited by the view of young girls exposed legs may find their mojo dampened by covered legs, particularly since a school uniform with slacks is reminiscent of boys rather than girls.

I've asked students why such a solution isn't employed and am generally greeted with blank looks or the answer of "it's tradition." I have to restrain myself from concluding that the old men who make all the rules in this patriarchal society aren't the same ones who get off of fetishizing school girl uniforms and the idea (if not the act) of fondling young women against their will and prefer the status quo to stopping (or at least reducing the frequency of) the problem. I have to conclude that no one can think outside the box (and that it's a very small box).

Perhaps if there were a Japanese version of the antique doctor joke where the obvious solution is offered, someone would have gotten a clue and figured out that an easy way to stop panty obsessions and grabby perverts would be to simply change the attire of their unfortunate targets.


Liz Stone Abraham said...

Growing up in NYC, taking the subway or walking down the street, there were guys who made comments in my direction now and then. The comments ranged from salacious to generally harmless to frankly complimentary (that doesn't happen much any more when I go back to visit. Hm.). But I was never groped. And I don't remember any friends being groped, either.

I'd like to know what sociologists and anthropologists make of the situation you describe. Your solution does in fact seem obvious. One would think that your students would show some distaste for this "tradition." Perhaps they don't want to criticize their culture in front of a foreigner. Is there more to this subject than meets the western eye?

Orchid64 said...

I think that there is a lot to it, but all of it is irrelevant when placed alongside a problem which has been plaguing Japan for quite some time and affects underage girls.

Part of it has to do with roles and Japan endorsing and embracing traditional roles (as signified by an institutionally-backed difference between male and female attire). Part of it has to do with inequality and keeping women as vulnerable and objectified as possible in a heavily male-dominated society (a role women embrace as well as men since retaining a passive role offers them greater flexibility in some ways since Japan is so rigid about roles and definitions). Part of it is also the fact that sexual assault against women in Japan is blamed on the woman (at least in part) and such crimes are not taken seriously (including rape where the victim's location, dress, and relationship to the attacker are all factored in when considering whether to pursue the case as a crime). Domestic violence against women is something that wasn't even a crime in Japan until about a decade ago. And, I believe part of it is a lack of critical thinking (as it is not taught in schools and is generally discouraged) which means solutions, especially ones that question long-standing "rules" come very slowly.

I don't think there's any part of it which is invisible to the Western eye. Ironically, I think the only one it is invisible to are the Japanese themselves who are not as prone to analyzing their culture as we are. Women simply accept the way things are and endure it ("gaman") because they feel that's just the way it is and they'd only suffer more if they tried to do anything about it.

1tess said...

Women are not respected many societies. Look at the African women who undergo genital mutilation. Look at Saudi women who, as wives, are treated as possessions and whose husbands take subsequent (younger) wives. Look at the honor crimes where "damaged women" are murdered in the Middle East and India. Blaming the woman is not exclusive to Japan. Even in the U.S., domestic violence was/is not always prosecuted. There are people here who still think that if a woman is raped, she asked for it.

Orchid64 said...

The situation in the U.S. is verydifferent than that in Japan. In the U.S., layman may think a woman is asking for it, that's true. However, in the U.S., the police and the criminal justice system will investigate the crime and file charges. At worst, a woman has her day in court. In Japan, the police often won't even file charges.

I'm also not of the opinion that Japan has to be let off the hook because other places have problems as well. The U.S. is at least 50 years ahead of Japan on women's rights across the board. You have to live outside of America to appreciate how much better it is.

1tess said...

Oh, I do not think that Japan should be "let off the hook!" No.
I meant that women, even in the U.S., are not so very safe. Currently, I know a woman whose husband has a very prominent job at a local university; she herself has a career where she is well known and respected. She is being abused by her husband. She's never "reported" him for cultural/social reasons, but nevertheless, she is being abused. Her health is negatively affected, but she does not feel she can do anything about it. Nor can she even admit it openly. She's a person I see often but we are not "friends," though we meet often.
During my adult life, I have known several such women. The courts and the law don't offer satisfactory solutions: it comes down to social mores that must be followed.
I've known girls in junior high. and high school who are at a loss when it comes to...
If I say they don't have "self respect" then it seems to be blaming the victim...
Anyway, I think the attitude that women are things is not unique to Japan.
I am not a Japanese girl, so it may be even more difficult there, but it is not easy here either.

1tess said...

Post Script:
I don't think we are disagreeing on the issue of how women are treated. Your posts always make me think and many thanks to you!

Vin D. Alsace said...

"I've asked students why such a solution isn't employed and am generally greeted with --blank looks--"

Ah the Asian "blank look". Ha ha ha. That's one of my favorite looks ever.

The old "You, foreigner, can speak Chinese and just chastised me for butting in front of you in line at McDonald's?? Uhhhhhh (mouth agape)" blank look.

Or the blank look that comes in response to my question of "Why do Chinese bank tellers use the abacus instead of the calculator? It's been 5000 years, why not upgrade to 1960's technology, at least?"

I know that look well, and it's HILARIOUS.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Vin, and welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

I've never been to China so I didn't know that they were still using the abacus, though I have been told by many people who have visited there about their tendency to cut in on lines (and generally to be what would be considered "rude" by the standards of most other cultures).