by Joseph Essertier
From ZNet, December 2017
“Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything….Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” — Donald Trump
“We have our own Vietnam. It’s called the dating game.” — Donald Trump on “The Howard Stern Show” in 1997
Assuming homo sapiens is still around, when “future generations” read about the history of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula that burst on the scene in 2017, what will they make of the eerily passive reaction of the general public and the mass media in the face of an ever increasingly likely thermonuclear war and the concomitant death knell of humanity?
This week at least, media pundits are instead focusing on the seemingly endless list of household name TV personalities, politicians and movie directors who have for too long used their power to sexually abuse and intimidate women (and men) into being helpless, voiceless victims. Few would disagree that some of these sexual predators are now getting what they deserve, that light is finally being shone on this systemic social problem. Indeed, those same ‘future generations’ might well be wondering how is it that in this “land of the free,” the holder of the most powerful office in the world feels “free” and entitled to grab any woman’s genitalia on a whim? Or that the politicians making life and death decisions about our country get a “free” hand to use our taxes to pay off, with impunity, women they have sexually assaulted?
These two seemingly disjunct phenomena, the US threatening a tiny, impoverished country with an illegal, genocidal, preemptive nuclear strike and the problem of sexual violence against women may not appear to have much in common with each other, but it is time we considered how they are related, before it is too late.
According to the United Nations’ webpage explaining the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), research “shows that achieving gender equality helps in preventing conflict, and high rates of violence against women correlates with outbreaks of conflict.”
The Problem of Patriarchy
“The historical nature of gender-based violence confirms that it is not an unfortunate aberration but systematically entrenched in culture and society, reinforced and powered by patriarchy.” –Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-based Violence
What we need at this point in human history is not simply corrections in the educational system, laws that ensure equality, and better job opportunities for some women but simply the end of patriarchy. It is an ancient and pervasive mindset that boys and girls are taught from the moment they enter the world. The word “patriarchy” denotes a “system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line” or a “system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it,” according to the Oxford Dictionary of English. But for many of us who think about patriarchy, the term also includes the habits of thinking that underpin that system. Such habits are shared today by billions of people, people inhabiting most of the world’s countries. And according to Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2016), our habits are deeply entrenched since they go back at least to the Agricultural Revolution that started 12,000 years ago, and those habits enable inequality in social and governmental systems. We have to overcome those habits in order to create a peaceful world with a sustainable future and, of course, to end the tens of thousands of years of injustice against women. Harari writes, “Patriarchal societies educate men to think and act in a masculine way and women to think and act in a feminine way, punishing anyone who dares cross those boundaries.” And, “Gender is a race in which some of the runners compete only for the bronze medal.” That brings out the unfairness of it, doesn’t it? We are trained from infanthood to be boys or to be girls and to cooperate with this inequality, dividing the world’s people into two groups, the dominators and the dominated, based on external, physical features. It is no less unjust and absurd than dividing people according to their skin color.
It has been known since the early 1980s that sexual assaults against women and children are “pervasive and endemic in our culture,” i.e., American culture, in the words of the psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman, who sketched out the historical process that led to the discovery. A sociologist and human rights activist in those years discovered something horrifying, i.e., that out of 900 randomly-chosen women, one in four had been raped and one in three had been sexually abused in her childhood. Such statistics are now common knowledge, but far less understood is the process she elucidates, that such modern psychiatric insights were only possible because of grassroots political movements for human rights. The movements set the stage for the research. When researchers began to probe, they found over and over again that sexual abuse of girls, boys, women, and men is rampant, not only among the working class but also the middle class.
Sexual violence occurs frequently in real life as it does in the world of fantasy, in pornography. In the words of bell hooks, a feminist intellectual and activist who demonstrated that “feminism is for everybody” and wrote a book with that title, “given the few hours in a day available for leisure activity,” pornography for men is the “site of sublimation, the place where the sexual addict can get a quick fix.” (The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, 2004). In her discussion of the ideas of Michael S. Kimmel in his essay “Fuel for Fantasy: The Ideological Construction of Male Lust,” she builds on his psychological theorization of male addiction to pornography to explain or build her general theory of male sexual violence.
Male consumption of pornography is fed by the sexual lust males are taught to feel all the time and their rage that this lust cannot be satisfied: ‘Pornography can sexualize that rage, and it can make sex look like revenge…. Everywhere, men are in power, controlling virtually all the economic, political, and social institutions of society. Yet individual men do not feel powerful—far from it. Most men feel powerless and are often angry at women, whom they perceive as having sexual power over them: the power to arouse them and to give or withhold sex. This fuels both sexual fantasies and the desire for revenge.’ [The quote is from Kimmel]. Many men are angry at women, but more profoundly, women are the targets for displaced male rage at the failure of patriarchy to make good on its promise of fulfillment, especially endless sexual fulfillment. Men may be too terrified to confront the facts of their lives and tell the truth that possessing the right to engage in rituals of domination and subordination is not all that patriarchy promised it would be.
Pornography and advertising today constantly present female sexual objects as the reward for obeying the rules and fulfilling the demands of patriarchy.
Considering military sexual violence from the perspective of this kind of patriarchal analysis, with its notion of a male desire for revenge or violence against women resulting from the false offer to males of sexual entitlement, the rage directed at women becomes more understandable—as does the motivation to use women and girls for “recreation.” (The immediate postwar government of Japan, under occupation by General Douglas MacArthur, actually provided the allied occupying forces in 1945 and 1946 with a “Recreation and Amusement Association” in Tokyo). Feminists have emphasized since at least the 1980s that rape is a form of assault.
Perhaps a subconscious desire to prove to others that one is a real man, including the fantasy of absolute power over a woman, a desire that is legitimized and encouraged by the sexist social environment of military institutions, is a root cause of war-related sexual violence. When the soldiers who have been trained to kill then “buy” incarcerated, sex-trafficked women, they are demanding that patriarchy make good on its promise, to actually deliver the sexual satisfaction through violent domination that they have been led to crave. The messages, many of them subliminal, of so many television commercials, movies, war stories, etc. have produced in them artificial desires. Through sexual violence they demonstrate dominance over the other to themselves and others, whether the other is a woman from the enemy side, someone walking near a US military base, or a fellow soldier who is a woman. And through this violence they continue the process of becoming the man that patriarchal indoctrination wants them to be.
Hot Asian Babes
Our “future generations” may also be puzzled as to why “hot Asian babes” is the number-one search term on Google. The answer is not so hard to find, even when those in power, who have facilitated the shameful history of sexual violence in Asia, work hard to cover it up.
Two early examples: As part of Britain’s imperialist history, colonial administrators introduced licensed prostitution to their colonies in Bombay, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. The United States did not have a domestic licensed prostitution system, but US military and colonial officials had a system of physical health checks of prostitutes for the benefit of sailors who prostituted Filipinas. So while it was not OK for civilians to prostitute women inside the US, apparently Asian women were not deemed of comparable value.
Japan had a large domestic sex trafficking industry in the 1910s and 1920s, as did many other countries, and the practices in that industry laid the foundation for the Japanese military’s licensed-prostitution, “comfort women” system in the 1930s and 1940s. See Caroline Norma’s The Japanese Comfort Women and Sexual Slavery during the China and Pacific Wars, 2016, for a shocking account of the dehumanizing practices of sex trafficking. Two quick examples: “By 1926, 53 percent of victims being prostituted through ‘restaurants’ in Tokyo prefecture were under 18 years of age, and 5 percent were under the age of 14.” And: “While the majority of Japanese women trafficked into comfort stations had already reached adulthood, they had almost always been prostituted before this in the civilian sex industry since childhood. This was particularly the case for women trafficked into comfort stations from ‘geisha’ venues. The use of adoption contracts by geisha venue proprietors as a central plank of their procurement activity made the prostitution of underage girls a particularly notable feature of these businesses… Geisha venues… used adoption contracts to encourage parents to transfer young daughters to brokers on the ruse these children would receive years of artistic cultural training.” Shirota Suzuko was one of the first brave “comfort women” (i.e., sex slaves for Japanese soldiers) who wrote in 1971 about her experience as a geisha and “comfort woman.” The first time she was prostituted by a male buyer who paid extra for her since she was a 17-year-old virgin, she was brutally raped. Her kimono was “torn to shreds” and she bled so much that the buyer had to call the geisha restaurant proprietor to clean up the mess. She was blamed for the buyer’s violence. As a result of that night, she became infected with an STD and was bedridden for months. Later she was sold into a brothel and eventually used in government-sanctioned gang rape centers (i.e., “comfort stations”) for the use of Japanese soldiers.
Today in Japan, as in the US and other rich countries, men prostitute sex-trafficked women in shockingly large numbers. But while Japan has hardly engaged in war at all since 1945, except when the US twists its arm, the US military has attacked country after country, beginning with its total destruction of Korea in the Korean War. Ever since that brutal assault on Koreans, there has been the continued violence of American soldiers brutally assaulting women in South Korea. Sex trafficking for the sake of the US military happens wherever there are bases. The US government is considered one of the worst offenders today, turning a blind eye to the supplying of trafficked women to American soldiers, or actively encouraging foreign governments that they let the profiting and violence continue.
Even in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s defeat, American troops victimized Japanese children and adults on their own—sexual violence free of charge, unlike the “Recreation and Amusement Association” gang-rape centers, which charged a nominal fee. Random rapes were reported day in and day out. Terese Svoboda writes, “Two incidents of mass rape from that time were so outrageous they were also reported: on April 4 fifty GIs broke into a hospital in Omori [sic, perhaps “Aomori”] prefecture and raped 77 women, including a woman who had just given birth, killing the two-day-old baby by tossing it onto the floor. And on April 11 forty US soldiers cut off the phone lines of one of Nagoya’s city blocks and entered a number of houses simultaneously, ‘raping many female adolescents and women between the ages of 10 and 55 years.’ By May 1946 MacArthur was facing a plague of rape.” (http://apjjf.org/-Terese-Svoboda/2737/article.html)
More recently, why did Washington approve of the deal between Tokyo and Seoul to silence Korean “comfort women” in spite of the opposition from South Koreans? Perhaps one of the reasons is that some of the strongest opposition movements against US military bases in Okinawa and South Korea have been sparked by well-publicized incidents of American sexual violence perpetrated against Japanese and Koreans. For example, the huge and sudden expansion of the anti-base movement in Okinawa in 1995 after three American sailors gang-raped a 12-year-old girl, not to mention Kenneth Franklin Shinzato’s recent rape and murder of the 20-year-old Okinawan office worker.
In terms of the struggle to protect the human rights of sexually-trafficked women, the most disconcerting action taken by the Japanese government in recent years has been this attempt to essentially pay off Seoul in order to silence the brave “comfort women” of South Korea, a move that Washington applauded, because Tokyo had fulfilled Washington’s demand to “resolve” the issue. “Resolve” is political science terminology for “make it go away.” Washington would have us believe that remembering the tragedy would unnecessarily stir up bad feelings between Japanese and Koreans, as if Washington had been some kind of beacon of light for peace in East Asia, as if the basic rights of women would have to regrettably be set aside for the sake of a higher priority of peace in the region, as if the cause of world peace would not be served best by remembering the violence of the past and the violence of past patriarchies, as if somehow forgetting the hundreds of thousands of “comfort women” who were sexually trafficked, incarcerated, and tortured in “comfort women stations” located throughout the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere would serve some sort of humanitarian purpose. Washington would advise Tokyo and advise all of us in Trumpian fashion that we get on with the more important money-making business of war. There are doors to be opened and markets to be dominated. Silencing women’s voices and erasing history would also help prevent people from thinking too hard, i.e., from becoming conscious of how patriarchy breeds war.
Humanity is for the first time having to face its imminent demise, be it through environmental destruction or nuclear war brought about by an impulsive, narcissistic bully for whom pressing the nuclear button would give him a joyous sense of power, the ultimate compensation for his emptiness.
Hidden in this misogynist’s past are the brutal teachings of patriarchy and the pain that most boys know all too well but that, until the recent feminist revolution, have been unable to give voice to. Ironically, the person who reminds us that even Trump himself is a victim of patriarchy and is in need of healing (besides his obvious need of a permanent change of assignment) was Lee Yong-soo, the 88-year-old Korean woman who was trafficked into sex slave-dom for the Japanese military during the Pacific War, who stood up for the rights of women everywhere, became a prominent voice of justice, and during Trump’s recent visit to Asia, was invited to the state banquet attended by Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. She, one of the rare prominent victims of sexual violence on the international stage, actually hugged the world’s most famous misogynist and the top commander of an institution founded on sexual violence. That single hug was an act rich with symbolism that holds out a possible future of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace in East Asia, regardless much gnashing of teeth among Prime Minister Abe’s circle of ruling-party ultranationalists in response to her being invited to the table.
Fortunately but paradoxically, the sheer scale of awfulness today is bringing the truth of war and sexual violence out into the open where it is finally being confronted head on. Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Buddhist monk and peace activist from Vietnam, expressed the nature of war resistance this way:
Resistance, at root, must mean more than resistance against war. It is a resistance against all kinds of things that are like war. Because living in modern society, one feels that he cannot easily retain integrity, wholeness. One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself… (Quoted in Hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love).
Boys of my generation in the States were told over and over for twenty years on television and other media, “be all that you can be” by joining the army, but what we are slowly beginning to comprehend is that the army ingrains in soldiers the exact opposite—becoming less than you can be, becoming pathological and a mere shell of your former self, the free-thinking and free-loving creature that you were born as. It pushes soldiers to the ultimate patriarchal extreme, leading to the attitude of a soldier like Kenneth Franklin Shinzato in Okinawa, Japan that when you are horny, you can just get in your car, go find a local woman near a military base, and sexually abuse her. Whether she lives or dies is for you to decide. As Oppenheimer said when his work climaxed in the ultimate moment of destruction at that time in human history, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” An orgasm of pain. But what pleasure did he feel when he heard the news that 100,000 girls, boys, mothers, grandparents, people with disabilities, abducted and enslaved people from Korea, etc., were incinerated in Hiroshima?