Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Won't Miss #14 - maid fetishists (reflection)

I'm fully cognizant of the fact that my geographic circumstances strongly affect my experiences here in the U.S. as they did in Japan. Nonetheless, my subjective reality is as valid as any other. They may not be generalizable, but they are fair. When I discuss life in Japan for me as opposed to life in America for me, I speak anecdotally, but that doesn't mean it's not a reflection of a truth, at least as it applies to life in Tokyo and life in suburban California.

One thing about life in Tokyo was that fetishistic behavior was something I not infrequently witnessed. Whether it was men reading pornographic papers or manga on the train, panty fetish tokens, or women dressed in costumes in Akihabara to cater to the whims of men who wanted to fulfill certain fantasies, the way in which women were portrayed specifically to serve male idiosyncrasies was something I could not escape. I'm sure that this was, in large part, because I was living in a densely populated metropolis.

That being said, I've been to San Francisco several times and even taken public transportation in the U.S. (I know, the horror!), and I've never seen anyone portray their fetishistic behaviors (note: I did not go to Castro St., but I doubt I'd see women being objectified for the amusement of men there), let alone women on streets in costumes meant to happy up the menfolk. I'm sure there are places in which this happens in the U.S., perhaps outside of Hooters or some places in Las Vegas, but it's not something I see nearly so often here. 

While I don't have an ethical problem with it, I could not help but feel bad when I encountered women dressed as maids in Japan because they were rather clearly ashamed of being in that role on multiple occasions. Most of them turned away if someone tried to take a picture of them. If people persisted, they would walk away. I don't think any woman actively enjoys occupying a role which is about objectifying themselves to please strange men, but many do it because the money is good. Their presence wasn't a curiosity to me. It just made me sad. Before panties get knotted in a wad over this, I'd ask that people genuinely consider the question of how they'd feel if their wife or daughter had that sort of job, not because the job is shameful, but because it is steeped in women behaving in a servile manner while catering to a fantasy which often has sexual overtones. 

By virtue of circumstances, prudishness, or whatever, I'm glad that I don't encounter such things in the U.S. I don't miss seeing women dressed in maids or related costumes in Akihabara. 


  1. For the most part, I agree, but on this topic I always think of it this way:

    Imagine you're a young, attractive girl from a lower income family. You need money. You have two options:

    1. Become a maid and earn $5/hr.
    2. Work in the sex industry and earn $150/hr.

    Which would you choose and why?

    Important to consider is that this option is available to many poor women, but not to men. If you're poor and male and want to make money immediately, you have little choice but to do backbreaking, dangerous, or otherwise undesirable work for very little.

    1. I'd actually choose a different option (neither 1 nor 2). Attractive women have the same options as unattractive ones, and more. However, your point is taken. I'm in no way criticizing the women. In fact, if they view their options as the two you mention, then my sadness for them is compounded.

      I don't know what options are open to poor people in Japan (though having grown up very poor in America, I do know about the limits of poverty), but I have to imagine that working in supermarkets, convenience stores, doing cleaning lady work, etc. are also on the table. It's a host of not great options, and I can understand why women would take high-paying degrading work (like being a maid) over lower paying tedious work. However, my feelings aren't about the women, but rather about the sadness of it all. It's a similar feeling to the one I have when people are panhandling in the U.S. I feel sorry for them that this is their best or only option and what it says about the way the world works.

    2. I completely agree with you, but one more thing: is wearing a maid outfit and serving tea in a maid cafe more degrading than being an actual maid? You're right that there are more options on the table, but I'm not so sure if serving overweight nerdy men tea and posing for pictures is necessarily more degrading than cleaning up said overweight nerdy man's hair and nail clippings from a hotel room for 1/5th the pay.

    3. It is more degrading because it's about responding to a fetish and that is about objectifying someone. A real maid performs a service, a useful and valuable one that actually requires some level of skill to do well. A maid in a maid cafe takes on a role in order to act as a subservient avatar for male fantasies. She isn't a person, but rather a thing to be played with and to boost the self-esteem of those she serves.

      It's not the job, but the role-playing that is degrading. It's the difference between being a waitress in a bar (which is not degrading)and being one at Hooters (which is degrading). One is about serving food. The other is about being an object of male fantasies. Though the actual work is the same, the way in which the person performing it is treated and regarded is completely different.

      In each case, the way women are treated by customers is markedly different and the way in which they treat customers (or are expected to) is different. Again, I wouldn't care if my daughter (if I had one) was working as a real maid or waitress, but I wouldn't want her working at Hooters or a maid cafe because I'd know she was going to be treated as an object of someone's fetishistic fantasies and not a person. Ultimately, I'd worry about the long term-impact on her psychological well-being, particularly her self-worth and her boundaries.

  2. I believe companies mandate strict photo rules for girls who go out on the streets to advertise.

    Not a huge fan of Japan's obsession with young females, whether they're maids or AKB48 singers.

    1. For some reason, I keep forgetting about the whole AKB48 thing and how it reflects on this as well. You make a good point about the obsession with young women. You do see more of that in Japan. I'm not sure if that's because they are actually more obsessed or if they are more overt about it. I imagine it is a bit of both as these things tend to feed upon themselves. I think the most disturbing part is that women buy into their own objectification, but that can be said worldwide.

    2. Orchid: I'm sure you've seen it, but in case you haven't: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/9841441/Japanese-pop-star-shaves-head-in-penance-for-sex-scandal.html

    3. Paul has a very good point here. The business of maid cafes are established around point systems and return visits. As bonuses for continued service, clients have the opportunity to take pictures with their favourite maids. While I realize that many of the women working out on the street advertising for the maid cafes appear to rather dislike their job, the shying away from pictures if more of a job responsibility rather than disgust at the activity. Also, the girls generally look much much happier when the weather is nice as opposed to the poor girl I saw last November who looked like she desperately wanted a coat.

      Furthermore, (My own tangent now. Wanted to support Paul first) I do not believe many of these women working at these institutions are doing it out of desperation or indentured requirement (IE, these women aren't import Thai sex workers). Many of the young girls at my work place rather enjoy the costuming and role play, the power that it gives them over others, and they aren't performing the activity as a subservient individual at all. It also isn't particularly demeaning to women, anymore than smutty fiction is demeaning to men (or johnny bars for instance). It's about a business of identifying an interest in the population and serving it in a safe and controlled way which can make all parties happy.

  3. Oh boy, the maid-and-the-like cafes. Some of those just plain creep me out. Like the one where you can pay something like 2000 yen for idols-in-training to make cup ramen for you, and you can then talk to the idols while the ramen is cooking (which takes three minutes). Or the one where you can pay to put your head on a girl's lap (occasionally with ear-picking included). Then there's ones which are kinda like maid cafes, except the girls play a bunch of different cliched roles, like the little sister character, or the childhood friend, et cetera. I even encountered one cafe on Google street view where each table was located in a different set - classroom, bedroom, train car. It looked quite pretty, but the idea that it implied was a little unnerving.

    I get that there are people who aren't really the type to attract girls, but paying money just to speak to one? I feel kinda sorry for the girls...

    1. Paying money to put your head in a girl's lap (or the ear picking... ewwwwwwww!) is borderline as a service vs. a sex industry job. It's like paying for hugs or kisses that don't land on the mouth. while I feel sorry for the girls, I feel sorry for the men who have a need for this. They clearly need comfort and physical intimacy and would rather pay for it than seek it out through conventional methods (like asking your mom for a hug or finding a girlfriend). It points out to something in the culture which isn't fulfilling basic human needs at a broader level than in some other cultures.

      I often find that Americans (especially on the West coast) are too indiscriminately "huggy" or touchy-feely, but I think Japanese society sometimes goes too far in the other direction. If there was more basic intimacy, I don't think men would pay to put their heads in a girl's lap.

      You hit the nail on the head about all of this being "unnerving". I think that's because this sort of thing exists in the gray zone between legitimate service and prostitution. These are needs that should be addressed by those who we are intimate emotionally with, not by total strangers. It says that the girls' boundaries are violated for money, and the men are meeting needs in a fashion which makes one pity the emptiness of their emotional lives.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. I wanted to say a few things. As someone who has had similar experiences to you but resulted in some different points of view.

    1. About porn/fetishism in the open. When you put things in the dark closet they have a tendency to grow bugs. Perhaps if Americans brought our porn out into the open we would see a diminishing of the frankly disturbing undercurrent of abuse and violence evident in so much of mainstream pornography, which is obvious to all and yet no one mentions it. Clearly there are pros and cons to each side, but just maybe the Japanese have the right idea here.

    2. No one forced the girls to put on the maid costume and go to Akiba. Unlike regions of the world that actually have a problem with sex trafficking and sexual slavery.

    3. Opportunities to take pictures of the girls are a scarce and high-value item. Customers of the maid cafe invest a great deal of time and money in assembling a collection of photos of/with all the girls; they must pay for each one. This 'contrived scarcity' of access to the girls is a theme I believe has a long history in the Japanese conception of femininity, and probably many other aspects of their culture. My overwhelming impression of maid cafes, having visited one in Akiba once, agreed with yours in that the girls did not seem too happy to be there. I do suspect whether their displeasure was not more strongly tied to the enforced interaction with nerdy, antisocial males who they would not give the time of day in an unconstructed environment. Perhaps they were all aware of the script they were following and proceeded as willing, if unenthusiastic, participants in a system that was better than any alternatives. At any rate I doubt they pondered the deeper sociological implications of their situation for very long as they counted their money on the way home.


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