Hello. Welcome to my first WordPress blog post. A space where I write my (relatively unfiltered) thoughts on many things, the contents of which encompass the political to the social to the spiritual. More often than not, I’ll be talking about all of these things simultaneously within the same post and through an anthropological perspective.
In lieu of recording myself 24/7, I thought writing would
(a) be a good outlet for me to write my thoughts and return to them in the future and …
(b) provide a space through which meaningful discussions can be had in a productive fashion (I recognize how very few people comment on blogs in general but it is a hopeful delusion I carry)
To give you a glimpse into what I’d be sharing, take for instance a recently published article titled, “For vulnerable high school girls in Japan, a culture of ‘dates’ with older men.” Reporting for The Washington Post, Anna Fifield writes in the article how a particular kind of ‘subculture’ in Japan has allowed high school girls to engage in various ‘dating’ activities with older men. “High school dating” in this context could mean anything from a casual walk, a drink in a bar, to transactional sex. She would assert that what is happening is simple: child prostitution. The point of the article is to highlight the ongoing (and often futile efforts) in curtailing child prostitution because of a persistent societal effort to put the onus on girls to take responsibility for their actions.
She highlights the Bond Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to trying to get girls off the streets. The Bond Project works from an epistemology of human rights practices, and is obviously concerned about the sexual exploitation of children in Japan. Fifield also notes how these concerns are not being addressed because many people do not consider it a problem. To many it is considered business and the normal state of affairs.
However, what I would like to highlight are the limits of working from within a human rights epistemology. It completely de-politicizes child prostitution. It detaches child prostitution from greater historical and socio-economic processes at work in Japan. It not only obscures the general forms of prostitution that is prevalent in this region but obfuscates the historical precedence that discursively animates or reifies this practice as the norm and as “business.” (For the sake of brevity, I do not intend on speaking to the historical legacy of prostitution in the region but it is worth noting here due to its persisting and depressing relevance.)
Furthermore, it continues to pathologize men and women as having certain unfulfilled “needs” and “desires” when their affective responses are merely symptoms of an entire generation of people suffering under the grinding gears of neoliberal policies. Japan was once hailed as an economic juggernaut in the twilight of the 20th century; that narrative is no longer accurate (nor was it ever really accurate to begin with).
The repeated references to “loneliness” makes it clear that social anomie pervades Japan and the rest of the region. Young citizens of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, have taken to calling their own city, “hell Joseon,” as a “phrase that harks back to the five-century-long Joseon dynasty in which Confucian hierarchies and a feudal system determined who got ahead and who didn’t.” Is it such a surprise that many citizens were outraged by the proven allegations of corruption within the Blue House?
It is little wonder then why high school girls are turning to transactional sex to meet their emotional and economic needs. The article lightly touches upon the kinds of pressures young women (and men) are under: “If there are two 16-year-old girls, and one’s at school and one’s not, customers will always choose the one who’s at school.” It implies that the women who is in school is more likely to respond to solicitations of sexual favours because of certain economic pressures and expectations.
One of my favourite cultural anthropologists, Anne Allison recently co-edited a book called Japan: The Precarious Future recounting the changes that have taken place in contemporary Japanese society. In it, she argues how “restructured labour markets have severed or completely changed the intimate connections between people and create[ed] a generation of Japanese people living at the edge of oblivion.” People are living precariously and perpetually as temporary workers barely earning enough to live; young adults openly express their worries by refusing to leave their bedrooms.
The article addresses the issue of child prostitution as a phenomena specific to the individual but I would tentatively argue that these problems speak to greater changes that have resulted in the decrease in stable, predictable employment.
At the end of Fifield’s article, she remarks how it is important to understand how these girls ended up in the business. However, although she recognizes how mainstream attitudes overlook the background of young women, she misses the mark by completely disregarding the reasons for why women continue to “fall outside mainstream social structures.”
What relevance does this have with us, the “West”? Why should we give a damn? Many of my colleagues and friends are wrestling with issues of precarious working conditions. Owning a home is a pipe-dream for the foreseeable future. Many, if not most, continue to feel lonely and disconnected. Well-meaning churches on either side of the denominational spectrum have made a concerted effort to create community. And yet personally, there have been times when I feel like the Good News has been rendered silent and impotent in the face of such seismic socio-economic changes. Changes our generation are ill-equipped to face, let alone recognize.