In December, 2017, a man was arrested on a charge of quasi-sexual assault, for kissing a sleeping woman on the train in Osaka. Yes, many of us have an experiece of falling asleep on the train. If a stranger kissed you while you were sleeping? It would be such an indecent and disgusting act.
This incident reminded me of the fairy tales of a sleeping beauty such as Snow White or Little Briar Rose, who awakened by the kiss of a prince. So I tweeted something like this on December 11th.
“Coming to think of it, those princes in the fairy tale also can be considered to be quasi-sexual offensers, because they kissed the beauties (who were toally strangers to them) while they were unconscious.”
Then this tweet went viral, and even ‘Yahoo! JAPAN News’ introduced the argument over the tweet as a current topic.
Many tweeters misunderstood or misread my comment and criticized or denounced it in strong language. Although I made replies to some extent on Twitter, I couldn’t say much in the limited word count. So, I’d like to discuss here why I think the prince’s kiss is a sexual assault and why it is ncecessary to pay attention to it. And I’m going to discuss it so that I can respond to all those typical critisizing tweet replies.
Feminist Approach to Literary Criticism
Most criticism to my tweet had a claim based on this kind of argument: “Are you crazy reading a fairy tale like that?” “You are just mixing up fiction and reality.” “Don’t destroy the dream.”
To those people I’d like to introduce a genre called literary criticism. Any kind of fiction including the fairy tale, literature, cinema, and cartoons must be in some way a reflection of our real life if it is circulated in the society and has a broad readership/audience. Literary criticism tries to interpret some social codes hidden in the fiction (Just in case, I’m not saying certain social facts are written there as they are.) It is possible that critics occasionally interpret more than the author meant, but it is not about if it is right or wrong. It is new perspectives drawn from the critics’ interpretations that we find valuable.
Among the literally criticism, the feminist approach especially has suggested interesting interpretations from gender perspectives. While having been criticized wrongly as “barbaric interpretations which fail to appreciate the worth of the work,” it has been cutting deeply into the literature including established masterpieces and trying to overtrun the male-centered view of the world which controls or underlies the works. My tweet in question was a similar attempt to that approach. This typical pattern of the fairy tale (by the Disney version, which is the most popular one in Japan) --- the kiss of a prince awakened the princess, then they got married and lived happily forever --- could be interpreted as a story of sexual assault, not a romantic love fantasy, when looking from a different perspective. Because the prince, however noble and handsome he was, kissed a stranger woman sleeping unconciously in the forest without her consent.
It is not only Western fairy tales. ‘The Tale of Genji,’ world-famous classic Japanese literature, mainly depicts the history of flowery love affairs of Hikaru Genji, a dazzling-looking courtier of high breeding. From another perspective, however, this novel could also be viewed as a sexual harrassment story, in which Genji, a son of Emperor and a very influential man in the Imperial Court, sexually approaches to many women around the palace using his power.
Such “reading” is not meant to devalue or deny the worth of the work. Still less does it argue for the ban of the publiation. Rather, it intends to deepen and expand an understanding of the work.
In Support of Shiori Ito
Another reason why I made that tweet was I wanted to support the battle of Ms. Shiori Ito. Her brave accusation made the idea publicly known that having sex with unconcious person should be considered to be rape. There are a lot of stories around us, in various media, of making a woman drunk and unconscious and then having sex with her, which is regarded as just a mischievous and lucky accident, not as an act of pure crime. This is a terrible misrecognition that should be corrected.
What “It turned Out to Be OK” Covers Up
Many other criticizing replies to my tweet said that there was no problem because the princess had given presumed consent, since the fairy tale ends like “Then she lived happily with the prince.” But this perception is really dangerous. Consider how many sexual assaults have been overlooked on the ground that the result turned out to be OK. Many porn movies have a storyline where a woman, who resists strongly against the sexual violence at first, obtains pleasure in the end. Isn’t it the same way of thinking? Vast majority of actual rapes are committed by acquaintances such as boyfrineds, workplace superiors, colleagues or relatives rather than strangers. Many of the victims are shocked and devastated, but do not speak to someone about the incident or report it to the police (refer to a research by Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office: Japanese only). Why? They feel they are not going to be heard or believed because of the relationship between the perpetrators and do not have any hope. The victims are also afraid of getting revenged by the sexual offensers if they do.
This research does not show what behaviors the perpetrators took after the rape. (It would be very hard to investigate that.) But I can imagine from my experience as a reseracher and activist that those people do not regard their act as rape. There might even be cases that repeated such acts lead to unwilling “love relationship” or marriage between the victims. Only those who can be insensitive to the victims’ pains and struggles may call it “It turned out to be OK.”
When I argue like this, some people might have an impression that Ms. Muta must be a very unhappy and miserable woman because she takes everything wrong. In fact, this kind of attitudes was another typical twitter reply pattern. Well, I’d like to say to them, “It’s not your business. Who do you think you are?” But actually I think I know what they feel. In her great book ‘Woman-Haters: Misogyny in Japan,’ Chizuko Ueno wrote, “This book will bring an uncomfortable reading experience to many readers, both men and women, especially men. Because what is written here is one of the things from which many people want to keep turning away.” It is unpleasent for everyone if somebody reveals discrimination and injustice in the world which they take for granted and are content with.
Feminists are people who say “no” to being satisfied with a world full of sexual discrimination, however. And for them, such revealing is a liberation from the dakness and uncertainty surroundining them and a pure pleasure. Therefore, we want to raise our voices and tell the discovery to as many people as possible. Of course we don’t like to be hated and attacked, but we will not give in to the culture or society which tries to crush us because they don’t like our ideas. We will keep speaking up.
Also abroad, it was reported that dozens of women in the film industry had accused a prominent Hollywood producer of repeated sexual harassment or assault for a long time. After that, many more women began to share their experiences of sexual misconduct on social media under the hashtag #MeToo. This encourages us, and we want to support and reinforce the movement.
Hostility and Disrespect towards the Accusation of Sexual Violence
I found many replies to my tweet were those of extreme personality attack. I was shocked and wondered why they did this far. After all we just have different opinions. That’s all. I can understand, as I wrote above, though not sympathize with, their feeling --- they feel threatened by an idea which disapproves the world they believe in and want to attack it. But I think it’s more than just that. I have realized there are still many people who will not admit that any sexual act without consent is violence. Also there is a tendency in the society where sexual offense including groping is taken lightly. That makes women hesitate to speak. Changing social recognition in this atmosphere is a tough job, but we need to keep speaking all the more.
Going with Hope
Fortunately, I have received a lot more positive, supportive or sympathetic replies and retweets than negative ones. In October, I wrote an article titled ‘Revealing the “Rape Myth”' (Japanese only) criticizing the note by journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi that claims Shiori Ito’s accusation against him is not true, which also earned more than 50,000 views very quickly. This demonstrates the fact that many people have doubts about the current social system and culture over sexuality or sexual violence. So I believe we can have hope, can’t we?
Original Japanese language article
Translated and adapted by A.Tawara