Recently a Filipino ban on hentai manga/anime followed a vaguely worded, proposed UK law that would make all sexualized, simulated depictions of minors illegal (possibly making all fanservice legally problematic.) Now, there have been rumors that all games referring to sexual assault are to be banned in Japan, in the light of campaigns by international watchdog organization Equality Now and other womens’ rights organizations. Obviously, this rumored ban would spell disaster for an already troubled Japanese adult media industry. ANN reports that industry executives have already gone on record to reassure their fans that nothing has been decided yet.
It is terribly ironic that this censorship occurs even as historic progress is being made in many societies against the repression of women, minorities, and those of various sexual orientations. While prior bans against child pornography cited the harm done to the children appearing in the work, bans against the sexualized appearance of young girls in anime or manga are simply done to uphold a public sense of decency. No actual person is being harmed; rather the harm is presumably done to community standards. This movement in jurisprudence has led to some bizarre outcomes, such as the 14-year-old who was arrested as both sole perpetrator and sole victim of a “sex crime” wherein she photographed herself in a state of undress. Under US law, she may be forced to register as a sex offender for the remainder of her life.
If being charged with a crime against oneself seems absurd, it’s because the concept does not actually arise in tort law, the predecessor to modern criminal law. Torts address harm done by one party to another and are settled with restitution; if the victim and accused are the same party, any tort proceeding is a waste of time. Instead, the concept of committing a crime against oneself derives from religious law. Structurally, then, this is again an effort to impose a standard on a community rather than address some harm done.
That aside, the concept of video games being responsible for prevailing social mores is every bit as silly as the “anime and/or video games cause violence” argument. Once again, a reflection and critique of society is being treated as somehow being the cause of crime rather than a commentary on it.
Are women marginalized and objectified by Japanese society? Absolutely. But does this marginalization take place as a result of video games? Or would it be safer to say that the video games appeal to those who already take a certain stance towards women? Far from being just a chicken-or-the-egg problem, this is a very real look at the attempts of feminist organizations to intervene in the social perpetuation of cultural constructs.
This intervention happens with the best of intentions, but is ultimately counterproductive. Increasingly, research shows that the incidence of rape is decreased in countries where the general population has access to pornography. Strictly from a problem solving standpoint, then, if you wish to reduce the number of rapes occurring, banning forms of pornography that you personally find offensive is harmful to your cause.
Net Nanny attempts to argue that pornography is harmful, citing the anecdotal evidence of a group of aroused drunks sexually harassing hotel maids, but even a cursory inspection of this argument reveals serious flaws. A sweeping ban of expression on the basis that it might lead to harm is logic on the level of Judge Death: “All crime is committed by the living. Therefore life is a crime.” Freemania argues that this parallel may not be coincidental – that agents of social control do view all attempts to live life freely as criminal. Whatever the case, this combination of desire for deterrence and disregard for civil liberties would work equally well applied to an argument for involuntary chemical castration of the entire population: that, too, would remove the potential for rape, and far more effectively than anything else. If society is unwilling to go that far, it is because individual rights still matter. And if individual rights matter, what then is the purpose of violating them with a ban of dubious benefit?
Quite frankly, the rush to ban expression seems terribly naive. Telling a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist or someone with compulsive sexual issues to just stand in line and experience sex the way everyone else does is unlikely to be productive. If they could do that, wouldn’t they have saved themselves a lot of trouble and done so? Added to that is the fact that what is culturally considered “normal” varies with locale, has changed vastly over the past 100 years, and will probably continue to change in the future. In pursuit of change, feminist organizations may be unwittingly employing a cultural centrism every bit as arrogant as that used to justify the millennia of patriarchy they so deplore.