Chicks On Anime
Pornography for Women

by B. Dong, C. Brienza, S. Pocock, Dec 16th 2008

About the contributors:

Bamboo is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life.
Casey is a freelance journalist, and also writes reviews for ANN.
Sara is an animator who's also released her own independent short film.

Inspired by some of the discussions in our forums regarding last week's column, we decided to look more at the way women are still shown in modern pop culture and advertising. A good place to start was with pornography for women, to see what kinds of themes appealed to some women. Now, it's not an in-depth discussion, nor is it a thorough one, but it's a topic we'll likely revisit in the future, along with some guest commentary, and hopefully this will be a good start. We also tried having a more structured discussion this week, with Casey moderating this session, so hopefully you'll like the changes. And as always, please visit the forums to continue the discussions. There's always a lot of amazing insight.


Casey: Today's topic is pornography for women. So, I thought the best way to get this session going and to break the proverbial ice is to start with confession time: Do you yourself like pornography? If so, why? If not, why not? And under what, if any, circumstances?
Bamboo: I wouldn't necessarily say that I "like" pornography, but I certainly don't mind it. Meaning, I don't actively search out porn to watch it, unless it's for humor purposes (Italian Stallion, Nailin' Palin, for examples). However, I have seen a fair amount of porn, both live-action and animated, as a byproduct of being in college, and also having used to review hentai extensively for Shelf Life, back when it covered it. I've never watched it for the sole purpose of "getting off," though, mainly because I've never really seen the point. I usually end up getting a little grossed out when I see some woman with giant fake tits bouncing around.
Sara: My feelings toward pornography are mostly ambivalent. It's not a huge part of my life so it's not something I take a definite "yes or no" stance on. I have to admit to watching it in film format on occasion, both for humor and for its… er... intended purpose, and I do enjoy it. I mean, if you're in the right mood and watching a sexual stimulus, there's nothing not to like.
Casey: My view is pretty much the same as both of you. I think pornography is like alcohol—fine in moderation but potentially harmful both to the consumer and to those around him or her if overused and abused. Over the years, I have seen quite a large amount of manga and anime erotica and though I admit that I have become innured to it now, I was struck in the beginning by how much of it showed one partner or the other being horribly degrade and abused. Tentacle hentai, anyone? So I wonder... What do you think about this depiction of asymmetrical relations between men and women especially? Be specific with examples if you can.
Sara: Well, from my perspective, I first have to comment that American porno and Japanese hentai aren't even on the same plane. I am much more familiarized with the former and it seems to me to be much more balanced in terms of depiction of pleasure. I've never watched a hentai for stimulation, exactly for the reason that you mentioned, Casey. I can't ever, ever imagine getting turned on by that kind of imagery. Right now the title that's coming to mind is Urutsukidoji. There are all these scenes of women being terrorized by giant phallic monsters and it seems like sex almost got lost in the mix somewhere. I find those depictions more creepy than stimulating, to be honest. As a female viewer, rape inspires a horrified reaction on my part rather than a sexual one. And from a filmmaking perspective, hentai scenes are frequently staged more as horror movie scenes than porno scenes, with dark lighting and intense music. It's like the viewer, presumably male, is feeding off the terror from the woman.
Bamboo: I don't know that I really think pornography is harmful to the consumer. In what ways would it be? I mean, with the exception of things like child pornography, I don't really see how pornography can be harmful. At its very worst, someone decides that they really love domination porn, and becomes a sadistic bastard, but they would've done that even without the porn. Or if they really want to dominate someone all day long, surely they'd find someone who is okay with playing the submissive, and the puzzle is complete.

However, you do cross into an interesting area when you get into the rape area of hentai. There is a monumental amount of rape hentai out there. Not just regular ol' rape, but, "Let's stand you up in front of a classroom and have you pee in a cup!" type public humiliation. I saw a lot of that stuff when I was reviewing hentai. Examples that spring to mind are Professor Pain, where he's doing all sorts of stuff in class to his students. Or the ever-infamous Nightshift Nurses. In Nightshift Nurses, a doctor goes around raping nurses and doing all sorts of nasty stuff to them. But what you'll notice in a percentage of these rape hentai, is that the women characters either secretly love it, or they end up liking it. I don't remember the name of it, but there's this one in which the woman gets raped so much, that she eventually begins to crave it. And that's the mindset that kind of bothers me. The whole, "I'm being raped, but actually, I really want it."

Casey: In response to your question about how pornography might be harmful, there are some feminist traditions which view pornography as an unequivocal evil inflicted on women. Anytime a woman is objectified, regardless of whether she "consents" or not, she is being discriminated against and dehumanized. It teaches viewers, both men and women, to view women as objects, not subjects in control of their own destiny. Others strains of feminism believe that true freedom for women means that women should be allowed to be objectified if they wish and should revel in their sexuality. Although I don't subscribe to either, I am not persuaded by the arguments of the so-called "raunch" feminists who believe that porn liberates women. That just strikes me as a sort of false consciousness.

Just a few weeks ago, I picked up a single-volume manga at Book-Off by Aihara Miki, creator of Hot Gimmick, called Teacher's Pet. It was originally serialized in the magazine Cheese!, which really ought to be called, "Sleaze." It depicts a high school student graphically and forcibly… deflowering his homeroom teacher. This is a manga for thirteen year olds! I was not impressed. Why do I want to see a teacher with big breasts getting used and abused by her skinny little student? The answer, at least for me, is that I don't. But persumably, some girls and women do, since student-gets-teacher is a perennially popular story trope. Why do you think some women like depictions of other women being sexually subjugated?

Bamboo: What's the target demographic for Cheese!?
Casey: Cheese! is a shoujo manga magazine. It has furigana, so it's not technically even for adult women.
Bamboo: That kind of surprises me, actually. Whenever I've thought about erotica in that vein before, in the context of women being subjugated, I've always assumed that regardless of whether or not she "likes it," it's still been for a male viewer/reader. I wasn't aware that this was really popular amongst women. Is everything in Cheese! of that nature?
Casey: Besides your usual ladies comics/Harlequin manga, there is also an emerging genre of manga for girls sometimes called "shoujo ero" which depicts sexually explicit heterosexual relationships for women. Cheese! isn't technicaly shoujo ero, but one of its main selling points is the sex. I have seen quite a gamut of types of stories which on one end show a doll-like bishoujo grinding her stiletto heel into a man's crotch, to girls getting kicked about by assholes. That's Aihara Miki's calling card in Hot Gimmick as well, actually, and it's one of the bestselling shoujo manga in the U.S. Viz is even rereleasing it in omnibus edition next year. God help us.
Bamboo: Actually, come to think of it, you see examples of that in American trashy romance novels, too. If you read through those Harlequin novels, it's usually about some girl who doesn't care for the wealthy businessman/cowboy/fireman, but he ends up forcing himself on her anyway, and she ends up loving it. So... in a way, I guess it's a matter of feeling so "wanted" that the guy will just throw himself on you. I mean, look at these preteens nowadays and their obsession with those stupid Twilight books. You've got this stalker vampire who wants her at the cost of his life, and all these girls are like, "Yipee!! I'm so loved!" So there's that aspect.

But there's also the aspect of enjoying something that's forbidden, in a way. It's somewhat scintillating to think of a man forcing himself on you—as long as it's a man you like. Because that fantasy, to a woman, is still safe. If it's someone she likes, then while she still has the somewhat horrifying but titillating thoughts of "no, no, no!"—it's still someone she likes, so it's safe for her to think about. In the case of the teacher and the student, I imagine the teacher somewhat has feelings for the student. And when you're watching it happen to another woman, there's that added layer of safety. It's not you—and you can see that in the story, he's someone that she likes anyway, so it'smildly less frightening.

Sara: Personally, I am just perplexed by rape pornography, especially if it is supposed to appeal to women. I'm with Bamboo in that I wasn't even aware that forced subjugation appealed to an audience outside of male viewers/readers, although the classic shoujo comic/anime HanaDan had some rather eyebrow-raising, borderline scenes of domestic violence.

But when the subject of Harlequin came up, I realized I've read rape scenes in romance novels before, with a similar "Oh stop! I love it!" mantra coming from the women. I think some female viewers are drawn to the idea of a "rape fantasy." The idea of being overpowered by a strong, sexy man against her will (as opposed to a creepy stalker one) is a hopeless scenario that cannot be realized in the real world, so she is drawn to reading about it/watching it. Why that fantasy would be involve a skinny 14-year-old boy is beyond my power of comprehension. Maybe it's so the 14-year-old the female reader can daydream about her schoolyard crush and think "Oooh, Soichiro is so dreamy I bet he could make our teacher swoon!" But it still doesn't make sense, because I don't see where the big-breasted teacher fits into this appeal. I've read some Erica Sakurazawa.. is that the same genre?

Casey: Erica Sakurazawa would be closer to Harlequin. She writes, if I recall, josei/ladies manga.
Bamboo: Has anyone read the short story "Rape Fantasies" by Margaret Atwood? In it, the narrator, Estelle, comments that there's a difference between a rape fantasy, and a real rape. The quote from it is, "You aren't getting raped, it's just some guy you haven't met formally . . . and you have a good time. Rape is when they've got a knife or something and you don't want to.” Just wanted to throw that in, as something to chew over.
Casey: I haven't read it, but I do have a more...umm...nuanced opinion about why rape fantasies are popular with women. Actually, I'm not certain if some women like rape fantasies merely because it's happening to someone else and they can enjoy the view from a safe distance, as it were. I think that, in some ways, they do identify with the subjugated woman and imagine themselves in her place. There's this saying that the truest freedom can only be found in a prison cell. This means that in some ways having all choice taken away is liberating because you don't have to worry about making the right decisions anymore. I think the fantasy of being overpowered by a romantic partner can be an extremely compelling one for just that reason—handing over all of your life's responsibilities to someone else is perversely pleasurable, especially when those responsibilities are stressing you out. I mean, man, I wish I didn't have to worry about what I'm going to be doing a year from now!

But of course everyone knows that handing your life over to someone else works better in theory (and fantasy) than in practice. I think this distinction is why it's always important to distinguish between porn as a fantasy and the corresponding extreme act in reality. Not every—I'd hazard most, actually—woman who occasionally dreams of some guy coming in and sweeping her off her feet who refuses to take no for an answer actually wants a guy who doesn't know how to take no for an answer. Any other thoughts on the difference between sex acts in porn and those sex acts in real life? Or what about depictions of sex in other areas of life?

Sara: Hm... My thoughts change depending on how the sex acts in porn are depicted. I can understand the appeal of the overpowering desire in Harlequin romance novels to women, but the horrific, public humiliation-rape depicted in so much hentai seem like they're from an alternate universe. I think this largely comes from the creator and their perspective of what is sexy. For instance, I have a link here to a Dolce & Gabbana ad where the depiction of sex and woman is very different from anything you would see in a shoujo-mag.
Bamboo: You know, the whole, "Women being dominated by men" thing isn't unique to hentai. At all. There was a column in Huffington Post last week that had some of the ads that Sara referred to, and even in today's society, sexism is still alive and well. Now, it's important to make the distinction between ads targeted towards men, and those targeted towards women.
Casey: Okay, so let's focus today only on those ads targeted toward women.
Bamboo: For instance, the BMW ad—obviously made for a man. The girl is vulnerable and innocent, but totally wants him... I mean, his car. Or wants to be driven, or whatever. Okay, it's sexist, but it's sexy, and that sells, and I understand that. Or those two chicks making out. It's hot, but it's also made for men. Then you have that D&G ad, where presumably you want some woman to think, "Hot damn, if I have these bitchin' hot shoes, all of these men will totally want to ravish me. Yes!" So that aspect of it is still alive and well. It's like the female equivalent of all those Axe ads—but rather than a horde of women descending upon some man, it's a bunch of men who are inexplicably drawn towards a woman, and who can barely contain their lust for her.
Sara: Yes, and that's a really poisonous way to train women to think, because not only does it re-enforce the idea that women have a passive role in sex, but they should actively seek to be more submissive.
Casey: I agree with Sara. That D&G ad is a classic case of a Mulverian gaze. Laura Mulvey is a famous feminist film critic who wrote the essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." She argued that in Hollywood films, the camera's gaze is equivalent to a male gaze which objectifies the woman. For female moviegoers, their only way "into" the film, as it were, it so take a masochistic position by imagining themselves as the object of the gaze. In short, my objections to these ads are the same as my objection to "raunch" feminism. I do not believe that a woman can be empowered in her own real life by imagining herself as the object of somebody else's subject.
Bamboo: To respond to Sara… It may be a poisonous way of thinking, but it's also a very... dare I say popular way of thinking nowadays. Pick up on issue of Cosmo any month. It's filled with tips on how to please your man, or how to give a better blowjob. The idea is that yes, you are free to pursue your own sexual needs, and that's great. That's positive. I love that. But at the same time, the way that it's executed goes back to what you were saying, Sara, about taking an active role in being the submissive one. But that's just me railing against Cosmo.
Sara: Bamboo and I actually were talking earlier about magazines for girls and how they re-enforce archaic and chauvinistic ideas about women's roles in sex. This ad (the rape one from D&G) kind of ties into a larger message that a lot of young girls are being sent today: Please your man and make sure he is happy, or else he will leave. This just seems to be that idea pushed to the extreme.
Casey: Alas, I don't think there is anything surprising about either of your observations. Some might say that we live in a post-feminist world, but anyone with half a brain who actually looks at how these magazines and ads tell women how to live their lives know that feminism--any ideology that agitates for women's rights—it's still necessary. It's hard to even say that women who choose to look sexy or to stay home and raise a family are actually choosing. How can one truly consent to being submissive when there is so much asymmetrical pressure on women to behave submissively? So, what do you think? Is there anything we can do about any of this, or are we just doooooooomed?
Sara: There's actually a lot of discussion in the thread of last week's CoA on this very subject. One of the prevailing arguments against feminism is that women who behave submissively and raise families are scoffed by feminists, supposedly, and that the fight for equal rights is actually a secret ploy to re-define gender.
Casey: Well, I will say this: One thing I firmly believe we should NOT do is blame the woman. I do not think buying into, say, the implicit message of the D&G add is the way women ought to do, but I do not blame the woman who is seduced by the pretty picture. It is cruel to blame the person with the least power. Blame the advertiser first.
Bamboo: It's hard to blame her. Hell, I'm seduced by the picture. It goes back to the whole idea of being wanted by all those hot men. Those advertisers did a good job. It's a damned sexy ad. And if you recall, a few weeks back, you mentioned that study that researchers did about human sexuality, and who women were aroused by just about everything. You can't really rationalize arousal.
Sara: I think that people misunderstand what we take issue with when we complain about the ad. Of course I'm not going to blame the woman—it's the advertiser who is at fault. I just don't want people to misunderstand what I'm angry about, here, and turn it into an anti-feminism debate.
Casey: Of course. I guess the ideal solution, then, would be for a woman who does not subscribe to the objectification of women to become the advertiser. This is why some feminists tell women to, dammit, get a job and get on the escalator toward power. Unfortunately, that's a really tall order, and not everyone is called. Perhaps there is someone here in this chat room with big ambitions.
Sara: I think all of us are pretty ambitious people.
Bamboo: Plus what appeals to women and men are oftentimes different. Going back to the hentai bit. The thought of being subjugated in front of a classroom by some professor is absolutely horrifying. It's repulsive. Being wanted by some hot dude who you already have a crush on ... much less horrifying. Advertisers will tap into what appeals to people. I'm actually really glad you introduced us to Cheese!. I think I'm going to look into it. Maybe it'll give me some revelations on how other women think about sex.
Casey: Okay, I think it's time to wrap things up. Any final thoughts? In your opinion, is porn a net good for women or not?
Sara: I don't know if I'd categorize it as a "net good" for anyone, but I don't think it does any harm. It allows people to relish in escapist fantasies without any fears or consequences. When pornography leaks out into subversive advertisements is when it starts to cause damage. Harlequin, ero-manga and hentai all serve their purposes, and like Bamboo I am also intrigued by Cheese!. As long as the fantasy of sex is just a fantasy and not a secret message.
Bamboo: Yeah, "net good" is a bizarre term, but there's nothing wrong with it, I suppose. Unless some creepy deviant does something awful because of it, but I'm of the belief that deviants will do what deviants do, even without external help.
Casey: See, now, I actually do think that pornography is more a net good than a net evil. After all, most people do know that it's fantasy, not reality, and while we cannot close the door on whether or not the things we see on TV influence what we do out in the world, it may well be a convenient emotional outlet for both men and women. I mean, what if porn were illegal? I could imagine things way worse.

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