(Un)necessary Evil: Japanese Politician Justifies Military Sex Slavery

This article originally appeared on Lip Mag

While researching for my earlier piece on rape during wartime, I kept coming across the Japanese military use of “comfort women” during the mid-20th century through World War II. I had never heard about this before, which prompted me to read further. Comfort women, or “ianfu,” a euphemism for “shofu,” meaning prostitute, were women and girls forced or coerced into organised military sex slavery by the Japanese military from the 1930s-1945.

Women and girls were often kidnapped or employed under false pretences in Japanese occupied areas of China, Korea and other parts of Asia, forced into military “comfort stations” (read: brothels) to serve the soldiers and personnel. Although the practise was initially taken up to reduce rape of civilians in Japanese occupied areas by members of the army, the women in comfort stations were forced to have sex with up to thirty-five men a day, undergoing multiple and continuous rapes and physical assaults. A significant portion of former comfort women have been left infertile as a result of sexually transmitted infections, successive forced abortions and rape. The Japanese government has since apologised and compensated women throughout Asia for this systematic sexual torture.

Recently, Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka and co-leader of the far-right Nationalist Japan Restoration Party, caused international controversy by stating that the comfort women system, the systematic abduction, coercion, rape and abuse of Asian women, was ‘necessary’ given the circumstances. According to Hashimoto, in wartime when ‘bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives. If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that.’

Sorry, Toru, but I don’t understand that. In wartime women have been left alone to raise children without the support of their partners, living in fear as to whether they will return alive, or picking up the pieces when returned soldiers come home severely traumatized, both mentally and physically. Where is their ‘rest’? There is no ‘necessary’ “comfort man” system for lonely housewives or war widows. Women who are unfaithful to their military spouses while they are away on service are vilified the world over, yet men’s wartime infidelity is justified by hegemonic patriarchal thought in this context because women are treated as interchangeable objects for male usage. When Hashimoto claims that the state sanctioned use of military sex slavery was a justifiable and reasonable practice he is reproducing gendered notions that the male sex-drive is an active force, constituting a natural right of men, whereas women’s sexual desires can only ever be articulated in passive reaction to male sexuality.

Hashimoto argued further that Japan has been unfairly criticized for its past use of comfort women in light of the fact that other countries used similar systems.  For example, US troops continued the use of already established comfort stations in Korea after their victory in 1945. The abuse of women within the military by other officers, usually of higher rank, has been a topical issue in Australia recently that could also be compared to the Japanese war crimes committed against women. According to Hashimoto, Japan is being insulted by this exclusive scrutiny from around the world.

In light of this it is interesting to think how the broader motif of the kept woman also resonates through the Western cultural imaginary. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, we see a woman sent mad by her forced confinement by her husband, who claims she is unwell. In Jane Eyre, Rochester keeps his crazy first wife locked away in a tower somewhere. Just a few weeks ago, on the most disturbing and horrid episode of Mad Men yet, (SPOILER ALERT) Don Draper gets his Christian Grey on and imprisons his newest mistress, Sylvia, in a hotel room, not allowing her to even read a book while he is gone for days.

A radical feminist perspective of patriarchal culture and institutions such as marriage would attest that all women in direct relationships with men are, to some extent, the emotional, sexual and domestic slaves of those men. We are all kept by someone. We are all potential comfort women. Though I do not believe this is really the case, issues like this prompt us to question how women in our own culture are positioned and what the implications of Hashimoto’s comments may be in a Western context.


Marriage Proposals: Business Negotiation or Disney Movie Denouement?

This article originally appeared on Lip mag 


So, before I start I’ve got to admit I’m feeling a little bit like a radical feminist troll at the moment because every time I go on mamamia.com.au, “feminist” women’s news blog site, I find something I vehemently disagree with. A few weeks ago I blogged in response to their cute little playlist for women to continue doing the majority of unpaid household labour to, arguing that we should ‘boycott all of that mumsy-“I-enjoy-cleaning-once-I-put-some-cute-indie-pop-rock-on!”-post-feminist-let’s-all-have-it-all-bullshit’. I fully recognise that feminism is diverse and multifaceted, with pockets that resonate with some women more than others and that this difference is legitimate and important; however, for a website that claims to provide coverage of the things that ‘all women’ are interested in and talking about, I find some of their content a bit questionable.

My latest beef with Mamamia is Natalia Jastrzab’s opinion piece on the rise of (gasp) ‘the mutual proposal’. Jastrzab’s opinion (which she is wholly entitled to) is that mutual marriage proposals are nightmarishly unromantic, her personal preference being that a man proposes traditionally to her. By annoyingly referencing a scene from the first Sex & The City movie, in which protagonist Carrie and her love interest Mr Big unceremoniously decide to get married over the domestic banality of chopping vegetables, Jastrzab claims that ‘the mutual proposal is gaining traction in the relationship landscape.’ According to Jastrzab, there is this growing trend of partners discussing their romantic life paths as equals and coming to mutual decisions instead of the traditional feigning surprise and excitement when your long-term beau decides to make you his wife. I fail to see how the traditional view of marriage can make sense in the same way in a time where long-term de facto cohabitation and even not marrying at all are both socially acceptable and widespread. The bride dressed in white to symbolise virginity and purity. The father giving away the bride. It all seems rather anachronistic.

Jastrzab’s article sports the demanding title ‘I don’t want a mutual proposal. I want the guy to ask me.’ Sounds a bit Varuca Salt, to me. But who can blame her? As women we are still being socialised to aspire to old-school life paths, with a wedding still being seen as “The Most Important Day Of Your Life.” As Jastrzab also points out, the proposal is up there in The Most Important/Romantic Things That Will Ever Happen To You Ever. Forget that time when you woke up hung-over next to your partner with a bag full of cold McMuffins that the guys from the party last night stuffed through the letter slot in the door on their way home at four AM. Or that time when he tried to read you The Iliad as a bedtime story but couldn’t pronounce all the names. All that stuff could never compare to the way he pops the question. It’s every little girl’s dream: ‘ever since I can remember I’ve always held up the proposal as the romantic event to beat all romantic events.’


Elle didn’t get the proposal she was after In Legally Blonde…

Reading this I almost felt a bit cheated. I’ve never had that fairy tale, Barbie princess, hetero-normative fantasy. My parents weren’t married and they never really made a thing of it. Love is just love. You don’t need a big self-indulgent circus to justify it. But if that’s your thing, that’s fine. I’ll come and help myself to the open bar and make some drunken speech about how I always knew you were right for each other, especially after that time when we were all living together and you used to accidently steal each others socks. And I don’t care how you decided to put it all on. We should be grateful that we can even have this argument, considering that non-heterosexual couples still don’t get much of a choice either way in many places. For couples who have to travel inter-state, or even internationally to get hitched somewhere where it is actually legal, this involves significant negotiation. Jastrzab’s traditional hetero-normative view of the romantic marriage proposal potentially brands these already marginalised relationships as unromantic because they may not involve the ol’ ‘will you be my lawfully wedded wife?’ Q-bomb.

It shouldn’t matter whether you’re sitting around in your kitchen wearing oversized band t-shirts and smelly socks or if you’ve booked a table for two at the swankiest restaurant in town and have a speech prepared. What really matters is the connection between two people who want to spend (pretty much) the rest of their life together. Even if it takes putting up with their facetious jokes and Star Wars references that you don’t understand.

What if all books were given a chick-lit makeover?

This Blog Originally appeared on Lip Magazine:


As an aspiring Lady Writer (or as feminist writer, Inga Muscio, provocatively calls herself, a ‘Word C*nt’), I was intrigued by author, Maureen Johnson’s Twitter project for her followers to ‘Redesign book covers by Literary Dudes, imagining they have been reclassified as by and for women.’ Johnson’s project, ‘Coverflip,’ shows us how there is a socially constructed perception of lower quality of books written by and for women in mainstream Western culture and this is predominantly established through the gendered framing of a book’s cover.

It is almost comical just how effective Coverflip is in demonstrating the “girl-ification” of adult women’s novels regardless of their actual style and plot. By redesigning the covers of typically masculine crime, thriller and action novels, using pastel colours, romantic airbrushed images and squiggley font, the first impression of the novel’s content and quality dramatically changes. My personal favourite was the redesigned Game of Thrones cover that makes it look like a kids’ adventure tale, full of magic, friendship and wonder.

Speaking of magic, J.K Rowling, a lady writer, decided to go with the gender-neutral initials rather than her first name in fear that if a woman’s name was plastered all across her books, young boys would think theHarry Potter series were “girl books” (the horror!) deterring them from reading the novels. She’s now one of the most successful authors of all time, ever. Would she have got to that point had she remained Joanne? Rowling is just one in a long line of writers who have masked their identity as women behind pseudonyms or acronyms to ensure the success of their work. The Bronte sisters. “George Elliot.” “Miles Franklin.” All indications of how gender (read: femininity) just gets in the way of being a great artist and writer.

The Coverflip project not only shows how women’s literature has been perceived of as having less cultural value, but it also demonstrates how men are disadvantaged by the gendering of book covers too. We unfortunately live in a culture were great social stigma is placed on men and boys if they were to appear in public, perhaps on a train, with a lovely pink copy of Pride and Prejudice. However, no one would bat and eyelid if they saw a woman reading The Iliad. ImageEarlier this year, Penguin released its usually orange classics (you know the ones, they’re toted by every hipster from Fitzroy to Portland,) in pink to support the McGrath Foundation. However, it was only the typically feminine books that where included in this release.The Communist Manifesto was not included. Nor was Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Yet Jane EyreA Room of One’s Own and Pride and Prejudice were pretty in pink. This indicates how books “For Men” are constructed as gender-neutral, whereas books “For Women” are exclusively for women and women only, regardless of the importance and universality of their themes, messages and ideas.

I once discussed Jane Eyre with a hegemonic “Literary Bloke,” as Johnson would say, and his view was that ‘you’ve kinda got to be a chick to get into that love stuff, ya know?’ No, I don’t know. Men fall in love and feel emotions as much and in as complex ways as women do. It is an age-old, stale stereotype to always associate romance with women and femininity. Moreover, women are forced to identify with male protagonists all the time in their reading of The Great Canon of English Literature and we seem to get on fine, so why shouldn’t men be able to appreciate and identify with Kathy’s undying love for Heathcliff?

This feminization of romance as a genre also becomes a problem for women writers who have written works that are not even romantic, however because they are women, this is the way they are presented and sold. The best example of this is the recent 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jarwhich angered some (myself included) in its reduction of a valuable and powerful work of literature to what appears to be a fluffy, romantic and substance-less chick-lit giggle. 


I had a similar reaction to a recent edition of Erica Jong’s Fear Of Flying

which depicts a pretty cartoon woman blowing a dandelion fairy with glossy lips, which has no relevance to the plot or themes whatsoever. This is not to say that “chick-lit” is not of value, just that there is a clear, gendered discrepancy in how men’s and women’s experiences and subjectivities are presented and valued in mainstream literature, where women’s voices are positioned as whimsical and chatty, if heard at all.

Ten Greatest Songs To (Not) Clean The House To


Maybe I’m getting a bit too radical feminist-y. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Germaine Greer, Sandra Bartky, Inga Muscio and SCUM Manifesto. Maybe the patriarchy shit sucks a bit more than usual. Maybe I’m being hysterical. Maybe I’m on my rags and should just calm the fuck down and have some chocolate and cry about the fact that Hanna and Adam were So Totally Perfect For Each Otherrrrr!
I take issue with a seemingly feminist leaning blog page, Mammamia, putting up a ‘greatest songs to clean the house to’ play list. Sure, women still do the majority of unpaid domestic labour, but let’s not perpetuate that shit by making it fun! I dunno. Maybe I’m just being politically naïve and idealistic when I think we should boycott all of that mumsy “I enjoy cleaning once I put on some cute indie pop rock!” post-feminist lets all have it all bullshit. So this is my counter play-list of kick arse songs to NOT clean the house to.

Caught Out There – Kelis

Yeah, I know, When you think Kelis you think Milkshake, don’t you? BUT in this she kicks some serious arse (1:22). I especially like the parade of angry women marching through suburbia against all their low-life, cheating bastard boyfriend/husbands. Perfect break up song for the modern angry feminist. Perfect song to NOT do the vacuuming to.

212 – Azelia Banks

Ugly Boy – Skunk Anansie
Another angry girl song from an awesome, underrated kick arse band! This film clip is also really well done. Sexy and violent. It’s also dancey, so you can jump on furniture if you so wish. (Other songs by Skunk Anansie that are worth a listen are ‘Intellectualise My Blackness’ and ‘I Can Dream.’

Can’t Hold Us Down – Christina Aguilera
This one is a bit of a blast from the past for me. You know how people love the 80’s? I think I love the 00’s. With some cool similarities to Kelis’ earlier clip, Ladies Rise Up!

Sheela Na Gig – PJ Harvey
Look At These My Ruby Red Ruby Lips ❤

Round Round – Sugababes
I bet you thought a radical angry feminist wouldn’t put this on an Anti-Housework play list, didn’t you? Refer to this: (http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2003/01/whatever_happened_to_sisterhood)

So What – Pink
Pink is Badass and a self proclaimed ‘Reformed Slut’ and I think that’s cool.

Bang – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Oasis – Amanda Palmer
I love Amanda PalmerImage

Doll Parts – Hole
In this book called “Why You’re Not Married Yet” there was a section called ‘You’re Crazy’ and it says that if you often reveal your ‘inner Courtney Love’ men are going to be turned off big time and you’re going to grow old and die alone in a puddle of cats. Well, I think unleashing your Inner Courtney Love sounds like fun! Why not be crazy!

I Want To Be The Girl With The Most Cake.

‘Teaching Out Gender’: The Uncertain Future of Gender Studies Programs in Australian Universities

This article originally appeared on lipmag.com 


This week is Bluestocking Week (http://nuswomens.wordpress.com/campaigns/blue-stockings-week/), a week of festivities held to recognize and celebrate the participation and achievements of women in higher education. Much of the progress made by and for women in terms of access to a university education can be attributed to the birth of women’s studies in the late 1960s-1970s, which actively carved out a space for women within the previously male domain of academia. Since then, academic women have been demanding to be taken seriously, regardless of their field, some to greater avail than others.

Recently the University of Queensland announced that as of 2014, gender studies would no longer be available as a major. This comes as disheartening news in light of the announcement that Australian universities will undergo serious funding cuts in order to facilitate the Gillard Labor government’s proposed education reforms. According to Fred D’Agostino, the executive dean of arts at UQ, the decision to cut gender studies was due to ‘low demand for the major.’ In times of budget cuts and school structure reforms, it is the small disciplines like gender studies that are the first to go. The discontinuation of these smaller, yet no less important, areas of study clearly indicate which kinds of knowledge and expertise are valued in our society.

I am in my final year of a gender studies major at the University of Tasmania. When I tell people I am majoring in gender studies I am usually met with confusion or belittling amusement. ‘You’re not one of those man-hating feminists are you?!’ ‘Men are discriminated against TOO, you know?’ ‘But what are you going to do with your life REALLY?’ These are just some of the reactions that have lead me to sometimes just say I’m majoring in sociology to make it less confronting and easier for people to understand and accept. But this is not ok. I’m proud of my degree and believe it has legitimate and intrinsic value. Studying gender has changed the way I think about and experience the world, it has changed my relationships and it has changed my life. If that is the result after just a few years of undergraduate study, imagine what it could do for more people if it were more widely accepted and respected as a discipline.

At UQ the gender studies program is now being ‘taught out’ as a separate discipline, but aspects of gender studies will still be taught through other subjects and these could be used to complete a gender studies major. However, there are problems for students who wish to pursue honours in gender studies, which has not been offered at UQ since 2005, causing students to have to move interstate if they wish to do honours in gender. At UTAS I have experienced these kinds of problems first hand in that the gender studies department is so small that majoring in the subject is difficult in terms of gaining the requisite number of units to complete a major. Downsizing and school restructures have caused me to have to scrape together units from other disciplines like sociology just to complete the course I want to specialize in.

Next year I will be doing honours in sociology because I am concerned that the honours program for gender will not get me where I need to go. According to Professor Carol Ferrier at UQ ‘up to a third of the research higher degree thesis students are doing topics in the area of gender or women’s studies in many parts of UQ, especially humanities and social sciences.’ This indicates that the relevance of gender relations in society and the demand for gender as a subject is not low. When a subject is perceived as poorly facilitated, lacking in choice and devoid of opportunities, enrollments will decline. In first year I changed my major from philosophy to gender studies because I could not live with the fear of graduating from an abstract degree with little clear job prospects or relevance to every day life. (I also couldn’t stand the overrepresentation of cocky 19-year-old undergrad boys who studied Plato, Descartes and Nietzsche and thought their own opinions were the best thing since, well, Plato, Descartes and Nietzsche).

Most people think that gender studies, like philosophy, has no tangible job outcomes and people like me are just wasting time getting angry about “The Patriarchy,” eating organic trail mix and analyzing the gendered aspects of Girls. I believe that although jobs are important, a university education should be about much more than getting a bit of paper and slotting into a job at the end of it all. It should be about enriching your mind, your sense of self and your understanding of the world around you. Similarly, Professor Ferrier argued that gender studies ‘should be maintained on the basis of the distinctive contribution made by such programs to intellectual and social life, and human progress, in the past, the present and the future.’

I am concerned for the future of gender studies programs, not just in my own university, but also in universities all across Australia. The discontinuation of gender studies programs is ominous at a time when we need in-depth studies in gender the most.  As we are living in times where we need to be more compassionate to others and more thoughtful about the world in which we live, we need disciplines like gender studies for us to be able to see the way into, what at times can seem like, a dark future ahead.

Masterchef 2013 Whips Up A Steaming Hot Serve Of Sexism

This article originally appeared on lipmag.com 


MasterChef Australia released a promotional video for its new season that has caused uproar among fans due to its blatant gender stereotyping. The 2013 season is set to play out in an old-school “battle of the sexes” format. How original. The clip is awash with pink, blue and heteronormativity. Not only is it sexist against women, playing on traditional ’50s house-wife stereotypes, but it is also sexist against men, depicting them as barbequing, knife-wielding, flanny-wearing beef-cake. The set looks like a ’50s game show. There’s even women pushing pink shopping trolleys and men with comical blue barbeques, all underscored by cutesy jazz music. And of course there are cup cakes. So many cup cakes. The latest symbol of kitsch consumer capitalist hyper-femininity (http://jezebel.com/fuck-cupcakes-475125988).

The video not only oozes gender essentialist barbie-ken dichotomies, but it also places labels on the contestants within this gender binarism. There’s ‘The ’50s Housewife,’ ‘The Cattle Rancher,’ ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’ and ‘The Tiger Mum’ to name a few. The either/or mentality of the clip is reinforced by back and forth ridiculous claims about men and women from the opposing side, the kinds of sexist generalisations that would probably get you in a bit of trouble with the HR department if you made any of these statements in the workplace. The clip opens with ‘The 50’s Housewife,’ an attractive late 20s/early 30s lady, claiming that ‘the average woman cooks a thousand meals a year. Men can’t compete with that!’ I just did a little bit of math and 1000 meals a year is 2.7 meals a day. Sure, 44% of the Australian population live in couple families with children (http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2011/quickstat/0), however the rates of childless-ness and living alone are rising. And therefore so are the rates of Mi Goreng consumption. The use of “average” here seems to not only represent that, statistically, a large number of women do the majority of unpaid household labour which includes cooking, but that “normal” women do the majority of unpaid household labour. And love it. Excuse me while I get my husband’s slippers. Next, ‘The Cattle Rancher,’ a generic Aussie bloke in a blue flanny points out that ‘if you look at all the top chefs in the world they have one thing in common: they’re all men.’ Thanks for that, buddy. Just drum in the point that while women do the majority of unpaid household labour, including cooking 2.7 meals a day, they’re not quite up to scratch to get paid for it, or for it to be culturally valued.

The women also make scathing remarks about men, perpetuating stereotypes that position men as childlike incapable buffoons. ‘Men are a one trick pony: they have one dish they’re good at, and that’s it’ says ‘The Tough Cookie.’ My word processor is already telling me that the grammar of that sentence is wrong and it doesn’t have a bachelor degree in women’s studies. Neither men nor women are a homogenous group that can be generalised about in this way. Sure, my housemate loves to fry himself up a chicken schnitzel every day, however my dad cooked multiple and complex meals every night of the week throughout my childhood. Diversity, people!

At least by the end of the clip, I get to have the cathartic experience of watching a cake get squashed into the face of judge and host Garry Mehigan. In that moment if I take off my glasses and squint really hard I can almost imagine it’s me smashing the patriarchy, burning a flanny or stomping a cupcake under a heavy Doc Marten boot. 

The Spoils of War: ANZAC Day, war and the military rape of women

This article originally appeared on lipmag.com


On ANZAC day it seems pertinent to point out that this is a tradition that exemplifies the masculine aspect of Australian culture and history.  In high school, my sociology/psychology teacher enacted a social thought experiment, asking us to draw a picture of our conceptualisation of “A Quintessential Australian”. In a class of thirty young adults I was the only person to depict my Australian as a woman. People drew bushrangers, swagmen, male indigenous Australians (in terrible tribal stereotypes), surfers, “bogans” and other stereotypical depictions of the Aussie Bloke archetype. This is Australia. This is Australian culture. Although around 51% of the population is female/woman-identified, Australian cultural past times exude a male ethos. The central values of “Australian-ness” are concepts of the “Fair Go” (as long as you’re a white Aussie bloke who likes sheilas) and “Mateship” (Maaaaaate!). These are all stereotypes which may not be as relevant today, however, come Australia Day or ANZAC Day, these old generalisations bubble up from the cultural-historical ooze, along with the Southern Cross symbology, Australian flag thongs, cork hats and other articulations of patriotism.

Throughout my public school primary education nearly every year from as soon as we could read and write, we were taught about Australian history and culture, even if it was as basic as colouring in a flag, a map or a vegemite label. We had ANZAC and Remembrance Day observations in which the minute silence, for a hyperactive tomboy 8 year old, seemed like the agony of war itself. Through all this I didn’t learn much at all about women’s place in Australian history apart from the fact that it was women, like my grandma, who baked Anzac cookies which were sent to soldiers in the war.

When we commemorate soldiers as the fallen heroes of war, though a legitimate and necessary practice, it is largely forgotten that women are also major victims of war. In 1998 at a conference in El Salvador, Hilary Clinton said that:
‘Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today’s warfare, victims. Women are often left with the responsibility, alone, of raising children’. My grandfather died from a heart attack caused by the mental illness he developed from his experiences serving in the navy during the Second World War. When my grandfather died my dad was only sixteen. My grandma was left a widow, never re-marrying. The effects upon the experiences, emotional structure and individual subjectivities of my dad’s side of the family have been profoundly shaped to this day by what happened to my grandfather. However, it was my grandma who pulled everyone together.

War has the most tragic impact upon women in that throughout history military conquest has been almost inseparable from mass rape. Saint Augustine stated that rape in war is an ‘ancient and customary evil.’ When a military body invades another nation it seems to go without saying that the women of the attacked culture will be raped. Rape and Pillage, since the dawn of civilisation, from the Vikings to US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, the UN Security Council described rape as a strategic ‘weapon of war,’ and that it is. Women’s bodies symbolise the culture of a civilisation, and by their literal penetration and defilement, an attacking force symbolically infiltrates the attacked nation causing not only individual trauma for women raped, but widespread social despair.

In the 1970s-80s women controversially demonstrated on ANZAC day to raise awareness of the impact of war rape on women. These protests were met with scorn from RSLs and authorities, claiming that feminists were sullying the honour of Our Nation’s Heroes. When we use the words “Lest We Forget” we must use them to include not only men who fought for our country, but also the women everywhere throughout history, long before Gallipoli, who have fallen prey to war, which Jocelynne Scutt describes as ‘a madness of a particularly male kind.’