(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.


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.’