Child Pornography and Feminism

This article appeared in CGS Newsletter, Issue 11, Center for Gender Studies, International Christian University. PDF

At the World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents on November 24, 2008, an international agreement was reached that all participating countries would undertake to criminalize the possession of child pornography including cartoons (animation, comics, 3DCG, etc.). Many countries prohibit the production and sale of child pornography to protect children from the exploitation and violence considered inherent in non-consensual acts in which, given the adult-child power relation, children inevitably engage as soon as any adult is involved in their sexual activities. This agreement extends the watch on child pornography and makes illegal even the possession of child pornography in cartoon form. They argue that, regardless of whether real children are involved or not, child pornography affects the ways people view children and its prevalence can lead to overtly and excessively sexualized images of children. That is, not only do the children involved suffer physical and psychological harm through non-consensual acts, but also the representation of children in pornography, though indirectly, increases the harm inflicted on real children.

C. McKinnon and A. Dworkin argued that pornography targeted at the heterosexual male population, which most pornography is, not only reflects societal gender power relations but also perpetuates and reinforces them by depicting women in degrading ways and, ultimately, creating what I would like to call “irrigation canals of desire.” As a queer feminist, I am tempted to say any kind of desire should be respected however deviant or condemned. But as a queer feminist, I am more concerned about the irrigation of desire that precedes and provides for the formation of desire into homosexuality, pedophilia, etc., and most likely, heterosexuality. Within the system of the irrigation of desire exist complex forms of representation of differences based on the existing power structures (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity, age, class, physical features and dis/abilities). This is not to say that a form of desire that (necessarily) depends on social injustice must be “wrong,” nor do I intend to attack those who have such desires—-in fact, marginalized desires such as homosexual and pedophilic desires are not any freer than heterosexual desire from the norms. My intention here is to suggest that desire is not independent of the social and cultural.

When these two feminists brought to the public the issue of male-targeted heterosexual pornography, most people, however, just laughed at them, saying pornographic representation of women was not harmful at all. Now, why shouldn’t they have been joined by as many supporters so quick and willing to use their resources to protect women as anti-child pornography advocates recently did to protect children? The only difference between them is that the two feminists cared about women, young and old, black and white, Asian and Jewish, disabled and able-bodied-why did the public think that women should be allowed for public display of any kind? And ultimately, is representation problematic or not?

“What exactly do you mean by pornography?” asked anti-feminist libertarians and some feminists in response to McKinnon and Dworkin, but the intention of the latter group was to shed light on the possibility of subversion from within the existing power relations. Pornographic or not, representation has no control over the ways an audience interprets the material. Isn’t a painting of naked angels child pornography when somebody masturbates to it? Judith Butler argues in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative that although, or precisely because, desire is not independent of the social and cultural, quite the contrary, it is exactly within the normative codes of the representation of desire that subversion can take place. The demand for regulations such as censorship and lawsuit, which McKinnon and Dworkin held as their primary objective, is an appeal to state power that is to be granted monopoly over representation of the subject matter, now ready to redraw the acceptable/unacceptable line of sexualities (which has historically oppressed so-called ‘deviant’ sexualitites). That way, we will foreclose the possibility of seemingly (hetero)sexist pornography being received by the audience in unexpected, sometimes queer, ways that might rescue the residual complexities that have been filtered out during the process of representation which can never grasp that something in full. After Butler, many feminists now view anti-pornography arguments as somewhat still powerful yet highly questionable.

Now we must turn back to child-pornography and ask, is the anti-child pornography sentiment, shared by many today even globally, also as problematic as anti-pornography feminism? Why are we ignoring the long history of feminist debate on pornography and jumping on the bandwagon to search for a legal solution to child pornography? Why was the public so reluctant to acknowledge the issue of the degrading representation of women, resulting in abundant debate and the development of feminist discourses, while they are so quick to acknowledge the issue of the sexual representation of children without questioning even a tiny bit of it?

Listed As Such

Found this article on Alas, a blog, and I have nothing against the idea that women on maternity leaves should be paid, but one thing I wanted to comment on was the use of the kind of rhetoric that I happen to find in many anti-US arguments and the like including this one. Which is, in this case, saying that:

Indeed, a study from Harvard University last year found that of 168 nations worldwide, the United States is one of only four whose government doesn’t require employers to provide paid maternity leave. The others are Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.
Tapped; Having a baby? Put it in writing

As one of the comments to the post on Alas, a blog notes, it is unclear whether or not any state in the US does have such requirements written in state laws. But I guess another problem here is, what is the point of listing all the three other countries whose government doesn’t have such legislation? I am not suggesting anything about the author’s intent or any conspiracy theory or whatever speculation about anything in this particular article. But every day, we all see the rhetorical device in the same fashion, that is, when the argument is made against the US (government/people/culture), it lists the country as doing something that some “under-developed” countries1 are doing, and when the argument is made in approval of what US is doing, it’s described as something that other good-mannered countries2 are doing, too.

I understand that this rhetoric functions for some social justice, even effectively. But if we continue to be convinced by such rhetoric, accepting the post-colonial world view assumed by many writers3 who use the kind of rhetoric, consciously or subconsciously (doesn’t matter, because I’m not talking about particular writers but the general use of such rhetoric that many people, even social justice activists, sometimes embrace and adopt to amplify their truthiness4), then we will need to face our own ambivalence about what social issues can/should be put on hold for the sake of solving what other social issues.


  1. Which, by the way, my anthropology teacher from a year ago, Dr. Gallin, called “over-exploited” countries. 
  2. And they are sometimes Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, etc. and also sometimes France, Germany, etc. and also sometimes Japan, Taiwan, India, etc. depending on what it is that the “good thing” is about. 
  3. “Writers,” not in the traditional sense. It refers to the more general idea of authorship. 
  4. Maybe the word “truthiness” is quite too harsh. It’s more reliability and persuasiveness that gets amplified. 

My Coming Out Story… or a lack thereof!

This piece of writing was submitted to the Office for LGBTQ Student Affairs at the University of Chicago as part of their OUTober: Coming Out Stories Project. The original text can be found in the project website under “Masaki.”

Published Text

Name: Masaki
Affiliation (Staff, Faculty, Alumni, Student): Student
Division/Office/School/Program: MAPSS
Coming Out Story:

I will come out tomorrow. I will come out to new friends, their families, faculty members, and colleagues. I will come out tomorrow. I will come out the day after. I will be coming out next month, next year, ten years later unless someone hateful of queers kills me by that time. Coming out is not beautiful. Love is. Acceptance is. I’d do anything to be loved and accepted. And that’s why I come out, exchanging my coming out for love and acceptance. But when will we live in a society where we can be neither in or out of the closet, where no one cares about our sexualities and identities and we are not degraded at all? I will come out tomorrow, because I want to be loved and accepted. I won’t stop, because otherwise my sexuality and identity would never find a home in this world. They would wander about, scattered, sliced into pieces, so tiny that no one could see them. I won’t stop, because I’m weak and always in need of love and acceptance. It’s the reverse of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell——today’s (at least) urban queers face Do Tell, but We Won’t Ask, the slightly altered, liberal version that together with DADT stems from the whole closet system.

I’m not sure what, or who, or how, or where I am. I am not L or G or B or T or Q, but I’m in no way what’s usually seen as non-LGBTQ. But I’m not interested in “I” anymore. Here’s my note for you, reader; stop reading this as soon as possible, and start thinking about the entire system that is homophobic, transphobic, misogynous, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-abortion, ethnocentric, able-ist, and classist that we have in the United States of fu*king America and beyond. I’m sure coming out stories are insightful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes heart-breaking, and by and large meaningful in our larger queer politics. But, let us not focus on what WE have to say to the world, but what YOU can do, either individually or collectively, no matter what sexuality or identity you may have, to change the world. Please, oh please! Writing this piece so far has already taken me a good 2 hours. And tonight I will most likely dream of a society where no queer person has to write a coming out story for the rest of the world. No offence; I’m glad you’re reading this. Thank you for your time. The only thing I would like you to remember when you go home and watch TV and take a shower and go to bed and wake up tomorrow morning and leave your house and go to school/work/etc. and chat with your friends/coworkers/et al., is, please thank us, at least to some extent, for taking our time writing these stories, which required all of us to go back to memories that are not always pleasurable to recall.

(491 words)

Child Pornography Law in Japan

(This is a repost of an old blog.)

Child pornography is one of the most controversial topics to blog about, especially when a blogger is openly “queer” like me. The long-standing stigma and (wrong) stereotype of homosexuality is that homosexuals are pedophiles. And today, I assume that anyone intellectual enough or marginalized enough can tell the difference between the two. But what I am concerned with right now isn’t the problem of stereotyping homosexuals as pedophilic. I am concerned with how anti-regulation sentiments against restrictive laws regarding child pornography could be both queer (in terms of protecting the right to privacy of queer people including pedophiles who may or may not act on their desire (of course, child molesters and abusers do and should receive legal penalty for their action)) and hetero-male centrism (in terms of only defending pedophilic male heterosexuals‘ right to assume spectatorship in the realm of sexual display). And I’m appalled at how hard it would be if I tried to make and keep it queer since mainstream anti-restrictionism usually goes with the flow while the “flow” is always invariably in favor of heterosexual males.

I must admit that I am against the laws that make it punishable to possess child pornography. There are so many things in what anti-child pornography activists say that I agree with; for example, I agree that as a society we need to protect children from harm, that child abuse and molestation are cruel crimes that occur at every site of creating live-action child pornography, and that producing, distributing, and earning money by selling child pornography should not be done and should be prevented by all means. Period. Production of child pornography is always accompanied by some kind of sexual activity between the child and the crew. Getting money out of such products is totally unethical and unacceptable, just like it is to sell a video specifically intended to entertain viewers in which real murder takes place. Also, distribution of child pornography without earning money from it is problematic because it violates children’s privacy and their right not to be publicly exposed without consent, the violation of which puts them in jeopardy in psychological terms and their social life ahead. But watching child pornography for excitement does not push such injustices any further. Yes, the gaze that they direct at children in pornography might be very twisted and disturbing to some people, but that does not and should not constitute a legal ground for punishing consumers of child pornography. Punishing them does not reduce the number of actual sexual abuse/molestation cases because for the most part, a child molester is the victim’s relative such as a father, uncle, and cousin or acquaintance such as a neighbor, sport team coach, and teacher–and they are usually the same people who make child pornography by videotaping their abusive activities.

So if child pornography is growing, spreading, circulating and ever increasingly easy to obtain and possess, especially because of the Internet, then what we should do is to enforce the laws prohibiting sexual abuse/molestation and distribution of child pornography (profit or nonprofit) in stricter ways, not to bust consumers totally uninvolved in the process of production or distribution of whatever pornographic product he or she may have and enjoy (if they are involved in production and/or distribution, then they must face penalty according to the laws prohibiting those actions, putting aside the fact that they possess child pornography). Gaze cannot be controlled by the state. History alarmingly tells us that when it comes to “fixing” or deflecting deviant sexualities, no attempt has been successful. So in order to protect children from harm, I would suggest the followings: (1) to make harsher the laws against production and distribution of child pornography, as well as, of course, child abuse/molestation where pornography is not produced, (2) to supply some kind of alternative–and I’m thinking about animation or 3DCG pornography–to people who have relied on child pornography for sexual satisfaction and would not be able to access it because of decrease in number of child pornography available in store or on the Internet because of the laws with (now) harsher punishment, and (3) to better educate children, parents, teachers and citizens on child abuse/molestation: for example, teaching protection tactics for children and offering prohibitive workshops for parents to help them understand that their child’s body belongs to no one but the child him/herself and that even if the child seems to enjoy it while having sexual interactions with them, it might leave deep scars in their mind for decades that sometimes cause flashbacks and emotional confusion.

Those things are what we need to do in order to really protect children from harm. In other words, as a society, they are the only ways that public administration can interfere in the matter of sexuality. Criminalizing possession of child pornography, or in other words, criminalizing possession of pedophilic gaze, should not be the answer. Such restriction on having certain desire would be based on the categories of sexuality, which has its history (remember the sodomy laws and spousal exemption in rape laws which honored and advantaged male sexuality within marriage). Instead, we need to focus on reducing real harm like child abuse, molestation and violation of children’s privacy.

(We, however, must not forget that what can be done legally is not all we can. Critique can play a significant role in opening up the ways that we critically interpret, evaluate, and judge child pornography in non-restrictive ways. It can produce many counter-arguments against the ways children are portrayed and represented in child pornography without appealing to state power that might enact censorship or criminalize possession of child pornography, which would give them monopoly over cultural representation of children’s sexuality.)

The above is the argument that I made in my other blog in response to the Japanese parliament’s reformative proposition of child pornography laws. The World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents (November 24, 2008) reached an international agreement that all participating countries would undertake to criminalize the possession of child pornography including cartoons (animation, comics, 3DCG, etc.). The parliament decided not to include bans on possession of animation/comic/3DCG child pornography in the bill but apparently they wanted to. Fortunately, though so for only a little while I guess, the parliament is going to be disbanded pretty soon and all the bills currently up will be turned down. But I’m sure the bill will come back on the table sometime soon if not immediately. So I made a Twitter account (LINK–requires Japanese language compatibility) specifically designed to deliver related news, articles, academic papers and blog entries that I think will bring some insight for people who find the bill dangerous.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, as I will explain later), there are so many people on the Internet that explicitly protest against the bill. Online forums are flooded with anti-reform comments including ones celebrating the disbandment of the parliament. This seems like a phenomenon that Cass Sanstein calls “cyber cascade”, creating echo chambers and accompanied by another phenomenon called group polarization. That means, for example, people first respond to something (like a news article) and search on the Internet using terms such as “problem child pornography reform” and “importance child pornography reform,” but putting words like “problem” and “importance” in the search box already reflects their initial response to the news, and websites that show up are the kind of websites that they wan
t
to read, allowing them indulgence and interactions with other people who also hold the same or similar views with them, which makes it more likely for them to agree with each other and believe that their opinion is flawless. And that sometime leads to extremism.

But there’s nothing one can do to prevent or stop a cyber cascade once it’s started. But several attempts have been made to slow down cyber cascades, among which the most relevant would be this. When anti-feminist backlash gained so much popularity and some influence on real politics between 2002 and 2005, a famous blogger and friend of mine, Chiki Ogiue, created a comprehensive web page (Japanese) where he provided correct information about feminism and what was called gender-free movement, the two of them being two different things while overlapping each other in some aspects. And the web page became good resource for Internet users to bring up in online forums and use for better understanding of what was going on. Chiki thinks that the decay of the online backlash in 2005 had nothing to do with the web page, but it definitely played a role.

But the question is, why is it that cyber cascades in Japan have never happened in favor of feminism or queer activism? Putting aside the problem of cyber cascades being misinformed and narrow-minded, how come we have never had a feminist or queer cyber cascade? It’s easy to imagine that such a thing would be similarly misinformed and narrow-minded, but let’s just say it’s okay for a moment and ask, why always conservative? Because it’s easier for the average person to be conservative? Because conservatism can be spoken about in everyday language and thus easy to jump onto? Maybe because many feminists and queer activists are not brave enough to take a definite stand but willing to take time to take into account more things than they can handle within the length of their life? Well, I don’t have any answer. In fact, it could be very dangerous in many ways when a cyber cascade of that kind (feminist/queer) occurs; for example, one particular feminist idea might be picked and celebrated in the cascade, whose opposing idea, also feminist, is completely discarded and disrespected by those flowing in the current of cascade. Or, perhaps more probable is that some feminist idea gets picked and all the queer ideas (even ones shared by many feminists) are ignored, or vice versa. So it might be a good thing that there’s no feminist or queer cascade.

But the Twitter account that I opened is my attempt to somehow create a queer cascade, or more precisely, make the anti-reform cascade currently going on into a queer one–or, if that’s just too optimistic, just put a little bit of queer twist into the cascade. And I am doing this because (1) now is one of those rare times that there is a huge flow of ideas that some (but not all, I know) feminists and queer activists can actually agree with and there are so many people who support the ideas, and because (2) without queer intervention, the anti-reform cascade would most likely end up being yet another heterosexist, male-centric defense against egalitarianism that attempts to protect marginalized people (women, children, foreigners, disabled people etc.) from erotic male gaze that has historically been by all means defended and even promoted by various cultural artwork, especially pornography. So what I want to do is to make people in the cascade realize that what they are doing is not, and should not be, only to protect male heterosexuals’ right to have pedophilic fantasies, but also part of a larger movement of queer and feminist nature and thus supported by queer and feminist theories, whether they like it or not.

I myself personally couldn’t care less about male heterosexual fantasies about young girls. I wouldn’t raise my voice and say I’m against the reform bill if that were the only thing we are going to defend. But I’ve gotten my ass up, thinking that this attempt, if successful, would create a society a little bit more inclusive of our queerness. In other words, what I am trying to do is to use the cascade for the sake of queer mobilization.

I don’t know if that’s gonna work. I don’t know if other queer activists and feminists will agree with the idea. So, yeah, wish me luck.