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Sunday, March 20, 2005

MEDIA MIX

Training men in sex education is the key to unlock women-only cars


On the same day that now former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Kazuyoshi Nakanishi was arrested for indecent assault in Roppongi there was a similarly themed news story buried in the back of the dailies that put his misdemeanor in perspective. Officials of JR East Japan announced that they are planning to add women-only cars to the Saikyo Line for the morning commute into Tokyo due to incidents involving chikan (sex molesters).

The Saikyo already enjoys the dubious distinction of receiving more complaints of groping than any other train line in Japan, and has offered women-only cars on the evening rush leaving Tokyo for several years now. In fact, a number of railways throughout Japan have adopted similar systems as a means of helping women avoid the wandering hands of drunken salarymen. What's noteworthy is that by extending the program to the morning rush hour JR East implies that even sober salarymen can't be trusted.

When women-only cars were introduced the idea was sufficiently shocking: The problem must be really bad for railway operators to go to such lengths. But now that the practice is being extended and normalized, it brings up an even more shocking idea: There is no other solution to the problem except to isolate women. On the morning after the Nakanishi incident, while the disgraced pol was still sleeping off his hangover, the media were implying that he had manhandled the woman in question because he thought she was a "professional," meaning someone who solicited men off the street to patronize a drinking establishment where they could presumably do all the manhandling they wanted.

At his press conference, Nakanishi denied this implication, but the kind of discrimination the media attributed to his behavior is something that all men understand and many implicitly believe. Women, just by being women, are always going to be the victim of the male gaze and worse. But according to these men, women who are seen as utilizing their sexuality in any way are essentially asking for it.

It's an age-old problem whose only solution is for women to aggressively demand that men behave themselves, either on a one-to-one level (confronting the offender directly) or at the class-action level (suing for clear indecency and sexual assault laws).

Women-only train cars, however, is a passive solution. The sort of men who think groping can't be helped are not going to be turned around by such a countermeasure. They will simply see it as an acknowledgment of a fact of life. One wonders what those men think of women who, for whatever reason, opt out of riding the women-only car when it's available.

These men think their behavior is natural and thus inherent, but it's mostly learned.

Several weeks ago, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi mentioned in the Diet that he had seen sex-education textbooks for elementary school students and said that third-graders didn't need to know this sort of thing -- sex education was not something that could be taught in school. In his own generation's case, "We learned about it as we grew up."

If ever there was a rationale for teaching kids about sex, that's it. Many male members of Koizumi's generation retain an immature outlook on sexual relations, as evidenced by the clueless verbal faux pas about rape and women's reproductive rights that occasionally erupt from his LDP peers. It's an attitude that was fairly mainstream until the '90s, when women started to be more verbal in their objections, but it's still prevalent. Nowadays, such men are the butt of jokes, which doesn't make it any less immature, but it does point to at least a growing acknowledgment that the attitude is no longer acceptable.

In the new documentary "Arakimentari," gnomish photographer Nobuyuki Araki is shown groping his models in a way that would definitely get him arrested on the Saikyo Line. The difference, of course, is one of consent -- Araki's models expect him to act that way ("He's a monster," one says approvingly) -- but the impulse and attitude behind the groping isn't much different from Nakanishi's. And Nakanishi, lest we forget, was drunk. In an interview included in the movie, comedian Beat Takeshi, whose own humor relies a great deal on childish sex jokes, talks about Araki and betrays some envy for the fact that the little bald satyr can get away with it. But at the same time he seems to admit it's wrong.

The biggest lie related to this attitude is that women don't really mind it. In the past, women who were groped on trains and elsewhere tended to say that the emotion they felt most was fear, not anger, which is why they never spoke up. In recent years, women have become bolder about confronting these men, and while the media likes to report on suspected gropers who say they are innocent and that their lives have been ruined by reckless chikan accusations, the fact is that more men are being arrested for train groping, and that sexual assault laws are being enforced and punishment reinforced. Rape is finally being treated as a serious crime.

Accordingly, one could assume that young men today will grow older with a more mature attitude toward sex. In the meantime, however, women may get used to being separated from men in certain situations, like the commute home in the evening, and actually find it preferable. Tokyu is reportedly studying the idea of women-only floors for their business hotels because female customers often ask for rooms that were not previously occupied by men. Apparently, it's the smell.



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