340 meters per second

Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

&mdash Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Self-righteous much?

Just a quick follow-up to my original post on chikan, the molestation of women on Japanese commuter trains: men are beginning to protest the existence of women-only trains. Created in 2002 specifically to combat the widespread practice of groping, these trains have been making Western news lately. Unless stated otherwise, I'm quoting from this article on Truthout.org.

In the western city of Osaka, which got Japan's first commuter cars for women in 2002, Takahito Yamao started an organization to oppose women-only train cars. The group has 46 members.

"This system is discriminating against men," he said. "We pay the same fare and yet are labeled as evil persons. Not all men are gropers. This is insulting."

and later:
Most men seem resigned to the new system, though some fear that they could be falsely accused of groping. They also worry that the regular cars will be even more cramped.
Okay, first things first: dude(s), this isn't about you. This is about the thousands of women who have grown to accept molestation as part of their daily commute. Putting up a sign in a playground which reads "no adults permitted unless accompanied by a child" doesn't label all adults as pedophiles, it's a means of minimizing risk. In using this analogy, I am not trying to infantilize women or paint them as hapless victims in need of defense. I'm instead trying to illustrate how the community can decide to mildly inconvenience one group if it's clearly in the interests of protecting another, obviously disadvantaged group. Insulted? Get over yourself.

Secondly--more cramped? Come on, we're talking about a couple of cars on the most densely-packed commuter rail system in the world. No way is anyone going to feel the difference.

Also, since compliance with the 'women-only' rule is totally voluntary, there's literally nothing preventing these men from boarding the so-called "pink trains:"

Cooperation is voluntary. Men can't be punished for boarding the pink-bordered cars, rail officials said.

Some members of Yamao's group take the women-only cars in protest.

Finally, this essay serves as both a primer on what a Chikan is and a list of appropriate responses to the unwanted touches of one of these men. It's interesting to note the cultural specificity of the advice: it's all premised on particularly Japanese notions of shame and public accountability.
First, if you think that someone is touching you, turn your head slowly and look at his hand to make sure that he is really a Chikan. After that, stare at him from his feet to face slowly as you show him your anger on your face, especially in your eyes. This action makes some people around you notice the existence of a Chikan, and they will stare at him. If he still does not stop touching you, you should pinch or scratch his hand as the second step. Safety pins are necessities for women who take crowded trains everyday. Many of my friends in high school used to have one in their pockets because female high school students wearing pretty school uniforms were the targets of Chikans. The final step is to turn to him, look straight at his eyes for three to five seconds, and say "Please stop" or "Please don't" in a very polite way. Since trains during rush hour are so quiet, all of the passengers can hear you, and they also understand easily what you mean. Furthermore, they will watch him with eyes filled with criticism. Most Chikans get off the train at the next station or move to another train soon because they cannot stand the people's eyes, which criticize him silently.

The contextual spectrum of escalation fascinates me: the idea of appealing to--and what's more, wielding--the disapproval of others as a weapon against a sexual predator requires a kind of surrender to mass morality (and faith in the individual offender's capacity to feel shame) that just doesn't exist here.


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