Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chasing Lolita - Sexualisation of the Child

Last week at a friend’s place, boredom and curiosity (two fundamental ingredients for the most exciting discoveries) compelled me to steal a glimpse into his private collection of erotica (yep, that’s the prettier word for porn). I stand by my story, in the case that he reads this, that the magazines were already lying open on his bed; the fact that I was caught crawling out from under the bed proves nothing. What I saw at first glance did not surprise me. I’d heard of adults-only comic books and eroticised cartoon characters, and since this friend happens to be a self proclaimed anime-fanatic, I could’ve easily predicted a screen-by-screen reel of what went down inside his head. However, the thing that caught my attention was the manner in which the girls were depicted. Wide-eyed, flushed cheeks and pre-pubescent, these images construct the fascinating world of lolicon.

Lolicon, or the “Lolita complex,” refers to the sexual attraction to young girls. The term was coined in Japan, where there exists an enormous market for grown men to perve and pant over childlike characters posed in erotic manners. My first experience with Vladimir Nabokov’s lovesick, poetic, and strangely loveable creation, Humbert Humbert, prompted me to single out this personality as an unfortunate aberration of humankind; a man tormented by perversions that rest completely beyond his control (funnily enough, Nabokov did reuse the characterisation of baby-faced nymphettes in several other works). However, the widely spread market of lolicon, particularly in Japan, blurs the line between paraphilia and subculture.

In Japan, the style of kawaii, which translates to “cute”, is a spectacle that exists beyond the pages of pornographic magazines. The streets of Tokyo are brought to life by groups of women dressed in pink lace, frilled collars and oversized ribbons, flaunting the childlike image that’s quickly gained nation-wide popularity. The school-aged girl in a school uniform is regarded as an erotic symbol in Japan, comparable to the image of a cheerleader in the United States. There is no surprise then that the collusion between the cute and the perverse in Japanese culture has provoked both global and domestic criticism. Countries such as Canada, Australia, Sweden and the Philippines have attempted to criminalise the sexually explicit forms of lolicon, deeming the phenomenon as child pornography, but many culture critics argue that it is essentially harmless. But before we can start pointing fingers at the despicable habits of foreign cultures (we all love to cry foul at the Japanese), we first must take a closer look at our own.

The shelves of our department stores would probably be the first place to look. With the profit-driven creations of pre-teen push-up bras and satin thongs, “Eye Candy” t-shirts and the notoriously sexy Bratz doll, the modern trend of sexualising young girls has crept into Western societies with very little recognition. Gigi Durham poses the following question in her book The Lolita Effect: Who would disagree that the “baby-faced nymphet” – perhaps embodied more explicitly by a school-uniformed Britney Spears in the Baby One More Time video – is a regular fixture on the media landscape? Durham brings attention to a culture that increasingly positions girls from a very early age that women are merely “passive, objectified sex kittens”; girls are not encouraged to actually desire sex, yet they are mandated to be desirable to men. Girls are to appear “up for it,” but to not act upon it, for that would of course be sluttish.

I cannot smother my passion on this matter because that would betray the heated feminist ideals that surge forcibly through my veins. At the risk of playing Devil’s advocate, I don’t believe we should hide the realities of the “Lolita effect” from our daughters. Perhaps instead, we should find a way to explain the separation between sex and consumerism. The objective of generating profits has constructed a culture in which the practice of sex is seen as predominately man-pleasing. If young girls are taught to consider sexuality as a human impulse, pursued by both men and women, we may have a lot less to worry about concerning the potential repercussions of society’s escalating Lolita complex.


  1. I agree, knowledge is power.
    The better you educate young people, the less likely they are to get trapped by the down side of our society.


    Publish or Perish

  2. I completely agree. There has always been so much emphasis on 'protecting' children from what is considered harmful, but people neglect to realise that the more you try to stop a child from something the more they want to do/know about it. Intead of hiding issues like this away from view, they should be given the to make up their own minds by hearing various viewpoints.

    It's a little like alcohol. Let them drink it with you as a family in small quantities when they're young, then they'll be less likely to binge on it later.

    Great post!

  3. Last year, I went into a Limited Too and found out they sold thongs for children. My daughter was six at the time and I could've bought her a thong! I worked in the fifth-grade for several years, and how children dressed and the lyrics they knew reminded me of when I'd been three or four years older.

    We're going in the wrong direction.

  4. Great post. Every morning, my *new* stepdaughter and I engage in the battle of make-up and clothes. I honestly don't remember having THOSE fights with my mom.

  5. Hey Val. I can see more brilliant stuff coming from you on the new blog. I for one am appalled at the sexualization of young girls who should be sweet and innocent yet at the same time, it's been a long time fantasy of mine to dress up like a pretty young school and receive a spanking from the stern headmaster ;-)

    BTW, was that porn collection Hoffman's?

  6. This is shocking and a real eye opener.But the issues are valid and ought to be questioned!

  7. All very disturbing but all very true. I came over from my own blog, through which you jogged, and it's so refreshing to see such a beautifully constructed and well-written blog. I'll be back.

  8. A great, though-provoking post. I wonder about how all this had all come to be, and it's really everywhere you look too.

  9. Very interesting as a male I have considered the question of the exploitation of young girls because I was aware of it among my students. I always felt sad when girls told me they would do anything for males as long as they had plenty money. A thought provoking blog indeed well done.

  10. I love your blog! The subject itself is so provocative. Watching my friends little girls look like teenagers at the age of 8 makes me sad. And yet I remember wanting to do the same thing and would have. Had it not been for the headgear, glasses and bad hair.

  11. This is an issue that makes my stomach queasy. It makes me nervous that there are all those men out there fantasizing about very young girls.

    I agree that we need to educate the younger girls to think of themselves as more than there bodies. We are all so much more than our bodies.


  12. As a freshman in high school, I read Lolita as part of our curriculum. I did not see it as map of what to do, but instead read the work and analyzed it as a literary work of art. It's a shame we have become so moralistic.

  13. Funny, I was going to write about this subject because the modern trend of sexualising young girls is a real hot potato here in the UK at the moment, and clothes stores have been told to remove padded bikini tops made for girls as young as 8 to wear.

    When you think about it wasn't the whole appeal of Britney Spears first single "Hit Me One More Time" the fact that in the video she was dressed as a school girl?

  14. Thought provoking indeed! The acceptance of this culture and its ramifications are truly frightening. Growing up 60 odd years ago little girls were expected to be cute and were coditioned to appeal to the male. No one bothered to explore the molestation that took place at the hands of male relatives and friends as a result of this conditioning.
    At least today it is talked about and written about by learned people like you. That is a step forward! Thank you.

  15. I don't see anything wrong with the Japanese fascination with "cute." I mean it's not really for me, but then again my own daughter is really into Anime/Manga and seems to have a fascination with the phenomenon of men that look like women that is so prevalent in that kind of media.

    Besides, although Japan does have some pretty creepy cultural habits, they actually have one of the lowest rates of rape, sexual abuse, and violent crime in the world. I would rather have every American reading kiddie porn if it meant no one ever got raped or molested.

  16. I think you have completely misread the Japanese concept of kawaii (cute). The problem is that you are interpreting it through Western eyes and the moral panic over pedophilia. As the previous comment says, Japan has lower rates of child abuse than America and Japanese sociologists and psychologists have argued that by providing a fantasy outlet you actually prevent 'real' children being abused. This may mean that the Japanese have a better, healthier and more open appreciation of sexuality that the Christian West. I think you also miss the humour and irony of Japanese pop culture. You are not meant to take it seriously.

    Btw, if anything Japan has a problem with 'asexualization' and people turning away from 'real' sex to 'virtual' sex.

    1. "Japan has lower rates of child abuse than America."

      No. They have lower levels of reported cases. This extends to rape as well. Now that the laws have since changed, however, statisticians anticipate major changes in that data and not for the better.

      And the lax attitude toward these issues in Japan is actually a problem. The majority of their porn (specifically animated) consists of rape and abuse of women as well as minors. See: "Please Rape Me" et al for reference.

      On second thought, don't see it. Their porn is disturbing. And it's no doubt a reflection of the mentality/views regarding women and those deemed as "weak" by their societal standards. Period.

    2. Also, a nice little bit of Japanese trivia for you folks: the word for "rape" in Japanese is "gookan" (i.e 強姦). Now, the kanji characters used to represent this word have roots in other meanings as do all of the kanji used in the Japanese language. The word roots help to identify and define the term.

      For example, the Japanese word for fireworks is "hanabi" (i.e 花火). The word roots for the kanji are hana (花) which means flower + hi (火) which means fire. When placed together as hanabi, it literally means "flower of fire" which is basically what fireworks in the strictest sense are, correct?

      Now, breaking down the verb expression of rape in the same way (gookan) the same rule of roots applies. Gookan written as kanji looks like this (強姦). The kanji for strength or power (tsuyo-i or tsuyo-sa) and the kanji for a vulgar term for intercourse (kan) is used. Breaking down the second kanji "kan" we find that it is actually made up of the kanji for woman which is onna (女). Viewing the kanji as a picture representation, the kanji for this vulgar term for intercourse can literally be read as "women because there is more than one. Technically, though, the root for this kanji comes from the Chinese character "ji-ian" which means "evil." Interestingly enough, (though hardly surprising) the Japanese kanji for woman comes from the Chinese character for female (nu). The Chinese character for evil, is basically just three "nu" which could represent women (i.e women are evil). But I digress.

      So, placed together, the Japanese verb expression for rape (gookan) can be read like so: goo (強) "power" + kan (姦) "sex". Changing the last kanji to its root meaning, however, the word could literally be read as goo (強) "power" + kan (姦) "evil" which we know uses the same character as the character for "woman." So, in essence, at its root the Japanese word for rape (gookan) means "power over women." Misogyny is unfortunately written into their language system, even. So, naturally, aspects of that will filter into their culture as well.

      Here endeth the lesson.

  17. This is a simpler issue to understand than it's being given credit for. Sexualization of youth plays to masculine and feminine drives in different ways. Young girls look to their risque toys as models on how to become pretty, attractive, wanted; for a certain type of man, it's a power fantasy. There's a reason why pedophiles tend to be both unattractive and socially maladjusted: their love of young girls is typically a reaction, the natural male lust for power and dominance finding a way around rejection.

    And I do wish you'd tone down your anti-masculine subtext just a tad. At times, you risk becoming a stereotype.

    1. The natural male lust for power and dominance? Are you insinuating that women want to be controlled by men and their natural lust is for submission and docility? If their epitome of beauty is looking underage, that points to a far greater problem.

  18. You are mixing Lolita with Lolicon O.o Lolicon is the sexual attraction to an anime child. Where Lolita YES does have the word "Loli" in it, but it's not quite associated with Lolicon.

    Lolita is a fashion statement, YES THOUGH! IT IS CHILD LIKE. Here is an article on Wikipedia which is to my surprise quite accurate

    And here is a definition for Lolicon
    Loli – short for lolita meaning pre-teenage girls; should not be confused with Lolita fashion.

    My experience in this... I dress Gothic Lolita a lot of the time