Bebe Taian: Mannered Mondays: Fetishism + VS's Blunder

October 15, 2012

Mannered Mondays: Fetishism + VS's Blunder

For this Mannered Mondays, I thought we'd take a break from the usual book excerpts and rehash an old topic anew. After all, Halloween is coming up. It's my favourite holiday!

Last year, I wrote this post about cultural appropriation. For more clarity, I suggest reading this post about how cultural appropriation specifically works. If you already have a good understanding of this subject, then you'll see immediately how problematic the recent (now defunct) campaign of Victoria's Secret was.

Cut for those who don't want to see tacky lingerie model pics.

A month ago, Victoria's Secret released a lingerie line called "Go East". I remember being in the mall around when it came out, looking for something to get a friend. The bras with Japanese prints were cute; the captions for those products online were not. And then there was one online product in particular...

“Your ticket to an exotic adventure: a sexy mesh teddy with flirty cutouts and Eastern-inspired florals. Sexy little fantasies, there’s one for every sexy you.”

... What?

Yes. A geisha is secretly a white, blonde lady in a cheap, tacky satin-and-mesh getup with a cute 'lil fan and eating utensils decorated with someone's curtain pull tassels in her hair. 

This, darlings, is the epitome of the Western view of a geisha, and indeed Japanese women as a whole. Ever-accessible objects there to be sexy and cheap, subservient to the men they cater to. That a geisha is a whore, and nothing else, as has been purported in America since the days when white men first went to (ahem, invaded with iron war ships) Japan. They didn't even bother to at least use a Japanese model for this getup. At least then she would have made some money off of the appropriation of her country's internationally-recognized symbol! (Proof? Check out the whole line archived here.)

But that's exactly what fetishism and cultural appropriation bring you. 

By simply wearing this gaudy "geisha" getup, you too can be Exotic, Sexy, Asian. By simply having the hallmark accessories of Japanese Women Everywhere (a fan, some chopsticks in your hair, red lipstick), you can be a geisha. And all geisha are there to sexually serve men, of course.

I'm all for people exploring their fetishes, so long as they don't involve kids, animals, or the dead. If your fetish is an Asian woman, by all means... but at some point, people have to realise that marketing things like this perpetuates a racist stereotype that dehumanizes and objectifies real people, taking away the real history and lives of actual geisha past and present, and indeed, of Asian women who should be seen as people first, not as mere accessories to a man's idealized lifestyle.

Just don't do this for Halloween. It isn't cute, nor sexy. It isn't just a 'fun, harmless' getup. You might think it's fun, but it plays upon an ingrained cultural image in America that really needs to be eradicated. Wa-style is cool! Portraying yourself as a geisha and dressing like this model... not so much. Have some respect for the culture you want to imitate or be a part of.

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