Just a shirt?

J-list’s “Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend” shirt has spawned quite a bit of controversy, including at least one angry blog post and manga critic Deb Aoki’s nomination for inclusion on a list of things to never wear.  Asked if in her opinion men could never wear it ironically and explain it as such, Aoki responded:

@moritheil I’m just saying you can tell yourself you’re wearing it “ironically” all you want. It’ll still look douche-y.

I think this response is worth examining.  The meaning of art generally hinges on the interpretation of the viewer.  However, if you’re trying to assess why someone wore a specific clothing article, it’s their intent that really matters.  On the one hand, a literal wearing of the shirt means that the man is indeed a fetishist for Japanese women. It’s not hard to see why some women might consider that problematic.  (Not all women, of course – women being perfectly capable of being only interested in sex.)

On the other hand, many other rationales are possible.  One could wear it to an anime club and make the statement, “I’m such a Japanophile, I want to marry into a Japanese family so that my descendants can be Japanese!”  A man could be playing with the idea that fetishism is so ingrained in society that it could be thought acceptable to wear these shirts.  Yet another twist occurs if the shirt is worn by a Japanese man – that entirely does away with the “exotic fetishist” angle, doesn’t it?  There are more possibilities; I suppose a revealing question to ask people would be, “Do you think that there would be more ironic wearers of that shirt or literal wearers?”

Aoki is right in that many Asian women would infer a male wearer’s message to be: “I think things that offend you – and by extension, your feelings – are a great source of material for jokes.”  But is that the first and best conclusion?  Doesn’t that assume a certain amount of forethought and insight on the man’s part being exerted just to offer a snub?  It’s by no means certain that a man has worn it specifically because he understands that a Japanese woman in the West has to put up with unwanted advances from fetishists, after all.

Looking for calculated insults seems to be a particularly masochistic form of sabotage, especially if you aren’t the intended audience. Perhaps seeking faults is justifiable behavior on a date, but there are surely many other contexts to run into someone wearing this shirt.  I think that in manga/anime fan circles, there are a lot of people who would genuinely not understand beforehand any anxiety such a shirt would cause women around them, merely thinking it hilarious or cool, and that this is a very different phenomenon from deliberately wearing a shirt to discomfit others and being an asshole.

Aoki continued:

@moritheil @owen_s @kiriska @jake_w @edsizemore i have yet to hear a single JP gal say that she’s charmed when she sees that on a guy.

Jake_W added:

@debaoki And for good reason, I think. That shirt reeks of creepiness and desperation, even when not worn seriously. 

Certainly anyone can refuse to date anyone for any reason.  I’m not saying that the shirt has to be seen as a plus, universally, and I don’t know precisely how it feels to a Japanese woman in America to see a man wearing this shirt.  But here it seems there is a rush to jump to the worst conclusion.  I can agree there is a lack of social skills if that shirt is worn on a date, and that is not usually a plus – but being unskilled is not being malevolent. I don’t see that there is something inherently creepy or desperate about wearing a shirt with an absurd message in a general setting – it’s funny because it’s an absurd invocation of stereotypes, and only if you are willing to deny them any decency do you assume they literally mean they don’t care about women as people and only care about specific body types.

Turning it around – does a software engineer get very upset if his date wears an “I ❤ nerds” shirt?  Should he?  Does a black woman get upset if her date wears a shirt indicating a preference for black females?  Should she*?  Would an atheist be bothered by her date wearing a shirt proclaiming that he can’t stand to date religious women and only wants to date atheists?  In all of these examples, wearing the shirt strikes me as a little weird, but a far cry from desperate or creepy.  (Incidentally, this is the sort of shirt I think could be ironically worn on a date: “My marxist-feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard.”  On a literal reading it’s threatening, but it’s really absurd, and serves as a good litmus test for humor.)

[*A major issue in America. Black women have written numerous articles accusing black men of being more interested in other women, and decrying the situation.]

All this analysis is taking things rather seriously, but no more seriously than the detractors already take it: Aoki herself labels it a deal-breaker on behalf of all Japanese women, and starrycloud9 believes the shirt is responsible for rape.  I think these assessments are missing the most salient point – more time is wasted on dating due to effective fakery than due to excessive and clumsy honesty.  If a man really does think that women getting offended is funny, and that is the reason he wears it to a date, we aren’t doing the women he dates any favors by telling him to not wear the shirt.

This article was originally written on December 8, 2010.  Since then, new variants have been created.  Maybe girls could wear a variation to show that they have a sense of humor about such things – “now seeking a gaijin boytoy”?  Would that resemble real life too much?

Of course, one hears about women wearing the original shirt, as just a shirt.

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Published in: on December 5, 2011 at 12:01 PM  Comments (12)  
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  1. Short answer: nobody (male) wears it ironically.

    Longer answer: because nobody (male) who would ever wear it has ever given the impression that they could wear it ironically, it is safe to assume that it will never be interpreted as being worn ironically.

    (Also, “nerd” is a lifestyle not a race. Therefore, that shirt says “I heart people with similar interests as me” rather than “I heart a somewhat arbitrary grouping of people based on values which I am projecting onto all of them which they may not even possess.”

    That also said, religion is more of a grey area because it is generally not a choice. But not always!)

    • I would be careful there; race as we understand it is more of a sociological grouping than an actual genetic distinction. There is, for example, as much genetic variability within African-descended humans as between some different “races” that society considers distinct. Race is certainly a matter of human-constructed identity.

      I really don’t understand where you’d get the impression that nobody would ever wear it ironically, or that nobody could ever do so. Such a unilateral assertion seems pretty absurd on the face of it.

      • I think my major problem with your post is pretty much summed up by your assumption that just because it can be worn ironically, that it will.

        That said, please prove me wrong by showing me a picture that someone is wearing it ironically (male).

      • Omo, that’s trivial. All that is required for an ironic wearing is that the wearer be aware of very basic feminist concepts. You, or I, or anyone who has been through a high school English program could fulfill that requirement.

        Statistically, once you get above a certain age, it’s probably harder to find people who aren’t at least tangentially aware of feminism. Now, any given wearer may or may not intend irony, but it’s ludicrous and unfair to assume they’re all assholes.

      • can you actually read what you said and tell me you are actually serious? Are you seriously implying anyone merely aware of feminism would 1. Ever wear this shirt and 2. if they do, do so ironically always? It seems if 1 is true (seems odd), 2 would be almost always true.

      • Oops, by always i mean never

      • Omo, I don’t know what you mean so I’m not sure where to replace your “always” with “never.” Can you rewrite that comment?

        Remember all I’m saying here is that it’s silly (or perhaps vengeful) to always assume the worst just because someone is wearing this Tshirt. I am in no way saying it is always innocent and that no one wearing it will be a jerk.

  2. A possibly tangential issue is that a more accurate gloss for what’s written on that T-shirt would be “I have an open position for a Japanese girlfriend”. The phrase 「募集中」 is mostly used in the context of recruiting employees or soliciting clients, so the message seems to be inviting participants in a venal relationship.

    Now if you happen to be a caucasian investment banker dropping by a bar in Roppongi, it might work wonders.

    • Hmm. If you’re a caucasian male in the bar scene in Roppongi, I think a significant number of girls will assume you are looking for a Japanese girl, whether or not you wear the shirt. 😛

  3. nice blog, I think im gonna ry and start my own after reading this.

  4. Hmm. I’m working in a Japanese recruitment agency now, and I have to wonder how my co-workers would take it if I wore it there… give me a list of numbers and charge me based on a percentage of their total annual salary?

    …I don’t think I can afford any of them right now. lol.

  5. Great, yet more reasons to hate myself for once wanting something a t-shirt described only to realise years later it made me douchey but realising that before prominent reviewers point out why it’s douchey. I never wanted to be douchey in any way but now I feel douchier than ever despite not knowing any better.

    This is like the time I watched Scarface as an adult all over again. Boy I’ve had a crappy week.

    For context on why articles like this make me feel like a terrible person, allow me to elaborate. I was an autistic guy who back in 2007 went on some internet forum with no knowledge of how mean some posters could get if the moderation was crappy.

    There was one guy who got wind of my horrifically idealised idea of romance, hopefully with some lovely Japanese girl because I didn’t know any better back then, but he was Japanese himself and was kind of a troll to weeaboos back then and he persisted in tormenting me for about a year and a half before I gave up and left that forum.

    Ever since I’ve felt confused and fretful about whether it was my naivety that made me a horrible person or whether it was being attracted to Asian girls at some point in my life that did that. I had no context for why I was assuming that all women of this persuasion would now think I was creepy or weird other than this one troll guy who was actually Japanese who to be honest was a bad representative himself for an otherwise noble and culturally aware people.

    Years later every time I try and negotiate a social situation I’m unsure about what to do when there’s a pretty Asian lady in the room and are unsure whether to ask her out or not or be friends, because I keep reading news articles and blog posts about such women finding white guys who find them attractive creepy or weird or douchey, because the one horrible Japanese guy I’d ever encountered on the internet made similar comments only far meaner since he used them to bully me rather than to educate me for the benefit of social skills.

    It’s a problem I’ve been battling for years, and I don’t even want to feel afraid in social situations, I just feel baffled and afraid in situations where I am completely unaware about the complexities of human emotions in the realms of dating this way. Because I keep seeing tweets and blog posts that mention this trend of douchey guys being attracted to Asian women for douchey reasons, I feel afraid that I am somehow douchey no matter what my motives were in the first place.

    I was legitimately victimised by this one douchey Japanese-American troll guy on an internet forum, and it left me confused for nearly half a decade about whether it was okay to be attracted to Asian women at all, because nobody properly explained to me what the situation really was because I was too scared of telling anybody what had happened to me years ago. I don’t want to be racist or creepy or douchey. I just want to figure out why I’m too scared to approach adult relationships because my gut reaction is to assume all women assume guys like me are creepy or weird regardless of what race they are.


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