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    Strange bedfellows

    Posted by Sean at 12:51, August 27th, 2004

    Now, that’s something. It’s one thing for the Cheneys to talk about gay issues at a campaign stop–everyone knows their daughter is a lesbian, even if they don’t make a big deal out of it. But Cheney’s apparently going to appear in an HRC ad:

    The ad will air next week during the convention in New York media.

    It features portions of Cheney’s remarks on gay marriage and ends with an announcer saying “He spoke from the heart for millions of parents. Discrimination is wrong. What if it was your child, Mr. President?”

    There’s a link to the ad in Windows Media format (which I can’t get to work, even when I open it in IE instead of Firefox). This is weird timing, to say the least. It makes me wonder whether those people who’ve been suggesting that Cheney will be gently pushed aside for another nominee are on to something.

    PS: Couldn’t they get some gay guy who works in education or publishing to proofread that final, climactic, and errant use of the counterfactual? Sheesh.

    Maybe I’m not right on everything / But I know that I’m so right about him

    Posted by Sean at 12:17, August 25th, 2004

    So everyone from IGF to the expected gay blogger types to Virginia Postrel is talking about Vice-President Cheney’s remarks about gay unions the other day. Some people are also reminding us of President Bush’s statements on the only 3.5 seconds of Larry King Live in recent memory that haven’t been devoted to Laci Peterson or Lori Hacking.

    Apparently, there’s some sort of inconsistency somewhere. Personally, I don’t get it.

    “That’s up to states,” Bush told CNN’s Larry King Thursday night. “If they want to provide legal protections for gays, that’s great. That’s fine. But I do not want to change the definition of marriage. I don’t think our country should.”

    When asked about federal benefits for same-sex couples Bush pointed to inheritance taxes which are lower for people who are married Bush said gays should support Republican moves to get of inheritance taxes altogether.

    And here’s Cheney:

    “My general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want,” Cheney, 63, said in response to a question at a campaign “town hall” meeting in Davenport, Iowa.

    Cheney, whose daughter Mary is a lesbian and works for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said during the 2000 presidential race that he held homosexual marriage to be a state issue.

    “I made clear four years ago when I ran and this question came up in the debate I had with Joe Lieberman that my view was that that’s appropriately a matter for the states to decide, that that’s how it ought to best be handled,” Cheney said.

    “But the president makes basic policy for the administration. And he’s made it clear that he does in fact support a constitutional amendment on this issue,” he added.

    I’ve spent my whole adult life around people who say whatever’s politically expedient at the time and force you to sift through every statement, flicker of an expression, and chance unstudied gesture to figure out what they really believe. I don’t think I’m too naive to go looking for those hidden meanings when they’re likely to be there.

    But this strikes me as pretty straightforward. Neither Bush nor Cheney talks about not wanting government policy to “encourage” or “condone” homosexuality, which seems to be the favored formulation for those conservatives who don’t want us taken out and shot but are perfectly happy to make our relationships as hard to sustain as possible. As Christians, the President and Vice-President probably think that homosexual behavior is wrong. But there’s nothing to make that necessarily incompatible with thinking American gays who form long-term relationships should be able to take care of each other without interference.

    Of course they’re both treading carefully in political terms. That’s what happens when an issue is made during an election year of something that’s deeply controversial. I wish, based on my beliefs, that Bush hadn’t supported the FMA; furthermore, I don’t think he needed to, given what I can figure out of his own position.

    His deciding that he did need to, though, wasn’t clear evidence of illogic or a cowardly cave-in to the religious right. Every homosexual public figure that’s twitched in the last year, it seems, has invoked “second-class citizenship” to characterize what people who oppose gay marriage want for us, with no middle ground. In that context, I’m almost grateful to Bush and Cheney for being willing to take on the subject in public at all, even if they are watching their backs politically.

    Added on 28 August: Ann Althouse summarizes pretty well, I think, what we can glean from this recent clutch of soundbites about what the candidates think of gay marriage. Basically, even those against the FMA oppose it (of course, we don’t seem to be hearing from Edwards about this).

    Added five minutes later after avoiding impulse to put posthole digger through monitor: Flamin’ Norah! I turned off TrackBack auto-discovery the other day, and when I posted this, no pings went through. Golden. Now I republish and the poltergeists decide they’re going to ping five people. それって何のことだろうッ?!

    That’s the way I’ve always heard it should be

    Posted by Sean at 20:18, August 15th, 2004

    The requisite Jonathan Rauch piece about the McGreevey resignation is up at The New York Times. As is frequently the case lately, I agree wholeheartedly with about 80% of what he writes and have reservations about the other 20%. Rauch thinks that the bizarre circumstances surrounding McGreevey’s climactic announcement make the whole thing so weird that it won’t really affect gay advocacy, but he himself can’t resist taking the opportunity to use it to plug for gay marriage. Here’s the middle of the article:

    I coped by struggling for years to suppress every sexual and romantic urge. I convinced myself that I could never love anybody, until the strain of denial became too much to bear.

    Others coped differently. Some threw themselves into rebellion against marriage and the bourgeois norms it seemed to represent. Some, to their credit, built firmly coupled gay lives without the social support and investment that marriage brings. And some, determined to lead “normal” lives (meaning, largely, married lives), married.

    At what point Mr. McGreevey realized and acknowledged he was gay I don’t know. I do know that many gay husbands begin by denying and end by deceiving. Perhaps that was so in his case.

    That’s a nicely even-tempered way of putting it. But given that this is an op-ed, in which opinions and editorializing are expected, is it too much to ask for even a parenthetical acknowledgement that the kind of coping that involves long-term deception is wrong?

    It’s true that we don’t know exactly when McGreevey realized he was a gay American [Cue: Rapturous applause by assembled press corps], but it appears that his sexuality has been pretty much an open secret for at least several years. No human being can make the best decision in every difficult circumstance he ever encounters. But even so, people don’t just wake up one morning, after a lifetime of doing their best to live decently and honorably, to find that they have to deal with two sham marriages, accusations of cronyism and corruption, a possible sexual harassment lawsuit, and a sudden desire to resign as Governor of the ninth-most populous state in the Union. And while I understand that I don’t know first-hand what life was like when the gay men and lesbians now in their 40’s were my age and younger, the fact remains that 1979 was over some time ago. Fags get 365 days in a year just like everyone else; on any one of them before last week, McGreevey could have faced up to reality and started being honest.

    In other words, if the accusations against him are true, McGreevey’s problem is self-centeredness. That’s a character flaw that, to coin a phrase, does not discriminate based on sexual orientation–as the reality of sex and corruption scandals among straight politicians attests. Nevertheless, the craftily self-serving among us gays have learned that they can get sympathy by playing the emotional-upheaval card when their misdeeds catch up with them.

    It’s a poor idea to abet such a maneuver. I think McGreevey’s case makes an excellent argument for being honest with yourself and others, conquering your fears, and coming out of the closet sooner rather than later; it does not help the argument that gays are responsible enough for marriage.

    Note: I guess I should point out that I know the reporters actually at his press conference weren’t applauding; it was apparently the newsroom at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Gray areas

    Posted by Sean at 11:26, August 12th, 2004

    When you live in Tokyo, you’re the first to find out when there’s an accident at a Japanese nuclear facility and the last to find out when the Governor of New Jersey comes out and announces his resignation.

    Every gay guy linked to the left of this page, along with many others besides, has offered an opinion (well, not Eric at Classical Values, though I’d be interested to hear what he thinks). I think the one I agree with most is Agenda Bender, who wants to restore sexual purity and discretion to the Governorship of New Jersey by taking it over himself. I’ll campaign for him.

    But seriously, looking at the transcript of the speech, I worry:

    I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable.

    And for this, I ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife.

    Discount Blogger says that yesterday’s press conference may, not surprisingly, be a defensive move against coming charges of misconduct in office. We don’t know yet. But just taking what the Governor said at face value, I have to wonder at some people’s reactions. I don’t see how McGreevey’s speech can be construed as saying that gays are unfit for office. I also don’t think that the pressure to be closeted, which I detest as much as any out homosexual, can be summarily blamed (though Right Side of the Rainbow does imply that McGreevey made a bad choice in a bad situation).

    One of the arguments most gay marriage advocates use is that it would help keep gay guys from screwing around on their partners. McGreevey–looking at the content of his speech and leaving aside his sincerity, which we can’t assess–believes that it was wrong to break his vows and screw around on his partner. Shouldn’t people who think gay and straight relationships should be taken equally seriously be paying attention to that part, too?

    Given what he says about the pain caused to his wife, it does not appear that she was the sort who agrees to look the other way while her husband picks up a guy every few weeks to keep the jones from driving him crazy. Pointing out that, in a better world, none of this would have had to happen…that’s fine. But McGreevey accepted responsibility for a marriage and child, and he wants to avoid piling public scandal on top of private upheaval. If he believes that’s more important than proving that out gay men can be respectable politicians, I have a hard time thinking ill of him for it. We’ll see what happens.

    Gravy as food and metaphor

    Posted by Sean at 17:31, July 31st, 2004

    There isn’t a chance in the world that anyone reading this site doesn’t also check Samizdata frequently, but for those who haven’t seen it, there’s a great post up about what has become one of my least favorite subjects. While I’m watching Columbo and trying to decide whether lunch will be broiled chicken with way too much pan gravy or chicken paprikash (sp.? I’ve only heard my Polish-American great aunts say it) with way too much sour cream, I’ll add just a few comments to what David Carr wrote.

    He’s talking about British, not American, law; but I think that what he says about the relationships among custom, law, and behavior applies States-side, also. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes the gay marriage proponents have made is insisting on limiting to homosexual couples the extensions of benefits. Domestic partner benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the use of enduring power of attorney are certainly issues that affect our relationships; however, we aren’t the only unmarried people who may need to think about them. If two relatives or lifelong friends want to take responsibility for each other’s welfare and are willing to do so officially and exclusively…well, why shouldn’t they be able to, using much the same argument we use in favor of benefits for gays? Some people have crazy next-of-kin whom they can’t trust when wide awake, much less while comatose. Others have simply formed bonds in their adult lives with people who would more respect their wishes than their blood relatives. As long as the content of the contract is clear, why not push to bundle these things into the kind of civil union in which who sleeps in which bed isn’t an issue?

    When this point is raised by critics, those arguing for gay marriage say that if anyone and everyone can randomly assign a domestic partner at will, things will get so chaotic that no one will be able to keep track of who gets what (more chaotic than our current era of no-fault divorce and no-father childrearing?). Or they bring up love and commitment, which I hadn’t been aware was impossible between distant cousins sharing a non-romantic household.

    I understand the emotional issue here. When people ask why gay couples should qualify for benefits that roommates don’t, many of them–not all, but many–are not-so-slyly taking the opportunity to dismiss our relationships as meaningless. That’s nasty, and it hurts, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have a policy point.

    Or a point about human nature. I believe that most of those on our team sincerely don’t want to force people to approve of our relationships in the sense of going out of their way to be congratulatory–that they just don’t want us to be prevented from providing for each other when we most need it. But forcing people to bracket together recognition of, say, hospital visitation rights and gay partnerships moves the issue into muddy territory in which even good-hearted people will feel as if they’re being shaken down for sympathy. That’s neither a logical nor emotionally astute way to get people on your side.

    I know what boys like

    Posted by Sean at 12:37, July 23rd, 2004

    Ten minutes ago, I was in a great mood, I swear.

    I know I need to stop sniping at Andrew Sullivan. An obscure person who keeps ragging in public on a prominent person is inviting accusations of envy. He wouldn’t know me if he fell over me in the street. I’m being petty. I suck.

    Having acknowledged that, I will humbly receive the permission of my dozen readers to say, I don’t think I can keep reading him much longer. I really don’t. One of his posts from today (your time over there…as in, it’s tomorrow here, but still today for you…oh, whatever) contains this one-two punch of ninnyism that made me want to scream:

    HE SAID IT! The Washington Blade has found a reference by the president to the word “gay.” He said the phrase “gay marriage” in Pennsylvania, referring to someone else’s question. He knows that gay people exist! Now if he could only apply to adjective to actual human beings. But it’s a start. And don’t give me the pablum abhout not treating people as members of a group. Today, at the Urban League, Bush asked: “Is it a good thing for the African-American community to be represented mainly by one political party? Have the traditional solutions of the Democrat Party truly served the African-American people?” That’s the difference between a group of people you respect and want to win over and a group of people you marginalize for political gain.

    EMAIL OF THE DAY II: “Your blog links to an inaccurate statement in a Fox report which claims that wives should be subservient to their husbands, when the word Judge Holmes used was subordinate. Subservient implies obsequiousness or servility while subordinate implies submitting to the authority of another (which can arguably be considered a sign of strength). You use the incorrect word in your blog.” The strength to be subordinate! And this comes from a religious tradition that began with a man who defied almost every social convention of his time and treated women – even single women – as his equals; who never married and broke up the families and marriages of his disciples; who told his own parents as a teenager that they had no final control over him; and whose best friends were a single woman and a single man who is described in the Gospels as resting his head on Jesus’ breast in an act of profound intimacy. How you get the subordination of women and the persecution of homosexuals from all that is beyond me.

    This is what one of our most literate, urbane, even-handed, generous-minded advocates is reduced to? Wagging his tail at the mention of the word gay, once, by the President? I mean, all right, to an extent I get it. Bush probably is dodging the issue as much as he can, and of course he’s probably doing so for the sake of political expediency. We are not–no surprise here–the constituency he needs to court most urgently.

    If the President really thinks homosexuals should be as free to live our private lives and make private contracts as everyone else, but that marriage shouldn’t be redefined just to make us happy, and that as a Christian he can’t approve of that aspect of our lives, I wish he’d just flat-out say it. I know all the reasons it’s not a good idea for him as a politician up for election, but I, for one, would be grateful. Yeah, he’d give some people on both sides of the argument fits of apoplexy, but they’d be well-earned fits of apoplexy.

    In fact, Andrew Sullivan, 2004 version, would be having the biggest fit of all, because apparently the US government is the arbiter of our dignity as citizens (yes, I’m going off on this again–feel free to go read Instapundit if you’re sick of hearing about it), and anything but approval, using the g word, with concrete examples, affronts it. You have to wonder what exactly would satisfy people who think like this. We’re 3% of the population, so does that mean we need to be mentioned in 3% of Bush’s speeches? Or should we constitute 3% of the individuals he refers to by name? Does “relationships between people of the same gender” count for, say, 0.375 times as many points as the actual use of “gay”? And how is anyone supposed to live a full, rich, satisfying life but still have time to obsess over these things?

    I doubt President Bush cares any more than Andrew Sullivan what Sean Kinsell, actual gay human being and voter, thinks. But for the record, there are two important entities I think he should consider while on the job:

    (1) The United States, in which I include its citizens, infrastructure, territory, and interests

    (2) Well-connected industries that are getting clobbered by the competition, and the identity-politicking PAC’s that imitate them in the seeking of entitlements

    President Bush, it’s your sworn duty to do everything you can to protect one of the above. But only one. Do it, already.



    As for the second entry, Andrew Sullivan is entitled to reconcile his Christian faith with his sexuality however he likes…in his own life. If in public he’s going to make cockamamie-ass equivalences between “a single man who is described in the Gospels as resting his head on Jesus’ breast in an act of profound intimacy” and homosexuality, he needs to be answered, lest people think all of us open homosexuals are that obtuse.

    I have no idea what happens chez Sullivan, but I can assure you that in this household, sex involves more than the resting of one partner’s head on the other’s chest, honeychile. Conversely, I have friends from college who, when we’re all gathered for someone’s wedding and catching up or talking politics, think nothing of leaning on me while I play absently with their hair; but I know they’d be confused and repelled if I ever actually came on to them. For that matter, straight men in most places outside America are permitted more physical contact with each other, but that doesn’t make them homosexual, or even gay-friendly.

    All of this is my characteristically roundabout way of saying, any dope knows that matey intimacy (however the local culture defines it) is different from having sex. And while Andrew Sullivan’s not a dope, he’s an incredibly smart person with an increasingly bad case of tunnel vision. He’s been so honest about his sexuality and his HIV status, given the political circles he moves in, that I still haven’t reached the point at which I can just write him off. But lately, for the first time, I’ve felt as if I’m getting there. And there’s no other commentator who’s as all-around good, in the sense of being an advocate for gays without excluding other political and social issues, as he used to be. It’s sad.

    [Added at 16:00: Spoons wonders whether Sullivan is implying that he thinks Jesus was a homosexual. I don’t think that was the point, actually. He seems to be more saying that Jesus hung out in a merry, tolerant bunch of bohemians that included independent women and companionable piles of male buddies, and that therefore we can deduce that he was, you know, mellow about alternative lifestyles and stuff. It’s still malarkey.]


    On a not-entirely-unrelated note: Agenda Bender’s been up for two years. Tom’s one of those people who can post two lines of tossed-off pervy humor and make me giggle for the rest of the day; though he hasn’t written many lately, he can also do those rants that look as if they’re about to careen out of control any second but never do (a talent I manifestly lack; see this site, passim). And he’s been just incredibly kind to me. I have no idea whether he checks in here, but just in case: Happy 2nd…well, I won’t use the word and spoil your Google joy, but the entire staff of the former East Asia office sends regards.

    Breathe, breathe…it won’t be long now

    Posted by Sean at 12:44, July 15th, 2004

    LaShawn Barber graciously gave me permission to reproduce this e-mail, in response to a question of mine about her recent posts on the FMA:

    I don’t think homosexual “civil rights” and black civil rights are similar at all, in practical terms or otherwise. People who practice homosexuality do so because they choose to. They have the freedom to do so or not. Even if people believe they are “born” a certain way, the same still holds: you can choose not to sleep with men. Americans who choose to do so are still Americans protected by our Constitution. No one can infringe on your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without the basic protections afforded you.

    White homosexuals walked through the front doors of hotels and stores, sat wherever they wanted on buses and trains, and were not relegated to second class citizenship. To equate sexual behavior and lifestyle choices with the subjugation, degradation, human bondage of Americans of African decent is a dishonest attempt to manufacture emotion over a perceived “right.” I can’t choose not to be black; however, that lack of choice isn’t what determines my basic rights; the Constitution does. And as I said (I repeat myself often), you already have rights guaranteed you under the Constitution. There is no “right” to be married.

    In the message that brought the above tirade on, I probably wasn’t clear enough on why I thought the “movements” are similar in “practical terms,” but what I meant was restricted to how our publicly recognized representatives relate to their constituencies. Which is to say, when Barney Frank shows up on television, a lot of us glance up from making dinner and mutter, “For Pete’s sake, girl, shut up!” And my understanding is that a lot of black people react similarly when they hear Maxine Waters’s talking head. For that matter–to make sure we hit as many lefty sacred cows as possible–my mother practically put her fist through the picture tube whenever Gloria Steinem showed up on the nightly news when I was little. The people who say they represent the interests of “minorities” of whatever stripe do not always know, or even care, what people at the grass-roots level think and experience. That was all I was saying.

    The issues surrounding gay rights and black rights are not the same, as Ms. Barber articulates. There are particular points at which they intersect, sure, but they cannot be equated overall. I hesitate to link Classical Values again, lest its proprieter think I’m stalking him, or something, but he mirrors my thoughts exactly with this:

    Putting aside the states’ rights and tariff issues for the sake of this discussion, the modern idea that human beings should not be property was on a collision course with the institution of slavery. Something had to give, but the moral high ground claimed by each side simply would not allow it. To me, it’s simple logic that the abolition of slavery destroyed what had previously been private property. Rather than wage war over the idea, wouldn’t it have been more sensible to pay slaveholders to free their slaves, declare slavery over and spare the nation the war?

    Slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment, but not until after the war.

    Inflammatory as it is, can the idea of same sex marriage be as noxious as slavery? Some people think so, but I doubt there are enough of them to start another Civil War. But the analogy is problematic, because marriage cannot normally be said to be as coercive as slavery. (Although I have expressed reservations that it might become involuntary.) Remember that in the case of slavery, it was abolition of slavery that was seen as invasive; slavery was the status quo. Here, the status quo is opposite sex marriage only, so the analogous question becomes whether or not allowing same sex marriage amounts to abolition of marriage. I don’t see how it does, because no one would lose the right to marry.

    Clearly, a significant number of people feel that their marriages will be weakened if same sex marriage is allowed. I have not yet seen a logically convincing argument as to how this might happen, and, despite my reservations about same sex marriage, I don’t understand the “dilution” argument, much less the “destruction” one. It strikes me as based largely on emotion.

    Yet the other side’s position is also quite emotional. A piece of paper and a definitional change (neither of which are needed for two people to live together, share or bequeath property, care for or visit each other in hospitals, or even in many cases to obtain insurance benefits) does not strike me as going to the heart of citizenship in the same way as voting, free speech, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, to bear arms, to sit on juries, etc. Maybe I just don’t care about marriage as much as the people who yell and scream, but the institution strikes me as primarily a legal way to protect children in cases where parents break up. Perhaps it would be more fair to allow marriage only as a child protection institution; childless couples would be legally regarded only as domestic partners and subject to whatever partnership laws existed in a state.

    In any case, I am in favor of states’ rights, and for what it’s worth, I remain implacably opposed to the apparently doomed Federal Marriage Amendment.

    I’m not fond of the “states’ rights” phrasing, but otherwise, I concur. My parents have been together since before I was born, and they didn’t move out of the house my brother and I grew up in until I was out of college and he was 18–and even then, they moved to a place three miles down the road so they’d have more room to entertain. My childhood was the very picture of stability, and I don’t think I’m incapable of seeing the value of marriage.

    But I just don’t get worked up over the fact that it doesn’t include a relationship such as mine. I say this as someone who lives abroad on a work visa that has to be renewed every few years, conducts his relationship in a foreign language, and can’t bring his partner back to the States as a spouse. I am not unaware of the dangers inherent in my own circumstances, and I’d love if they could be legislated away. Sometimes I’m scared when I think about them. But at the same time, I know I’m one of the freest people in history: I chose to live here. And I decided three years ago, without coercion, that taking care of Atsushi was my job from then on. The rest flows from there.

    The most articulate and reasonable gay rights advocates have done a great job of teasing out the meanings and mechanics of marriage in contemporary America. Their conclusions about the weight it bears in signaling the assumption of adult responsibility are correct. But one cannot, from there, summarily argue that marriage rights must be bestowed on homosexuals; the possibility that the way marriage is currently delineated is, itself, flawed must be addressed first. There’s a difference between saying that the government should treat us with dignity, as responsible citizens in full possession of our faculties, and saying that the government can confer dignity on us. Until we get that straight, this whole conversation will be useless.

    Impossible Princesses*

    Posted by Sean at 11:03, July 13th, 2004

    The expected is happening to the FMA. Obviously, I’m glad as someone who doesn’t think the Constitution should be amended lightly, and relieved as a gay man.

    However, some days I hope I’ll never hear the words gay and marriage in the same sentence again. I still care about our having the legal means to provide for those we’ve chosen to spend our lives with, and I still care about equal treatment. But I don’t see what is productive about this particular argument at this point. The marriage-or-bust mentality can’t distinguish between a dignified life and a life supplemented by tax breaks and other entitlements. It treats compromises (such as civil unions and domestic partner benefits) as unacceptable, even in the short term. The debate has become more picky and detailed and, at the same time, more coarse. At least this round is more or less over, for now. There’s still time for people to learn to listen to each other. Yeah, I know, not likely. But I live in hope.

    * To be subsequently retitled “Kylie Minogues.”

    On this occasion it’s not true / Look at me, I’m not you

    Posted by Sean at 17:04, July 10th, 2004

    Asymmetrical Information, in the process of debating gay marriage, points to a post of Myria’s that’s few months old and, like most of what she writes, good. Her main point (later in the post) is about the Presidential election and people who would vote for John Wayne Gacy if it meant defeating Bush, but she leads up to it by talking about other issues:

    To my way of thinking only an idiot, or an immature child, defines their sexuality by what sex they don


    Posted by Sean at 16:46, June 27th, 2004

    A lawyer in Yokohama has had his license (is that the way to refer to what the bar association gives you?) suspended for three months because of a sexual harassment charge:


    According to the [Yokohama] Bar Association, on 3 July 2002 Aoki invited a female client involved in a debt collection case to dinner, then in the course of a drive made sexual conversation and caused the client to fear that he was planning to take her to a hotel.

    Sexual harassment in Japan is a big issue, of course. With more and more women putting off marriage until their early thirties, many offices have a bevy of pert, fresh-faced girls in their twenties…and a senior layer of men in their 50’s who came of age when women only worked until they married. To complicate things, today’s women often meet their future husbands at the office (as opposed to the old method of getting introductions to approved men through parents or other elders), so there is a sense in which many are on the lookout for a man.

    Throw in Japan’s idiosyncratic brand of sexual uninhibitedness, the tension of living in a 30-million-person megalopolis, and an educational system that hammers at people not to make waves, and you get some grossly fascinating varieties of sexual offenses. Example: some of the more crushingly-crowded commuter lines here, though the difference between the worst and the best is minimal in that regard, have instituted women-only train cars during rush hour. The reason is epidemic 痴漢 (chikan): in this case, groping of breasts and buttocks when people are so smashed up against each other that one can be confident of being unobserved or passing it off as unintentional.

    I once spent a horrified 40-minute cab ride back to my old apartment in Yokohama during which the driver casually explained his theory of how to get away with chikan when the train was not quite crowded enough to keep people from lowering their chins and thus seeing what you were doing: You choose a woman in the more crowded section of the car and keep your hand flat. If you cup it, she’ll know what you’re up to and may protest. I swear, he had it all worked out and talked about it as blithely as if he were recommending his favorite ramen place. And he wasn’t particularly at the extreme. While rapes of the knife-wielding-stranger variety are uncommon here, a lot of Japanese women I know admit pretty freely that there’s pressure to feel flattered and respond favorably if a management-level man at the office issues an invitation. Conversely, there’s little pressure to stand up for yourself, since it inevitably involves ruffling feathers higher up the hierarchy.

    Yes, I know: These things are as old as the integrated workplace, and they exist in the States, too. But the attitude toward men’s thinking of women as mindless sex objects is so blasé here that…well, when I read the article above, I wondered what on Earth had caused this particular lawyer to be singled out. Not that he doesn’t deserve it if he took advantage of a client’s trust to get her into an enclosed space and come on to her. But if everyone in his 50’s or 60’s who pulled something similar since July 2002 were punished for it, it’s hard to imagine who’d be left to run the Japanese economy. Maybe the client was one of the few women brave enough to file a formal complaint, or maybe someone has it in for Aoki and decided to make a play.