Geishas and Whores


A lot of people, especially white people, are invested in defending geisha, in putting them on a pedestal. And when they do that, it does harm to Japanese-American women and to all Asian-American women.

Geisha cultists seriously disturb me.

Surprisingly enough, many of them are women. They love the geisha
mystique, the tinge of nostalgia for a bygone era, the careful
artifice, the idea of humans as living artwork.

I’ve enraged a few of them simply by dropping the “geishas are
prostitutes” bomb. They tell me they know about Japan more than I do.
I’m a lowly mixed-race Japanese-American. I don’t even speak Japanese.
I’m pluralizing “geisha” wrong. I obviously have no respect for the
traditions of my ancestors. Geisha = serious business. Ha!

Geisha are not very relevant in modern-day Japan. They’re a
fossilized archetype, almost like ninja. If you asked a group of
Japanese people the burning question, “are geisha prostitutes?”
depending on region and generation, you would probably get a variety of
answers: “that’s an insult, of course not!” “Well, it depends on your
definition.” “Yes, they’re high-end prostitutes.” “I don’t really

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But a lot of people, especially white people, are invested in
defending geisha, in putting them on a pedestal. And when they do that,
it does harm to Japanese-American women and to all Asian-American
women. Appropriation is almost too mild of a word. It’s not just theft,
it’s domination. Imagine a young girl, on the verge of understanding
herself as a sexual being, looking deeply in the mirror… and seeing her
mirror image controlled by puppet masters.

I’ll try to explain further. The geisha figure is one end of a
continuum of stereotypes of Asian woman sexuality. The continuum is
inanimate. Other races have different sexual stereotypes: for example,
“animalistic”. But Asian women are neither animal nor human. They’re
inanimate things. They’re so passive that they barely even move. On the
high end, they’re beautiful clockwork dolls, to be petted and treasured
and collected and shown off. The most expensive ones can’t even be
bought for money; instead, you have to win them through your superior
knowledge of authentic Asian culture. On the low end, they’re doormats,
sperm receptacles, happy ending massage girls, completely impersonal
and interchangeable, existing for nothing more than a moment’s
pleasure. Common sex jokes about Asian women concentrate on the idea
that they have “stripped down” bodies — neat, efficient, even
machine-like — and facial features that lack human expression.

It’s a fairly simple stereotype, and all this obfuscation about geisha unnecessarily complicates it.

I’ve also been accused of being prudish and anti-sexual when I say
things like this, so I’ll try and explain where I’m coming from. I used
to say I was a sex-positive feminist when I was young. I don’t call
myself that anymore. The plain, pragmatic variety of feminism I was
raised in always gave me clear benefits and made me a stronger person,
but this new extra label I’d discovered never became as relevant in my
day-to-day life. One reason was that I actually worked in the sex
industry for a while, in a strip club, and thought it was a horrible
environment. I still don’t believe in a unique, essential stigma
attached to sex work, so I’ll say that while it was a horrible
environment, there are plenty of others just as bad. I did notice there
was very little barrier between work identity and life identity for
most of the people in the industry. But then, that’s true of plenty of
other jobs: bartenders, politicians and police, to name a few. I saw a
lot of the strippers get sucked into insanely negative patterns of
behavior, getting high on coke all the time, subsidizing parasitical
boyfriends and spending what was left of their money on $100 purses the
size of postage stamps. Others were instead sending all their money
back to Eastern Europe and seemed deeply depressed about having to work

I was a cocktail waitress. My outfit, and the female bartenders’
outfit, was skimpy; it involved an ass-cape. We were all selling sex in
some form.

While I’m not “sex-positive” I don’t reject all the theories, and I
have sympathy with a lot of sex worker activism, so I do want to say
this: lumping in all sex workers is bad, and so is splitting them all
apart. It’s elitist and deeply nasty to say “I’m the nice clean
expensive sex worker, not like those low-class dirty whores.” All human
beings should be valued the same. But different people in the industry
happen to have different experiences. I wouldn’t call myself a whore
for working there, or claim that I know what it’s like for all sex
workers, although I suppose I was on a kind of whore continuum.

One thing I noticed that while the environment at the strip club was
pretty racist, it wasn’t any more racist than the racial hierarchies at
the regular restaurants I was used to working in. And this brought up a
question I still wonder about today. Do the actions of Asian-American
women have any impact at all on our sexual stereotypes? Does it matter
if we look or act whorish or geisha-ish or virginal or nonsexual or
work in the sex industry or refuse to work in it? Or will the
predominantly white media continue to import and circulate our images,
reading into them whatever gets them off, regardless of our reality and
our choices? The thought of such powerlessness is really sad.

Many white men (and to a lesser extent, other non-Asian men) have an
obvious, direct sexual interest in controlling these images. In the
case of Asian-American men it’s more complicated and involves interplay
between assimilation and opposition stances, between race and sex,
between power and powerlessness. For example, what’s the effect on the
psyche of an Asian-American man consuming Asian woman fetish
pornography designated for a white male audience? For any
Asian-American, male or female, gay or straight, developing a healthy
sexual self-image can be a horribly difficult battle.

But the weirdest piece has got to be white women. You would think
they wouldn’t have a stake in this dynamic, but the most ardent
geisha-worshippers seem to be white women who identify with geisha.
They want to remake themselves into treasured objects. They want to
steal a sexuality that’s already stolen. The project of arcane
knowledge mastery, of transformation, of “becoming,” gives them sexual

If you think I’m making this stuff up, go to a website called then click on “About Us” then “The Face Behind.”

These women need to realize what they’re doing and who they’re
hurting. They’re just as complicit as the anonymous man who shouts a
pornographic joke at a young, vulnerable Asian-American girl. But we’re
not real to them. Our images provide so much more satisfaction than our

To make a long story short, call me a cranky prude and an
inauthentic Japanese all you want, I don’t give a damn about geisha. If
you’re sexually obsessed with them, hey, whatever, I’m not going to
tell you how to run your sex life. But don’t pretend it’s some kind of
noble homage. It gets you off. And you need to distinguish fantasy from
reality. If shoes happen to be your thing, do you go to Payless, tell
the clerks how to position the shoes and then start masturbating in
front of them?

Own up to your fetish and at least try to be responsible about it.

 This post first appeared on Racialicious.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.