Home > Anime and Manga, Film, Gaming, Politics and Society > Why I’m Not Against Fanservice and Sexual Objectification in the Media (And Why the Focus Should Be Different)

Why I’m Not Against Fanservice and Sexual Objectification in the Media (And Why the Focus Should Be Different)

In retrospect, now that I haven’t posted here in about five months, I realize that I’ve really been talking a lot about social issues on this blog. In fact, I haven’t talked much about kitties, despite the subtitle of this blog. At some point, this needs to change.

I’ve sort of addressed this before, but let’s try this more comprehensively.

In anime and manga spheres, the term most are familiar with is probably “fanservice”; in Western spheres, “sexual objectification” is probably more often seen. In either case, however, it comes down to using sex appeal to cater to audiences. Almost universally, said “audience” are straight, cisgendered males (it would be interesting to add a racial component, but it’s important to remember that this is not a phenomenon that is strictly isolated to “white spheres”, so we’ll just use those two labels for now), meaning that “fanservice” often involves using scantily-clad, attractive girls in sexually-suggestive predicaments.

A large number of feminists argue that fanservice is wrong, as it sexually objectifies women as merely objects to be desired after, that it strips them down of their humanity and only down to characteristics of sexual appeal. Media traditionalists – most of them heterosexual, cisgendered men – insist that authors and media producers are free to do what they want, that freedom of speech and expression is paramount, and usually throw in a line or two about how “women are ruining movies/comics/video games/etc.”.

The feminist argument is entirely valid, and is certainly reasonable. However, I do take a differing stance for different reasons, and I postulate that these feminists are perhaps focusing on the wrong issue.

Let me first start off in explaining that I am a moral relativist, a social constructivist, and a sex positivist, which may shed light on my views regarding fanservice and sexual objectification. I have previously explained what moral relativism is, and social constructivism is really quite similar: The philosophical system in which how we perceive the material world is effectively accomplished through subjective values we have attributed to different components of reality. Both of these factor into my position as a sex positivist: That sex is not morally or religiously sacred, that sex is not something to be ashamed of, that sex is neither right or wrong, that anyone can form their own opinions on sex so long as they’re not forcing it upon others, that casual sex is entirely okay, and that there really shouldn’t be any fundamental legal rules on sex beyond it being safe and consensual.

These three philosophies help explain why I’m not terribly offended by fanservice or sexual objectification. Although exceptions certainly exist, fanservice and sexual objectification occurs either to fictional characters (who are by nature not actually an existing person), or they are happening to a person – such as a model or a pornography actor – who has consented to being sexually objectified (or they are happening to a fictional character, who does not exist in reality, and therefore the matter of consent is moot). The act of fanservice and sexual objectification, therefore, is safe and consensual (there is a broader argument about “consent” here that can be had, but that’s something I’d like to approach on another day). Fanservice and sexual objectification involving consenting parties is only “degrading” if one perceives sex to be morally or religious sacred, or something to be ashamed about; as a sexual positivist, I simply don’t believe in that.

Yes, I am aware that a broader argument exists in regards to the effects of fanservice and sexual objectification on wider society, especially in terms of how it is disadvantageous towards women, and I will address that. Please let me finish with the theoretical tangent, though, thank you.

A significant amount of media that we ingest – from movies to video games to anime to manga – are basically escapist fantasy; we acknowledge that this is not something that happens in real life for one reason or another (as much as having elves around would be tremendously interesting), and so we do not consider it reflective or normative to real life (which is, again, a broad statement that does not adequately address subconscious, memetic effects on the brain’s ability to process reality, but this is for another discussion, and I want to use the primary point of it first). Just as the gaming community rejects the idea that violent video games (such as Grand Theft Auto, to use a more infamous example) promotes violence in real life, I reject the idea that forms of media that have gender-unfriendly elements in it promotes gender-unfriendliness in real life. There are definitely people who will take it this way, people who have problems separating fiction from reality, but these tend to be people with social, psychological, or neurological problems who probably need help either way. In a similar way, I support the existence of pornography, at least those that are safe and consensual. Depictions of BDSM, for example, are entirely okay, because – with criminal exceptions – they involve adult actors and actresses that have consented to this. Just as I feel there is nothing inherently wrong with sex for any reason, I feel there is nothing inherently wrong with different kinks as long as the Golden Rule is followed: Safe and consensual.

With my position on pornography, it is probably unsurprising why I am fine with fanservice and sexual objectification in the media. There are many instances where I don’t like it, but I recognize that media producers are entirely free to create movies, games, or anime with a tremendous amount of fanservice and sexual objectification, and that their right to do so needs to be protected.

Now, I want to return to the promise I made previously, and there are certain ramifications I need to address. I believe my ideology to be perfectly sound if it existed in a vacuum, but there is at least one argument that can be made against it (I can actually think of more than one, but I want to concentrate on one that I think is much more pertinent). As it stands, the world is still a place that favors cisgendered, heterosexual males; it is still a place where male sexual prowess and celebrated, and where female sexual “promiscuity” is stigmatized. It is still a place where most of the big-budget media producers are men, where most of the primary characters are men, where most of the targeted audiences are men (I realize that I didn’t add “cisgendered, heterosexual” in those last few instances, but let’s just assume they’re there for the sake of brevity and ease-of-reading). Thus, fanservice that generates “unflattering depictions of women” perpetuates a harmful stereotype and social norms regarding women.

Again, this argument is entirely valid and certainly reasonable. But I think this isn’t the focus we should be obsessed with.

As I’ve already mentioned, sex, sexualization, and sex objectification are not inherently bad things so long as it is safe and consensual; when you keep it within a fantasy, it is – by its very nature – safe and consensual (unless, of course, we are about to give rights to nonexistent individuals). It is true that my idea – that fanservice and sexual objectification in the media should be okay – is significantly less appealing when you remove it from the social vacuum, but the fact that it holds merit in a vacuum means that, at the very least, it is deontologically sound. Thus, I’d like to suggest something a little different.

The problem isn’t that fanservice and sexual objectification exists; the problem is that fanservice and sexual objectification happens overwhelmingly in regards to females, and is overwhelmingly catered to cisgendered, heterosexual males.

Here’s a question to ask yourself: If you feel very iffy about fanservice, sexual objectification, and pornography as things are now, would you be less iffy if there was a much broader selection that also caters to people of different sexes, sexualities, and genders? Would you be less iffy if there was a fairer representation of different sexes, sexualities, and genders in the media? Because I know I would.

Of course, we’re not nearly there yet. But there is good news. An increasing amount of media is being produced to appeal to broader audiences, and not just cisgendered, heterosexual males. Most BioWare roleplaying games nowadays, for example, allow you to play a character of either sex, and allow you to romance both male and female characters as well. Homosexual pornography, while still very much a minority, is a growing industry, and I’m not just talking about lesbian pornography meant to arouse heterosexual males. Recent anime Sakura Trick has become the first anime in recent memory positively portraying a blatantly homosexual couple to be broadcast on mainstream Japanese television (there are some arguments that Sakura Trick is catered towards males who find girl-on-girl hot, but I agree with these three bloggers on why I don’t necessarily find that this is the case, and some of these people are members of the feminist and LGBT communities). And while this is only a ripple against a great wave of “sweaty dudebros with guns” (as a friend likes to call it), it is a growing ripple, and signs are that it’s probably not going to stop.

In short, the tl;dr version of it?

Feminist Communities: “Down with fanservice and sexual objectification of women!”

Media Traditionalists: “Screw that, fanservice and sexual objectification of women is a right, and totally awesome!”

Me: “…Is it too much to ask for if I suggest ‘fanservice for everyone‘?”

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  1. GDwarf
    March 22, 2014 at 12:34

    [quote]With my position on pornography, it is probably unsurprising why I am fine with fanservice and sexual objectification in the media. There are many instances where I don’t like it, but I recognize that media producers are entirely free to create movies, games, or anime with a tremendous amount of fanservice and sexual objectification, and that their right to do so needs to be protected.[/quote]
    I think that this is, perhaps, conflating two arguments. I’m not hugely involved in any social justice communities, but I don’t think many people are calling for the banning of fanservice. The idea seems more to use both sides of free speech: Yes, creators are free to create whatever they want, but by the same token we’re allowed to criticise what they create and ask for changes to better suit our taste/political goals/whatever.

    [quote](I realize that I didn’t add “cisgendered, heterosexual” in those last few instances, but let’s just assume they’re there for the sake of brevity and ease-of-reading).[/quote]
    Ironically, this footnote probably takes up more space than adding that tag to every occurrence. 😛

    [quote]The problem isn’t that fanservice and sexual objectification exists; the problem is that fanservice and sexual objectification happens overwhelmingly in regards to females, and is overwhelmingly catered to cisgendered, heterosexual males.[/quote]
    This is roughly my stance: Fanservice is not, a-priori, bad. It’s usually not to my taste (If I want porn I’ll watch porn. :P), but meh. What it is is pervasive. To shift medium to one I know slightly more about, Hollywood famously resists casting women in leading roles and seems almost incapable of having female characters wearing more than about a square inch of fabric, even in fairly “serious” (as-in non-pulp) works. This does, I feel, have an effect on people. If 50% of all movies had women in equal roles and wardrobes to men then I’d have no problem with the other 50%.

    • GDwarf
      March 22, 2014 at 12:36

      Bugger. Why must every blog out there use different formatting tags? Just imagine I used my amazing wizardry powers and actually used blockquote instead of [quote]

  2. Wild Goose
    March 22, 2014 at 12:35

    I’ll come back with a more reasoned and thoughtful comment later, but I can get behind the idea of fanservice for everyone. :p

  3. March 22, 2014 at 12:48

    Yet another excellent post, Ysionris. I agree that while there are times where fanservice can be way too explicit, out-of-place, or otherwise detract from a movie/game/whatever, I don’t think its existence itself should be considered some sort of global statement about women. Fiction is rife with highly-idealized concepts; sex appeal is just another facet of that. I don’t have a problem with characters that dress or act “sexy,” particularly if it fits their previously-established personality (Some people do wear skimpy outfits in real life, after all).

    That said, I also agree that media would benefit from a more egalitarian approach to fanservice, rather than constantly catering to heterosexual males. I think you’ve eloquently hit the nail on the head, here.

    Of course, that’s just my opinion as a white, heterosexual, cisgendered male with no religious inclinations, so take it with a grain of salt. 😛

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