Okay, before I start this post, let me first ask one thing: what the heck is a Valleywag? Apparently, it’s some Gawker-esque site for Silicon Valley. I know now, because Google told me so.
Anyways, earlier today, Valleywag writer Nitasha Tiku decided to report on a matchmaking start-up called “The Dating Ring”, where the basic business plan is to match single women from NYC with single men from San Francisco, in some sort of unholy love-child born of the sweaty caresses between OKCupid and a frequent flyer program.
I guess this is what ValleyWag considers news. Personally, I don’t really think this is news-worthy; but, I also think this is a relatively harmless start-up, that should in theory facilitate romance between consenting (if kind of insipid, if one bases one’s opinion on those interviewed for the campaign video) adults while also helping to buoy sales for the nation’s flagging airlines. So, if that’s what floats the boats of Valleywag readers, and apparently is something that Tiku finds disturbing in some way, then by all means — write away.
But, nothing about The Dating Ring — in any way — resembles the Comfort Women who were brutalized and victimized during World War II. And yet, writes Tiku for Valleywag (emphasis mine):
(This post was updated on March 5, 2014 with an email chain containing Valleywag’s refusal to apologize for this incident. It was updated again on March 6, 2014 with an email chain between Valleywag writer Nitasha Tiku and a reader, and again later that day with further developments.)
Now, let me be clear. I combed through The Dating Ring’s campaign website; I watched their silly, giggly video; I read their long-form essay on the “numbers problem” between NYC and San Francisco — and yes, I feel all the dumber for it. The Dating Ring is a skeezy match-making business model, but nowhere does it claim to be inspired by “comfort women”, “soldiers”, or any some such nonsense. Does it sound a little bit like an overt prostitution ring? Maybe. Like Comfort Women? Oh, hell no.
In fact, it should go without saying that the Comfort Women of World War II bear no earthly, objective resemblance to a long-distance matchmaking dating site (no matter how pervy and douchey the later might end up being). Comfort Women were not consenting adults who volunteered to be matched up by software with men of similar personality and income level, and flown across country for over-priced, tacky booty calls over Long Island Iced Teas. Why? Because consent is a thing.
The Comfort Women constituted a population of thousands (by some estimates as many as hundreds of thousands) of women — some of them children aged 13 or younger — who were kidnapped by the Japanese Imperial Army from Korea, China, the Phillipines, and other Asian countries. They were forced into bondage — yes, they were sexual slaves — who were transported to hastily erected “comfort stations” for the express purpose of rape and victimization by Japanese soldiers. When not being routinely and repeatedly raped by scores of men, Comfort Women were housed in inhumane conditions, starved, and beaten.
Says Lee Ok-Seon, a Korean survivor of a Japanese comfort station:
By some estimates, three quarters of all Comfort Women died. Many of those who survived were left with the scars of repeated sexual torture, leaving them infertile and suffering a host of sexually-transmitted diseases.
And since the end of World War II, Comfort Women survivors have endured a second psychological rape — the holistic erasure of their history and their stories at the hands of the Japanese government and, to a lesser extent, the world at-large. The Japanese government has spent decades denying the existence of the Comfort Women institution, hoping that all the remaining Comfort Women who have bravely spoken out about their abuse and torture will quietly go away and die. Even the erection of a memorial statue for Comfort Women in Glendale, California, has sparked controversy from a government and its supporters who would rather never face the reality of the atrocities done to Comfort Women nearly half a century ago.
Tiku’s writing — and her apparently totally made-up parallel between The Dating Ring and Comfort Women — is the latest example of a world that has for decades denied, erased, ignored, or down-played the plight of Asian Comfort Women victimized during World War II. Her words that would casually liken the institutionalized rape of thousands of Asian women and children to a silly match-making site (that, to be fair, is itself barely worthy of note) is as offensive as it is ahistorical.
In a response to Internet outrage from Asian Americans and other readers, Tiku wrote in the comments section claiming she “was aiming for satire”. Satire in this scenario would have assumed that the Comfort Women of WWII were nothing more than a large-scale organized prostitution ring, a parallel that wholly diminishes the horror of the Comfort Women atrocity by ignoring the fact that this was a brutal example of widespread sexual slavery.
Furthermore, as it seems I need to repeat virtually every week, satire is too often used (and misused) on the Internet as if it is a shield to protect oneself from accusations of hate. And if this article is intended to be satire, it is terrible, unskilled satire that fails to defend itself from a literal reading.
Several readers are requesting that author Nitasha Tiku (@NitashaTiku) and Valleywag (@Valleywag) issue a response and clarification for its casual, uninformed reference to the Comfort Women of World War II. Please join your voice by adding a comment to the article, or tweeting the author and/or site.
Update (3/5/2014): While author Nitaska Tiku remains mutedly apologetic based on her comments in her post, Valleywag editor Max Read has issued an unofficial explanation and refusal to apologize to E. Chan (@EC). Here is the full email chain between EC and Read:
EC’s initial email:
Max Read of Valleywag can be reached at max[at]gawker[dot]com, and via Twitter at @max_read.
Update II (3/6/2014): Reader (and co-founder of one of my favourite Asian American blogs when it was active, Sepia Mutiny) Anna John (@suitablegirl) has graciously shared her email chain with Valleywag author Nitasha Tiku, wherein Tiku emphasizes her apology for the post.
Anna’s initial email:
Anna later tweeted out her acceptance of Tiku’s apology.
I agree. Tiku’s apology, while brief, appears to be sincere. However, Tiku’s apology stands in stark contrast with Valleywag’s irreverent and brashly unapologetic defense of the misguided comparison between the rape of Comfort Women and an internet dating site; indeed, Valleywag editor Max Read seems in his email chain with E.C. to encourage his writers to make such empty comparisons, as a mechanism of deliberate provocation.
Update III (3/6/2014): Despite writer Nitasha Tiku’s apology, Valleywag editorial board’s official position on this incident continues to be one of “doubling-down”. Tiku’s immediate editor at Valleywag Sam F. Biddle (@samfbiddle) continues to emphasize Valleywag’s position that those who took offense are at fault.
While Gawker editor Max Read (@max_read) reiterated Gawker’s position that bad examples of satre do not need to be retracted. Instead, the comments section is apparently the way to hold bad writing accountable (forgetting the cardinal rule of any blogger — the differential weight and influence on a reader of a published post vs its comments; comments have always been considered footnotes).
Outraged readers have now turned to the hash-tag #GawkingAtRapeCulture to organize additional responses demanding an apology and retraction from Valleywag. A Storify has been helpfully compiled by SaySoju (@SaySoju) and Kiriko Kikuchi has also written a post on her blog.
Please continue to apply pressure to Valleywag by tweeting and emailing the editors involved.
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