Valleywag casually compares WWII Comfort Women to internet matchmaking site

March 4, 2014
A screen capture from The Dating Ring promotional video. Who interviews subjects in front of a headline about applying hot rubber tread to tires?
A screen capture from The Dating Ring promotional video. Who interviews subjects in front of a newspaper headline about applying hot rubber tread to tires?

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):

A startup called The Dating Ring has taken its inspiration from an unlikely source: the “comfort women” of World War II. How else can they explain this crowdfunding campaign to help fly New York women “in dateable ages” to San Francisco to service the Bay Area’s soldiers of code.

(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.

Lee Ok-Seon, 86, is one of the few surviving Comfort Women. She traveled to Germany 70 years after the Japanese surrender to tell her story. Photo credit: DW.
Lee Ok-Seon, 86, is one of the few surviving Comfort Women. She traveled to Germany 70 years after the Japanese surrender to tell her story. Photo credit: DW.

Says Lee Ok-Seon, a Korean survivor of a Japanese comfort station:

“We were often beaten, threatened and attacked with knives,” Lee Ok-Seon remembers. “We were 11, 12, 13 or 14 years old and we didn’t believe anyone would save us from that hell.” During her time there, she explains, she was completely isolated from the outside world and trusted no one. It was a state of constant despair. “Many girls committed suicide. They drowned or hung themselves.” At one point she also thought this was her only alternative.

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:

Okay, Max, you can review our tweets for our take on the post.

So, what is your response? Do you have an apology for the post’s insensitivity?As I already pointed out on Twitter, your own publication calls “satire” a B.S. defense / response, especially when the Internet is upset. Here is a quote from your own Sam Biddle, “‘He calls it “satire.’ The rest of the internet calls it defiantly dumb, insulting garbage.”  And for your reference here is the link.

http://valleywag.gawker.com/pandodaily-to-city-of-san-francisco-fuck-you-1494042666

Best Regards

EC

Read’s response:

Hi guys.

Thank you for emailing. To be clear, I’m not using the “satire defense” here as a Get Out of Jail Free card. I’m saying, we don’t retract satire. I agree that satire doesn’t always land for everyone, as Sam, and Bryan Goldberg, and I, all know. But I don’t think Bryan Goldberg should’ve retracted his Pando Daily story. And I don’t think he needed to apologize.

I can’t and won’t tell Nitasha how she should feel or respond to the writers (in fact, she has apologized here:http://valleywag.gawker.com/i-was-aiming-for-satire-im-very-sorry-that-it-was-offe-1536280603). But I don’t think she has an obligation to do so. We have spent a long time at Gawker making hyperbolic comparisons between the stories we cover and horrible world-historical events; I don’t imagine we’ll stop soon.

Some of those jokes will work and some of them won’t. And to me, the fact that the comment system provides a broad platform for dissent—specifically permanently attached criticism of any length—provides accountability and pushes behavior adjustment in a much greater way than a quick apology and erasure would.

Max

EC’s response:

Hi Max,

I wasn’t asking for a retraction, but an apology and an acknowledgement that your joke was tasteless and offensive.  From perusing the Internet, it appears that Gawker’s policy is to refrain from retracting, unless there is a court order or threat of a law suit.

I do think that your editorial position was wrong to publish this post in this case. I believe had Nitasha’s joke been about Germany’s “Joy Division,” instead of Japan’s “Comfort Women,” you would have nixed the language of her post. I think that you would have been more willing to back down and apologize (and maybe even retract the post) if the Anti-Defamation league had called you out. But instead, Gawker continues to belittle the Chinese and Korean female WWII victims through its “cute joke.”

I have no idea how the editorial process at Gawker works, but I do feel bad for Nitasha. I feel that she made a mistake and has apologized for it to other people on Twitter. At the same time, I feel that Max and Sam Biddle may be preventing her from truly righting her error.

Best Regards.

EC

Read’s response:

My mistake–someone on Twitter was calling for a retraction. I think we’ve reached a point of equilibrium here, and both said our pieces—all I can do is assure you that we would have been just as likely to run a “Joy Division” joke, and probably, honestly, less likely to back down if the ADL had complained. But assurances about hypothetical situations aren’t worth much.

Best,

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:

Nitasha:

You wanted me to email you? 

Fine. 

What were you thinking when you shat on the memory of kidnapped, tortured, and gang-raped Asian women by blithely comparing some start-up to Imperial Japan?

We have mutual friends/acquaintances who swear you are a “progressive” person, normally. I see nothing progressive about the level of disrespect in your Valleywag post. I look forward to your response. 

With hope that you will see the ugliness of your comparison and do the right thing,

Anna 

Tiku’s response:

Thanks for reaching out. I see you already got Max’s response. I apologized and I meant it sincerely. EC asked me to respond to this comment, so that’s where I put the apology.

I have personally promoted every critical comment about the analogy in the post, which helps them show up higher. I’m assuming your handle is “suitable girl” your test post just showed up in my notifications, I followed you and promoted that as well.

This is the full text of Tiku’s apology on her post, as posted in the comments.

I was aiming for satire. I’m very sorry that it was offensive. I will try my best to do better in the future.

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.

I encourage you to continue to apply pressure to Valleywag (@Valleywag) and editor Max Read (@max_read, max[at]gawker[dot]com) with your tweets and emails.

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.

6 thoughts on “Valleywag casually compares WWII Comfort Women to internet matchmaking site

  1. Anna, thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. Sadly, if this illustrates nothing else, it reveals how little information the general public has on the Comfort Women.

  2. Who interviews subjects in front of a newspaper headline about applying hot rubber tread to tires?

    The rubber is being applied “automatically” though. Makes a world of difference. I wish my rubber got applied automatically when I’m fitting to apply my treads to some tires. Good marketing strategy.

  3. To clarify, Nitasha has apologized, and I have forwarded the author of this post her apology. Although I find this entire episode unfortunate, I have accepted Nitasha’s apology.

    Overall, though, I hope this incident does expose the editorial process at Gawker / Valleywag. They are hypocritical in their coverage of other people and media outlets, and don’t apply their same criticism to themselves. I also feel that their mis-use of language belittles the pain and trauma of women and of people of color.

    Valleywag holds itself out as a gossip rag / “the watchdog of Silicon Valley.” However, they really need to hold a critical lens up to themselves more.

  4. E., thanks for providing this second update! Not having been a reader of Valleywag or Gawker prior to this incident (nor do I plan to start being one), I can’t really comment on the hypocrisy of these outlets. It was, however, disconcerting to me that Read defended not just this incident’s but the site’s general policy of comparing Silicon Valley rumours with international atrocities. I can’t imagine any situation or circumstance under which this would be appropriate, hilarious, or meaningful in any way; nor does this even meet basic definitions of “satire”. I’m still struggling to figure it out: if the Dating Ring article was meant to be satire, exactly whom or what was it intended to satirize?

    To each their own, I suppose, but I cannot personally comprehend why anyone would want to read or write for a site where this is a stated writing tactic.

    If Valleywag takes nothing else from this incident, I would hope they would take that critical lens and apply it to themselves, even just to ask: is there any value whatsoever to what we’re putting out in the world?

  5. I think you and other critics are wasting your time trying to understand them. There’s nothing to figure out.

    white satire = “I’m not racist” racism.

    same shit by a different a name.

    lol @ critical lens. whites have no no need for a critical lens in a racist society that encourages by erasing their atrocities against everyone while defending white on non-white racism. There is no learning without punishment and whites are rarely punished.

    Until their just-us system punishes their own racist cops for a *start*, you can continue to expect zero introspection from these privileged kkkunts.

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