Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Victoria's Secret Sexy Little Geisha

Victoria's Secret may be forced to take the new Geisha line off the market because a blogger calling himself "Angry Asian Man" and other Asian americans (Read CNN article: here) are making claims of how it is racist and hypersexuallizing Asian women; they don't think it's appropriate for a lingerie trend to be inspired by the Geisha culture. Therefore, non-Asian women shouldn't wear anything Geisha-related. 

So, you're telling me my lingerie choices are only limited to my heritage?

Victoria's Secret, very sexy, Geisha

I was a french maid a few Halloween's ago, does that make me a racist? (I'm not French)

But it was totally ok for me to dress as a Bier Garten Girl because I'm half German. Am I supposed to be upset every time I see a woman dressed as one who doesn't appear to be German? That sounds like a volatile Halloween.

Are you seeing the illogical pattern certain bloggers are following? Need I point out that no one who decides to include "Angry" in their name should regarded as a credible source--how the hell can you be unbiased and angry at the same time? And why is Victoria's Secret taking this man seriously? And why is it racist or vulgar to use a beautiful culture icon (i.e. Geisha) as inspiration for lingerie.

Victoria's Secret aren't telling you how to have sex while wearing it; they are in the business of making women feel beautiful and sexy. Isn't that notion a part of the Geisha tradition?

This issue mostly makes me mad because being politically correct should be every company's aim, but you cannot please everyone--it's not possible. I don't think for a minute VS executives were sitting in a board room somewhere rubbing their hands together saying, "How can we piss off Asian people today? Yes, let's go Geisha!"  

And the Sexy Little Geisha line is the best-looking like VS has come out with in a long time--you can only rock black/white lace in so many different ways without it looking like last year's lingerie. I was looking forward to buying a few pieces (and, truth be told, so was Capricorn).

I think it's in poor taste for VS to be accused of hypersexualizing Geisha culture. As a westerner, my understanding of Geisha culture was that of a Japanese female entertainers, albeit classy, beautified woman who adhered to strict submissive behavior and physical requirements for the enjoyment of her male clients.

In case my understanding was that of an ignorant westerner, I looked it up on Wikipedia:

History Origins

In the early stages of Japanese history, there were female entertainers: saburuko (serving girls) were mostly wandering girls whose families were displaced from struggles in the late 600s.[6] Some of these saburuko girls sold sexual services, while others with a better education made a living by entertaining at high-class social gatherings. After the imperial court moved the capital to Heian-kyō (Kyoto) in 794 the conditions that would form Japanese Geisha culture began to emerge, as it became the home of a beauty-obsessed elite.[6] Skilled female performers, such as Shirabyōshi dancers, thrived.
Traditional Japan embraced sexual delights (it is not a Shinto taboo) and men were not constrained to be faithful to their wives. The ideal wife was a modest mother and manager of the home; by Confucian custom love had secondary importance. For sexual enjoyment and romantic attachment, men did not go to their wives, but to courtesans. Walled-in pleasure quarters known as yūkaku (遊廓、遊郭?) were built in the 16th century,[7] and in 1617 the shogunate designated "pleasure quarters", outside of which prostitution would be illegal,[8] and within which "yūjo" ("play women") would be classified and licensed. The highest yūjo class was the Geisha's predecessor, called "Oiran", a combination of actress and prostitute, originally playing on stages set in the dry Kamo riverbed in Kyoto. They performed erotic dances and skits, and this new art was dubbed kabuku, meaning "to be wild and outrageous". The dances were called "kabuki," and this was the beginning of kabuki theater.[8]

Um, did you just read the same thing I did?

Someone has some explaining to do as to why Victoria's Secret is being chastised. It sounds like it's OK when an Asian man/person does it, but if an American lingerie company meant to offer woman sexually-liberating options does it, then it's racist?  

Who's being racist now?

Victoria's Secret
Hopefully this will change. No Geisha in sight.

I hope this line isn't taken down completely. I actually feel it's ignorant of the aforementioned blogger to suggest that a fashion choice (which is only inspired by the Geisha look) can only be worn by Asian women. I think I'm more mad because this feels like more like a gender issue-- Asian man [men] claiming the Sexy Little Geisha-line is racist and why? I compare it to the ranks of Congress clamoring over birth control rights and all those voting are men. I call bullshit.

Victoria's Secret, don't take down your Sexy Little Geisha line. It's very pretty. And as a German/Ukrainian woman, feel free to make lingerie inspired by those cultures, too.

What do you think? Is the Geisha line crossing a racial line?

Hopefully a future VS Sexy Little Geisha-wearer,

Lady J

Copyright © 2012 Lady J
All rights reserved


  1. It's pretty ridiculous for Geisha inspired sexiness to be "limited" to Asian women when Geisha themselves were Japanese...and in my experience, it's pretty goddamn racist to lump all Asian cultures together in the first place, isn't it? I mean, my friends with Japanese heritage don't appreciate being called Chinese or Vietnamese.

    Ultimately, ALL of Victoria's Secret's stuff is sexualizing women...hello, dude, it's their GOAL. I think the new stuff is cute (even though I'd never fit into it), and dude needs to go find something real to bitch about.

    1. You make a great point about lumping Asian cultures together-- that's insulting. This whole thing just felt like an example of someone jumping the gun and calling something "racist" when I really don't feel that's the case. If anything, celebrate Geisha culture and let women--and I am SURE there are Japanese women clients of VS--wear the product line and feel sexy. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Hey,

    Just found your blog from a link elsewhere. I don't know AngryAsianMan and haven't read his arguments, but I can immediately see that this criticism of them is pretty simplistic.

    Your arguments would be reasonable if all this was taking place in a vacuum without any social or cultural baggage; but it's the real world, and we can't ignore that stuff. The basic problem here is that there has long been, in Western culture, a tradition of 'exoticising' (and eroticising) the 'Oriental' - treating Asians as lust objects for Westerners rather than real people, basically. To some extent, that still exists (consider the popularity of 'Asian porn', sex tourism to Southeast Asia, etc). And while this geisha underwear is hardly a terrible crime in the grand scheme of things, it does play into that tradition.

    It's true that in reality, geishas were more like courtesans than prostitutes - it was a high-status, cultured profession which involved a great deal more than just sex. But the point is, that's not how Western culture understood it. Look at the history of how geishas have been depicted in Western culture, and it's mostly just as 'sexy Asian whores' without any of the subtlety of the historical version. I certainly don't see any suggestion in this product that the makers were aware of the history, or expected the buyers to think about it - on the contrary, they're reducing 'geisha' from a complex history to just a sexy buzzword.

    As for 'non-Asian women shouldn't wear anything Geisha-related' - I think you're wilfully misinterpreting the arguments here. I've just skimmed the CNN article, and they don't say anything of that kind. The people objecting to this don't object specifically to 'non-Asian women' wearing it; they object to it being sold by Victoria's Secret in general, to anyone. I don't think, if it was being sold by an Asian company and worn by Asian women, it would be much less problematic; it would still be reinforcing the same stereotypes. (But at least in that situation, you might expect the people buying and selling it to have some awareness of the historical issues, which might make it more acceptable.)

    (Oh, and as for 'how the hell can you be unbiased and angry at the same time?' - no one on the Internet (or off it) is unbiased. But being angry about something doesn't stop you from being right about it. I'm sure there are plenty of things that get you angry; how would you feel if someone basically said, 'Well, you're obviously angry about this, which means your views can be dismissed and not taken seriously'?)

    Going back to the product - I'm not suggesting it should be banned or anything like that. If you want to buy it and wear it, I'm not going to stop you. But I do think that anyone who would buy this should consider first the long Western tradition of exoticising Asian women, and geishas in particular, and whether you really want to be part of that. It's a bit like those stereotypical 'African' costumes you still sometimes see, with a leopardprint loincloth and a bone through the nose. If that feels racist to you (and it should!), so should this.

    1. First off—let me say I respect your argument and decision to comment: I do not think it’s healthy for everyone to agree, there would be no checks and balances in the world. You are welcome to comment anytime.
      Second off—I’m still not buying the racist argument. I will give you the fact that claiming someone who is “unbiased” is a stretch, but if you literally include the world “Angry” in your blog’s name… it stands to reason that what you said should be interpreted with some skepticism.
      Next, of course we don’t live in a vacuum—but we don’t live in a world where we can NEVER borrow/celebrate/influence genres such as fashion from other cultures. That idea itself suggests a vacuum. That’s my main point—why can’t VS be inspired by the geishas? Why does it have to be about eroticizing? Why can’t it be celebrating? Geisha holds a tradition in Japanese arts of beauty, art, theater, literature, and, yes, sex. The lingerie line itself showcased pieces that look a lot like Japanese watercolor paintings—why not showcase that so women can wear it and feel beautiful?
      And I understand your argument of Asian lust… but even in that argument I feel the world has grown and there are unfortunately many nationalities/cultures being exploited as sex workers or lust objects. It’s my true feeling that the immense spark that may once fueled the idea of “Oriental” lust is no longer burning brightly on its own. I might be on my own in that respect, but I don’t feel it.
      Geishas do not have to be buzz words for “sexy whores.” If your problem is with VS calling it “Sexy Little Geisha”… well, that’s there branding. They were going to have to carry on the “Sexy Little” branding tradition. I think it’s a leap to think just because “Sexy Little” follows the world “Geisha” it implies the notion of “sexy Asian whores.” They also sell lines titled “Sexy Little Bride”—and I don’t believe they are calling all brides whores. This is a marketing tactic, not a call to action.
      I do not “willing” misinterpret things. I have a journalism background that has installed a panic switch inside of me anytime I feel like I’m not being well-rounded or given the story. There were claims that certain Asian-Americans (groups and individuals) expressed upset because VS does not employ currently Asian models, therefore upset because the line was being promoted by non-Asian models, sold to American clients. One in the same.
      And finally, your comment on the African Halloween costume is a stretch. That is taking on a persona, and I agree a racist one at that because it’s meant to be a singular symbolic look. Women--I speak as one who wanted to purchase the line--do not intend the parade around my bedroom pretending to be a geisha because I’m wearing pieces from the Sexy Little Geisha line. I intended to wear it—like many women—because I thought the pieces were beautiful, inspired by Geisha tradition—and feel sexy wearing it. Not to poke fun at or roleplay the Geisha heritage.
      Once again, while I mostly disagree with you, I respect your argument and ideas. I understand this is a touchy subject for many, but my feelings are that is wasn’t done in poor taste or with racial intent.

  3. Totally agreeing with Jean. As an Asian myself, well not of the Japanese heritage, I was planning to buy that off the VS website. But when i went back to view it, boom! It was gone. Completely untraceable.

    How the media took it was probably a little too far, and VS was just doing what they had to to save the brand.

    It is a really amazing piece, and they even had the hair chopsticks and the mini fan!! So upset it's gone now. Hopefully we'll see it soon.


    1. Thank you! I appreciate your viewpoint as an Asian American (albeit not Japanese, like the Geisha tradition) since most of the media coverage made a big deal out of ethnicity.

      I'm upset, too. :( I had my heart set on it... let's hope it returns. Thanks for commenting.

  4. They should be proud that a part of their heritage is being honored by American fashion. If they think we are "hypersexuallizing Asian women," they need to focus on the image that the tacky massage parlors in America emanate.
    I don't know what little boy doesn't fantasize about a Geisha girl, French maid, or hula girl growing up.
    The pathetic use of the race card really gets my blood boiling. People need to shut up, accept their heritage, loosen up, laugh a little, buckle up, and designate a driver.
    The government keeps racial animosity at a high by pushing crap through the media. They must not be making big enough chunk of change off this endeavor.
    I'll vote to keep the line going. Could we get some sexy grass skirts and coconut bras next? Ahahaha...

    1. Thank you! Everyone thinks a display of heritage is somehow making "fun" of them--why can't this be a celebration? I hate the small-minded idea that just because fashion/film/art dabbles in a culture it is disrespectful.

      And, to make a more taboo point, Geisha has ties to beauty, performance and sexuality... it seems some of the VS critics forgot that history and want to act like they are virgin demigods. Not cool.

      Yes, hula girl is next! Thank you for commenting :)