Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Challenging narratives, Common Myths, education, Sexuality, tokenism, Uncategorized | 0 comments

As I had hoped, my last post on Shibari and Appropriation generated some really interesting and important feedback. Some people identified some perceived blind spots in my post, as well as aspects of this issue that went unaddressed or under-addressed.

A few people noted, and rightly so, was that the issue was not about cultural appropriation, but rather cultural misappropriation.

I think it’s best to let the comments speak from themselves. Click through the tabs below to read some of the social media and blog comments.

I am both from Japan and a POC in the US. I still play in the private in commercial spaces there when I go back to my land of origin. I am both of the Showa era culture and part of the face of the new humanity… And I’m also guilty of having written the first English language instructional book of Shibari… Please keep all that in mind.

It’s not whether you play with rope, but rather what you come to believe about other people through that medium of rope. Playing with Japanese Bondage itself isn’t cultural mis-appropriation (I think the word you’re looking for is mis-appropriation. All of humanity is a melange of cross cultural influences and appropriation… Just consider the English language as we know it today.)

I don’t feel its mis-appropriation if one is inspired by and having some good fun sex with it, and grasps that this is one ingredient in their pleasure tools. I do feel it’s mis-appropriation if one believes that they now somehow understand Japan wholly because they played with rope learned in a class, a book or the web. If someone speaks in absolutes (all Japanese women are submissive. Only men top with rope. If one is good with rope one is now a Rope Master. True rope masters don’t wear shoes. etc yeah I’ve heard all these…) then their level of appropriation is now suspect. Same goes for signs of exoticization or fetishization of people or culture. (examples “Shibari is an ancient honorable art form”, Kinbaku is a culturally honored art form, I love all things Japanese, Practiced with purity of mind and focus, direct descendant of ancient warrior arts, honoring the woman, the one true way, etc etc. yes, I’ve heard all these too.)

This is a painful topic for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by people who’ve never even been to Japan, and their corner sushi restaurant doesn’t count, that I don’t know the way of rope in Japan or told how things are done in Japan. They don’t actually want to hear what rope play and performances are really like in Japan – it’s a shame because I have oh so many stories and tales! That’s both funny and sad…. and a sure sign that they’re engaging in “other-ing” and mis-appropriation…

From the land of shibari (and bukkake and judo and manga and the rising sun): Is Judo cultural appropriation? Is Tekondo cultural appropriation? How about those who dress up as their favorite anime character?

Dressing up as an anime character isn’t inherently appropriative. Is someone wearing yellowface, though? Or blackface/redface/brownface? Then that’s a problem. Is someone dressing up as a character that itself is a racist caricature? That’s a problem. Is someone learning a martial art cultural appropriation? I don’t know enough about these martial arts to speak to their history/context/etc, but it sounds like not really because they’re sports/taught arts? I dunno know though TBH. shrug I do know you can try to teach a martial art in a super shitty and racist way, though!

I do agree about that it’s also a continuum of fuckedupness and it’s not always as simple as “YES APPROPRIATION” or “NO APPROPRIATION.” Things to consider, beyond honoring the roots of something, making sure to carry on context respectfully (e.g. not just divorcing a practice from its context, which is part of the more nuanced definition of cultural appropriation beyond a dictionary “one group adopting a thing”), and all that, is WHAT IS THE IMPACT of someone presenting themselves as a TEACHER of a specific art, especially if it’s not an open tradition / practice?

In a world where, say, yoga is wildly popular, it’s not that ONLY PEOPLE WITH A CULTURAL LINK TO YOGA CAN TEACH IT, but that people who don’t have that cultural link to a practice need to search deep within themselves and see “am I displacing / economically disadvantaging a community through these actions? / does my culture or ethnic background or race have a particular tie of oppressing the people from whom this thing originates?” It’s no wonder that so many “big names” in a lot of “ethnic practice” are WHITE. Because White supremacy will continuously uplift itself and its avatars if we don’t actively disrupt it.

With shibari and kink, same thing. Who are the people presenting themselves as teachers? Who are the big names and how did they get there? What does it mean when Japanese people, and more broadly, Asian people are underrepresented in kink and actively whitewashed or fetishized while their cultural products are exalted in the hands of people from other cultures, esp. White people? Like, do I need to bring back the conversation about GeishaGate and The Floating World’s shitty advertisement using like…Chop Suey font and a White lady dressed up as a geisha? Blergh

 

I think most concern about cultural appropriation is overblown. What we should oppose is treating other cultures with casual and ignorant contempt.
That does not mean that one must internalize the Code of Bushido in order to perform Shibari. It does mean that we should respectfully learn the cultural context of the practice. Creativity is all about learning things in one context and synthesizing them to others.

 

I disagree that the answer is complicated. Shibari is a practice, and as such there are ways that it can be done without appropriate and ways that it can absolutely be appropriative.

I think at this point separating Shibari from Rope Culture in general is hard to do, and I see a lot of cultural appropriate and cultural disrespect from the rope community in general. I have very much witnessed the pull to the exotic that you say doesn’t exist.

I’m not sure I agree that Shibari itself is a living art form. Rope, and proformative bondage sure. But specifically Shibari? That’s a very particular thing that came out of a particular tradition with historical context. You haven’t address really specific things like the fact that white folks have elevated themselves to positions of authority particularly around education. The amount of arguing between white people about which character, pronunciation or what is the most authentic to lay rope with historically zero voices from poc folk (and while I recognize that this is starting to change, but the last 4 years don’t erase decades) is a big clue alone that this isn’t being done respectfully.

It’s only recently that people are actually learning directly from Japanese, whether they travel to Japan or take classes from teachers who are traveling. I think more often then not perpetuates the exoticism, which absolutely is a compelling factor for many people. If the “purity of authenticity” wasn’t such a thing, why would there be all this fighting about the most traditional way to tie and this new myth that only certain ropes can be used ever? If the act of the tying and connection itself is what really matters, wouldn’t focus fall to that?

 

Further Reading

Here are additional articles that have been recommended and/or cited: