CHIBA, JAPAN - JUNE 25: AKB48 perform during the MTV Video Music Aid Japan at Makuhari Messe on June 25, 2011 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images) Photo: Getty Images
Pussy Riot band members are serving a two-year sentence after protesting against Russian President Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral. Afghanistan’s girl band, ‘Burka Band’ have never performed in their own country for fear of reprisals from religious fanatics.Even in the land of the free, the Dixie Chicks received death threats in 2003 for exercising their rights under the First Amendment to protest against the Iraq war.
And then there’s Japan, where female pop singers end up looking like Fantine from Les Mis for the crime of having sex. Singer and actress Minami Minegishi, a founding member of the Japanese pop sensation AKB48, shaved her head as self-punishment and a symbol of her shame and guilt after she had sex with her boyfriend.
She then tearfully begged for forgiveness for being ‘thoughtless and immature’ in a video released on the band’s YouTube channel. The gut-wrenching video was viewed over 7.3 million times before it was removed.
Pictures of the roughly-shorn head of Minami Minegishi, 20, were emblazoned on national newspapers and Japan's Twitter scene was abuzz over news that the pop princess from cash-generating juggernaut AKB48 had broken the band's cardinal rule: No Dating. Photo: YouTube
‘I don't believe just doing this means I can be forgiven for what I did, but the first thing I thought was that I don't want to quit AKB48,’ she said in her recorded message.
The band’s management have demoted the star to a trainee team of AKB48 as punishment ‘for causing a nuisance to the fans’ by having sex. And it wasn’t even newsworthy sex. She didn’t bang half the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. Nor did she do the deed in some exotic locale in public view. She spent the night with her boyfriend in his apartment and was photographed leaving his place.
What’s so terrible about a 20 year old woman having consensual sex? In Japan, pop singers are required to project an image of both overt sexuality and virginal innocence and cuteness, known as ‘kawaii’.
The cardinal rule for the 90 young women in AKB48 is that boys are off limits. They can perform soft-porn scenes — such as a commercial where they pass candy from mouth to mouth while decked out as schoolgirls — but they must also remain virginal.
Sex is something they project to the world for other people’s fantasy and pleasure, and not something they’re entitled to enjoy for themselves. Presumably the point of their abstinence is to indulge male fans in the wet dream that the girls are saving themselves for them.
It’s worth remembering that the obsession with the purity and virginity of young women isn’t confined to Japan. It wasn't so long ago that the western world was pre-occupied with Britney Spear’s virginity and quite a fuss was made of her Rolling Stone cover, where she posed in a bra and undies while talking on the phone clutching a Tellytubby. And the film clip for her debut hit Baby One More Time where she dressed as a virginal vamp, oozing sexuality from her skimpy school uniform, can only be described as a Western version of kawaii.
At a 2002 press conference for her movie Crossroads, the then 21 year old was still being asked about her virginity. ‘How do you feel about the constant speculation about your virginity?’ one reporter asked. When Spears dodged the question the reporter followed up with, ‘Have there been any changes on that front?’.
And how did things turn out for Britney? Oh that’s right, she shaved her head.
It may not have been an act of contrition the same as Minami Minegishi or have the same cultural meaning, but the world has done its best to heap shame and guilt onto Britney when we could no longer pretend she was simply a sexual fantasy, but a real, live flesh and blood woman.
When her sexuality couldn’t be contained within the standard packaging — Lolita or, later, sex goddess — she was portrayed as a disgraced, Fallen Woman like Minami Minegishi has now become in Japan.
Of course, continuing with the standard script, there aren’t any Fallen Men in these stories. Just as Justin Timberlake and Britney’s other male sexual partners escaped public scrutiny over their sexual practices, there has been no word of Minegishi’s boyfriend Alan Shirahama — also a member of a pop band —shaving his head, tearfully apologising or being demoted.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com