Saturday, September 08, 2007


I’ve been collecting news stories for an article competition, so I don’t want to blow all my good ideas on my blog (although I have a feeling I’m not going to be able to resist it…) but this one I had to mention:

I can’t even remember how, but during some aimless internet moseying, I picked up on the ‘cosplay’ based phenomenon of ‘maid cafés’. Well established now for a long time in the living-cartoon world of Tokyo, and now having just set up a year ago in Toronto, Canada, these are cafés where the emphasis is much more on the service than on gastronomy. There are, I’ve read, equivalents of the concept with male waiters, but there’s certainly a great deal less information on them than on the female version, which requires that all the waitresses dress up in faux-traditional French maid outfits, with knicker-flashingly short skirts and garters, accessorised with the extra infantilised touches of pig-tails and general ‘cuteness’! The waitresses are supposed to look prepubescent, they call their customers ‘Master’, they kneel when pouring drinks, and noodles can be accompanied with a side-dish of hand and foot massages. If you’re not a compliant, submissive, obedient, sweet-voiced, underdeveloped female, you’re not going to get the job!

The cultural basis for this is a particular niche in anime fandom, with many cartoon versions of the master and maid set-up running on Japanese TV, and many of which have been dubbed or subtitled for English audiences. And of course these waitresses take up their jobs freely, many of whom are fulfilling their own desires to live out their fantasies. But anime has, in many of its diverse forms, been frequently criticised by Japanese pop culture analysts for its sexualisation of girls and its infantilisation of women. It would appear then that their concerns had some grounding, since maid cafés act as living proof that cultures created in fiction on television can have very real impact on daily lives within society.

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