Sunday, August 14, 2011

through queer eyes

A fine review of Donald Richie's latest book of essays in today's edition of The Japan Times, a review which does justice to his unique insights as a long-residing, non-assimilated foreigner in Japan.

The article doesn't directly refer to this, but it is widely known that Richie's has always been the perspective of a gay man. Hence perhaps his comfort in "the distance of being a foreigner in Japan. . . . This I regard as the best seat in the house. Because from here I can compare, and comparison is the first step toward understanding. I have learned to regard freedom as more important than belonging."

Interesting, no doubt, how Japan has been such a paradise of emotional detachment for so many western... gay men, precisely. Richie's comments on the seedy but also infantilized world of Japanese sex clubs where "anything goes" may provide some suggestive clues about why this has been (and will continue to be) so.

Yet to a straight western woman who has reached her wits' end in Japan, the following remarks are much more significant -- and depressing. They certainly provide valuable clues about why stuffy old Japan is (and will continue to be) such an inhospitable place for independent, liberated women:

Richie is a sympathetic witness to the plight of women in Japan, deploring that they are "frankly regarded as chattel. The double standard is so ingrained that it is taken for granted. The manipulation of women for economic, social, and sexual purposes is openly displayed and its rightness is seldom officially questioned."

Lamentably, "women seem also to subscribe to the rightness of their own oppression. They submit and endure."

[my comment: Chizuko Ueno, one of Japan's most outspoken feminist scholars, once remarked that these Japanese women suffer from a serious form of 'moral masochism'.]

It is precisely the systematic discrimination women suffer, he argues, that makes them consummate actresses. Role-playing is second nature, a coping mechanism as, "From the earliest age she learns to mask her true feelings and to counterfeit those she does not feel."

This comes in handy in pornography where the formula insists that "women must be denigrated and she must deserve to be." He adds that in this realm women are portrayed as hysterical animals: "While she screams, kicks, and in general abandons herself, he remains thoughtful, calm, a dedicated craftsman." Curiously, the genre is "puritanical about the virgin state," while insisting that "women are evil, that sex is their instrument and that men are their prey."

Indeed. I have written on nothing else of late (here, herehere and here e.g.) -- and only wish that the self-imposed geographical distance I will be very soon acquiring will one day allow me to simply laugh at the sheer ludicrousness, backwardness and absurdity of it all.

1 comment:

Crysti Jones said...

I wish I would have come across your blog much sooner. It's really quite thoughtful and well written. Before I leave, I might pass it onto male friends who seem to be blinded to the reality of women in this country.