Women’s Path

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W’s Tragedy

Using women’s sexual adventures as the subject matter of art is not exclusive to female authors such as Kirino Natsuo and Hayashi Fumiko. In English, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) wrote The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722) and Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (1724), basing these narratives on the unconventional lives of (anti-) heroines Moll Flanders and Roxana. In Japan, after the success of Koshoku ichidai otoko (1682; The Life of an Amorous Man, 1964), Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693) made his protagonist of this koshokumono (erotic tale) a woman and created Koshoku ichidai onna (1686; The Life of an Amorous Woman, 1963). Both Defoe’s and Saikaku’s works have comparative values in the analysis of Kirino’s Grotesque. This chapter will use the feminist criticism of Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Roxana in favor of the interpretation of Grotesque, and examine the pattern of narratives which Grotesque shares with Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Woman. In his analysis of Moll Flanders, Nicholas Marsh (2011) suggests the passage in which Moll Flanders “learns about masculine power” from being rejected by the elder brother of her husband-to-be in an early stage of the narrative. Taking a fresh twenty-first century perspective, Marsh states that this scene is significant because it serves as a stage of Moll’s “gender training”, when Moll comes to the realization of the man’s power, and the woman’s vulnerability” (2011:108). “What this scene underlines for us is the self-interested battering and bullying from a patriarchal world that bashes Moll into her compliant shape; and the pain and fear she experiences during the process of gender-socialization” (Marsh 2011:108). Moll develops her understanding of gender difference through her lover’s abandonment in which she is in total submission and intimidated by his discourse. He spoke this in so much more moving Terms than it is possible for me to Express, and with so much greater force of Argument than I can repeat, that I only recommend it to those who Read the Story, to suppose, that as he held me above an Hour and a Half in that Discourse, so he answer’d all my Objections, and fortified his Discourse with all the Arguments, that human Wit and Art could Devise. From there, Moll “began to see a Danger that I was in, which I had not consider’d before, and that was of being drop’d by both of [the two brothers she has relationships with], and left alone in the World to shift for myself” (Doe 2004:47-48). Moll feels intimidated by masculine power. After this point, Moll turns to use men instead of depending them. She finds means to “shift for [herself]” in her femininity. By contrast, Ian Watt (1970) argues that “Moll Flanders’s character […] is not noticeably affected […] by her sex” (24). Watt suggests that Moll’s character is “essentially masculine” (23). Moll’s character is of complexity in terms of gender traits. In her life adventures, Moll shows that she “accepts none of the disabilities of her sex”; and as a heroine, Moll Flanders “fully realized one of the ideals of feminism: freedom from any involuntary involvement in the feminine role” (Watt 1970:23). Nevertheless, sex differences and gender issues are central to all of Moll’s life choices and how she presents herself. In examining the intersection of femininity and criminality in Moll Flanders, John Rietz refers to John J. Richetti’s analysis of Roxana, “As a woman suddenly stripped of her domestic identity, Roxana is an open field, a deserted psycho-social space in which anything can be enacted and in which a newly thorough self-consciousness is possible. The cultural implications of Defoe’s book are that female identity in a normal social order is so limited and fragile that once ordinary conditions are altered, a woman is turned into a pure opportunity for free-floating selfhood” (Richetti 1982:33 qtd in Rietz 2004:472). Out of their domestic environment and identity, Defoe’s heroines are released to use their every trait in services of their own survival. For instance, Moll uses her appearance—beautiful and elegant, a “gentlewoman”, as a cover for becoming a con artist, shoplifter, and pickpocket. In short, the core of the heroines’ behavior lies in gender issues. Furthermore, I suggest that in Grotesque, the heroines’ choice of turning to prostitution can be interpreted as a part of their process of their gender socialization. As Virginia Woolf asserts that Defoe uses his heroines to display the “peculiar hardships” of women (Chaber 1982:213), Kirino does the same in Grotesque. Furthermore, Lois A. Chaber (1982) and Nicolas Marsh (2011) suggest that Defoe’s heroines are “outsiders” to the society, which is another element of Defoe’s works that resonates with Kirino’s Grotesque. “Defoe uses Moll’s role as criminal and woman—both outsiders—to criticize emergent capitalism, but in so doing he also reveals the more long-standing evils of sexism. […] Because Moll is a member of ‘the second sex’ her criminal aggression becomes at once a parody of the alienating features of a primitive capitalist society and a justified defiance of that society” (Chaber 1982:213). In Grotesque, the three anti-heroines are also portrayed as outsiders and alienated from the centre (see more discussion on “outsider” in Chapter 8 “Machigurashi in Society”). Kazue The first paragraph of Kazue’s journal describes the scene, in which Kazue has a glimpse of man’s power. As the beginning of Kazue’s journal, this scene carries significance. It is an epitome of Kazue’s struggle. This scene hints that Kazue is under patriarchal oppression; meanwhile she submits herself to patriarchal power. “The man ahead of me kept glancing back vigorously over his shoulder as he walked. I assumed he was trying to spot a cab. The rain bouncing off his umbrella splashed onto the front of my Burberry trench coat, causing it to stain. I fumbled angrily through my purse, looking for my handkerchief. I pulled out the one I’d stuffed in my bag yesterday and patted busily at the raindrops. […] I quietly cursed the man as he climbed into his cab. ‘Hey, asshole, watch what you’re doing!’ But as I did so I recalled the vibrant way the rain had bounced off his umbrella, and that led me to think about how strong men are in general. I was seized with a feeling of desire, soon to be followed by disgust” (Kirino 2008:344, boldface mine). Kazue is impressed by the man’s physical strength, which also hints masculinity’s dominating power over femininity in a patriarchal environment. This small incident reveals sex-related differences that are often hidden in everyday life. Kazue identifies herself as a woman, and is attracted as well as frustrated by patriarchal power (i.e., desire and disgust). From the beginning of Kazue’s journal, the narrative demonstrates the complex gender relations in Kazue’s world. The teenager Kazue used to have absolute faith in “efforts” and that “you can succeed even if you’re female” (Kirino 2008:85). Before entering society, Kazue is ignorant of sex-related differences, in the same way that she is ignorant of the dynamics of Q School. She despises her mother for using her gender as an excuse for being unsuccessful. “For the longest time I set my sights on trying to outdo my mother. Being raised to be a woman is pathetic, isn’t it? That’s what she always says. She uses being a woman as her excuse for not getting ahead in life. But if you really try your best, you can succeed even if you’re female” (Kirino 2008:85). Kazue’s father has been brainwashing her with his emphasis on efforts and thus keeps close control over her life. He hammers the idea of Kazue’s mother’s inferiority into her mind, using Kazue’s mother as a negative example in order to motivate her. “Kazue’s the smartest girl in our family,” he would say to me. “Well, what about Mother?” “Once your mother married she stopped studying, didn’t she? Why, she never even reads the newspaper.” My father whispered that in my ear as if I were his co-conspirator. It was Sunday, and my mother was in the garden tending to her plants. I was in junior high at the time, studying for the high school qualifying examinations. “Mother reads the newspaper!” “Only the society page and the television schedule. She doesn’t even glance at the articles on economics or political affairs. That’s because she can’t understand them. Kazue, I think you should get a job with a first-class company. You’ll be able to meet an intelligent man, someone who will stimulate you intellectually. There’s no need for you to marry, though. You could just stay on in this house. You’re bright enough to out-do any man out there.” I was convinced that women who married and became housewives end up as laughingstocks. I wanted at least to avoid that. Or if I did marry, I’d have to marry a man who was more intelligent, so he could appreciate my abilities. At that time, I didn’t understand that smart men don’t always select smart women. Because my parents did not get on that well, I believe it was because my mother wasn’t very smart and never really tried to apply herself. Kazue’s parents do not have a close relationship and her family functions based on a strict power hierarchy. It can be seen as a patriarchal society in miniature. “Because in our house there is an order to things. […] Everyone automatically knows the order of things—who has the most prestige and authority, I mean. And you accede to that order accordingly. No one needs to explain it, but everyone obeys it. Everything is decided according to this order—like who has the right to take a bath first and who gets to eat the best food. […] Mother lost out to my father from the very start, and there’s no one in the family who can best him” (Kirino 2008:85). The figures of her Father and Mother are in competition to Kazue. Kazue loathes her mother who represents idleness and powerlessness, and identifies with her father who represents effort and power. As a result, Kazue’s perceptions of issues such as sex-related differences and gender relations in reality have been lopsided since her childhood. Once Kazue enters G Company, she comes to a late and painful realization of those things she has ignored before, in the corporate world and contemporary Japanese society. Women are not equal to men in the work place. Kazue finds out that women are expected to be beautiful, diligent, and caring at work. She has trouble adapting to the work environment. That is, she has trouble adapting to the feminine role expected of her at the work place, partly due to her reluctance to resemble her mother. Growing up in an unbalanced family, Kazue has difficulty with interpersonal relationships. Many plot elements indicate that Kazue has highly problematic relationships with all of her colleagues. Kazue performs as an isolated individual rather than part of the group, which only worsens her situation. As a way of gain attention, Kazue wears earplugs at work and isolates herself from others. She is thus perceived as a disharmonious factor by others in the office. As an anonymous letters she receives says, “All the noise you make is annoying. Please do everyone a favor and try to be a little quieter when you’re working. You are inconveniencing others in the office” (Kirino 2008:346). Her co-worker Kamei carefully comments that, “Ms. Satō always uses earplugs, so I don’t think she really notices the noise she makes” (Kirino 2008:348). Kazue inspires fear and repulsion among her colleagues, and she is proud of this. The part-timer in the filing department and our office assistant were already in the kitchen preparing tea for a horde of people. The part-timer was a freelancer and the assistant had been sent over from a temp agency. […] Both of them looked uncomfortable when they saw me enter, so I knew they’d been bad-mouthing me. I pulled a clean coffee cup off the counter and asked, “Is there any hot water?” “Yes.” The part-timer pointed to the thermos. “We just poured it in the pot.” I poured hot water over the instant coffee I had just purchased. The part-timer and the assistant stopped what they had been doing and watched me. They looked annoyed. I spilled some of the hot water on the counter, but I just left it there and returned to my desk. In Japanese corporations, female employees are expected to do housekeeping work and run small errands such as preparing tea for everyone, washing cups, printing, and photocopying. Kirino refers to this as “女の仕事onna no shigoto”, women’s work12. Nevertheless, Kazue refuses to do this “女の仕事” out of her pride and her contempt for the image of the housewife. This dull and ordinary image of dull and ordinary housewives which Kazue tries to avoid comes from her own mother, as her father has taught her to despise the mother figure. Being thus inculcated by her father, Kazue deeply believes that she is no ordinary woman (like her mother), but “bright enough to out-do any man out there” (Kirino 2008:360). Furthermore, this dysfunctionality in Kazue’s family results in her inability to form intimate relationships with other people. “It was not like I never planned on having a man in my life. But I didn’t know how to get along with men. And I knew all the male employees kept their distance from me. Therefore I acted like I had no interest in men. Besides, I felt contempt for Yamamoto’s wish to become a housewife” (Kirino 2003:427). Pretending that she has no interest in the opposite sex, Kazue promotes her image as unfeminine and intends to direct people’s perception of her to the intellectual level. Kazue is perceived as not feminine, and thus unacceptable, in society. All her efforts—“I’m able to work a real job. I’ll have you know I graduated from Q University and I work at the G Firm”—end up “[a]ll totally worthless” under the patriarchal principle (Kirino 2008:371). Femininity is the priority under the patriarchal principle, so Kazue falls short by definition. “As a woman you’re less than average. You’d never be able to get a job in Ginza” (Kirino 2008:371). Kazue’s lack of feminine attractiveness underscores her failure as a woman. When Kazue realizes that she is fighting alone in the “man’s world” as Moll Flanders does, she becomes desperate to prove her femininity (refer to Chapter 8 “Machigurashi in Society”). The change in Kazue’s attitude indicates the process of gender socialization. As Richetti suggests with Defoe’s Roxana, without a domestic identity, Kazue takes the “opportunity for free-floating selfhood” (Richetti 1982:33 quoted in Rietz 2004:472) and releases her femininity in the form of prostituting herself. Although Kazue has always consciously known that prostitution is dishonorable behavior, she seeks revenge in the act of prostituting herself.


The Author: Kirino Natsuo
The work: Grotesque
The Framework of Patriarchy
Not Becoming a Heroine
Wild Kingdom
Divide and Conquer
The Flesh
Light and Shadow
Women’s Path
Money for Sex
Women of Pleasure
Raison d’être
Fight for Freedom
W’s Tragedy
Mothers as Models
Double Standards
Maeda Ai’s Methodology
Home, Sweet Home
The Homeless
Going Nowhere
Girls on the Move
Grey Area and Beyond
Dark Water
Editorial Decisions in the Translation
Aftertastes of Rashomon
Directions for Future Research

Somewhere I Belong: Women’s Urban Experiences in Kirino Natsuo’s Grotesque

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