“It is also useful to remember that there will always be casualties, and mysteries, and to remember the dying cry of the lost Jekyll (for in the end, he was both) to have mercy—and to know that breaking through a door does not necessarily mean that a mystery is solved.”

One of the most affecting displays in the BRAINS exhibition (at what was formerly called MoSI) was a dissected brain of an asylum inmate showing the cerebral malformation caused by advanced stages of syphilis. It’s the sad and disturbing thought of the internal suffering being evidenced only after death, and receiving mostly judgement during of life, I guess.

Then there’s the gendered/othered aspect – the sex workers condemned for surviving a depraved society riddled with violent prejudices and bigotries; the respectable wives condemned for believing the falsehood of Victorian chivalry… all easy enough to lock away in asylums.

Anyway.

‘Extraordinarily arduous and fraught with danger’: syphilis, Salvarsan, and general paresis of the insane is a fascinating (and very short) article on the development of diagnosis and treatment of syphilis which does make me think about how even medical cures can become as effective disguises for the social malady as the prison.

Genji as panopticon of the feminine?

Anyway so I was listening to some chillhop and vaporwave when the Youtube algorithm alusi decided to reward me with some new stuff I don’t actually hate for once, this amazing track by Eevee:

 

I mean it’s a fantastic track that deserves its own in-depth review but I am no musicologist so all I can say is… it’s gorgeous and I regularly listen to it on loop for hours at a time.

I was fascinated to read in the comments that the video was taken from the 1987 anime movie, Genji Monogatari. Now, I have still never read the original classic but when I was a teenager, I read ‘The tale of Murasaki’ which sparked my fascination with Heian Japan and the author, Murasaki. I was particularly interested in how a woman would write such a male hero for a predominantly female audience, mostly of the same cultural and literary sophistication as the author. Even if I might argue my feminism wasn’t the same as it is now, to give younger me credit, I would say my own cultural heritage meant it was still a bit more nuanced and so it’s not that I was expecting ‘girl power’ from a medieval Japanese woman. Yet… plenty other medieval (and ancient) women from different cultures (including Heian Japanese) demonstrate intriguing antagonisms with their cultural norms, even if not as much to outright describe as feminist in our sense.

In their light hearted way, some of the comments also discussed some of those aspects of the text, e.g. the fact we have a hero who is actually an abuser, an abductor and groomer, the very things I found so… odd when reading about The tale of Genji and its author for the first time.

So I did some digging because part of me wondered how much – as with Wilson’s interrogation and new translation of the Odyssey, for example – might be down to translation.

Not only did I learn that actually, the first translation was by the libertarian (and later nationalist) Japanese feminist, Yosano Akiko, but I came across this paper, which gave a really cool reading of the text. Kimi and Yoda suggest that far from Genji being the hero of the text – in a literary sense as obviously he is far from heroic in a moral sense – his ‘insensitivity indicates that he had a supporting role, that he functioned as a foil for the elaboration of the stories of the heroines’. The text is unabashed at it’s portrayal of Genji’s amorous vacillations to quote:

‘…the repeated portrayal of Genji’s brazen self-contradiction reflects the author’s design… the author depicts Genji’s womanizing candidly, to the point of making him look ridiculous.’

Considering that Genji’s grooming of Murasaki stemmed from an obsession with finding the ‘perfect woman’ for him, one who was an intellectual equal albeit only to the extent that did not prevent her satisfying his every desire, his role as ‘central’ character is thus not as a wandering, dissatisfied hero around whom the various women revolve, but as a linking thread through the stories of various noble and middle class women, separated from each other by distance, class and depth of religious affiliation, but unknowingly connected as objects of Genji’s desire for control. That these incidents are continuously referred to almost as shadows against a relief of political entanglements – where individuals can only be identified by titles and access to social power* – provides another important framing.

Thus, perhaps not in contrast to the translation but in reception to common readings of the text, what we have is not a tale of a heroic nobleman, but an allegorical essay into the way kyriarchal structures intersect to create and enable patriarchal desires to trap and manipulate whatever is seen as the ‘feminine’.

 

*and yes, I understand this is a convention of politeness for the time.

References

A feminist interpretation of “The Tale of Genji”: Genji and Murasaki

The tale of Murasaki: A Novel

Genji Monogatari (1987)

Close Your Eyes and Think of Yorkshire? Working-class Women and Sexuality in Early Twentieth-Century Yorkshire — NOTCHES

Claire Martin When she was ten years old, May Owen (b. 1895) moved with her family to a small mining village near Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. In an autobiographical letter she wrote some seventy years later, she still vividly remembered her initial shock at a particular custom in the community: “If a woman misbehaved herself,”…

via Close Your Eyes and Think of Yorkshire? Working-class Women and Sexuality in Early Twentieth-Century Yorkshire — NOTCHES

The Female King of Colonial Nigeria

Achebe’s study of Ahebi Ugbabe is significant because it salvaged the history of a woman who became the only warrant chief in colonial Nigeria, and perhaps Africa. Her book distinguishes between Western concepts of gender and sexuality, and the indigenous meanings of these concepts in an African setting. She highlights the fluidity of gender and sex in Igbo land, where a woman, under certain circumstances, can assume the religious and social status of a man. A menopausal woman of wealth and integrity can also socially transform into a man, and enjoy the rights and obligations accorded to men. Such fluidity of gender and sex in Igbo land is portrayed in the life of Ahebi who, as warrant chief and king, became a man and assumed otherwise male roles, including marrying wives for herself and her brothers. Achebe repeatedly and rightly states that, in Igbo land, this practice of woman-to-woman marriage is totally unrelated to homosexuality. It is only a mark of wealth and social status. These wives married by women had sexual relations with men. However, children born of such marriages belonged to the female husband.

The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe

 

No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland

Women of colour, and Muslim women, are constructed as the “other;” we are told these women are given in marriage at a young age by controlling fathers who pass on the responsibility for controlling them to husbands. “Protection” of women is maintained through a rigid sytem of controlling their sexuality in a framework of honour and shame. When these women transgress the boundaries of acceptable femininity they are abused and shunned by their community. Punishments range from lashing to death, but include physical beatings, kidnappings and imprisonment.

Imprisoning women in the Magdalene Laundries deserves to be named as an honour crime because of a cultural obsession that believed the family’s good name rested upon a woman’s (perceived) sexual activity that either her father or husband or oldest brother was the caretaker of. Her sentence to the Laundry was to restore the family honour.

No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland

Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny in the Caribbean

I’m always fascinated by orders of predominantly black women, probably due to all the brightly robed Nigerian nuns who could become impromptu traffic conductors at the drop of a hat. Anyway, here’s the website of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny in the Caribbean.

Pursuing a neo-Aristotelian model of gender?

Gender uniessentialism is important because it intersects with questions of the self and identity and also because of the connection it draws between what we are, gendered individuals, and, as a consequence, what we ought to do. In other words, gender uniessentialism is, among other things, a theory about our social agency and the gendered norms that govern and shape it.

–Charlotte Witt

 

Why we need Feminism

This article really struck me. If as feminists we can get away from some proscribed idea of what being a woman means, it could help alleviate some of the pressures transwomen face. So long as how they express their gender is how they have chosen to express their gender, then feminism in action should help alleviate the social pressures of not being ‘feminine enough’.