Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wife as a Respectable Occupation in History and Manga

A typical comment in yaoi is that the "bottom" is a "wife" or wants to be treated like a "woman."

These comments are often considered sexist by some readers--and in some contexts, unsophisticated "bad" characters will intend such comments as criticisms. But there is another side:

Being the "woman" entails a high level of satisfaction.

Being the "wife" is a badge of honor.

Manga/Japanese attitudes towards the "wife" remind me of Himmelfarb's discussion of the wife/mother in Victorian England. In a discussion of the Victorian working class, she summarizes
Thanks to Eugene for sending me
the quote that led me to this book.
a series of interviews performed by another researcher, Elizabeth Roberts. Elizabeth Roberts began her project assuming that the interviews' commonalities would lead her to "investigate patriarchy or male oppression." Being a honest researcher, when she discovered no such commonalities, she changed her approach.

Roberts discovered what I discovered--at third hand--whilst teaching a course on working women in America: people's primary viewpoint in any given moment is the world that they occupy. Even our sci-fi is brushed with present concerns, as is our activism. Hindsight may be 20/20; it is also entirely incapable of comprehending what the "moment" actually feels like.

In the moment (1890-1940), working class women in England placed a high premium on motherhood and housewifery. Marriage was a partnership; women were household managers; they almost always kept the household accounts (as they did in medieval households). Working class women in many ways had more power than middle class women (who handed off their authority and responsibilities to servants and nannies). Abusive husbands were regarded negatively within the working class culture; the neighborhood as well as the courts often found in favor of an abused wife. Although some of the women interviewed regretted being kept in the dark on sexual matters (courtship was rigorously supervised as much at the working class level as at the middle class level), they almost all paid tribute to their housewife mothers as strong powerhouses rather than domineered weaklings.

This is exactly the way women are portrayed in Japanese manga. In What Did You Eat Yesterday, Shiro and his cooking buddy Kayoko agree that their fathers would have a harder time living alone than their mothers--their fathers don't even know how to use an ATM!

In Honey Darling, the "wife" (21-year-old male) Chihiro helps out in the house and in the animal clinic downstairs. His day is exceedingly busy and absolutely necessary to the smooth running of both the clinic and the home he shares with his "husband."

All of this dovetails with the amazing willingness of Japanese celebrities and career women to give up their work for marriage and home life.  There's no perceived loss of power for the women*, so why should there be for their yaoi counterparts?

The cat's point of view. See, Ed, cats
can be kids!

*At the end of Honey Darling, the mangaka--in one of those bemusing afterwards found in manga where the supposedly shy artiste confesses things that most people wouldn't even confess to a therapist--admits that she was "aiming for a 'wife' manga [since] it'd be nice to be a wife, but please don't think that Chihiro is supposed to be me."

She notes that, actually, the work turned into a "cat manga."