Media Mix, April 27, 2014

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Minori Kitahara (Asahi Shimbun)

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about writer and entrepreneur Minori Kitahara’s book about patriotic wives. One aspect of Kitahara’s exploration of the phenomenon that I didn’t mention in the column was her sense of identification with these women; not identification with their views, but with their methods. In the 90s, when Kitahara became interested in women’s issues she “looked for friends who actively participated in the women’s movement.” She and her comrades would pass out condoms in Aoyama or stage events about women’s sexuality. “I really wanted to change society,” she writes, and when she attended some of the rallies and discussions put on by these patriotic wife groups she realized they “weren’t that different [than we were] in outward appearance or socioeconomic circumstances.” Moreover, her motivation in being an activist was the belief that her opinions were not unusual, that they represented common sense which the general public would understand if only they were made aware of them. And that’s the same attitude these patriotic wives hold about their own opinions. At the same time, while Kitahara’s groups included many married women and full-time homemakers, they tended to exclude women who they thought didn’t fully share their viewpoints, so in a sense they were just as parochial as the patriotic wives. What Kitahara seems to be getting at here is that the concept of gender solidarity that makes her wonder how these patriotic wives could not believe the Korean comfort women may not really extend further than sensibility. At one point she talks to a pair of women at a Hana-dokei rally, mistaking them for being liberals because of the way they dressed (backpacks). It turned out they were supporters of Hana-dokei. “Are the people you’re with Korean?” one of them asks Kitahara. “Because that’s the way they look.” Though she might have been offended by this remark, she sympathizes with them when they express anger that the “media doesn’t take this group seriously,” because she felt the same way when she was active in the women’s movement. So one of the reasons they seem so strident is that they’re frustrated at the thought that society thinks they’re marginal when they think of themselves as normal. She can understand, and concludes it may have more to do with the fact that they’re women and not so much their reactionary rhetoric.

Nevertheless, while she thinks that their approach to women’s issues may be more mainstream than her own, she feels deeply that it isn’t coherent, and their resentment of Korean comfort women is directly informed by their insecurity as wives. Though they may not say it, they believe their husbands are capable of straying; but, in accordance with the cliche, it’s the fault of devious women, because they think it’s men’s nature to stray. If they agree with Toru Hashimoto that the comfort women system was necessary for military morale, they also hate the system for being necessary in the first place. It’s like that other cliche about the “other woman” whom the wife blames more than the husband who cheated. Where Kitahara and these patriot wives part company on the question of women’s sensibility is the question of who has agency in the sexual transaction. Kitahara still thinks men have the upper hand, at least socially speaking, while these patriot wives believe women do, which is why they don’t believe the comfort women are victims, much less “sex slaves,” a phrase they find repulsive.

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