Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Funnies: I Am Not a Feminist , But…

Anecdotes and selective data to reinforce the prevailing conventional wisdom…it’s what I’ve always railed against when I see it in the mass media. Here’s Kate Harding writing in a similar vein in Salon, on an AP report that claims to have identified “a disturbing trend: Women in the U.S. are drinking more, and drunken-driving arrests among women are rising rapidly while falling among men.” The second part cannot be denied; the first part is… I’d say the jury is out—which is actually Harding’s point.

Which somehow brings me to this NYT report on the new, hybrid jury-judge panel system that has been brought in for criminal trials here. I have a problem with this:
”…opinion polls have shown the Japanese public to be highly skeptical of the jury system, primarily because of deep cultural aversions, including a reluctance to express opinions in public, to argue with colleagues and to question authority.”
Now I know the first part is true, and I’m ready to go along to some extent with the thrust of the assertions in the second part. But are the two, in fact, linked? It sounds vaguely plausible. But do the opinion polls show the linkage? I’d like to see how they do that, because I don’t see a line of questions that tease it out.

Going back to feminism, the same friend who sent me the last article also has been passing around another NYT report, this one about the growing social acceptability of “lavishing adoring (albeit nonsexual) attention on men for a hefty fee” as an occupation for young women. The report goes on to claim:
“[W]ith that line of work, called hostessing, among the most lucrative jobs available to women and with the country neck-deep in a recession, hostess positions are increasingly coveted, and hostesses themselves are gaining respectability and even acclaim. Japan’s worst recession since World War II is changing mores.
Members of the middle-class resorting to the overt use of their sexuality to earn a living in these hard times is not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, as this Salon report shows, nor is it absolutely gender-specific, as least in the world of TV dramas. But are the increased “respectability” and “acclaim” linked to the current recession? They appears to have far more to do with the more gradual, more enduring emergence of everyman—and woman—as a media force. Some of this new breed of celebrities—such as the tetujinchefs—have seen their fame last much longer than their allotment of 15 minutes. From this perspective, Eri Momoka, the “single mother who became a hostess and worked her way out of penury to start a TV career and her own line of clothing and accessories” is merely the water trade’s variation of the dokusha models, the amateurs who have taken over some of the traditional trendsetting role of entertainers and professional supermodels.

And speaking of the water trade, the report does not explore the world of the celebrity hostess’s cultural ancestors, the geisha, and even the high-class prostitute oiran, European courtesans, and the Classic Greek hetaeras, professionals whose cultural, social and even political influence has been obscured by the multiple filters of Victorian and contemporary sensibilities. Then there are the economics. Do the $100,000 hostesses receive healthcare benefits? Not likely. Pension plans? And who pays for their clothes? Like the geisha, these things add up. And like the professional athlete or the futures trader, old hostesses tend to fade away. Which is where the sugar daddy—again as in the case of the geisha—comes in.

Not that NYT is obliged to explore these avenues. But the stories are there for those who are willing to make the effort. For those who aren’t, there’s always the Case of the Earwax-Cleaning Murder to turn to.


Anonymous said...

From this perspective, Eri Momoka, the “single mother who became a hostess and worked her way out of penury to start a TV career and her own line of clothing and accessories” is merely the water trade’s variation of the dokusha models

She was a dokusha model for Koakuma Ageha, so yes, this is very "dokusha model."

Obviously hostessing comes from a long tradition of paid companionship but why does it exist in these intermediate forms (i.e., not strictly prostitution) so much in Japan where everywhere else it has been banished to straight-forward illegal sales of sex? If Europe had hostess clubs you could trace it back to the courtesans, but they don't. People are generally uncomfortable with the idea now of a socially-sanctioned business sector where women are specifically paid to be subservient to men.


Jun Okumura said...

Marxy: Wouldn’t I be showing you how smart I am if I had a handle on that? As it is, I can only give you a few bits and pieces of information that may provide some hints for any Japan cultural studies majors looking for off-the-wall term paper themes. (And yes, I am aware that social scientists have put forth hypotheses about the relationship between love, sex, and marriage in Japan.)

The walls between the sex trade, the not-so-sex trade, and the entertainment industry have historically been permeable. The old Japanese euphemism for prostitutes, yūjo (asobi-me) or, literally, “playgirls” (haha) came from the fact that their stock in trade consisted of song and dance, the sex being “incidental.” In fact, even the Edo era oiran thrived on the notion that it wasn’t really about the sex, if the kabuki tragedies that feature oirans who refuse to put out for money is any indication. On the other hand, accounts abound of kabuki actors (and before them kabuki actresses) putting out for wealthy patron(esse)s. Geishas are no exception to this ambiguity. Natsuhiko Yamamoto, one of the greatest non-fiction writers in post-WW II Japan, baldly stated that geishas were in the sex-for-money business, a claim that had particular force since he was intimately involved in the “world of flowers and willows” in his youth. And of course it was very difficult to launch a geisha career unless you had a “patron,” etc., etc.

This permeability is not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, as even a cursory glance at the history of popular entertainment in Europe will tell you. (And there are the hetaeras…) And as La Traviata,—and, in a more happy vein, Pretty Woman (the movie)—will show you, the it’s-not-really-about-the-sex pitch has a universal appeal. There seems to be a historical discontinuity, though. I’m curious. Then there’s the happy hooker—Pretty Woman qualifies again—doesn’t seem to have her parallel in Japanese pop culture. I’m curious about that as well.