I’ll never forget the day I flew into Bangkok Thailand for the first time and what makes it memorable may be surprising.
Sometimes when I fly into other countries and must go through customs, I feel like I, and my fellow plane riders, are ‘herded’ through the correct ‘chutes’ and ‘deposited’ in the correct ‘corrals’ in order to go through the ‘branding’ operation and earn that stamp on our passport that allows us to enter the country. I was feeling that way on this day and to make matters worse, it was hot – very hot. And there was no air-conditioning in our ‘corral.’
As I stood in the correct line (I guess I hoped I was in the right line, you know that language thing, well, can be troublesome at times), I noticed a woman in the line next to mine. She stood with her family, her husband and two children. Her two children and her husband wore shorts and t-shirts, appropriate for the over 90 degree heat in the room. The woman, however, wore black from head to toe – only her eyes peeked out from her clothing. I looked at her. I looked at her husband in his shorts and t-shirt and I got mad. I couldn’t imagine how hot it was for her under all those clothes. I wanted to turn to her husband and say, “Buddy, I think you ought to have to wear the same thing as her. How dare you wear shorts while she wears more clothes than you probably brought in your suitcase!”
Coming from this perspective, I was just a little skeptical as I began Joan Scott’s “Symptomatic Politics: The banning of Islamic Head Scarves in French Public Schools.” I was thinking, “Ok I’m going to be one of those flaming feminists that is going to disagree with Scott on this one.” But, I kept reading. I really wanted to know where Scott was going with her analysis… And then I got it.
Now don’t get me wrong. It still makes me mad to think about the woman in the hot Bangkok airport, but I also understand Scott’s point. In her gender analysis, she argues that in France, for those who supported legislation banning all headscarves in public schools, “women were “free” when their sexual desirability was openly displayed and endorsed (when they were, in Roudlinesco’s terms, “objects of desire”).” In other words, the normalization of women in France casts “women as the object of male desire.” (123)
I get it, but my head is still spinning and I’m mad again.
Foucault. Scott. Power Relations. Objects of men’s oppression. Objects of Men’s Desire. The learning curve here is steep and I hope I don’t start to slide down.
As I continued to think about this week’s readings, I began to wonder if power relations between Japan and Korea during the Japanese Colonial Period showed signs of power signification couched in ideas of gender. So I looked.
It’s not especially easy to find primary sources originating in Japanese and Korean in English, but I did find some.
The following quote is from a talk by Komatsu Midori, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official given to foreign nationals (mostly British and American) shortly after Japan annexed Korea. His comments not only try to erase 5,000 years of nearly autonomous Korean rule (only eluding to the short time in history where Japan controlled part of the Korean peninsula), they also show a discourse, a language that can by analyzed according to principles laid out in Joan W. Scott’s “Gender: A Useful Category for Historical Analysis”.
Judging from the facts so far pointed out in general outline it is not unreasonable to conclude that the Japanese and Korean people formed for a long time one and the same nation…
In developing the industry of an infantile nation, it is advisable to begin the work by undertaking the improvement of the agricultural industry, and this has been diligently carried on since Japan assumed the protectorate of the Korean Empire. (Komatsu Midori)
According to Scott, “gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power.” (1067) In the quote above, Japan must make Korea a “protectorate;” it must “protect” Korea. It sets up the binary opposites of patriarchy/fraternity; stronger male/weaker female. In couching their colonial ‘takeover’ of another country in gendered language of protection, the official legitimizes Japan’s power. In calling Korea’s industry “infantile”, the speaker also sets up the idea of protection and binary opposites of mature/infantile, which has connotations of male provider for a female with an infant.
Using language such as this and other covert and hidden tactics, Japan successfully annexed Korea with hardly a peep of opposition from countries around the world.
Which is just another thing to get mad about.
Saying as generally I am not often mad, and saying that writing this post, well, has drummed up a little animosity in my soul and saying that I am tired and it is late for me, 9:17pm (Okay, nobody laugh), I will end.