Getting Mad and Gender Analysis

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.










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7 Responses to Getting Mad and Gender Analysis

  1. Claire G.

    Hi Faith,

    This is an infographic with the different types of headscarves Muslim women wear. Women who cover their faces or wear a full burqa are a minority; I believe when France banned the niqab in public places, there were around 2,000 who wore one in the whole country. France has banned ALL Muslim head coverings in schools, including the hijab, but in the discourse all types are called “the veil,” so this confuses things because it implies the use of the more conservative facial covering.


  2. Laura


    I am shocked to hear about you getting mad, I didn’t think you could ever be angry! But really, in all seriousness, I agree with you completely on this matter. It is frustrating to think about anyone as an object of anything, much less women as an object to men in any capacity (and I do not consider myself a feminist by any means). And yet, I think I have gotten to the point where I too understand it despite my anger. Different societies include differing relations between men and women, different customs (as you have mentioned in the past in your posts), and different ways of life. Thus, we can only be so angry as outsiders looking in, I suppose. And we can study other cultures and societies utilizing gender as a lens and as a useful category of historical analysis, thanks to the great Joan Scott. And we can begin to understand those that are different from us, at least to some extent.

  3. Kate Good

    Can I start off with how much I truly enjoyed your post this week? You always have such great life stories that go along with your writing and this week is no different!
    Knowing how we (generalizing term being American here) analyze other cultures, I wonder what it looks like from the other side. Do you think that man and his children wondered why YOU weren’t covered and were similarly outraged? Cultural/gender/economic/political/younameit lenses make our work awesome and oh-so-much more complicated all at once. I really look forward to hearing more of your thoughts in class on this week’s readings.

  4. Carmen Bolt


    I really enjoyed your post this week. I have definitely had similar feelings before in my attempts to understand Islamic headscarves–I’ve felt as though they were symbols of some sort of unjust system that exerted men’s power over women and left women as little more than property. I recognize that this view is hardly accurate, and I truly do not know enough of the cultures to even judge, however, this just reflects how I have seen such objects of other cultures from my American perspective.

    When readings “Symptomatic Politics”, I found myself with conflicted feelings over France’s decision to ban headscarves. First, I partially wanted to applaud France for doing something in an effort to “free” the oppressed. Next, I was upset that France was impeding the rights of Islamic women to wear the headscarves, as was customary in their culture. Finally, I felt angry that freedom in French culture appeared to be synonymous with women openly becoming “objects of desire”.

    What I had to do in order to confront this roller coaster of emotions was to take a step back and try to remove myself and my perspective from the mix and try to understand what Scott was arguing about gender and power. I was extremely intrigued by the readings and look forward to going more in depth in class.

  5. Tiny

    Thanks for a wonderfully vivid post Faith. I am always excited to read your posts and this week was again, another great one. I finally understand what Scott was talking about and why when she was writing in reference to the banning of head scarves in France. I am learning so much about gender studies, women’s studies, and other points of view on history in our class and the discussions. I read Scott this week and thought to myself that it was a little dense, but I found her writing to be much easier to read than Foucault or Iggers. I am excited to get to this week’s discussion to hear everyone else’s take.

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