From time to time I will post writing assignments from my various classes, back dated to the date of writing, but always tagged under Higher Ed. This assignment was a midterm essay from my Global Sexualities in Modern Culture class.
In reading the excerpt from Maki Enjoji’s Manga series, Happy Marriage?!, it quickly becomes apparent that the world these characters inhabit and the values they hold are familiar, due to cultural flows, (i.e. the movement of cultural ideas or media entertainment from one national site to another) and at the same time unfamiliar, due to the characters with which the story is told. For the Western reader, the message that comes across may feel artificial; since we are reading in a right-to-left manner and since semi- Westernized characters are relied on to deliver a decidedly non-Western message. I would assert that the message in this reading is that in marriage, mutual affection is less important than the male’s status and the female’s duty, with an underlying theme of captor and victim.
Enjoji makes sure we know that the subject of this series is marriage, in the title, literally, and again as an aside in the first few pages. But marriage in this story, is not congruent with the Western public imaginary (the assumption about, in this case, marriage, shaped by social norms and institutions) that marriage is born out of romantic love. Here, marriage exists for the husband as a societal status, and for the wife, a non-entity, as merely an economical convenience. Furthermore, Hokuto, the husband, imposes his rules on the wife, Chiwa. This reveals her victim status, making it appear that Chiwa and Hokuto’s struggles to build a life together are secondary to their roles in the company. Any negotiations on this point are thus consigned to secret meetings or behind closed doors, where again, Chiwa is relegated to victim status both intellectually and sexually.
In the Christian-heavy Western culture, there has been an overall hostility toward sex, (the act or urge) as something that gets in the way of spiritual pursuits and therefore should be monitored, and/or legislated. In an effort to mitigate the temptations of the flesh, early Christians sanctioned heterosexual marriage as an “acceptable compromise with the material world and praised (it) as a building block for society.” (Mottier, 20) Stories, myths, legends and moralistic tales have been created over the years to propagate this belief, wherein we are instructed that there should be no sex before marriage, and marriage, hetero marriage to be specific, is the end result we can expect if we behave in a certain way.
Given the similarity of its lead characters, Happy Marriage?! can be compared to the familiar western fairy tale of Cinderella, where, with the help of a fairy godmother, the trials and tribulations of the heroine conclude, but only when she and the prince marry. This gives rise to the oft-quoted Western idealized notion of success, “and they lived happily ever after.” But the implication in these stories is that what comes after marriage must be dealt with behind closed doors. This lack of interest in the events that follow the wedding, seems to establish the message that hetero-normative marriage – happy or not – is the primary fictional and life’s goal.
Even though Chiwa’s family’s financial troubles are over, her relationship troubles are only beginning when the secretive marriage takes place. It is not only her duty to stay faithful to her husband, but to keep the marriage a secret as he wishes. She is, in effect, a victim as well as the collateral damage in the Chairman’s act of saving her father. In reading further, we learn Hokuto is happy with having achieved the status of marriage, and sex with his wife now becomes not an outpouring of love, but something he must do in order to consummate the marriage. This further cements Chiwa’s role of victim. It is up to Chiwa then, in order to regain some control over her own life and happiness, to establish the love that is missing. She must, in order to become a good wife, tidy up not only Hokuto’s apartment, but also his life, and his priorities as well, thus, achieving a ‘happy marriage.’
Hokuto’s character, while typical of the Manga and Anime style, seems to be drawn to appear more Western in his facial features, yet altogether non-Western in his masculinity. He is slight of build, with no body or facial hair, almost child-like. This is very different from the swarthy, bearded, muscular, shirtless paragons of brute masculinity that are portrayed in Western romance novel culture. He is introduced via the cover art, in a possessive, aggressive pose peering at us seductively through the fringe of his tousled hair, on top of, in effect trapping the doe-eyed female, still in her wedding dress. Certainly, we as Westerners understand the allegory of female in bondage who eventually triumphs in the happily ever after ending. But this story assumes that we will also understand why this relationship is worth Chiwa’s work to achieve a happy marriage when Hokuto is both aggressor and captor, and clearly immature. One must have an innate knowledge of Japanese culture to understand the story’s message when portrayed in this manner.
Similar to the Cinderella story, we have the character of Taeko Soma, the assistant, filling the role of Fairy Godmother. Her role appears to somehow help the impossible situation between Chiwa and Hokuto, and may possibly in subsequent chapters, help the reader understand Chiwa’s motivation to make this relationship work. The way the character of Taeko is drawn, differs strikingly from the way older women are represented in Western media, since typically “Middle-aged women with sexual desires were represented as something terrifying or humorous and always as a defining ‘other’ to the ‘good’ woman. (Richardson, Smith, Wenderly, 87) Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to tell the two characters apart. Chiwa initially sees Taeko as a rival for Hokuto’s affection, and it comes as somewhat of a shock to her that the other woman is 55 years old.
The stories we tell play an integral part in how we learn to participate in our own particular culture. Through these stories, fables, and myths we learn to understand the rules of our society, our hierarchy, the roles we play and even our sexuality. On a subliminal level, stories not only entertain, but also instruct. From the right to left way this story is to be read, to the cover art and the homogenous faces of the characters, to the arranged marriage, which takes place at the beginning of the story instead of the end, we as Western readers are presented with a story that challenges our traditional instincts, gender stereotypes, and even the morals and ideals we are used to seeing. This story, in effect, begins where our traditional Western stories end.