Young Man Tries To Convince Old Lady To Have Sex Female Resistance to Male Authority, Part One

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Female Resistance to Male Authority, Part One

People naturally hate to submit to authority figures. Even when someone is ruled by another person through the laws of the world or the customs contained in it, that person discovers ways to remove the authority of the person who is placed above him. In most cases, these methods are negative because they do not contradict the dominant person. In studying Murasaki Shikibu The story of Genji and Marguerite de Navarre The Heptameron as a sociological document, one can uncover evidence of the limits placed on women by laws and social expectations and the ways they have done to overcome those limits.

The first part of this article will cover the lives of court women in 9th century Heian Japan, and the second part will cover the lives of court women in 15th century France. and tradition, religion, and six hundred years of time, there are many similarities between these Eastern and Western women in their efforts to challenge the authority of men, as well as many differences. In 10th century Japan, women’s resistance was shown to be passive, while in sixteenth century France women showed courage against male rulers.

The Role of Women in Court Life in Japan

Women in ancient Japan had little protection from male rule. The traditions of the time required women to submit to men, even rape. Men had no fear of punishment for rape, as Genji testifies:

Quickly and lightly he carried her up to the gallery and opened the door. His surprise pleased him greatly. Trembling, he asked for help. “It won’t do you any good, I’m always allowed my way. Just be quiet, if you will, please.” (Shikibu 137-38)

Although the ‘blind moon woman’ is “disappointed” by Genji’s attack, she is deeply affected by not having Genji think that she “wants to be moral” (Shikibu 138). The meaning is that women have to give their bodies to men who want them as a sign of hospitality.

The qualities that women are expected to have can be seen through the qualities that Genji is praised for in the novel. The ‘evening-faced lady’ is the first woman mentioned in the book that Genji is very attracted to. Genji describes him as follows:

He had an amazingly calm and gentle demeanor. Although there was some vagueness about him, and a child-like demeanor, it was clear that he knew something about men. He did not seem to be from a very good family. What was it about him, he asked himself again and again, that drew him to her? (Love 41)

What Genji finds most interesting about the evening lady’s face is her composure and her desire to please, her tendency to submit to “high demands” (Shikibu 42). This is what the women of the Japanese court were praised for.

An extreme example of women being treated as objects can be found through Genji’s actions in relation to the Murasaki child. When Genji first saw Murasaki, he was about ten years old. He is struck by her resemblance to Fujitsubo, his father’s wife whom Genji has long sought. Genji immediately decides that Murasaki must “stand in the place of the one who resembles him the most” (Shikibu 72). Although the child is already married to another man, Genji is determined to take him “into his house and make him suitable” (Shikibu 74).

When Genji learns that Murasaki’s father, Prince Hyōbu, has taken Murasaki into his home, Genji takes immediate action. Regardless of how others may view her actions, she steals the child away from her parents and hides it at her father’s home in Nijō. Murasaki is understandably very nervous about all of this. Genji told him:

You don’t have to worry, now, and upset me. Would I have done all this for you if I wasn’t a good husband? Young girls do as they are told. (Love 103)

Genji’s ‘lesson’ to Murasaki is that her fear and unhappiness are not the same as being unnatural, that women should do what men tell them and try to please men, and that stealing from her is not a bad thing, but it shows how much Genji thinks of her and that he is willing to treat her. Genji tells Murasaki that she should think of him as her teacher; thus Genji begins to instruct Murasaki in what his ‘good’ wife should do.

Through Genji’s character, one can realize the qualities that were not suitable for women to have. Genji hates the “coldness” of women (Shikibu 36), women who are “very compelling [their] demands” (Shikibu 48), and those who show “jealous ways” (Shikibu 48) Boldness in sexual matters was also considered an inappropriate behavior for women. a 60-year-old lady” with “dark and muddy” eyelids and “difficult and musical” hair (Shikibu 124). 124), and “endless love” (Shikibu 126). Genji doesn’t like Naishi’s cruelty and impatience (Shikibu 127), but being Genji he still finds Naishi suitable for ‘walking around at night.’

Women’s Resistance to Japanese Moral Codes

Although female subordination was the norm, women in ancient Japan were able to find ways to avoid being dominated by men. These methods can be characterized as passive resistance, for example, ridicule, feigning illness and misunderstanding, reclusive behavior, isolation from men. In The story of Genjimost of the women’s resistance is due to sexual attraction or too much Genji.

Through Genji’s wife, Aoi, one can understand Genji’s promiscuous behavior. Busy with his many activities, Genji doesn’t spend much time visiting his wife at Sanjo’s father’s mansion, a fact he never lets her forget when he comes to visit her. Aoi shows a stand-up attitude towards Genji to express her displeasure and neglect, as seen in the following dialogue:

Genji: It would be nice, sometimes I think, if you could be more of a woman. I have been very ill, and injured, but I am not at all surprised, that you have not asked me about my health.

Aoi: Like pain, perhaps, waiting for a stranger who never comes?

Genji : You don’t talk to me very often, and when you say such unpleasant things to me. ‘The stranger who never comes’ – that’s not the right way to describe a man, and it’s certainly not common. I will try this method and try this, I hope to pass, but you seem to want to defend all methods. Well, one of these years, maybe, if I live long enough. (Shikibu 83, 84)

Genji starts talking to his wife because of her unpleasant behavior towards him, not happy that she has come to see him. She also mocks him for his neglect by comparing him to a “stranger” and not a man. Aoi criticizes Genji in the only way she can find him, that of verbal abuse and not showing affection to Genji.

The woman on Akashi’s beach uses another method to reject her father and Genji; she feigns illness and tries to isolate herself from Genji. When Genji begins dating her, encouraged by her father, the woman initially refuses to respond to Genji’s letter and says she “doesn’t feel well” (Shikibu 296). When pressed by his father to answer, he pretends that he does not understand Genji’s poem: “How can you feel sorry for someone you have not met?” (Love 297). She reads his letter directly and responds in that sense, not wanting to admit that the letter is an attempt at flirting and seduction. When his father arranged for Genji to visit him, he unknowingly ran “into the inner room” and blocked the door (Shikibu 303). Although Genji doesn’t force his way through the door, in a way that the book doesn’t mention, he gets a chance to enter the inner room where the woman is hiding. There Genji forces himself on her (Shikibu 303). For Genji, this encounter with Akashi’s mother is a “contest of wills” in which he would “look foolish” if he lost the lady (Shikibu 303). Therefore, conquering women is a matter of honor among the men of the court.

Some women act in extreme ways to resist men’s desires, such as when Fujitsubo enters a convent to escape Genji. For Genji, Fujitsubo is an example of “great beauty” (Shikibu 26). But, alas, he belongs to his father, the King. Genji ignores that; with the help of one of his mothers, he manages to gain access to Fujitsubo’s room. Fujitsubo “is determined that there will be no further meeting” between Genji and himself and is “surprised” and “depressed.”[ed]” that Genji has come back to him ( Shikibu 86 ). He tries to make Genji leave, but these efforts “[ ]” also in humiliation (Shikibu 86). However Genji still has his way, Fujitsubo becomes pregnant, and leaves the boy as the King’s son and Genji’s brother.

After Genji’s father dies, Genji tries to rekindle a relationship with Fujitsubo. He did everything he could to avoid Genji and “sent religious missions to save himself from Genji” (Shikibu 202). Sadly, his failure only makes Genji happy. Fujitsubo is unable to force Genji to leave, and begins to experience “chest pains” and “fainting” (Shikibu 203). He begins to feel better later, when he believes that Genji is gone but as soon as he reappears in front of him, he sinks to the ground with “great fear” (Shikibu 204).

Genji tries to get mercy from Fujitsubo by saying that he will die for his love (Shikibu 205). Genji feels that Fujitsubo’s behavior is “brutal” (Shikibu 207), and thinks that he should “feel sorry for him” (Shikibu 206). So he retires to his home in Nijō where he refuses to write to him with sulks. But Fujitsubo was not so filled with grief that he submitted to Genji; instead she decides to give up her title as Empress and “become a nun” (Shikibu 206). He realizes that this is the only way to save Genji’s sexual desires.

While court women in Heian Japan did not enjoy much freedom from male rule, they used every means available to them to resist complete submission. Women in sixteenth-century France fared much better than women in the East. Between six hundred years after the writing of The story of Genji to the writing of The Heptameron, women had made some progress in emancipating themselves. Women in France had to submit to their fathers and husbands just like Japanese women, but in The Heptameron Women are shown to be aggressive in protesting male violence.

Notes

Navarre, Marguerite de. The Heptameron. Trans. At Chilton. London: Penguin Books, 1984.

Shikibu, Murasaki. The story of Genji. Trans. Edward G. Seidensticker. New York: Random House, 1990.

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