Charles Chao Essay Questions: i. “The body is a historical situation, as Beauvoir has claimed, and is a manner of doing, dramatizing, and reproducing a historical situation…. The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again….
Gender reality is performative, which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed. ” Judith Butler Discuss this statement in relation to Dreams Girls and aspects of Takarazuka Revue. “I, Kaeki Mori, am leaving. Farewell colleagues. Goodbye to being a man. Goodbye Takarazuka! ” These were the ending words of the film documentary Dream Girls. As the credits roll, skeptical audiences might wonder: how true is that announcement? Or is it just a part of the performance?
In line to what Judith Butler said that gender realities are “real only to the extent that it is performed”, Kaeki Mori renounces her stage identity and stage gender. Yet, does that mean that the Takarasienne can really say “goodbye to being a man” the moment she stops performing the role of one? In fact, was she ever a man in the first place? This essay seeks to examine Butler’s statement and discuss the fleeting concept of gender reality both in itself and in relation to the surreal dream world of Takarazuka Revue.
To propose that the Revue, while existing as a good example of a world with artificially created but functioning gender roles cannot be taken to be a reflection of the real world nor a reliable substantiation to Butler’s statement that gender realities are real “only to the extent that it is performed” for the Takarasienne are both subverting and reinforcing gender realities while being constantly aware of their own performative nature. For the purpose of this paper I shall refer to “sex” as the biological and primal physiological identity and “gender” to refer to the culturally mposed construct men and women are classified to. The Takarazuka Revue As opposed to traditional Kabuki theatre where females were not allowed to perform, the Takarazuka Revue is a modern, all-female Japanese theatre troupe staging western style musicals. It was the subject of the documentary film Dream Girls which features the life of students and performers of the troupe, known as Takarasienne. Out of the thousands that apply, the few that are chosen will have to live through 2 years of monastic-like training in the school.
After the students are split into Otokoyaku (girls who play male roles) and the Musumeyaku (girls who play girl roles) they would then undergo training to fit into these roles. Yet unlike what gender realities are like in the actual world, the roles created for the Takarazuka Revue are jarringly different. History of Japanese Hierarchy Before we go into the gender realities of women in modern Japan or discuss Beauvoir’s “historical situation” and the performance required of women, let us first examine the deeply conservative, hierarchical and phallocentric society of Japan.
Members of one hierarchical rung behave dramatically different from the next regardless of sex. As we can see from Dream Girls, the junior students have to at all times be respectful to the senior students and appear meek while dutifully tending to their cleaning duties, even apologizing for an act as harmless as running in front of a senior. The seniors on the other hand appear to be dignified, barely acknowledging the juniors with a slight nod, as if the juniors are not worthy of a greet.
This performance stems from Japan’s deeply rooted Confucian social order coupled with their historical military culture of the warriors code “Bushido” and “Bafuku” military rule (Edo-period samurai had the right to cut down any lower ranking samurai or commoners who disrespect them, by right of Kiri-Sute Gomen). In Dream Girls we can still see remnants of a militarized society when the students were learning the “proper way” of bowing from soldiers. A deeply conservative society with a military past implies that the women, who were not part of the revered warrior caste, were ultimately marginalized.
From the militaristic Edo period, women were not allowed to own property and their rights were worsened after the Meiji restoration where they had simply no legal rights at all and are placed at the disposal of their husbands/fathers. From then, the primary role of a woman in Japan has been reduced to finding a husband, being a good wife and mother (Ryosai Kenbo ???? ). In the Takarazuka Revue, girls are still expected to adhere to that expectation upon graduation, which shows that there are some expectations for gender realities to be performed.
While we have identified the historical causes of the corresponding gender reality in Japan, it is but a “script” that was once written but have now been performed and actualized. We can take that to mean that the gender reality present today are based on socio-historical factors which practically would be eroded or completely changed albeit slowly in today’s world. Kabuki for example, had feminine origins with all female cast, before they were banned from performing by the Tokugawa Shogunate (military ruler).
While Judith Butler mentions the “script survives particular actors”, we see that this “script” is constantly changing while new generations of actors “women” remain to perform them. We can see how the changing scripts affect the women that have to play them in the Takarazuka Revue. A performance of romance Butler explains that gender reality is reinforced with each performance, in the way we speak, eat, talk and live our daily lives according to societally enforced rules of how men and women should behave.
The Otokoyakus in portraying men appear to reject the restrictions of these rules and empower the women acting in the male roles. This obviously has a very strong appeal to the legions of fans who flock to the Takarazuka theatres to catch a glimpse of their “male” idols. In one Interview, a fan referred to the Otokoyaku as an “ideal man that woman really want” without “any of the coarseness or bad sides of real men”. This turns the table on the notion that the gender roles and rules of performance within these roles are set by the dominating male gender.
In this scenario, the female audiences are the ones who create the reality of an ideal “man” by watching the performance of a female living up to their fantasy. In truth, the audiences know and revel in the fact that they are not watching real men. Thus in this respect, the gender realities are not reinforced through this aspect of the Takarazuka Revue performance. Rather, the audience are indulging themselves in a world where the male sex does not exist. To quote a famous feminist phrase, the personal is political: the sexual discrimination women face is a political reality that seeks to subvert their power.
Yet as more women enter the workforce and form a huge portion of consumers, the market too has to cater to their needs. The Takarazuka Revue, being a company and a business have to submit themselves to the whims of the market, which comprised mainly female fans. The fans would comment on their preference on the type of idol they revere, thus taking part in the creation of a gender reality. In serving the market the Revue has become a performance not to reinforce gender roles and perform gender reality but to serve the fantasy of women in the creation of an unreal “male” they cannot find in real life.
The body “is a historical situation” but it is also a commercial situation. The acting methods that a Takarasienne use (Kata, or form) to mimic gender are invented and adapted over the history of the company. These forms exaggerate the actions of traditionally perceived male behaviors to compensate for the Otokoyaku’s feminine physiology and the actions of the Musumeyaku to differentiate them from the “male” characters, almost to the point of parody.
While repeatedly performing gender specific actions appear to reinforce the gender realities (as Butler puts it “doing, dramatizing, and reproducing” the gendered actions do train the Takarasienne and mold them into their roles), the exaggerated actions establish the characters as neither realistically male nor female, but rather entirely new constructs of the stage. Also by removing the male sex from the stage, the dichotomy of the sexes disappears and gender realities are subverted.
This completely removes the notion of gender roles and gender reality on the Takarazuka stage. Instead, audiences are knowingly watching the interaction between two romantic ideals, belonging to the same sex, enacting fantastically unreal gender roles and creating equally unreal gender realities. Thus on stage, the Takarasienne does not perform gender realities but rather romantic realities. What is being reinforced and performed is the concept of romance, perhaps yet another social construct as well. I think therefore I am…. man? To quote Descartes out of context (and out of its original meaning), to what extent do the Otokoyakus think that they actually are the (gender) roles that they play? If the performance of a set of gender specific actions in daily life constitutes the reality of a role, then would the biologically female actors become males in reality after repeated performance and rehearsals? These questions would draw upon deeper inquisitions of what it actually means to be male or female. One can almost imagine a fiery chaotic debate.
Derrida would say “meaning is temporary… created through constant iteration, determined by the complex interaction between people and circumstances. ” Which tells us that repeated “iteration” or rehearsals of behaving and performing like a man would temporarily create a male out of a female actor. Yet, while Benjamin Walter’s argument on the authenticity, presence and aura in Illuminations refers to art, we might also be able to use it to describe the Otokoyaku’s act as a copy of male performance, which is inauthentic and lacking in “aura”.
However, Butler would then argue that “one becomes a woman”, that gender is constructed and thus similarly one becomes a man too and a different gender can be constructed. It can be said that one becomes a woman rather than being born as one, but who actually becomes or choose to become a woman? Is there actually a choice in gender before it is thrust upon us based on our anatomy, before we become socialized into the gender?
The greater question at hand is not what sex one is born into but rather what kind of socialization one receives in one’s formative years. Feral children, for example who live without having socialized with other humans do not behave like any human gender but instead pick up the traits and behaviors of the animals they come into contact with regardless of whether they are biologically human males or females. Once found by society, efforts to resocialize them appear futile. In the context of Japan socialization differs as well.
As the Japanese girl learns from childhood to be subservient and adhere to traditional Japanese female “virtues” brewing tea and making flower arrangements; an American girl might learn the culture of Disney channel, where they await prince charming to come to their rescue. Perhaps the formative years of one’s childhood make up the social realities, and efforts to rewire ones social programming against ones environment are usually Sisyphean. The issue is more complex than gender realities but rather all realities can be said to be performative as long as they are agreed upon by the majority to be legit.
Yet the agreement is usually volatile and at odds with itself, and soon a new reality would form. Social programming differs across communities and even the micro unit of a family. As Japan modernizes, the gender reality of Ryosai Kenbo competes with changing pop culture (Kawaii for example). As one matures, one is faced with different and rather vague realities to choose from. The choice is the individual’s. One chooses the reality they want to perform. The Takarasienne: A multi-level gendered performance.
In Takarazuka Revue, where Japanese girls play western stories in the characters of exaggerated fantastical genders, the gender realties they construct on stage are even more multi-tiered and complex. There are at least four levels of performance at work here: Japanese girl, student, public persona and stage character. The Takarasienne are biologically females who are born and socialized as young girls, who are then enrolled in the school where they perform the character of a Takarazuka Revue student, wherein upon graduation they perform their stage role, usually a non-Japanese role, on top of the character that they created for the public.
At each level is a different reality that they have to perform. The Takarasienne are expected to maintain a public persona (as public figures have to) to fans whereby the Otokoyaku usually behaves (perform) in a more casual, male pattern while the Musumeyaku in a docile, traditional manner. Yet during formal occasions, they revert back to their polite feminine Japanese conditioning despite the gender they practice, as evident in the scene where we see the students selling flowers. At school, the juniors behave with displays (performances) of deep respect and subservience to their seniors and authorities regardless of gender.
While on stage, they take on the role of an unreal character, dancing and singing while expressing their love. We can infer from this that the Takarasienne performs many roles depending on the situation, and they are aware of their own performance which they intentionally put up depending on the circumstances. This constant performance awareness (reactivity) prevents them from actualizing the gender roles of traditional Japanese society as they might have without the heightened element of the public attention, for now every action becomes an intentional (and therefore outside the norm) performance.
To reiterate a previous point, the audience and fans are aware of the intentional performance as well, and they know that the Takarazuka Revue is but a dream world where characters stay within it’s the boundaries of its sphere. The fact that the Otokoyakus are played by women further establish their characters as a fantasy. To say that watching these fantastical portrayals of gender reinforce gender realities would also mean that anyone who ever watched a violent fantasy film would be socialized to become mass murderers.
Kaeki Mori, who performed a farewell at the end of the documentary, never really existed as a person. Kano Kumiko, as she was known at birth, could have not have said “goodbye to being a man” and mean it for herself despite the huge liminoid ritual-like sayonara show. Theoretically, her training in the gendered performance as a man remain in her skillset and by renouncing the Takarazuka stage it does not mean she would unlearn all her training in an instant. She was born a female and will forever be even if she had been performing, as some of the fans might say, “something more” than a man on stage.
However, we can say that Kano Kumiko is saying goodbye to being a man on behalf of Kaeki Mori, and also goodbye to Kaeki Mori as a whole. In this case, it is true to say that the reality of Kaeki Mori as a fantastical Takarazuka “male” ceases to be when she stops being performed. Yet, Kaeki Mori is but merely one artificially created gender reality. The gender reality that Kano Kumiko would still have to perform as a Japanese female still persist. The training of a woman. The school of the Takarazuka Revue is controlled by a hierarchical structure where men, who are persistent on abiding by old values, sit at the top of the board.
One can easily see how the school attempts to reinforce gender realities. Its very motto “be pure, be proper, be beautiful” are traditional values of women in an East Asian, Confucian society and Ryosai Kenbo. Having a policy that one must leave the company when one is married; Takarazuka Revue prides itself that its training would produce women who are good wives and mothers. In an interview from Dream Girls, an Ex-Takarasienne said that her training taught her “when your husband or mother in law is horrid, you’ll know how to nod quietly and hide your feelings”.
The education one receives in the Takarazuka Revue requires one to perform, rehearse and therefore reinforce the gender realities in traditional Japanese culture. The students of Takarazuka are also put through rituals that reinforce their gender identity. In an interview with a representative of the school’s authority, and the subsequent scene that follows, we can see how the students rehearse the domestic role of cleaning like “in the old days” without “cleaning machines”.
Instead, the students use “brushes, dustpans, beaters” to clean the interior of the school every day. The students are also required to bow and perform acts of subservience when performing their cleaning duties. Based on the strong symbolic meanings and almost lack of practicality in these actions, we can see these performances as rituals of efficacy that seek to constantly rehearse and reinforce the roles of students as women of Japan. One can argue how effective these rituals are on conditioning students if they are aware of themselves performing subservience.
While there is no sure fire way to detailing exactly how effective these rituals are, we can assert that they exist to reinforce traditional gender realities. The Troupe of Takarazuka Revue creates artificial ground for the practice of gender actualization. During a conversation between a Musumeyaku and an Otokoyaku, it was revealed that the Musumeyaku must “back up the men” (especially on stage, where the female characters are essentially for the purpose of glorifying the male characters) and that in traditional Japanese society “women respect and serve men” which is the same in the Troupe.
Even though there are no actual men present within the troupe, the women in men’s roles become the substitute and almost like a “practice” male for the female players. In what Adrienne Rich calls “lesbian continuum”, affectionate relationships are “to be expected” between the Takarasienne. While the troupe thus reinforces gender realities, it also subverts traditional gender realities in encouraging traditionally “impure” lesbianism. The actors survive the script To conclude, as all social realities are, gender realities are real when they are performed.
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