Tale of Genji: The Broom Tree
This is the chapter (Spoiler Alert) where the guys hang out telling tales of the women they’ve slept with. Genji himself doesn’t tell any tales, but he does end the chapter raping a woman (although it’s not 100% clear) and using the young woman’s brother infamously in more ways than one (that is clear).
But what I found most interesting in the chapter is the Chief Equerry’s complaint that woman who show off using Chinese characters in their letters only end up seeming masculine. You see, during the Heian period, aristocratic women wrote in the phonetic kana script, avoiding Chinese. Thus, writing in Chinese, which was the domain of men, was thought to be very masculine and formal. While reading this, I thought, gee, nothing much has changed in 1000 years.
I thought this because when I was in college, I had a friend who was an expat Japanese who’d living in the U.S. for a long time. We were both very much interested in the politics of sex, especially in language and she told me that in Japan, there was a very specific language and grammar used only by women. In protest, she and fellow feminists had begun refusing to use “women’s talk”. Because of this, Japanese thought my friend was rather too masculine. I’d often wondered if “women’s talk” had died down any but recently I saw a Japanese language program that explained the difference between masculine and feminine/polite forms. Furthermore, it encouraged men to order food in the the more aggressive, impolite way so as not to seem feminine. So desu ne.