The perception of gender and what gender entails in multiple aspects is a debate brought up in Judith Butler’s article titled, Gender Trouble. As I will be focusing my research through a feminist lens, Butler’s interpretations and ideas lend a helpful hand to my analysis of East Asian feminine literature. Although Butler presents her argument as gender being a form of construction, her research points out some interesting points on what society deems to be feminine actions and masculine actions. Consequently, it is the outward appearance and the way one puts oneself into society and how one wish to be perceived that ultimately defines gender and each individual.
I will continue to use Yoko Ogawa’s collection of Novellas, The Diving Pool, as my link to my research as I have mentioned it in previous blog posts, and it is the literature that originally inspired by thesis. Femininity, if we are talking about it in the sense of the heterosexual norm, is presented with the idea of having the ability to perform sexual actions with a male partner and presumably be attracted to males. According to Butler, this heterosexual norm is the socially accepted portrayal of the female body and the male body, in terms of outward appearances and presentation to the public. In Butler’s words, one of the “dimensions” of gender identity is “anatomical sex,” which can refer to either the act of sex, or the physical parameters that make up the male and female sexes. Either way, the defining terms of being female and/or male is determined almost completely by the physical and aesthetic.
The first novella in Ogawa’s novel is titled the same as the book as a whole, The Diving Pool, which takes the perspective of a young Japanese High School girl who has an obsessive crush on a boy who is part of the diving team. The protagonist, who is unnamed, fits into the heterosexual female normative as the duration of the novella is engulfed by her intense obsession over this boy. She sits alone in the bleachers during his practice and watches his body and continues to describe it to the reader in detail. The fact that the protagonist is adhering to the norm and as well as putting too much emphasis on physical/outer identity and appearance embeds her in a firm feminist reading and also fits her into the category of anatomical sex in both terms explained above. She is both interested in sexual acts with this boy and sees him as beautiful because of his masculine body.
What is interesting about Ogawa’s first novella is the use of words and imagery that evoke the womb and the woman’s body, further exemplifying the idea of the female body as a sexual object and one that is defined by appearance. When a woman is pregnant, that is also indicative of a sexual act with the opposite sex, and also a clear aesthetic indicator that this individual is, in fact, a female. The beginning of the novella begins with the protagonist explaining the feeling of the pool room as she waits for the boy, “it’s always warm here: I feel as though I’ve been swallowed by a huge animal. After a few minutes, my hair, my eyelashes, even the blouse of my school uniform are damp from the heat and humidity, and I am bathed in a moist film that smells vaguely of chlorine.” (p.3). As the protagonist describes her body parts, we picture each with the idea of femininity in mind, and this will shape her for the rest of the story. Her description of the heat and moisture that stick to her skin remind the reader and seem reminiscent of a womb, and perhaps even the process of giving birth with sweet and bodily fluids making a body feel moist.
Although Ogawa conforms to the identity that Butler is trying to break down, it is an important perspective to look at the diving pool because of the way it is deeply ingrained in telling stories from a protagonist that is also deeply feminine. Ogawa also tends to draw on the aesthetic and how thing, people and situations look and feel, and all come from protagonists that are very alike when looked at through this feminist lens.