May 26th, 2005


Girlish boy

"This time next week," writes my male friend Craig Robinson on his blog, "my mate Keith and I will be sitting in Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul watching Liverpool (fingers crossed, please please please let it happen) beat AC Milan. Ever since we got the tickets and booked the flights, most other things have slipped out of focus." My male friend Marxy, meanwhile, is wondering whether "possibly, an aggregate interest in learning has fallen since the time of Vogel's book, but more likely, the kind of knowledge acquisition dominant in Japan has little direct link to the new knowledge industries." Not much in common there, you might think. But something links them: they're both male, and they might as well be speaking a foreign language as far as I'm concerned. But over on Kissui Net a much more approachable conversation is going on. "I hate soba," says Yuki (a girl I've never met). "I dislike ramen, I avoid eating pasta, I'd like Thai noodle for lunch, I want more udon."

It has to be said that, although girlish boys like me may love it, Yuki's sort of blogging gets short shrift from more serious men. Over on girlish Jean Snow's blog a factual entry about how Japan now has almost as many blogs as the US brought the inevitable skeptical comment from someone who just couldn't resist trying to be appear more serious, more pessimistic, better informed: "Since Japan is a very conformist society (with a conformist media), the blog revolution may bring something new. But there isn’t much hope either, if most blogs in Japan, are about food and “kawaii” topics." Ah, if Japan continues to be girly, it's doomed. I see. Marxy, picking up the theme, agrees that these girly topics ensure that while Japanese blogging might be picking up in quantity, it'll never have the quality of its American equivalent. It'll never, in other words, have the locker-room testosterone tang of American talk radio, the most intelligent type of conversation known to man. Some Japanese men agree: Marxy quotes Professor Hattori from Rikkyo University explaining the "superficial" nature of Japanese blogging: "Even looking at my own students, they seem to use their own blogs not for debate or for expressing their opinions, but rather to relate their activities or impressions about things (good food, stylish restaurants, etc.)..."

Well, I'm going to be manly and challenge that man. Since when did activities rank lower than opinions? Is debate about the ranking of udon over ramen not "proper debate"? Why is it okay to rubbish girly topics in blogs, but not deride football talk like Craig's, or boring stuffy waffle about "aggregates"? Why does talk of food disqualify a blog from being a healthy cultural indicator, but talk of aggregrates make it a sign that things are really on the up and up? Why are the manly bloggers so quick to deride a figure like Jean Snow? Because he's not masculine enough, and never spars or quarrels, and seems to enjoy the world and all its textures and colours and shapes and tastes? Jean just isn't masculine, and masculinity is the essence of all that's great and interesting, right? You know, let's go for a malt whisky, but if you're a man you're going to drink as many as me, and be able to pay for them, and hold your drink and not pass out, right, and that's real because you're a real man, right? Hey, let's hang out and let's compete, for Pete's sake!

All my life I've been bored and frustrated by men. Don't get me wrong, men are brilliant, they achieve remarkable things, they master difficult skills, driven often, it's true, by ego and testosterone and sheer otaku obsession. Men want to win, to triumph, to vanquish, to hear their names resound. But these very traits also make them rather difficult people to spend time with. Men talk all through dinner, telling you their achievements or dazzling you with their deep knowledge of a subject. But at the end of it all you feel that no exchange has taken place, no conversation has been had. Superiority has been communicated, something has been vanquished, but it hasn't been pleasant. Like someone forced to a Macdonald's after an unsatisfying nouvelle cuisine meal, you're often tempted to make secret rendezvous with the other dinner guests to do some real talking at some future date.

Right now I'm sitting with Kaori and Hisae. They were fairly silent at dinner the other night while we men traded casting couch anecdotes in a slightly competitive way, but they arranged to meet the next day to gossip in Japanese in a cafe. How I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in that cafe! Female gossip is real to me. It's not superficial, it's deep. It's content, and it's serious. Gossip is what I do with my mother, undoubtedly the member of my family I'm closest to. Gossip is about being interested in people, having insight into them. Women have insight into the complexities of human behaviour, and that makes them delightful to spend time with. Women talk in a give-and-take way rather than hogging the conversational high road. Women ask questions, don't interrupt when you attempt to answer them, and will actually remember what you said at some future point, as if it mattered. Women don't demand to resolve contradictions just to make their mental model more consistent and resilient to attack. Life can contain contradictions, and so can women's views of it.

All my collaborations have been with women, from Kahimi Karie to Anne Laplantine. Even before I head off to New York to perform a one-month conversation in an art gallery with Mai Ueda, I'm doing a project here in Berlin with another Japanese woman artist, Yukiko Sawabe, based on the Grimm fairy tale Allerleirauh.

Men's need to be impressive and right too often makes them disappointing and wrong. For instance, Marxy's desire to be right about Japan's "terminal decline" seems to have become something he's personally invested in, a personal disappointment he's turned into a crusade and bolsters with pseudo-objective sociological language. It's figure-in-the-carpet stuff, and I'm convinced that part of his purpose is simply to vanquish girlish dreamers like myself, and perhaps like the girlish boy he himself used to be. If I said that David was so right about Japan that he's become wrong about it, and that his dismissal of Japan's feminine and aesthetic side is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, well, that would probably just be my masculine desire to win speaking, wouldn't it?

If I tell you that I live, as far as possible, amongst women only, it doesn't get me off the hook. I am, after all, a man too, and bragging to you that I like the ladies and the ladies like me is just more typical male behaviour. My difficulties with the company of men may simply be a desire to dominate unchallenged. I may be too much of a man to spend time with men, too competitive to want to compete. My feeling that women are right about life may be all tied up with the fact that I see women as beings who feed and fuck me, whereas I see men as competitors who may kill me. It would, of course, be dastardly sexism to say that a world ruled by women wouldn't include war, although I really believe it wouldn't, unless the very act of ruling the world turns everyone of whatever gender into what we presently call a man.

Well, I'm monologuing about how awful it is to monologue. I hope I haven't bored the panties off you with my theme about how women are right about life. It's worth remembering that women are responsible for making men in the first place, and a lot of men's worst traits are attempts—however misguided—to impress the girls.