Anri Suzuki wants to use her body to cure historical wrongs. She is not a card-holding pacifist but a history teacher and porn artiste who has offered to have sex with Chinese students at her college in Tokyo to make amends for the shameful Japanese invasion of China in 1937.
Is it time to get cynical and brand her an attention-seeker, part of the fake empathy industry that has sprouted everywhere? We might also see it as a way of furthering her career, both her careers. However, the body as war booty has been an accepted norm. Instances of women raped or otherwise humiliated dot the backdrop of battlegrounds. Objectifying women has always been part of any war-like scenario, and victories and defeats are measured partly by such abuse of the female as property of man. The colonisation of lands has to do with the subjugation of the nurturing earth as mother or mother figure. It works as marking of territory.
Suzuki appears to be employing the invasion metaphor, but as a woman. She, at 24, and the students are far removed from the Sino-Japanese War. She said: “We have to respect the lessons of history and although we cannot obliterate it we can try and make recompense. I want to cure the wounds of China with my body, and I offer to do this by having sex with Chinese students in Japan.”
It is a manner of using the conquest paradigm to turn the tables. Had she gone about her job without mentioning “symbolic compensation”, it would merely be about sexuality, perhaps with an additional title of “Madonna of St. Clitoris” that was used for Anais Nin in quite a different context. This is beyond the sexual; it is aggression.
Prisoners in detention camps, abuse of civilians by security forces or civilians by militants, exploitation within the armed forces are symbolic too, for they express supremacy. After the 1984 anti-Sikh riots following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her security guards, war widows were sometimes forced by their families to marry their brothers-in-law or cousins even if they were several years younger. The reason was to make certain that the compensation money remained within the family.
The comfort women of World War II were nothing but sex slaves and most were recruited from Korea, although there were several Chinese. It is probably the worst instance of such criminal brutalisation of women, for once they had passed their prime they were discarded. The slavery was partly dominance and partly a defence mechanism. There was a fear of spies being planted, a known strategy.
During the American Civil War prostitutes were used to spread diseases among opposing troops. One might question such assertions beyond the obvious connotation of male self-defence. The prostitutes had no control over their finances, their emotions, their sense of belonging and also their diseased bodies.
The female form is a landscape and even the Draupadi in the epic Mahabharata was lost in a game of dice.
Women in dominating positions have not been spared and their masculinisation is an induced process to increase the male army and the male ideology. Suzuki is operating alone – for now. There is a semblance of covert similarity with the Indian dacoit Phoolan Devi, made famous in the film ‘Bandit Queen’. Her post-banditry legitimisation was announced with a good deal of fanfare by the establishment that had triumphed over her with her surrender.
There was a process of osmosis here. We were being sucked into her transformation as a theatrical taming of the shrew unfolded before us. She played the role to the hilt, losing her freedom to the next scoop that would tell her exactly what she was and where she belonged. Was she exorcising the demons from her system or merely pampering her vanity? The cocktail authenticity of her life helped create a vacuum to accommodate enough hype.
It was almost pornographic when in the manner of her sexual abuse in the ravines she expected a media lust to follow her every move. She was trapped between caricature and schizophrenia.
For one so tormented by men, she had been completely appropriated by them, usurped by their fantasies. Whether it was to become uninhibited or a caged animal for knights-turned-tormentors, her independence was being effectively whittled down.
Suzuki’s stance may appear proactive, with her as initiator. If we read it in the context of underlying sexual invasion in the garb of healing, then it works only at the level, and to the extent, of an orgasm.
On the flip side, her ‘humanisation’ has an almost cartoon-strip like quality. She is a finished product available to men. There are titters about her concern, and it is not unusual to expect them. The scars she wishes to heal have been forgotten. By sexualising history, she is in fact reasserting that both warfare and wounds are part of the sado-masochistic credo.
FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org