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K-Cars as Metaphor of Gender and Driving Styles

Differences in the domain of gender relate analogically to differences in the domain of cars. Men are to women as sports cars are to economy cars. If, as sapir (1977, 22–30) has explained, analogies are built upon metaphors, then sports cars are like men and economy cars are like women. And, as Fernandez (1977, 1986) suggests, metaphors may further motivate performance, as men race their cars and women give way. Thus we have a set of dichotomies (see table 12.1).

My analysis here is inspired in part by the kind of obsessive attention to binary oppositions that Claude Lévi-strauss developed in his mid-twentiethcentury structural anthropology (1963, 1966), which has long been criticized as a projection of his own habits of logical thought onto a far messier and fluid cultural reality.2 Despite the criticism, certain basic tenets of structuralism

Table 12.1 Gender Analogies

In these paired dichotomies, the vertical axes consist of metaphors upon which the overall analogies are built

Men : women sports cars : economy cars

Aggressive driving : considerate driving

Flow : stop and go mastery : ineptitude

Transcendence : quotidian Continue to inform many anthropologists today, even those (like myself) who generally devote much more attention to the messiness of daily life. One key tenet is that people do not perceive meaning in isolated phenomena but in the relation of phenomena to each other, ultimately creating distinct systems of meaning that constitute cultures. The key difference between classical structural analysis and later structuralism-inspired (including post-structural) analyses today is that the former imagined these meaning systems as crystalline totalities, while the latter make allowances for blurred boundaries and the possibility of change.

I use this method of analysis to suggest that Japanese understand the meaning of sports cars in relation to K-cars, of men in relation to women, and of driving with power and speed in relation to consideration and safety. Yet i acknowledge that the abstract coherence of these sets of oppositions is more complicated in lived experience and subject to change over time.

As in the United states, a gendered bias associates men with mastery and speed and women with consideration and safety. In many articles on driving manners from car magazines in the 1960s and '70s, considerate driving was exemplified by the term yuzuri-ai, or mutual giving way, and was central to a widespread discourse on driving manners (roth 2012). Aggressive driving, in which drivers tailgated and frequently passed others, was described as gatsu gatsu unten or ōbō unten. These articles linked considerate driving to safety and in doing so framed consideration as gender neutral. But such a style of driving takes on a somewhat feminine aspect when contrasted to the discourse on speed so pronounced in car related manga, anime, video games, movies, and motor sports. The discourse on speed allowed some of the men with whom i interacted to interpret considerate driving, and the stop-and-go manner in which many women drove Ks, as a kind of noro noro unten (lethargic driving), which impeded traffic and caused frustration for other drivers.

When we consider the ways in which gender schema structures the domain of automobility, however, we need to recognize that not all Japanese women drive in a stop-and-go manner. Some love to drive fast and are perfectly able to weave through traffic at high speeds with the best of the guys, as was the case with one of my neighbors in Kawagoe. In college she enjoyed taking car trips with friends and fondly recalled the accolades she received for her quick reflexes and good sense for mountain roads. Later she redirected her love of speed toward a mastery of road networks in various delivery jobs, a formerly male-dominated occupation into which women have entered in substantial numbers since the 1980s. The metaphorical work of the K-car helps to Explain the durability of the stereotype of women drivers—both the positive one of women as considerate drivers who give way and the negative one of women as lethargic and inept drivers who just get in the way—in the face of abundant counterexamples of confident and fast women drivers.

 
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