Driving in Inner and Outer Spaces

Gender ideology maintains itself despite the diverse individual experiences and subjectivities of women drivers. Claudia strauss (1997) has explored how people either integrate or compartmentalize conflicting discourses. Conflicting discourses sometimes engender widespread debate that can lead to compromise and resolution, on the one hand, or to discord and rupture on the other. But at other times these conflicting discourses may continue undisturbed, compartmentalized into separate mental spheres. Such compartmentalization occurs not only when people are exposed to multiple conflicting discourses, but also when a single discourse comes into tension with lived experience.

One example of this compartmentalization is the cognitive structuring of space in Japan into uchi (inner) and soto (outer) realms that may allow women to modulate between different modes of behavior and even thought, depending on context. Such a structuring may permit women to find an equilibrium between official and unofficial attitudes without experiencing them as contradictory. Jane Bachnik (1992), Dorinne Kondo (1987), and authors of a whole line of studies going back to Doi takeo (1973) and nakane Chie (1970) have shown how distinct modes of being are conceptually mapped onto inner and outer realms. While it is permissible and expected for one to express one's true feelings (honne) within the inner realm, it is more appropriate to cover these over with social propriety (tatemae) in the outer realm.

Such compartmentalization is what ashikari Mikiko (2003) found in her study of Japanese women's use of foundation to whiten their faces. She writes that middle-class urban women's almost universal use of foundation when they move through outer spaces ends up sustaining official ideologies that require women's greater formality in self-presentation, even though they are much more relaxed within the more intimate inner spaces of the home.

As amy Borovoy (2001, 2005) has argued, however, women's experience of inner space is not necessarily one of intimacy and freedom to be “oneself.” Rather, the housewife has been expected to attend to her husband's every need, even to the point where she has enabled his alcoholism and found it difficult to draw a line between a destructive codependency and a culturally valued dependency. Ashikari's understanding of inner space is too sanguine. And her understanding of outer space may also be overly simplistic, for such spaces can be read very differently, and these differences can lead to conflict when men and women drivers encounter each other on the road.

Women's use of K-cars for shopping and for transporting children around town associates these cars with domesticity, and one might think of the neighborhood within which the K navigates as an extension of the inner space. Certainly it is a very different kind of space from the mountain roads and highways that are the province of the late night activity of street racers. And yet men navigate these same neighborhood roads on their way between neighborhoods. For them, Ks may appear like women in outer spaces without their whiteface. Ks are like women walking around outside with their aprons on.

Perhaps such an interpretation also informed those men who commented to me that Ks drive in a sluggish manner, disrupting the flow of traffic, and should be taken off the road. There is much opportunity for men and women to contest the status of neighborhood spaces—women defining them as extensions of inner space and men defining them as outer space. It is in this contest that men may berate women just for being on the public roads, as if these roads were their own private spaces. For their part, women may berate men for their aggressive attitudes that violate the expectation of decorum in outer spaces and the consideration expected in inner spaces.

Many women noted a stark difference in treatment when they drove Ks compared to when they drove full-sized cars. One woman in her mid-thirties mentioned that when she drove a K, she was tailgated much more frequently (yoku aorareru) than when she drove a larger car. One complained that men assumed that larger cars had priority over Ks. She described one instance when she turned off a main road onto a smaller alley, one of many in Japan open to traffic in both directions but wide enough for just one car to pass. There, she had a standoff with an oncoming taxi, arguing about who should back up. The male taxi driver invoked the common stereotype that women did not know how to back up. In this case, however, the woman would have had to back up into a busy street. More than anything else, the taxi driver's attitude galled this woman, who took down his license plate number and phoned in a complaint.

Male aggression toward women drivers takes its most extreme form when criminal gangs target them. One woman described an experience with an atariya (accident faker) where one car tailgated her and another car in front stopped short on purpose. She was able to stop without hitting the car in front. Nevertheless, a “scary looking” guy got out of one car and accused her Of hitting him and demanded compensation. When she threatened to call the police, the other cars drove off, but she said that other women could easily be intimidated into handing over money.

Some women are clearly able to resist male aggression directed toward themselves and their Ks on neighborhood roads. Such resistance rejects the masculinist disparagement of feminine driving styles and critiques the especially aggressive masculine styles that violate norms of safety and consideration. Such resistance suggests that the cognitive compartmentalization of different styles of driving appropriate for the inner and outer realms is contested as men and women have different understandings of neighborhood spaces. This contestation, however, does not deny that there may be a legitimate difference between masculine and feminine styles of driving, where men may drive in a fast, flowing, masterful way without aggression and where women may drive considerately without getting in the way of others. Moreover, some women, rather than rejecting gendered differences, embrace and enhance the feminine dimensions of the K, selecting pastels and pinks; adorning it with frilly curtains, cushions, and stuffed animals; and creating interior spaces of feminine sociality and solidarity that indifferently rebuff masculinist critiques of Ks as obstructing traffic.

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