Driving in Drag

But what of women who drive fast and aggressively? If bifurcated styles of driving support gender ideology, do not women street racers undermine it? In the manga Initial D and Wangan Midnight, there have been a few female racers. However, they have all been single young women unattached to families, and we may consider them to have been playing masculine roles in contrast to the majority of female characters whose role is to care for, wait for, worry about, or fall in love with the male drivers. On the one hand, these female racers present the possibility that women can define themselves apart from the domestic ideal. On the other hand, they can end up reinforcing the gender ideology by fulfilling a recognized gender ideal, albeit a masculine one that is not normally associated with women, rather than fashioning a more radical alternative.

The multiple interpretive possibilities in the case of female street racers are in some ways similar to those of the female actors who specialize in male roles in the all-female takarazuka theater. In her study of takarazuka, Jennifer robertson (1998) highlights this ambiguity. At one level, these female Specialists in male roles (otokoyaku) do not challenge the heterosexual gender norm in which romance is possible only between masculine and feminine gendered characters. Indeed, many in the audience find in takarazuka a fulfilling representation of their heteronormative romantic fantasies (nakamura and Matsuo 2003). And yet at another level, the audience is quite aware that the actors are women and that these actors are able to create male roles that are somehow different from and more desirable than men in the real world. To some degree, takarazuka acting has led to a lesbian fan subculture centered around the dashing and romantic female specialists in male roles (robertson 1998).

Yet the comparison between takarazuka's male role specialists and female street racers holds only to a certain point. Women who drive in drag—women who reject Ks for other kinds of cars that allow for much more masculine styles of driving—may end up reinforcing gender stereotypes in a less ambiguous way than do the takarazuka's actors. After all, cars encase and obscure the driver, rendering the sex of the driver irrelevant in a way that is not the case with takarazuka, where the knowledge of drag facilitates an interpretation that potentially directly conflicts with official gender ideology. The relative anonymity of confident and aggressive women drivers dampens, if not precludes, such an effect.

A more significant threat to official ideology would be if more and more women and men started driving Ks in an aggressive way. Such driving would represent a radically different stance on the part of an object that is gendered female and serves as a metaphor for female drivers, in a way that an unseen woman driving a masculine-gendered car in an aggressive fashion cannot express. Likewise, official ideology could be destabilized if both men and women drove larger, more powerful cars in a more polite and less aggressive manner.

Gender Schema and Driving Metaphors in Recessionary Japan

Sales of K-cars have exploded with the onset of the long-lasting recession in Japan. The K's proportion of total car ownership has increased from a low in 1980 of 17 percent to a high in 2010 of 35 percent, with the rapid increase in market share occurring since 1990 (Ozeki 2007, 156). Not only do Ks cost substantially less than do other cars, but also they continue to enjoy a lower tax status, they are often exempt from the rule that requires purchasers of cars to show proof of having a parking space (shako shōmei) when registering the Car, and their fuel economy has become a greater advantage in this era of high gas prices. While many Ks are trucks and minivans used for business purposes and are not gendered in the same way as K sedans, the proportion of K sedans has risen from just 11.22 percent of the K market in 1990 (Ozeki 2007, 156) to

65.59 Percent in 2010 (Zenkeiren 2010).

The increased number of Ks in itself may not have been sufficient to transform their gender associations, but it laid the groundwork. Increased engine size and efficiency have complemented the increased numbers. As noted, engines have expanded from just 300 cc in 1950 to 660 cc in 1990. Greater efficiency also means that substantially more power is harnessed even from a modest increase in combustion. Today, Ks have a lot more pep than they used to, allowing people to drive them much more aggressively than before. In the past, people thought it would be too dangerous to drive Ks on highways. Now, even without modifications they can more than keep up with high-speed traffic.

Many posts on several K-car-related Mixi interest groups record the surprise of the drivers of normal sedans when Ks are able to shake tailgaters or pass other cars. One K owner recounts driving home from work stuck behind a slow moving car: “when i moved into the other lane to pass, i found that there was a line of ten or so cars, but it wouldn't look good to return and i couldn't if i wanted to, so i just floored it and passed the entire line. . . . The drivers i passed must have thought, 'what, a K?!'” One woman writes that she drives a thirteen-year-old MOve: “although it is a K, i'm an idiot who tailgates normal cars.

With the emergence of modified, turbo-charged Ks, the focus of the monthly magazine Hot-K, launched in november 2009 (see figure 12.2), we have the further breakdown of the dichotomy of sports cars and K-cars. Japan's long recession has affected street racers as much as anyone, and some have switched to racing K-cars, which are much cheaper to maintain. In addition to the lower sticker price and lower taxes, many parts for Ks cost significantly less than they do for other cars. Those who practice drifting on the mountain roads, spinning their wheels as they go around tight turns, generally have to replace their tires every week. K tires cost half as much as standard-sized tires, a savings that quickly adds up.

The transformation of Ks may mean that at least this dimension of automobility will no longer offer the same metaphorical and analogical buttressing to official gender ideology. Of course, the transformation of the K's metaphorical function will not in itself transform gender in Japan. In fact, naomi Quinn

Figure 12.2

The monthly magazine Hot-K began publication in November 2009.

(1997, 141–161) argues that people use most metaphors opportunistically to express ideas that are already shaped by underlying cultural schemas. She argues against Lakoff 's (1987) understanding of metaphors as shaping thought itself, noting that people use a wide range of metaphors, often mixing metaphors in order to get across what they already wanted to say. From her perspective, Ks never supported gender ideology so much as they expressed it. Thus if the K's metaphorical function was no longer available, Quinn would argue that the underlying gender schema would easily find alternative means of expressing itself.

There is evidence, however, that the large-scale economic transformations That have given new prominence to Ks and contributed to the shift in their metaphorical value are simultaneously putting pressure on the underlying gender schema. As in many other countries, more and more jobs in Japan have been outsourced to part-time labor forces or sent overseas. The gender schema was based in part on differentiated labor conditions, with men working in full-time, permanent jobs and women in part-time jobs and in the home, but more and more of the jobs in the new economy are precarious, like those that have traditionally been associated with women. Fewer men than before are able to fulfill the ideal of working for prestigious and stable companies. And fewer women than before are interested in the old ideal of marrying and having children.

It would be a mistake to assume that economic shifts ultimately determine metaphor, cognitive schemata, and all other cultural ephemera. The recession could easily lead to a retrenchment, as well as to a reformulated gender system. And even if the gender system were to become more egalitarian, it could do so in any number of ways that are unrelated to economic context. In Japan, the gender schema and metaphors about cars and driving styles enabled the coexistence of mutually contradictory discourses, one about speed and power that flourished in popular culture primarily among men and the other about giving way that flourished in the official project of controlling driving behavior associated primarily with women. A shift in gender schemata may lead to more conscious linkages of the conflicting discourses, breaking down their cognitive compartmentalization and forcing some resolution. If the bifurcated driving styles of speed versus manners are no longer compartmentalized by the gender schema, any number of new combinations may open up. Will women bring a new kind of sociality to speed, integrating speed and safety by keeping racing to racetracks and off public roads? We may be witnessing in Japan a shift from a somewhat integrated and durable cultural system to one characterized by uncertainty and change (strauss and Quinn 1997, 111–136). While uncertainty may be disquieting for some, it also brings with it the potential for building a better future.


1. Taylorization refers to the application of the “principles of scientific management” as laid out by Frederick taylor (1911). As artisanal production, in which individual craftsmen have control over all steps in the production process, gradually gave way to the increasingly minute division of labor, taylor pioneered The scientific study of human motion with the goal of maximizing efficiency and reducing injury. As workers are reduced to repeating a very limited number of motions within a larger production process, it is more likely that they become alienated from the product of their labor and lose a sense of autonomy.

2. It is no surprise that Lévi-strauss is not known for doing in-depth fieldwork. Rather, he preferred to work with mythology and objects of art collected by others, which he could more cleanly subject to his structural analysis.

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