I have a habit of making an absurd joke, overthinking that joke, and finally realizing that the heart of the joke is some latent but unironic sentiment. This was the case when sometime last year, I turned to a co-worker and said, “if you had to describe one work in the canon of classic literature as NTR, what would it be?” And because this person entertains my whims way more than a normal person would or should, he helped me mull it over. For the purpose of a one-off joke I landed on Doctor Zhivago.
In the second to last episode of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, a small moment – just a single sentence spoken by Miyokichi in the middle of an already emotionally rich episode – struck me on a bone-deep level. Miyokichi wasn’t my favorite character. That wasn’t my favorite scene, or my favorite episode. It might be my favorite line. In just a few words, Miyokichi articulated something that I think most women have long known, a problem many of us grapple with our entire lives.
“Role” seems to come up a lot in relation to a woman’s life: the role of mother, the role of daughter, the role of a career woman, and the list goes on. I don’t think we talk about the “role of man” as much because at some point we just collectively agreed on what men are in a more cohesive way than women. The conversation of what roles a woman chooses to play are often phrased in terms of trade-offs or sacrifices. If a woman can’t “have it all,” she must give up something, usually family or a career. But people rarely talk about the foundation of all of this: the role of being a woman itself. No, I don’t mean the purpose of women.