I was clued in to a newly translated manga by Mori Kaoru via Feministe: A Bride’s Story, the tale of an arranged marriage set in 19th-century central Asia.
To summarize briefly, it is the story of a woman sent to a neighboring village in an arranged marriage – naturally, without meeting her new husband first. It turns out that she is 20 and he is 12, making the situation even more awkward than usual. I haven’t ordered a copy yet (the first volume came out May 31, 2011), but between the detailed, grand artwork and the fascinating premise, I’m looking forward to reading it myself.
Beyond having a relatively unique setting and focus (I hear that much time is spent on women’s lives and communities within the villages), I have to say I’m in love with the role reversal. An arranged marriage of a young woman and older man is too familiar, and the surprise of the same age would be too boring, too ideal. To reverse the aspect of arranged marriage that can be most scandalous to Western (European and North American) sensibilities – the age difference – is the most intriguing part of the story.
What typically happens in a tale of older man, younger woman (even girl)? Not all situations are painted in a positive light, but I can think of few cases in which the younger party is not tremendously sexualized, far beyond what is often considered appropriate. (Then again, given the sexualization of even young teenagers in contemporary America – let alone historically – maybe this is not so surprising.) Sex is assumed no matter how young the bride. And rare are the stories – fiction, I’m talking about here – where the relationship doesn’t take on a weirdly romantic cast, or even an explicit gradual romance.
I’m looking at you here, Shining Genji. I was once in a graduate-level course and the professor threw out the question: what was it that happened to Murasaki? Unbelievably a woman in the room threw out “grooming” as the answer. Grooming for ideal sexuality. The professor cut her right off with “statutory rape at best.” Thank you. But if this could be the automatic answer for such a sick situation, one that is portrayed romantically even by a woman writer in 1000 AD – well, doesn’t that say something about conditioning?
In any case, I’m giving this background to highlight the unique situation of a much older bride and a groom that is still a child. I would argue that although this happens, we don’t have such an automatic social narrative for their relationship. If someone talked about “grooming” with regard to the boy, we would cut them off with “no, it’s sick. THAT is sick to even imagine.” Right? It’s creepy. I think that we’re more ready to imagine a developing romantic relationship between a much younger girl and an older man – I’ll dig up our favorite Shining Genji raising Murasaki to be his future wife as my example again. Can we imagine this bride in A Bride’s Story raising her child husband to be the perfect sexual object in the same way? I would say no. No way.
So I’m very interested to get my hands on this manga to see how this is treated. From the Feministe post, I gather that there is a warm relationship with a fondness developing on the part of the bride. But I would like to see for myself: there is no way she can’t participate in raising the boy, in some way, as an older woman who has come into his family’s home. But what is her role, and what is the intention? Does she raise him as a loving family member would raise any boy to be a proper man, or does she have something else invested in it, a la Genji and his child bride?
We’ll see. If any of you have read this in Japanese, let me know your thoughts. (Incidentally, I would kill to be able to go to Book Off right now and just buy this series used!)