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Sex and Violence in Snakes and Earrings
“He stopped at the edge of the bed and pushed me down roughly with one hand, then brought his palm up against my neck. His fingers traced my veins and his grip tightened until his thin fingertips began to dig into my flesh. The veins on his right arm bulged to the surface. My body was screaming out for air, and I began twitching. My face tightened and my throat felt like it would crack” (Kanehara 35).
In the novel by Snakes and Earrings (蛇にピアス) by Hitomi Kanehara the main protagonist, Lui, is young and reckless woman who marks her body in a very public way with tattoos and piercing. At one point in the novel she begins cheating on her boyfriend Ama with her tattoo artist Shiba. Their secret, violent, and sexual relationship involves Lui being chocked during sex and Shiba repeatedly offers to kill her. This relationship is extremely problematic as Lui is essentially selling her body to pay for her tattoo and is unable to end the relationship out of fear of what the sadist Shiba would do. The initial sex scenes also reinforce traditional Japanese patriarchy with Lui characterized as being submissive and docile. She appears to find little pleasure in the sex and essentially becomes a commodity for Shiba as she turns the pain in the world into herself “in response to, the commodified nature of everyday existence”(Dinitto 466). The commodification of the the female body can be seen as a result of capitalism and how it takes agency away from women. This is evident is Marissa Davis' page Commodification of Desire when she writes, "capitalist control over the construct of sexuality also allows for the intense patriarchal commodification of both desire and sexualized bodies themselves." By depicting Lui as defenseless and by showing her transition into an alcoholic Kanehara critiques Japanese society’s commodification of women’s bodies.
The close proximity between death and sex in Snakes and Earrings leaves little room for Lui to find any sexual liberation after almost being strangled to death. Women in Japan have for so long been solely viewed as the vessels to continue the national bloodline (Kinsella). Sex for women is meant to serve the state while sex for men can be for pleasure or as a reward for fitting into the salaryman narrative. In the novel the brutal sex that she endures is merely a payment for her body modifications and tattoos. Lui’s unwillingness to leave Shiba even after she discovers that he raped and killed her boyfriend shows the extent to which women in Japan struggle to gain agency against their commodification. With little evidence that points the Lui actually identifying as a masochist the abusive treatments she receives plays into the Japanese narrative that sex for pleasure is only for heterosexual males. Her eventual self-destruction is seen as the consequence of women’s sexual services being commodified to the extent that many women loose their sense of identity and struggle to find meaning in everyday life.
Dinitto, Rachel. “Between Literature and Subculture: Kanehara Hitomi, Media Commodification and the Desire for Agency in Post-Bubble Japan.” Japan forum 23.4 (2011): 453–470. Print.
Kanehara, Hitomi. Snakes and Earrings . New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2005. Print.