Goodbye Madame Butterfly, book

Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman. By Sumie Kawakami.

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The Preface is also available for download in PDF format along with a sample chapter (The Mannequin):

When I started out, I was worried that finding such women would be difficult. But through word of mouth, I was able to meet a sufficient number of married women who claimed that they had cheated on their husbands at least once. Most of them were in unhappy, sexless marriages, but they were unwilling to separate from their husbands out of concerns over their ability to support themselves financially and for the sake of their children. To my surprise, these women were extremely open about their experiences during the interviews. They almost seemed happy to tell their stories, despite the seemingly unhappy situations they were in. Here is how one of the women put it:

"I can only talk to one friend about my experience because I know that she is doing the same thing. We both feel safe talking about it. I could never discuss this with my other friends. It is not only because I am afraid of my husband finding out. I’m equally afraid that I would be severely criticized by my female friends, my sister, or especially my mother. No one would tolerate me if they found out I’m committing adultery."

Like this woman, many of the women I interviewed were tired of hiding in the closet: they needed to be listened to and they wanted their stories told. Yet they lacked the will to fix their broken relationships. In many cases, both parties agreed from the beginning that they would not intervene in each other’s lives. But a relationship of convenience is doomed to be short-lived. Many women found themselves in a vicious cycle of finding a lover, breaking up with him and searching for a new lover to replace him.

This went on for a while, and I was getting sick of meeting all these “cheaters," when suddenly something clicked. I was talking on the phone to a married woman who kept bragging that she had a series of lovers. To be honest, I was getting a bit annoyed by her. I asked, absent-mindedly, what she was trying to achieve by continuing to do this. She suddenly burst out at me: “You sound just like my husband. Who do you think you are, asking me what I want to achieve? If I knew I wanted to achieve anything at all, I wouldn’t have been so miserable to begin with!"

Startled, I asked her what I did wrong to hurt her feelings. She said she hated me for being overbearing and that I basically knew nothing about her suffering.

"But you can leave your husband if you want to. He is not keeping you chained, is he?" I protested.

"How can a divorced woman like you have a say about marriage and family? I do all I can to keep my family together," was her answer. She refused to cooperate with me any longer, requested that her story be deleted from my draft of the book and hung up on me. I tried to contact her again, but she never took my call or replied to my email messages.

I was left clueless. She was right about my not knowing anything about her suffering. There was little I could do except move on.

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