Médée in Operas: Misogyny in Modern Europe

The following is a translation of Rinko Umeno’s introduction of her own book Médée in Operas: Misogyny in Modern Europe.

I was a student studying vocal music at Tokyo University of the Arts when the movement of women’s liberation and student power was extremely active. The university president’s office was occupied. The movement was lead mainly by students of the faculty of fine arts, a part of the All-Campus Joint Struggle Committee. Although I was a student of the faculty of music, I remember that a few other students and I slept in the corner of the president’s office. Around that time, I also experienced a bitter relationship with a man and unreasonable discrimination against women in the movement itself.

After the All-Campus Joint Struggle Committee was defeated, I met many women who had joined the women’s liberation movement and shared sadness and pain with each other. It was a valuable experience. After that, I became a wife and a mother.  While I continued to be a musician, I had a chance to run for an election for the Yokohama City assembly councilor and won the election in 1995. After I served 2 two terms for eight years, I ran for an election to Kanagawa Prefectural assembly but I was defeated in the election.
When I was shocked and depressed, my daughter, who was a student of Yokohama National University, encouraged me to go and listen to university lectures, saying “university is an interesting place. Why don’t you audit a lecture?” Since I had had all the time in my hands all the sudden, I attended “A History of Islamic Civilization,” a course given by a German professor. It was two years after 9.11 had occurred. I thought I could not understand the world without knowing Islam. The lecture was so interesting that I officially entered the university at the post graduate level next year.

It took 8 years and a half to complete the courses and to get a doctoral degree in 2012. During this time, I studied in France for three years in total and went through a lot of adventures. The book, Médée in Operas: Misogyny in Modern Europe, is based on my doctoral thesis.

For many years I had thought about poverty, war, violence, and discrimination against women. I came to think that I could get a better grip of accumulating issues of present-day society if I became familiar with the origin of European civilization which formed the base of the present day. Opera was an emerging art form that was born in the beginning of the modern times, and thus it has the strong characteristic of the modern times. In operas, we often see longing for a woman and violence which includes murder, suicide, and rape. These show two sides of misogyny (sexism), an undercurrent of a mentality of modern Europe.

This book analyzed four opera librettos written in the era of Louis XIV, which feature Médée, a woman in Greek mythology. Médée appeared in operas and plays many times from the 16th century to the 17th century. It was during an absolute monarch characterized by a rigid class system and patriarchal society that Médée was represented as a witch. After deserted by her husband, she murdered her husband’s lover, a king who is the father of the lover, and her own two sons with the same husband for revenge. Why in that era was the story dramatized many times? Through analysis, I looked at the essence of misogynic characteristics of modern Europe. As a result, this book was born. (Author: Rinko Umeno)

Médée in Operas: Misogyny in Modern Europe
Published on November 10th, 2014
Publisher: Suiseisha
Telephone: 0356898410
Ask the publisher or the author about the book.

Translated by Atsuko Ishikawa

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