Take away the traditional patriarchichal construct and the divide between man and woman blurs- able to perform the same roles men did pre-pox, wear the same clothes, hold the same power. It raises the question- what is gender? A social construct, what an individual identifies as/wants it to be, a combination of the two, or something more is something that Oooku explores.
Last episode, they explored the intersections or divisions between Chie’s gender role and identity and this week, they touch on that of Shizuku. On the surface, Shizuku appears to thrive in her newfound sense of self in a masculine role. In private, we discover that it is only a brave front to help deal with a set of circumstances she never asked for but found herself in. It was a departure to focus part of the episode on the common folk, but I think it showed that even outside the Oooku some of the same problems of identity and society are struggled with (that and setting up the next stage of the story too with philanderer Sutezo).
There are different tactics to deal with societal pressures- one is to retain your sense of self and create spaces to live as true to yourself as you can given the situation. Another is to lose your sense of self as Shizuku does- yet you can never truly lose your sense of self- it is always there as we see in her. Or, you have the Kasuga method- take the bull by the horns and write the rules yourself.
Curiously, even though women have become the motors that run society, the trappings of patriarchy is still there- the women are expected to conform to the masculine model set up by previous generations rather than allowing the model itself to be reshaped to the women. The latter would make more sense since the women are the ones running the show now and just as every bit as capable of doing so as the men were. It feels like a twisted workaround to retain a sense of patriarchy and implies that wrongfully skewered as it is, the sense of power belonging almost exclusively to men is so deeply ingrained in society, it would take much more than a pox to change that.
Even though women are in power, it doesn’t do anything to protect them from the pain at the behest of others- the physical pain in bed and of childbirth at the hands of a man and the emotional pain of being torn from a lover in the name of clan politics. In the face of Arikoto’s removal from the bedchambers, Chie reverts to her bitter, hurting self, projecting the emotional and physical abuse she suffered onto Arikoto, beating him up repeatedly. He didn’t do anything to deserve it (and even then there is no call for beating up on somebody even if they acted shitty), he was merely obeying orders for what Kasuga presented as the good of the country. That she follows it up with “I didn’t mean it, I love you” was perpetuating an unhealthy pattern. As far as the whole situation of changing out the breeding stud goes, there are other options besides changing studs to physically produce a child and especially considering how Chie was brought in as shogun but Kasuga doesn’t seem too interested in exploring those options.