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    My favorite fellow Asia-Pacific Island-based blogger, Amritas, responded to one of Joanne Jacobs’s frequent commenters, one Stephen, who characteristically took the opportunity to use this thread about race relations at UCLA to talk about how wonderful his wife’s traditional Asian femininity makes their domestic life. Joanne has already done her usual, wonderfully motherly throwing of cold water, and Amritas is great as always when he gets fired up.

    And yet…Stephen’s comments (he shows up a lot) always frustrate me because there’s usually a very good point buried beneath the self-directed ego stroking: that gay promiscuity in urban areas has been very destructive and that lots of people who reject traditional femininity in a jeering way are insecure about their own life choices seem to be the major ones.

    A point that no one in this conversation seems to make is that in a free society, traditional femininity requires both parties to be willing to hold up their ends of the bargain. Since I don’t know the gentleman personally, I can only assume that his wife, like most American women, would quickly make her latent female power overt if he started treating her poorly–no matter to what degree she identifies with flowers. That’s not always an option women have in countries in which sex roles haven’t been liberalized as they have in America. Japan is politically one of the most free countries on Earth. (We just celebrated its Constitution Day yesterday, and while it’s mostly treated as just a bank holiday, I found it very moving, as a proud American partial to constitutions.) But the status of women here, while it certainly facilitates “femininity,” can be appalling. The median age for marriage has been pushed up to near 30 in the last 20 years. It’s not just that women want to spend their free time shopping instead of taking care of children; they don’t want to be forced to look after men whose idea of a “helpmeet” is a combination of maid and brood mare.

    All of which means that if it adds frisson to a middle-aged couple’s relationship to imagine a ring of vaginismus-afflicted harpies detesting them for their delight in tradition…well, good for them. But it’d be nice if students at a major research university, who are supposed to be in the process of forming their view of the world, could talk about their differences and assess why and in which contexts some attitudes work better than others.

    BTW, the name I officially use in Japan is a transliteration of Sean:

    紫苑 (shion)

    It means “aster.”

    Japanese women’s names sometimes do use flower kanji, but only occasionally does one see a name with a stem pronounced Yuri- (“lily”) or Hana- (“blossom”) or Fuji- (“wisteria”). Japanese women’s names can have any number of kanji, but many pronunciations cluster around a handful of meanings: Mari- (“truth”), Nori- (“law,” “order,” “constancy”), and Aki- (“light,” “clarity”). None of these seems to make their bearers more stern and sententious than those named after flowers or jewels.

    7 Responses to “これが私の生きる道”

    1. Amritas says:

      Thanks for the citation, Sean.
      I agree with your assessment of Stephen. He doesn’t write 100.0% junk. The trouble is that the 99% junk obscures a legitimate 1%. I agree with him about feminist extremists, but they often are straw womyn. They are as representative of “white women” as any other aktivist (sic) claiming to speak for “their” group.
      I’m glad to see you point out the irony of unfree Japanese women in a “free” Japan. It sounds much better coming from you than from someone who hasn’t been to Japan in years.
      Your name makes me think of a villainess in 七星闘神ガイファード. So it makes you a cool bad guy in my eyes. :) (I wonder how many of your readers are literate in Japanese.)
      And one last note on names: It’s not as if women with the 子 -ko prefix are any more childish than those without it. 與謝野晶子* Yosano AkiKO childish? I think not.
      (Neat to see her on an Anglophone blog. I didn’t know about her background story. Keep up the unique content!)
      *Since she died before character simplification, I have more justification than usual to avoid the modern spelling. Most pages with this spelling are Chinese ones about “Yuxieye Jingzi.” (Did you have to take Mandarin in grad school?)

    2. Sean says:

      All right, all right. I know I use the simplified characters; so do the contemporary 文庫本, though that’s no excuse, I guess. I suppose you do have to take Mandarin in grad. school if you don’t drop out after a year of course work. : /
      BTW, did you know that Akiko’s birth name was 鳳晶 (ほうしょう)? Crystal Phoenix sounds like a drag name in English, but in the original…speak of forceful, non-girlie-sounding names for women! Of course, in that era (you know this, I know, but for anyone who wanders by and knows Japanese people…) it wasn’t all that common for women’s names to end in 子 or 美 or 恵, or what have you. I think she used しょうこ as the pronunciation right after she added the 子 and then went to あきこ.
      Also, BTW, you mentioned the Pearl Cream commercial version of Asian women’s mystical allure. How much of a canard it is in America, I can’t judge. I do know that I was made an Honorary Japanese Lady by a group of tipsy friends a few weeks ago (“Sean-chan, the experience of Japanese womanhood doesn’t get more archetypal than being left behind by the husband to take care of the property while the company posts him in parts unknown!”). It is now, apparently, my job to cultivate an aura of [slow pentatonic melody on koto] Mystelious Oriental Beauty [尺八 and crash of gong]. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll have insecure feminist white chicks threatening to scratch my eyes out when I visit the States in the fall.

    3. Mrs. du Toit says:

      I think (because you’re a guy) you only see one half of the feminism issue. It isn’t so much that women are not interested in being maids or brood mares–we’re hard wired to accept a great deal of that, and our instincts are to breed and keep the nest. What is missing is that the men are no longer fulfilling their roles. The (forgive the expression) “metrosexual” tendencies of many men are a real turn off to most women. They can relate to these men as friends, the way a woman can relate to a gay friend, but they aren’t marriage material.
      The man who will take care of her, protect her, and comfort her is the man she’ll mate with–and she’ll happily keep the nest and give him babies in exchange. It doesn’t matter what the feminists SAY, that is what she’ll do, and the man she’ll respond to.

    4. Sean says:

      Well, I suppose I should have been more specific about meaning that a lot of Japanese men expect only a combination maid and brood mare. Also, while you know I agree with you about the elasticity of instinct, it is still true that acculturation begins on day one out of the womb.
      That doesn’t mean women can or should be socialized out of wanting a protector with a little bit of beast in him. What I think it does mean is that in free societies in which travel and mass media expose the average person to a wide range of choices, and in which wealth accustoms us to the satisfaction of desires, our instincts are modified by the filters we’ve run them through by the time we’re ready to mate. I think Japanese women know that their husbands will stay out their way as they rear the children and keep the house while giving them the resources to do so, same as in previous generations. They also recognize that our Western ideal of romance is not something most people can really achieve.
      Now that you mention it, though, I do wonder whether it’s less easy to regard office work as a contemporary manifestation of the warrior culture now that Japan’s economy is no longer about to eat the world. There was a definite strain of pride in the ’80’s and early-’90’s complaints about stress and overwork. Now a salary-man is just a salary-man.

    5. Mrs. du Toit says:

      I think it would be accurate that people do adjust to their environment, but only partially so. Adjusting doesn’t mean their basic nature changes

    6. Sean says:

      Totally. I don’t remember which piece it was in, but when I was in college, Camille Paglia wrote something to the effect that the requirements of bourgeois office work ran counter to both male and female primal instincts but were too effective at getting things done to find an obvious check on in a free society. At the time, I just kind of smiled and nodded–I was in college, after all–but ten years on, it’s obvious what she meant. Especially in developed countries, we like the clean, safe, and understandable. It makes mixed professional life more immediately practicable, and it makes it easier to utilize people’s native talents. But it doesn’t come naturally, so as you say, we take psychoactive drugs to compensate. I would add the popularity of twelve-step programs and the ubiquitous need to make every psychological crutch–from overeating to alcoholism to sex–into an “addiction,” requiring an archetypal drama of sin, ecstactic shriving, and redemption, to the list of drug-equivalents.
      Just out of interest, when you were in continental Europe and Chile recently, did it seem as if the more traditional grounding in sex roles made workplace interactions more easy to manage?

    7. Mrs. du Toit says:

      Europe is a friggin’ nightmare, as you might imagine. They’re probably 20 years ahead of us on the society manipulating sense. Technologically, they’re not ahead, but on the socialism scale, they’re about a 9.5.
      In Italy they’re having a population decrease–causing all sorts of havoc. Males are in their 30s, not getting married, and women aren’t interested… Italy is, to me, a real harbinger because that was a society invested in the nuclear family–big families, too. Well, no more! Their social structure (or any) cannot survive a population decrease.
      Chile was an entirely different matter–and actually quite refreshing. Chilean women are known for their tempers but the machismo bullshit, we normally associate with traditional Latin cultures, is not valued. Men are men, but REAL men, not the type that beat their wives. The kind that stay married, support and protect their families, love their moms–you know, REAL men.
      They still have the married for life but have a mistress on the side culture–which (I have to admit) works quite effectively (although I don’t have to like it or applaud it). Women are secure. I don’t know how else to express that. They can be women–sexy, attractive, feminine, yet strong–the way women were before the feminists got a hold of things.
      Women in the workplace (in Chile) are still treated like women. I heard there were some problems with women in higher management roles, and women might still be paid less, but I think that has more to do with glass ceilings. The women I worked with were an absolute delight to be around. Ballsy, no nonsense chicks–none of the petty, junior high school ladder climbing types. They get promoted the old fashioned way–by earning it, instead of back stabbing. One of your favorites and mine comes to mind: Barbara Stanwyck types–but the latin sexy equivalent.
      Europe was kinda depressing. The people on the street seemed so unhappy. There didn’t seem to be much joy about them. You know how Americans smile? That great big, shit eating grin? We noticed it as soon as we arrived in Atlanta. Wendy (being the astute observer of all things) said, “God, it is so glad to be back in the land of diversity, where people SMILE and laugh.” It was nice to see people that were ethnically and culturally different, but HAPPY.
      There was something sci fi (1984ish) about Europe. That is not to say that everyone was like that, but it sure seemed like the young people (most with children) seemed that way. Life looked hard–almost like 1930s America. It’s no wonder they hate us–all that prosperity and damn grinnin’.