Breaking Good

Two recent memoirs written by American women married to Asian men have the words “good” and “wife” in the titles.  This is by no means random.  Married women are to be attentive, dutiful and obedient.  It is a cultural norm perpetuated by both parties . . . husband and wives alike.

shufuFor Tracy Slater, her marriage to the Japanese “shogun” came later in life– well after her career was established . . . the result of an accidental encounter.  After falling in love she moved to Japan and found herself enjoying the small details of daily Japanese housekeeping.  Surely she is lauded for her adaption and conformity (as I was) . . . and her ability to become “good” is seen as a remarkable accomplishment.  Examples are abundant in her book “The Good Shufu.”

susan blumbergIn “The Good Chinese Wife” Susan Blumberg-Kason describes her five or so years married to a Chinese man after moving abroad to test her language skills.  A student of the culture, she thought she knew what she was getting herself into.  What she discovered, however, was just how difficult it was to be “good” in the eyes of her beholders.

“Iiko-chan ni shinasai!”  My ex would often say.  “Be a good girl!” 

Japan (and I presume China) is very rigid when it comes to discernment and shaming is commonplace.  “X is good and Y is bad. Clearly this is so.” And if you are a foreigner trying to assimilate to these particular cultures the power to make this judgement is NOT yours.  “Pretty good” or “good enough” are ideas that don’t really translate so don’t count on your efforts saving you.  “Maa maa” (so-so) doesn’t cut it.

Westerners (at least Americans) are tolerant of mediocrity and don’t want others to beat themselves up over imperfections.  Generally we feel bad for our mistakes and less than stellar results.  We are so guilt oriented that we even feel bad for others who fail and love underdog stories.  An “I’ll do better next time” attitude will suffice.  We trust guilt and individual conscience will motivate us to improve.

From Tracy Slater’s seemingly positive experience as a Japanese wife I would imagine that she was clear about who she was going into the relationship and that her husband is a rare gem.  But I still wonder about the words “good” and “wife” coexisting in her title.  Who is the judge of good?

Being a dutiful, attentive, obedient wife sounds romantic in an old-fashioned way . . . like sacrificial love.   But when a culture has a shaming bend is there not something slightly sad about this life?   It seems to me that two parties who ascribe to “guilt” vs. shame policy potentially have a better balance of power between them and a healthier relationship.  This is not to say that a mixed culture marriage cannot work well, but such differences are important to consider and work through.

From “The Six-Foot Bonsai” manuscript: 

Most of the time I was able justify my husband’s compulsive strictness based on my knowledge of how black and white Japanese people tend to be. From the old samurai movies to modern daytime dramas, male characters are invariably strong and dramatic. The kinds of statements from Right that had so disconcerted me upon my initial exposure—the “this is good” and “that is bad” generalities—were typical of the straightforward Japanese. My own unique role, scripted to fall somewhere between that of the cute young idols of our time and traditional leading ladies, was to speak softly and respond with a “Yes, I understand” level of obedience to my man.

The traditional and unspoken sensei/grasshopper roles (as in the Kung Fu TV show) allowed Right to wield power over me; when I failed to answer appropriately I would be berated and left alone to hansei, or reflect.  As had happened on that unexpectedly memorable occasion on Sado when I had mistakenly thrown my stained capris toward Right without first asking his favor, more serious transgressions resulted in breakage—an almost systematic loss of dishes, knickknacks, or whatever else might have been at hand.  During his fits Right would go so far as to rip the clothes off of my body and tear them into shreds.

 

#interracial #good

 

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8 thoughts on “Breaking Good

  1. Having just returned from a visit to Shinjuku in Tokyo last week I find the info in your blog so very interesting! I actually loved the quiet, demure women who moved silently within the Shunkaen Bonsai Museum and performed the Tea Ceremony ritual for us tourists. They seemed so at peace … even though I couldn’t see myself sitting on my knees for such long periods of time. On the other side of the coin, there were the younger people complete with cell phones stuck to their hands, in the latest fashions, rushing from somewhere to somewhere else. And the technology! It was everywhere! BUT now that I’ve read your words I know for sure that I am not demure or quiet or tranquil; I am independent, assertive and graceless aka most unJapanese and definitely not a Bonsai 🙂

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  2. Hey. Your story looks really interesting (although harrowing to have experienced). i read “memoirs of a geisha” years ago. you’ve probably read it. it was quite engaging, but i wonder if you see it differently after your experience. one friendly suggestion: hope you get some time to bring the blog itself up to the level of the writing, as I found it quite hard to navigate. best of luck.

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  3. I have had many different cultural experiences throughout my life. Yes- cultures are different. I look at things differently now. I don’t necessarily think that different is bad. When I first divorced my former (abusive) husband (from the Northern Mariana Islands) everything I said and wrote was slanted in a negative way regarding his culture and such. Of course- I was angry, hurt..I just came through a terrible experience of 15 years. I was beaten almost daily…he had constant affairs…too many horrors to even list.
    But thankfully…time heals.
    I now look back and see that the entire culture was not bad just because I had a bad experience.

    I have many friends there that have wonderful marriages to men from the islands…

    I personally model my behavior as a wife after the Biblical role model. I actually love being a dutiful, obedient and caring wife – this is what the Lord requires of me but NOW I have a loving and caring husband-that makes all the world of difference.

    I was the same way in my first marriage but I was miserable. I can’t blame the culture for that- I blame my choice of marrying him and staying in the marriage for so long. I stayed with someone I found out was abusive. I guess what I’m trying to say is – from the perspective of someone who has walked this road and lived most of my life in a multicultural situation-I’ve found that culture is not to blame-it is the responsibility of the individual…the choices they make. I learned a lot as I got older. God bless!

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    • Thank you so much for your comments N and your blog follow. Please understand that I loved Japan for 20 years and I still do in many ways. I still friends there and communicate with my ex in-laws.

      But I am strongly against pedophilia (which I am sure you are) and the idolization of underage girls by grown men. This is a problem which I cannot express enough is ingrained in the culture . . .tolerated in a way we do not accept.

      In addition, his family was very chonan-oriented and spoiled their heir. This gave him the financial means and power to become a predator at a young age. And keep in mind I was involved with several Japanese men– in addition to being a “girl Friday” to many Japanese engineers in career life. I know Japanese men well.

      I think many ways Japan mesmerizing. But we can never be blinded by foolish, harmful ways regardless. I hope more women take a stand against the idolization of young girls in various media. Please read the U.N. Special Envoy report from this spring. It is attached to one or more of my posts.

      Thank you so much for the comments. I enjoy such debate and discussion. God bless.

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      • I totally understand where you are coming from. I feel strongly about many similar attitudes in America- the acceptance of abortion by most, the new LGBT thing and other issues that are now part of a culture that started out a Christian nation. I think that bothers me more . Japan never was a Christian nation so I don’t expect the same attitude or beliefs. Not that I excuse it by any means.

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    • To a degree I can agree but the culture supports certain attitudes towards women and girls that should not be dismissed as interesting cultural differences but given a more critical look over. Mrs. N. I son’t want to seem overly negative or anything of the sort, but I’d like women and mothers of young girls in Japan to become a little more empowered.

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