(originally posted to Fukuzawa, ISSHO, and Friends Oct , 1998)

This post is to survey the aftermath of a rather contentious essay I posted on October 11. The points I raised there are recorded elsewhere, so below I will only recap up to the kneecaps. I will focus upon the responses received, offering comments here and there, in hopes of shedding more light on this, the most essential of human relationships: those between women and men.

This post is organized thus:

4) COMMENTS ABOUT PERSONAL LIVES (i.e. "Gosh, what kind of relationship does Dave have with his wife?")
and of course...


Contentious is the word. A sizeable number of people responded, both angrily in length and coolly in depth. Although I sent my post when the gender-issues bonfire seemed to be dying down on Fukuzawa, it rekindled debate there while flaring up into flames on the ISSHO mailing list (however, the post evoked little response from my 100-person-strong Friends' List, possibly because it is full of busy non-Japan hands). Leaving aside the short-fused tangents that were ignited, the statistics on people who specifically responded to any of my points were (in a four-cell matrix):

GENERALLY SUPPORTIVE of my points: Male: 12, Female: One
GENERALLY OPPOSED to my points: Male: One, Female: 7

So comments split pretty neatly down gender lines. Most of the respondents appeared to be Caucasian, and none were from native Japanese men or women. Most of the women angrily razzed (about the apparent Chauvinism) while many of the men bemusedly roared (about the milk-and-honey of gender-roleing). So let's get into the responses.

(men first because they skiied over the issue and thus offered better "general" comments--moreover in a positive, humorous, male-bonding kinda way. Nanchatte! :-))

David H. (i.e. not me--and many of the names below are pseudonyms) wrote: /////////////////////////////////////////////
Your writing drives home the point that in America, we are often expected to make consistent active progress in relationships and told that's the only way we'll achieve "true happiness." Whereas perhaps in reality, it's most important to be able to relax and be yourself around your significant other. As M Scott Peck Says, "expectations are premeditated resentments." While I've felt very strong expectations (which often changes daily) in my Western-style relationships, my wife (who happens to be Japanese) and I just relax and cherish one-another for who we are. Do we really need to heed the words of Nietzsche ("that which doesn't kill me makes me strong") even in our relationships? Perhaps this is (and the American divorce rate) are what many men are running from. /////////////////////////////////////////////

Doug wrote:
Hi David. Great post! Really enjoyed it, as did my wife, a fairly 'typical' Japanese wife, in that she's from Kyushu and 43 so was raised in the old school, very supportive, does the housework and doesn't bother me with communist ideas like equality :-) . And my house guest and friend Taeko-chan who went to Brandeis (snip) here in the US. She's a lot younger, and a lot tougher :-) But, interestingly enough, still quite yasashii and Japanese-y in her own way and I think a better catch in the sense that there would not be a constant battle as to who does the dishes etc. So two different generations, educational backgrounds, jobs, but both are Japanese, and yup, I think the American girls can't beat them. Now, European girls are in many ways more Japanese-y, with a clear understanding that one doesn't need to fight about dishes. There are enough tougher other things to confront... together! (snip)

Trevor Hadley, of 36-24-36 Komura-cho, Ibaraki-ken, phone (0534) 4-4349, passport number 19001040EZ, who asked not to be identified, wrote:
Had your 'Men and Women in Japan' post forwarded to me by my bro. If you are looking for a place to hide, you can stay at my place for as long as you like (I live in the fucking boonies of Ibaraki-ken, so you should be safe here). Holy shit, man. Are you insane? American women have guns. Well, OK, maybe not in Japan. But you're still not safe. Run while you still have legs!

P.S. I am definitely NOT going to tell you that I thought your piece was right on on a few points. (By now, they've hacked into your system, and anything that I say will be automatically forwarded to my female gaijin friends and my life will become hell. So, I don't know you. I never read any e-mail that you might have possibly written - and if I had, I would be deeply offended. And, there is NO WAY that I will talk to you again once I've read your piece again more thoroughly.)

Yes, all of the above contact details are ficticious. :-)

Now for the GENERAL COMMENTS FROM WOMEN, and here the merry tone of this survey evaporates. As I said, many posts were angry ripostes, and thus their understandible outrage often generated more heat than light. Mostly about the hoary topic of Japanese women with White men, only two posts actually touched upon what I pritheed people address: relationships between non-Japanese women and Japanese men. One was from Connie, who said that the interesting Japanese men are to be found outside the mainstream here (particularly in the Arts--jazz and classical pianists, graphic artists--so become culture vultures, all!). The other, more quotable one:

Edith wrote:
(snip) There really is something extreme about [Japan]. It was upsetting to be in a social scene tipped to Caucasian men with Japanese women, who were aggressive to the point of pushing Western or Caucasian wives aside in their eagerness to get at the men. It was upsetting to be ignored by Japanese men. Occasionally it was upsetting to receive the attention of Japanese men, crude to an unbelievable degree. It was upsetting to be ignored by the gaijin guys swamped with Japanese women. It was upsetting to see the straits of Japanese women my age who had failed to nail down a man. It was upsetting to see young Japanese women in their twenties imitating fourteen year olds as part of their sexual strategy. It was upsetting that my Japanese boy friend failed to tell me he was married until we were well into a relationship. It was upsetting the one previous time I engaged in this topic on another chat list, twics, to be verbally beat up by a lot of gaijin guys defending the life style, values, etc. of their Japanese honeys or spouses.

But gee, it wasn't all THAT upsetting. I can't imagine wanting to get out of Japan on such grounds. Neither can I imagine wanting to be in Japan, or any other country, in order to fulfill a sexual fantasy. Perhaps it's an age thing. I feel sorry for David Aldwinckle, and other men who feel confined by the uncertainties of relationships in a socially unstable country such as the US, where men can't depend on women to have worse or no jobs, and where the women expect to negotiate on a more or less equal basis with their men, or, for that matter, where negotiation takes place at all.

Okay, this begs comment (And you will see that most of my forthcoming comments take more issue with the women than the men. Nothing diabolical. That's just statistically how it wound up--more women took issue with me than the men.). Based upon historical exchanges I've had with Edith (see old email joust here), I feel she has the tendency to make fallacious attributions, which consequently cloud her comments.

She states that I "feel confined by the uncertainties of relationships", and insinuates that I prefer relationships where people don't or don't have to negotiate. Hazure. Dunno where I ever implied that. The point I was trying to make in my essay is that all this micromanaging of roles and duties--which seems to be the mainstay of modern American relationships where I was brought up--is simply not everyone's cup of tea. Different strokes (and I never stated which stroke was mine).

Anyway, let's use a disco parable to illustrate the ideological tolerance I am in fact calling for: If you get tired of dancing or don't like the music being played, deciding to sit down for a while (or to leave the disco altogether and come to Juliana's) shouldn't be flippantly construed as the sign of a "loser", moreover something to look down upon or feel sorry for. Just because I don't feel like dancing does not mean I cannot. Let's respect the free will of men here to choose the type of relationship they want, and respect the ability of Japanese women to likewise "negotiate good deals" in their relationships. More on this later.

Anyway, to stop here would be unjust to Edith's very thoughtful post:

Edith concludes:
However, I am convinced that there are trade-offs in any relationship, and that one has to judge for oneself the value of what you end up with. I for one find it enormously liberating and important to feel that I do not have to get married simply to survive financially, which is the situation of many women in Japan (oh yes, they have career options such as homemakers and nurses and primary school teachers). There were advantages to being a foreign woman in Japan, as well, although not necessarily social ones. In Japan, I often felt that I could observe the system more clearly as a woman, because I was not pampered sexually or otherwise as foreign (mainly Caucasian) men were.

This somewhat alienated perspective is also that of the bright, independent, multi-talented Japanese women who seem to gravitate towards foreign men as the first stop on their way out of the place. So, my last point on this topic, I found less than believable the comment of the foreign woman who "hated" Japanese women because of their predatory behavior towards foreign men. All of that is a symptom, not a cause, in a social system which severely disadvantages unwed women.

Fair enough. But a few more comments. First from someone else:

Joe wrote:
While not a 'society made me do it' argument, Edith suggests that:

>All of that [i.e. problems women have in Japanese society] is a symptom, not a cause, in a social system which severely disadvantages unwed women.

We could equally blame Western society for not providing opportunities for men and women to have fulfilling jobs that don't force them to make the hard decisions concerning finding and keeping fulfilling work, and creating a 'socially unstable' society where people are encouraged to have dreams in excess of their possibilities and are encouraged to make sacrifices in order to find job satisfaction. Add to that a society that increasingly transfers wealth from the poor to the rich, dictating that hard decisions are the only ones there are, it seems like a pretty damning bill of particulars.

Now from me. I discussed Edith's points with a few Japanese women and they quickly raised their hackles. To them, it was hardly accurate or appropriate for her to see Japanese women as victims--making the best of their situation by marrying a meal-ticket. Now, while I could not entirely emphathize with those women either (I too would prefer that Japanese women have more choices in their lives, which IMHO Japanese society does indeed deprive them of), I feel it is presumptuous to assume that Japanese women, if faced with the same choices as American women, would chose to be "liberated", non-"disadvantaged" American women. My experience with both American-born Nikkeijin and Japan-born women in the US showed me that those women nevertheless click "back" into a surprising degree of Japaneque conservatism and gender role-ing. So it's not that pat how people would behave, "all choices being equal"--for the mindset is that indelible, not entirely illogical or unappealing. For Edith to criticize it this fervently appears, to some, to be bordering on belittling.

Next comes a powerful post on the systemic contrasts in the expression of affection:

Karen wrote:
(snip) If you listen to Japanese women--or any "submissive and 100% feminine" women, such as the women of my grandmother's generation--talk about men when no men are around, the resentments and downright nasty sentiments expressed will horrify you.

Whether it's Japanese women referring to their husbands as "sodai gomi" and telling me how lucky I am to be single or elderly American women talking about how much they look forward to being widowed, you don't hear many expressions of love and affection.

With a less traditional women, what you see is what you get. If a non-traditional women flatters you, you know it's because she really admires you, not because that's how her mother taught her to manipulate men into spending money.

If she marries you, it's not because she needs someone--anyone--to support her financially, but because she thinks there's something special about you.

If she wants a companion as well as a breadwinner, you're less likely to end up like one of those retired couples you see in roadside restaurants, scowling silently at each other across the table.

If she demands more than "slam-bam-thank you ma'am" in bed, it's because she actually enjoys sex and would be willing to have a lot more of it if you didn't treat her like an "onapetto."

Most of the Western men who go to Japan are fairly young, so the traditional Japanese woman, offering the prospect of an indulgent mommy-type who lays out her husband's clothes in the morning, does all the household accounts, takes full responsibility for the children, has a hot meal waiting in the evening if and when her husband decides to come home, and expects only a regular paycheck and no conversation, is very appealing.@

It's significant that increasing numbers of young Japanese women are declaring their intention never to marry. If the traditional roles were so wonderful, this would not be the case. (snip)

A man who is attracted only to Asian women--as opposed to falling in love with an individual Asian woman--is no more mature than a certain writer of a personals ad who specified (snip) "a blue-eyed redhead, dress size 6 to 8, between 5' and 5'4"."

East Asian, Caucasian, or any other kind of -asian, we're all individuals, and I suspect that the Western women are complaining most about being automatically rejected strictly on the basis of stereotyping, without being given a chance to prove themselves as individuals.

That investment banker you rejected in favor of the giggling tandai student may have been warm, funny, sexy, a great cook, and potentially a wonderful mother for your children, but you'll never know, will you?

No, I won't. Can't disagree when it comes to how the older generation refer to each other over here; all this partner-deprecation can't only be "kenkyo". Still, two counterarguments come easily :

Marie (with Japanese husband) wrote:
My Goodness, David, if it weren't so childish and downright silly it would be offensive! Foreign males who marry Japanese are losers who couldn't get married in their home country??? By foreigners, I suppose those frustrated ladies mean *Westerners*. Their hate doesn't seem to include Japanese women who marry Chinese Korean Iranian Pakistani, or whatever non-Western citizens ? Japanese women are feminine ? Well, what is wrong with that ? More to the point, some are feminine, some aren't. Some men are attracted to feminine women. Some prefer the tank driver type. It has nothing to do with the place on earth they are citizens of!

There are quite a number of AFWJ (Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese) members on Issho and the Fukuzawa list. (snip) It is only one association, with more than 600 members. It isn't the only one. There are many foreign wives of Japanese who don't want to belong to any group. There are all those who have good friends and boyfriends without thinking of getting married. It doesn't seem serious to argue that it is hard for foreign (Western) women to find male company in this country or among Japanese nationals abroad.

Your friends seem genuinely hurt and lonely and they tend to oversimplify. It is very difficult to distinguish between cultural and personal factors, isn't it ? Japanese women are no more this or that than American ones. Picturing Japanese wives as doormats is outrageous.

Now for more specific comments about points I raised:


To kneecap-recap, my point was that American women, due to the American variant of feminism, have a strong tendency to disavow femininity, considering it a male construct that ensures inequality. In contrast, Japanese women have little problem with being "appealing" to men, as femininity is seen more as natural consequence of the highly gender-separate worlds in Japan. For this reason, more "feminine" Japanese women are going to more likely "win" out over their American counterparts in the boy-befriending game.

Evidencing my alleged tokushuu-ness of American feminism, Joe wrote: /////////////////////////////////////////////
(snip) I have read that the primary difference between American feminist activism and European feminist activism has been similiar to this point. I believe there was a Harper's or an Atlantic article arguing this about 2 or 3 years ago. American feminism has argued for the absence of barriers (I believe that the article called it 'equality feminism'), while European women have fought for legislation that allows them to take long maternity leave without penalty, subsidized daycare, more flexible work rules (termed 'difference feminism'). I would suggest that the American women's movement was influenced by the civil rights movement and its calls for no barriers. Of course, hiring preferences eventually came to counteract the long term effects of racism, etc. but this was only after the removal of the institutional barriers that had existed.

However, there were some qualms with my concept of "femininity":

Sue wrote (quotes from me in prompts and italics)
> THE AVERSION TOWARDS FEMININITY "American women... don't strike me as wanting to be feminine at all."

feminine: 1. of women. 2. having womanly qualities. 3. of or denoting the female gender. (Pocket Oxford Dictionary)

Women are feminine by their very nature. Whatever we do is automatically feminine! Whoopee! I don't think I understand your definition of "feminine". Femininity is not a male construct, as you suggest. The male construct operates in the act of narrowing down of femininity to only a few very specific traits (submissiveness, reserve, solicitude) rather than the wide range of characteristics which it potentially represents.

Hmmm... Dictionary definitions. FEMININE: adj. 1) female (the female members of society), (the female lead in the play) 2) characteristic of or appropriate or peculiar to women (the gentler virtues which are especially feminine); marked by or having features, attitudes, or qualities associated with women (frilly feminine fashions); specif receiving or enduring action; passive (each individual showing a mixture of masculine aggression and feminine tendencies 3) belonging to, connected with, or constituting the gender that ordinarily includes most words or grammatical forms referring to females (the female gender), (a female noun), (a female form of an adjective), (a female ending), 4), 5) ...blah blah blah. (Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged).

But I don't know where this line of reasoning gets us. I guess that's your point; but then again you say that defining and "narrowing" it is the male construct all over again. So it's no wonder you don't understand my definition. Only women can, it seems, according to that logic. Understanding of a concept is now gender-based? Not a terribly tenable position, and it deligitimizes males creating concepts to help discuss the issue.

Sue continues (again, me in prompts and italics):
> Consequently, looking "appealing" to men implies at best inequality, at worst submissiveness, and is thus something to be avoided.

What woman told you this? We do, most of us, wish to look appealing to men, and this is never equivocated, among ANY women I know, with inequality or submissiveness. These are words which may be applied to systems and behaviors, not looks, unless you're seriously involved with the leather-and-dog-collar set. /////////////////////////////////////////////

I cannot dispute the fact that no women you know think or act the way I suggested; another critic concurred that my view of American feminism is "very 70's" (anyone got some Tiparillo cigarros?). It is entirely possible that my ten years in Japan have made me into a cultural Quebecker or an Afrikaner--thinking in a French or a Dutch fossilized after being transplanted in another continent. I thank you for the update.


Recap: I basically said that in America, women have made strides to break out of set gender roles, and seek to negotiate as equals in a relationship. However, the drawback is that work-sharing roles, compounded by the unrelenting pressure on American men to keep proving themselves as caring partners, have to be renegotiated endlessly. This gets exhausting for many men. Japanese women, however, can click into preestablished conjugal roles much more easily, and more often help create partnerships where less strife occurs over continuous "love-proving", as well as over small and/or job-related issues. To men, this greater willingness to assume gender roles can make Japanese women more appealing than American women.

Starwolf (male) wrote:
And the new undefined roles, where people are often confused and uncertain, unsure how they should react or whether to allow certain feelings to be seen, or whether they are still not acceptable to society, that they should be everything to everyone themselves, are better exactly how? A rigid, unyielding system is not good. But one where everyone is constantly re-inventing the wheel and spending an enourmous amount of time looking for some sort of direction or workable guideline to see them through the day is not much better.

Yes, North American women have got out of the house and do have a much greater choice of career paths and fiscal independence options.

They also have a much greater rate of cardiovascular diseases, nervous tension, and other problems hitherto more in the province of the male breadwinner. They're welcome to it if they really want it, but you'll excuse me if I find it a rather lousy tradeoff.

John wrote:
There's been a lot of ethnocentricity on the list in this discussion, and I'm surprised given the intercultural nature. Not a single person has suggested learning from the Japanese, as if it was presumed that American standards were automatically correct. And while a lot of people have been talking about the social control of Japanese women, no one has talked about the cultural conditioning of Westerners and Americans in particular who are conditioned to assert themselves at the top of their voices in the belief that their own values are universal. Why arbitrary American standards for relationships and the role of women should prevail in Japan is beyond my understanding.

Joe wrote:
Moving to Dave's second point, I feel like this is the troublesome part of his post. If it is only a description of what happens, despite a man's best efforts, then I won't subject your computer to death by a billion flames <g>. But if it is provided as a rationale, well...

Wouldn't I have an easier time (defined in terms of personal comfort) if I had servants waiting on me hand and foot, working to earn me the money to live the lifestyle I feel I should have become accustomed to? That would not really excuse me from my actions. Just because Japanese women 'click' into a gender role does not relieve us of our responsibility to make our relationship as equal as possible.

This leads us to an important undercurrent in many of the posts: assumptions about my rationale.

COMMENTS ABOUT PERSONAL LIVES ("Gosh, isn't Dave a creep towards his wife?")

Joe wrote:
(an aside to other DFSers: knowing Dave off-list, I know that he participates in a much more equal relationship than his post may lead you to believe)

Connie wrote:
(snip) So I take umbrage to Dave's initial point that just because he loves his Japanese wife, that something must be wrong with women who are not like his wife.

P.S. Dave, I might add that it is my experience in life that the things we think we don't like have a way of cropping up in our lives. People can surprise you. You may find your wife eventually acting in some of the ways that you claimed you could not stand.

Yes, Connie, people can surprise me. For one thing, I never stated, implied, inferred, or even hinted that "something must be wrong with women who are not like my wife" in my post. In fact, in my entire essay I mentioned my wife only once (as the pen-pal who brought me here) and hell if I remember holding her up as a yardstick for comparison. Here I am aiming for an objective report on the state of men and women and Aya gets brought in. Fushigiiii.

The reason why might be very straightforward: the need to see "practicing what you preach" as an ideological grounding. But contrarily, look how the ideological need for objectivity veered into the subjective!

I deliberately left my wife out of the whole melee because bringing her in would have been a "cop out". Why? It would have made the whole thing jibun katte. Others mentioned how when they tried to decry the state of affairs here for Japanese women on other mailing lists, they got flamed by those members who are all snug with their Japanese "honeys", to use Edith's word. That's my point. What two people arrange for themselves in a marriage relationship is entirely up to them. If I were able to say, "Hey, that's how my honey and I have it, so bog off", poof goes the debate because amateurs have no business criticizing somebody else's marital status in public.

So to keep this argument alive, I tried to talk about objective social trends with as little grounding as possible in my marriage. I wish people would be more careful not to conflate my explication of a phenomenon with my personal support for or practice of it. More on that in my Apologia. Anyway,


came from Connie, who said:
Dear David Aldwinkle, I have to tell you that I aged yet a few more years after reading your last post. I couldn't help but feel that here was yet another intelligent man--and one who can express himself well in two languages--lost. Or at least no longer someone who I might count on to champion my position as a foreign woman long term resident. But I have come to respect your intelligence, Dave, so I can only hope that as time goes by you will reconsider a few things.

In my opinion, polarization of the sexes hurts both men and women. Women never get to know the strong forceful and confident sides of their personalities, and men never learn the pleasure of being passive or supportive. Japanese society strongly reminds many of us somewhat older foreign residents of our parents' lives. My mom was the wife and mother, and so feminine. My dad was the provider and the boss of the house. These were clear roles, but I have to tell you that they did not work particularly well.

And I don't think this polarization serves Japanese very well either. Just ask the dynamic native women I know here who can't have full lives (including a husband and kids) if they choose to pursue a career. Or ask the Japanese husband I know who stays home with his daughter while his wife works, and is ridiculed terribly by the women members of the PTA we all attend. Or check in with those kids who have had little attention of their fathers--and there are many--because these men either don't know how to nurture or are too busy bringing in the bucks to have the chance. Go to any party and you will never find women and men talking together here: it is always the women to one side and the men to the other. What a loss! Men need to learn that women can have intelligent stimulating conversation, and women certainly need to see and hear men who are interested in family life affairs.

Some people equate femininity with passivity. I don't. I just don't see how an active alive woman is less of a woman just because she is fully alive. A woman that goes for her WHOLE life with real gusto is as admirable as a man. These are people we should admire, and I think it is our job as human beings to BOTH encourage (a role often seen as a woman's) those around us to be fully themselves AND, at the same time, to live a full life ourselves -- a role too often seen as a man's.

This is a hard goal for any society, but maybe harder here where individuality is not encouraged for anyone. But anyone who has lived here for a week can see that it is much harder for women here. All their lives, women here are taught to suppress their feelings and desires, except maybe in the area of becoming a future wife and mother. All people want to improve themselves naturally (that is the spirit of competition), so as a result women here are competitive in the only area they can be: getting a good husband.

Sometime back I wrote about some of the dangers of this. For I have more than a few middle-aged women friends here whose homelife is being threatened by younger more physically attractive women who are pursuing these women's not-so-attractive men, in many cases I believe, as a meal ticket. Forget love or ethics. We are talking survival. But that is what happens in a society where the only somewhat open and fairly paid jobs are in education, medicine or the bar hostess industry. I once even had a female college student of mine commit suicide because she felt her life here as a woman would be unbearable.

So, you see, I feel sympathy for women who choose to play the game the only way they CAN play the game. But I really despair when I read intelligent men like David Aldwinkle seeming to encourage polarization of the sexes. I would have hoped that he is exactly the sort of person who would want to empower women. For how is this any different from the gaijin/Japanese situation? David fights so brilliantly for this issue and does all he can to encourage Japanese people to see not our differences but our similarities. Is this not what needs to be done when we speak of feminine and masculine roles, David? Aren't we all just people doing the best that we can with the opportunities that are there for us? Is not our job as human beings to be fully ourselves while encouraging others to do as well, to point to our common grounds and NOT to our mostly imagined differences (be they issues of sex or race), regardless of which sex we were born as or what country we came from? As thoughtful people I think this is our responsibility.

Yowch. Touche on ALL points. For starters, I can very well see your point about polarization of the sexes. Jan, who inspired all this, has since created a women's support group:

Jan wrote:
To all DFS Women: This evening I forwarded around a long post containing the profiles, short introductory notes and other scattered comments sent in by our wonderfully varied and occasionally quite accomplished Ladies of the Board.

If you are a female DFS member and would like a copy (snip) please send me your e-mail address. I'll shoot one off to you. (No men please.)

(snip) Let's try to help each other out! That's what network is all about, right?

Right. Pity those with a Y-chromosome have to be excluded. I hope Mary Wallstonecraft Shelley isn't reading this and judging me harshly.

The second reason Connie's post really thuds home is when she says;

"For how is this any different from the gaijin/Japanese situation? David fights so brilliantly for this issue and does all he can to encourage Japanese people to see not our differences but our similarities. Is this not what needs to be done when we speak of feminine and masculine roles, David?"

I've spent the past three weeks doing yardwork and mulling over this very point. Eventually I realized that, short of becoming a George Will and splitting hairs of pride just to avoid admitting defeat, no amount of shed painting or hole digging could avail me of logic that could keep my assertions viable. Here's what transpired as I perspired:

The issue essentially boils down to:


Well, yes, most people would probably say. Take off your clothes. Compare levels of androgen and estrogen. Who's got the uterus?

Okay, okay. Then, does that mean they have to be treated differently?

Well, um...

And there begins the infinite loop whose centrifugal force forces my argument to splinter.

For if I were to say yes, that men and women should be treated differently--get assigned gender roles and duties in the name of smooth bungyou and less-troubling social relationships, then what's to stop people from doing the same thing to us gaijin? Relegating us, say, to rot as English teachers in temporary contract positions in the current system of academic apartheid? After all, foreigners are different from Japanese, right? And those differences just happen to be seen in this society (thanks to the "gaijin" paradigm) as a genetically-determined phenomenon. Like male and female.

Which would perpetually justify the status quo, depriving me and anyone else of any right to a voice calling for better conditions for non-Japanese here. For once kubetsu (distinction) is established, sabetsu (discrimination) can't be far behind.

So I have to say, "No, they should not be treated differently. People are different, yes, but those international/interracial differences which are determined at birth should be overlooked in the name of equality and the betterment of society."

Which means, in the name of ikkansei (Damn the Western preference for ideological consistency! Japan's more "TPO attitudes" towards social science would have made it so much easier!), I now have to do the same for gender.

The moment of clarity came as I stood over the hole in my backyard, dropped the spade, and refused to call it one: "You know you've been here too long when you start to see the justification for those social systems you once found ridiculous." And there I shook my head back into shape, like Sylvester after Tweety drops an anvil on it.

This leads me, at long last, to the benkai of this post.


What the hell was I trying to accomplish through all of this? Okay, I'll be honest. In my previous essay, through my tone of writing and selection of topics, I was hoping that some sense of outrage would encourage good, frank, and passionate writing on a subject that is worthy of it. It came from unexpected quarters. The majority of posts I saw were huzzahing men or angry women, yes. But the two original contributors to this debate, Jan and Katrina, never commented on my ire-inspiring claim: if men choose Japanese women over American women, it is due not so much the "loser" quality of the men but rather the "winner" quality of the American women--i.e. the disadvantages that US "competitive social conditioning" creates vis-a-vis Japanese women. This was not to imply that I support this state of affairs, but rather to observe, explicate, and expound.

Actually, I was setting myself up as the "straw man" (note gender), positing an argument that I COULD feel without trying too hard, in hopes that someone would shoot it down. Really--I wanted to be shot down, as I didn't necessarily WANT to feel this way. But not everyone by themself can come up with counterarguments for controversial thoughts passing by when he's in his yard inspired and shedding. That's why I bounced them off you all, warts and all. Although admittedly self-indulgent, this was an important exercise--for without putting all my cards on the table, nobody would have seen who has the aces. Turns out Connie did.

Pity this topic is so acid that people have a problem not internalizing it as a personal attack, or assuming that my conjectures are my fully-formed opinions.

For the record: I do like my relationship with Aya, my wife of nearly ten years, but not necessarily because it is probably different from the one I would have if I had married an American. Rather, because it is a relationship we both are apparently comfortable with (and believe you me, my wife is no yamato nadeshiko: if she has a problem she'll let me know in no uncertain terms). It is something that she and I have come to enjoy through careful negotiation, especially around the mind-field that comes from the often dipolar Nichibei cultural differences. If anything, I've had to put MORE effort into this relationship than I would have with an American woman--because the ideological knots get surreal at times, leaving no energy for arguing over the stuff that others would take seriously, such as who does the dishes next Tuesday.

In any case, through this debate I have had excellent fare for thought, and must entirely capitulate to Connie about the need to try not to make an issue of justifying indelible differences. I thank you all for your feedback, indulgence, time, and stomach lining spent on this issue.


I wrote, and I'll requote cos it's short:

>PS: Ladies, if you think Japan is a desert for male relationships, I suggest you go to another island society--Britain--and feel the mirror image. A huge number of dumpy, sarky women for the American man, but lots of well-dressed, eloquent and charming men for you.

Gordon wrote:
God's blood, man, what further sweeping generalities are you to visit upon us? My residency in the UK, and that of my many colleagues, bluntly says that the above is untrue. I cannot speak to the experiences of your mother but to generalize something so wrong from a single data point is poor form and debases whatever thoughtful judgement that might populate your post. Better to take the recent post of Edith as a role model for further commentary.

Sue wrote:
[Y]our statement about British women was downright rude and offensive. You owe the women on the list an apology for that.

Prolific Joe wrote:
Geez! My mom's English! You force me to write: "May a thousand camels spit in your couscous!" Are we even??

Yes, we're even. And I admit through all the spit that though I meant this tongue-in-cheek, I do have a "thing" about Britain. Experiences with a British-born Dad, nearly annual visits to cold relatives, two years' residence (1977 and 1986) in Blighty, one as an exchange student at Bristol University (the driest time of my life--I had to be rescued by a French au pair), have given me more than "a single data point" to speak from. But that's beside the point, I suppose, to the flinty-eyed.

Jeez, sorry. I guess humor like this has no place in this hot an issue.

Dave Aldwinckle

(But it didn't end there. A couple of people on the ISSHO listserve then accused me of wilfully distorting facts and having a hidden agenda, which I took offense to. But out of the small flurry ,an email came up that showed me exactly what was wrong with my scientific method towards gender issues, and I believe it is so good it warrants recording on my web page. See me get my comeuppance here.)

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Copyright 1998, Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan