COMPARING CULTURAL STRETCH: CONTENT AND TONE
Japanese advice books reflect a far wider range of standpoints on the role of women than do their American counterparts. At the conservative extreme is How to Discipline Girls, by Minoru Hamao, the former tutor of the emperor and two princes. Hamao advises that “mothers should show respect for their husband’s higher authority under all circumstances.”1’’ At the other extreme Kumiko Hirose, the radio announcer, denounces the authority differential built into male and female styles of speech. Among American advice books the extremes are much closer together. The emperor’s former tutor and the radio announcer reflect a wider cultural stretch than, say, that between James Dobson’s Parenting Isn’t for Cowards and Cowan and Kinder’s Smart Women, Foolish Choices. Paradoxically, advice books in the more culturally homogeneous Japan seem to express a wider range of viewpoints than those in the heterogeneous United States.
One possible reason for this may be that the 1970s and 1980s brought faster changes in Japan than they did in the United States, creating a wider gap between old and new. The range in tones of authority is also far wider among the Japanese than among the American advice books. Some authors write with a tone of stem command, as if to say, “I have the unquestioned right to tel! you what to do.” The advice of the emperor’s former tutor, for example, takes the form of a hundred commands (“You should. . . ,” “You should not. ..”). The rules are absolute; they do not depend on context. Hamao poses himself as the sole arbiter of the rules. In a preface to How to Discipline Girls, he notes, “This is for parents who raise girls and for young women about to marry and for women students. I want these people to read my book, and I also want critiques from teachers or other educators.”m He invites no critiques from the girls themselves.
Other Japanese authors seem to write in the spirit of an older sister: “Why
don’t you try this? It might work/’ This range of tones is probably also due to the greater difference, in Japan, between die way female and male authors— at least conservative older males—grip authority. Between the early 1970s and the late 1980s, the gender gap in style of giving advice closed somewhat, leaving three types of voice—the old male author! tarian voice, the new male more democratic voice, and the new female democratic voice. In the American books, the old male authoritarian voice was missing.
Although most of the traditional Japanese books were written by men, it is not traditionalism that predicts the authoritarian tone. It’s being male. A traditional female author, Yaeko ShioLsuki, author of Introduction to Rites of Passage and grand master of the Japanese tea ceremony, begins modestly: uWhen the editor encouraged me to write this book, I worried about my limited ability to write, but I decided to accept this opportunity and by consulting other professionals in the field, I was able to finally finish it.”17 Feminist female Japanese authors such as Fumi Saimon and Kumiko Hirose adopt a more assertive but also more self-revealing, equalizing, and sisterly tone that makes them more like American female—and even American male—authors. For example, Saimon, a female humorist, ends her Art of Loving:
Why could I write of love? … If a person is born a genius and can solve difficult equations at a glance and he writes about his experience passing an entrance exam for Tokyo University, then what use is it for most people? It’s the same with love. If a woman just by walking down the street is approached by men who want to ask her to go to bed, or gets proposals from the very rich, or is sent words oflove by artists, and writes about her experiences of love, this is useless to most girls (though it’s very interesting just as a story) – The regular person should be satisfied with falling in love once or twice in a life…. I myself have fallen in love from the bottom of my heart once or twice. And these are the treasures of my life. If you can experience true love, once or twice in life, this is a big success lor the average person.*8
American women authors do not differ much in tone from male authors. This is because the male authors base their authority, as women authors do, on professional expertise and personal experience. They also often appeal to the reader’s desire to find an effective way of personally relating to memliers of the opposite sex and don’t appeal to her desire to be morally correct. Instead of commanding, “You should, or you should not…” in Smart Women, Foolish Choices, Cowan and Kinder say, “Perhaps you are wondering who we are, and why we think we have something to say to smart women about their relationships with men. We are clinical psychologists who maintain individual practices of psychotherapy. … As men, we believe we understand how other men think, feel and react. We’re going to tell you about strategies that work with men and. . . we will reveal insights and strategies that we hope will convince you that what now may appear to be a stand off between the sexes
72 can instead be your opportunity to claim delightful, fulfilling experiences with men.”19 In making something as personal as their sex relevant to the credibility of their advice, Cowan and Kinder resemble such female writers as Robin Norwood ( Women Who Love Too Much) or Susan Forward and Joan Torres (Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them).
Both sets of books offer a fascinating window onto a variety of cultural assumptions about the cultural room women have to live modern lives. Japanese advice books define cultural room in terms of what is virtuous or not virtuous (morality) or in terms of what are good or bad manners. American advice books define cultural room in terms of what one does or does not authentically feel.
In both cultures, beliefs and practices are the stuff of cultural collective bargaining. Advice books tell us what modernizing women and their allies and traditional men and their allies each bring to the imaginary’ cultural bargaining table. In this dew, some customs are tools in the hands of those who uphold patriarchy. Other customs are tools in the hands of those pressing for equality. Some are useful to both or neither. Customs held lighdy— for example, with humor—are worth less in tradeoffs than customs held sacred. The affirmation of a challenge to the prevailing culture in books such as these is part of a quiet struggle to establish favorable cultural terms for the working mother.
For Japanese women, the problem is to promote a gender revolution. To do this, they will have to challenge gender divisions that run deep. Japan’s more communal ethos, we argue, is also partly a problem for Japanese working mothers, since it is mainly women who keep up the rituals that maintain this ethos. On the other hand, their more collective orientation helps protect Japanese women from falling into the trap of a stalled revolution in which women are individually emancipated in a society that leaves each woman to cope on her own. For American women, the problem is mainly getting out of a stall in the revolution, and for that they need a more communal approach than any of these do-it-yourself American books provide. Paradoxically, in order to start a gender revolution we need a “light” culture that gives women cultural room to move around, but in order to complete that revolution, we need to draw on the “heavier” culture of which social support is made.
A FEELINGFUL SELF