Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Lessons from a Geisha

Okay, this one might prove a little controversial, but I'd like to bring up the subject of men and women. Recently I've been giving the subject some thought - about what it means to be a man or a woman, and more than that, a Christian man and woman. What roles are we to play, what responsibilities do we have, to our families, or churches, and with one another?

Not too long ago I came across a BBC photo journal about a Geisha. It brought up some interesting questions in my mind, and I think, some important subjects. So I offer it up for your digestion. It's short and there's no inappropriate material, so take a look. Now, before I go on, let me stop for a second and clear a few things up because I expect a number of you might have been a little shocked or put off at the word 'Geisha'. I'm no expert on the subject of Japanese culture, not by a long shot, so I've done some digging around and can, with some confidence, assert that whilst I make no defence or advocacy of the Geisha lifestyle it seems that a Geisha is not a prostitute but in fact more of a traditional hostess. A woman who learns traditional instruments, to sing, various practices etc. in order to entertain. For those who are interested, there is information available online (be careful how you search), but for the most part, information about the modern Geisha is actually quite sparse. Let me reassert that I am by no means advocating the Geisha 'lifestyle' or 'career' or condemning it, I really don't know enough to do either. I'd just like to share the image it brought to mind and some thoughts that came to me from it.

Okay, so getting into it, as I read through the short journal I stopped at pages six and seven. I found it intriguing that, if this lady's words are true and the role of a Geisha does not require her to offer herself physically, it seems men pay to be with her for her company; not for anything physical; to feel appreciated and respected. That strikes me as rather significant. As I continued to read it brought back to mind an internet piece that has made the rounds for a few years - The 50's Guide to Being a Good Housewife.

Now, I know a lot of people find that offensive, others humorous, but certain elements - greeting the man at the door, being prepared for him, listening to him and giving him priority, seemed to echo the account of the Geisha. The Geisha and the 50's Housewife? I pondered what that meant, that men are willing to pay for such a 'service'?

It wasn't too long ago that I had to run the radio station's booth at a visiting marriage conference. The event ran over two days and my duties involved me advertising the station and answering questions whenever the attendees were out on a break and wandering around. That meant, however, that when they were sat down in the conference, I had very little to do and could sit and listen myself. I was greatly impressed.

I've not been to many marriage conferences, in fact, that's my only one, but from what I hear it's unique. The conference in the Love and Respect Marriage Conference, featuring Emmerson Eggerichs, who wrote the book 'Love and Respect'. What makes the conference unique, I hear, is that as well as focusing on the subject of 'love' - specifically, unconditional love, how to give and receive it, and how it makes a marriage work, Emmerson balances it out with a need also for respect. Put simply, he states that men and women each have needs in a relationship. He asserts that for women, the main need is love, and without out they will begin to die emotionally. However, he says that for men the main need is respect. Now this is not to say that women do not need respect and that men do not need love, but that women need love in a way that men do not, and that men need respect in a way that women do not. He offers this illustration: How would a woman respond if her husband were to say of her, "Well, I really respect my wife and all that she does for me, but to be honest, I don't really love her"? Also, how would a man respond if his wife were to say of him, "Oh of course, I love my husband very much, but respect? No, he has to earn that!"?

If you don't know how the opposite sex would respond in those scenarios I challenge you to go and find out from some good, trustworthy friends. It might be eye-opening. Continuing though, as I sat and listened, a lot of what Emmerson has to say made sense, and I found myself almost on the verge of tears, thinking "This is exactly it! What he is saying about men is what so many people do not understand, and what so much of society is attacking. I felt the hurt and the frustration of past experiences, and the hope of a message that needs to be heard and that could do so much for the relationships of men and women, not just in marriage but in families and all through society".

What Emmerson would say is that a woman needs to be loved unconditionally, otherwise she will wilt, but for a man to thrive, he needs to be respected unconditionally. If not, then I think we start to see one major source of behaviours that destroy marriages and relationships. Women go elsewhere looking to be loved, and men do other things to feel respected. Going back to the Geisha, I think this is one of those things. Men go, not seeking physical pleasure, but instead to feel appreciated, treasured, and respected, instead of feeling like the school boy who after returning home from work, then has to try to meet up to all the requirements of the mistress whose tightly controlled domain he is now entering.

Of course, I'm now entering controversial territory and it's going to be very easy to read into a lot of what I'm saying, but please try not to. I'm doing my best to speak plainly, honestly, and accurately, without connotation. There are many other factors at play in a marriage or relationship which affect it's success. There is much responsibility on both sides, with both participants needing to take ownership of their own faults and behaviour, and much effort is needed to make the relationship work. What I saw in the story though, and what I'm trying to do here, is highlight something that many do not or will not mention because it's dangerous to talk about what women might need to do for men - it might sound like were accusing women, or trying to oppress them. I'm not though. I'm just trying to talk.

You see, instead of trying to always talk about 'rights' and demanding all of what is ours and fighting for this , that and the other, I wonder whether there is also a need now to just take a look at what works. To try to figure out what we can do for others and in our lives and relationships that will bring about the situations we desire and the happiness we long for. Christ taught that we should always look out for other before ourselves, and I believe that such is true especially in our closest relationships. If men could live lives that served and blessed their wives, then I don't know of any women who would fight that and who wouldn't want to then serve and bless them in return. Yet very many times, pointing out other people's problems and lack doesn't accomplish anything other than stirring up anger or resentment - and in no situation is this more so than when a woman does it for a man. Not because they're necessarily wrong in their assertions but because when it is not done carefully and with a lot of respect, then it is easy for the man to feel nagged - disrespected and insulted and belittled, and that makes it hard from him to want to respond positively. "Well that's just his problem, and he needs to get it sorted out!" Well perhaps he does, but is it just his problem? When he is in such a state it's also your problem, and if you want it changed, rather than complaining and providing a step-by-step full-colour description of his problem, why not look for something you can do to help things out. Do you want to be right, or do you want things to be better?

Guys respond well to respect. It draws some of the best out of them. It makes it easier for them to love and respond lovingly and often it is the one thing that will inspire them to serve. Men don't mind serving. In fact, their single-minded focus is entirely wired to direct them at serving a single purpose. When properly motivated they will serve that purpose through pain and suffering and even to death. There's something noble about it.

Coming back to the image of the Geisha then. I think there's a lesson for women about men. I heard it said that Geisha are just emotional prostitutes, giving men a service in a non-physical way that should come from their wives. Perhaps that's true. I don't advocate the behaviour. I do know though, that men are looking for respect and appreciation. I'm not talking about demanding it; men really do need it, it's natural and earnest. It may be hard, but there's a lot to be gained from learning to give unconditional respect. It's up to each one of us what we do with that.

The lessons don't end there though. It occurs to me that there's also a lesson here about women.

In terms of the role of a womanhood, I found within the image of the Geisha something that struck me as rather ironic. One the one hand, the Geisha could almost be a poster child for the feminist movement. She's empowered, she's independent, she working for herself, and what's more, she is displaying her power over a man. However, it occurred to me that should the feminists ever decide to put a Geisha on a poster, we'd be witnessing the feminist promotion of the traditional housewife. You see, when the Geisha 'gets out of the house and goes to work' - what she will be doing is staying in the house, preparing meals, and being the kind of woman who greets her husband, spends time with him, and serves him!

Obviously the terms 'Housewife' and 'Geisha' are not synonymous. However if we look at the image of the Geisha, I think it can be seen that a lot (most?) of her power is found in being a respectful and serving wife. A woman who takes joy and care in her role as a partner and support. The power that a woman wields over a man, is that which God actually intended for her in the first place when He created man and woman. Makes sense really, for what power is there that God does not give? That power can be twisted, it can be abused, but what it comes down to is that the role of housewife is perhaps the epitome of a woman's power and influence.

Now, let me clarify, I'’m not trying to get to the point where I can state that I believe all women have to be housewives, or that they will only find fulfillment in being such. What I am trying to do is point out that whilst being a housewife was once not a choice, yet that does not invalidate the position of women as housewives, nor the work done by them. What is more, I have a feeling that the majority of women will sooner or later find such a role the most fulfilling of their lives. I say that not from my own ‘superior knowledge or thinking’, but from listening to the women I have been around and those I have encountered throughout my life and from my understanding of the Bible.

The occupation of housewife is not discredited just because at one point that was all a woman was allowed to do. It is a very good thing that women now have the choice of how they will spend their lives, not only in itself, which would be a wonderful thing, but because that choice enables the role of housewife to be seen in clearer light than ever before. Just as the Geisha could be seen as empowered, independent, and powerful, why cannot these terms be applied to the woman who chooses to spend her life managing a household and seeking to invest in her family? What is more empowered than that? A wife calms a man, blesses him, makes him more productive, challenges him to grow and mature, and has a pivotal role in raising the next generation of human beings.

When you consider many of the other pursuits in life - making money, spending money, having fun - the choice to be a housewife certainly seem to be an investment of much greater worth to society than those win the titles of '‘Person Most Entertained'’ and '‘Person with the Most Stuff'’. I suppose though that depends upon the end gsoceity. If what we're aiming at is a world where everyone can have all the fun they want and as more money than they can spend, then having fun, making money, and spending it are goals in themselves. If not, then they seem amazingly short-sighted, and pardon my bluntness, the stance which declares that being a housewife is an unworthy life choice for a woman, is more a statement of selfishness than the battle-cry of a noble cause. And that is all the more sad when one considers that one of the greatest characteristics of women is that they are heroically unselfish.

To say that being a housewife is a poor choice for a woman is a not a statement concerned with showing the strength and ability of a woman. All women are born with strength and ability, God created them to be that way. Rather it is a statement concerned with making the pursuit of wealth and personal gain primary over the traditional roles of raising children and making a home and a family - creating and managing society. If a woman does not want to pursue those roles, then that's okay. That is her choice. What must not happen, however, is the condemnation of those women who do make that choice. The truth of the matter is that far from being restrictive, demoralising and a form of oppression, the role of housewife is one that tests a woman, requiring skill, devotion and perseverance, and one that offers a great sense of fulfillment and achievement. Each woman is born with the power to influence a man, and to change society, but no power is ever supposed to be put up in a glass case to be praised, nor is it to be abused. Any feminist can tell us that such have been some of the greatest faults of men. The modern catchphrase is true, 'With great power comes great responsibility'. I praise all those woman who choose to develop that power, and to make use of it as God intended - to build, to be a blessing, to love.

That is the second lesson of the Geisha. Being a woman devoted to home, husband and children is by no means demeaning or belittling. It is one of the most empowering, challenging, fulfilling and significant things a woman can ever do.

"I have nowhere seen women occupying a loftier position [than the one they enjoy in the United States]; and if I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: to the superiority of their women."

~ Alexis de Toqueville (1833)

Thanks to LAF for the quote.