As we started on the next chapter, Fukunari-sensei started to teach me a strong command form of verbs. She told me that women don't use this form as it is very strong language. My first thought reflected my western upbringing, noting the gender inequality. I asked if a mother might ever use it to her child. No, she said. And she gave me another form that a mother would use. The father would be the one to use this form and only if he was being very harsh, but not a mother.
Although part of me was upset by this inequality I realized that I didn't want this language, anyway. Let men have it, I thought. But this didn't feel right, either. As much as I don't want to be endowed with using harsh language, I don't think it's fair that men are given the sole burden of carrying it. Sometimes western feminism can seem a little one-sided. It's not that I want something I don't have–treatment, language, roles, etc.–it's that I'm willing to share some of what I have in those terms and to take some of the responsibility. Why should a child fear their father and run to their mother for comfort?
It's hard to know how much of these differences in behavior and language are a necessary result of biology and how much is simply passed down through customs. Did behavior create this language difference in Japan, or does the language define the behavior? And how does one go about shaping a greater equality? As a human being, I don't want to use harsher language to bridge the divide, but perhaps that way of thinking comes from my experience as a woman. How do I know that I am limited in my options if I choose to live the way I live?
It's hard to know what is the happiest way of living. Perhaps it is a matter of reflection and dialogue with those around you. Can I, do I want to make a different choice in the way I live? How about the people around me? How do we limit and help one another in the full expression of who we are, beyond our gender and cultures?
I have no idea what Fukunari-sensei thinks about these things. But I know that the way she teaches are models for me and others that I know who have learned from her. She only gives the message, sharing with it her tea and warm care.