“… remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” — Abigail Adams, future first lady, in a letter to her husband, John Adams, March 31, 1776
My cousins and I are third-generation Japanese-Americans and were raised Christians, but we still observe and celebrate our heritage with some Japanese customs such as Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year’s Day). New Year’s is the most important Asian holiday, but most countries celebrate using the lunar calendar. Japan in 1873 adopted the Gregorian calendar conforming to Western countries such as in Europe and the United States.
The majority of my relatives live in Southern California, so this presents an opportunity to attend the Rose Parade. The family-gathering location rotates among my many cousins. I especially enjoy eating the home-cooked feast of traditional dishes that I rarely taste during the rest of the year. Many of the dishes have a special meaning attached to them, but few of us remember unless we “Google” the items.
The feast supervised by my grandmother was ambrosia but as the cooking duties passed down to the succeeding generations such as ours, the taste declined with each new generation. Sadly, the fourth and fifth generations have even resorted to just buying some of the traditional dishes.
One year, one of my female cousins (whose family consisted of eight girls and one boy) came up to me and said, “You know we hated you when we were growing up.” Shocked, I asked why.
Her father, my maternal uncle, was the patriarch of the family. My father died when I was 14 and so my uncle was my father figure. He was second-generation (Nisei) but adhered strongly to values taught in Japan. His only son was very young, so, by default, I became his favorite and would sit at the table on his right.
Being curious about the cooking in the kitchen, I would peek in, but my mother and grandmother quickly shooed me out and said my place was sitting with my uncle. He commanded an imperial figure and he would discuss things with me as if I were an adult.
If one of his daughters tried to inject something into the conversation, he would stop speaking and just glare until silence was restored, and then he and I continued the conversation. I felt honored and special.
My cousin said, “My father and you acted like emperors while we girls were your handmaidens.” They did wait on us hand and foot serving us food and drinks.
I realized she was right, but my mother and grandmother, raised in a different culture, had encouraged my behavior. Until my cousin brought it to my attention, I didn’t realize how it appeared to her.
My female cousins who were older than me never openly questioned this behavior with my uncle, although they may have silently bitten their tongues. Those younger than me were vocal about my behavior in these later years.
My uncle insisted the girls could only marry someone of Japanese ancestry. After he died, none of the four girls younger than me did so. To his credit, all nine of his children graduated from college.
My wife was also Nisei and was raised with the same cultural values of old Japan. She treated me like my mother and grandmother did, and thoroughly spoiled me. At the time, I never gave it a second thought. She died many years ago; I wish I could express my gratitude by pampering her now as much or more than she did for me.
One cannot blame this male chauvinistic behavior only on Asian cultures. Nor is it confined to nations. Indeed, every major religion such as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians promulgates the idea of male superiority and many religious believers, including females, accept the belief in male supremacy.
Some who tried to reform their religion were shunned, excommunicated or forced out by other means. Some formed or joined religions with more liberal views. Some forsook religion altogether.
The idea of Christian women being priests was encouraged during the early formation of the religion, but it became an anathema later because of cultural forces and church canon. The idea of women in the priesthood was responsible for a major rift in the modern Episcopal Church in the past few years.
English women were allowed to vote until 1832 when they lost it. They didn’t regain it until 1918. The U.S. didn’t permit women to vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Change is always slow but progress is being made as evidenced by increasing numbers of women as leaders of countries, CEOs, physicians, astronauts and in other professions that were considered male bastions. Now if institutions such as religions join this advance, hopefully, there will be a time when true meritocracy will rule, a social order that respects both its genders as complementary parts contributing to the success of the whole.
Glenn Nakadate is a Boulder City resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.