Friday, March 11, 2005
death of the nineties man
I bought my teacher Yoshiko a beer a few weeks back when or Japanese class was out at karaoke. It only cost 5 euros, and being British I was happy to buy it for her under the 'round' system, where beers bought are returned either that night or at some point soon. I'd say that it's generally considered bad form to count the beers and complain if you end up out of pocket. The point of rounds is that over time, you come out even. Over time, your mutual trust and friendship develop and grow.
The thing that struck me about Yoshiko was that at the end of the night, she expressed guilt about not having any change to pay me back. Of course, I told her that an Englishman doesn't worry about that, and I was happy for her to buy me a beer the next time we were out. She obviously went away without feeling any better about the situation, since when we were at the theatre the next week she made a point of paying for my ticket. As it happened, she ended up paying the exact amount she owed me even though I had completely forgotten about that one beer and couldn't have cared less about the money.
The whole way she had consciously remembered the amount and took the very next opportunity to repay the debt reminded me that this behaviour is in fact very very Japanese. It's strange how long you can go on living next to something, never understanding it, always wondering why it exists and why it's so weird. I never understood why the Japanese had to clutter up their lives and language with such complicated systems for indicating whether someone was giving or they were receiving, and how much. But this week I think the point has finally sunk in. Relationships are all about giving and receiving.
Events have shown me recently how a relationship that becomes unbalanced in the giving and receiving department is an unhealthy relationship. When a person gives and gives without receiving, they damage themselves to a point where the unsatisfied part of them that should be receiving starts screaming and shouting and generally demanding attention. So, keeping balanced seems to be key to harmony. But there's another factor, which is making sure that the exchanges happen at the right level. There are many levels over which we share our lives in relationships, including materially, sexually, emotionally and intellectually. Sometimes people try to swap something from one level for something from another. Sex for material, for example. Such exchanges wouldn't work for me, it wouldn't be fulfilling. But there are a lot of relationships out there that seem to function in that way.
In my own history of relationships, I have a history of doing a lot more giving than receiving. Regular readers of Glacons will be aware that this is the sort of thing I try to get to the bottom of. I never accept these things as some sort of unchangeable aspects of my character, I see them as conditioning that needs to be explored and replaced with something that will bring greater fulfilment. I have thought about it and figured out that since I grew up in the eighties and nineties, I was impressionable at an age when feminist ideas were making a lot of noise in British society, changing a lot of norms and inventing new concepts for femininity and masculinity.
I guess these concepts could be summed up as Career Girl, and Nineties Man. Career Girl was go-getting, leaving the kitchen behind and never to pick up a hoover. She would be happy to earn more than her husband, parading herself around town in her BMW and giant shoulder pads. Nineties Man was getting in touch with his emotions, being way less macho and a lot more caring. He would be happy to change a nappy and walk around the park with the baby in the pushchair. Of course it's plain to see now that these stereotypes are simply an unimaginative role reversal, rather than a genuine development in our coexistence.
Some people were exposed to these ideas in a context in which they were ridiculed. As far as my life goes, I was given a mother whose father who had been as emotional as a brick. Not only did she totally agree that men had to be more emotional, she had a massive emotional deficit to make up. Quite a number of times she has said, 'I always thought that my children would want to be cuddled all the time. But when I had you, that was the last thing you wanted.' My apparently obvious reluctance to be her teddy bear was not strong enough to get through her need though, with the result that I became conditioned into giving despite myself. She got a bit lecturesome the other day about this pattern in my life. I laughed ironically and told her that her lecture was a bit rich considering she'd set that train in motion. She laughed and said, 'Well, they always say that your parents will fuck you up!'. So there's another little bit of family history aired and cleared.
No matter how stupid the concepts of Nineties Man and Career Girl are, I reckon the upheaval in gender we have set in motion in our society is in the long run going to be of benefit. In most societies, women are economically dependent upon men. My own experience in Japan shows me that what this often creates is a situation where men are chosen for their material prospects and their status, and women are chosen for their beauty and subsequent role as a trophy wife. Clearly this is a classic case of exchanging material for sexual.
Over the last century, women have secured the cultural changes that were necessary to allow them to establish themselves with much more equality in our society. Now the sexes are free to build relationships where there can be a fair exchange of giving and receiving on all levels. That's obviously a good thing. But we'll only get there if we forget about the inherrent unbalance in the Nineties Man and Career Girl model, with his pathetic wimpiness, and her bitchy greed.
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