“Strangely, my new role as ‘traditional Japanese housewife,’ didn’t bother me, despite my history of feminism”

And my 1st official reading from the book-in-progress

I’ll be reading a brief excerpt from The Good Shufu on Thursday, March 7, at The Fairbank Center at Harvard in celebration of the March 2013 issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.

Here’s a sneak peek from the middle of the piece I’ll be reading:

A few months after our marriage, I sat one night on the floor of my father-in-law’s living room, the worn but tidy rug rough under my limbs. I’d begun to call my father-in-law Otōsan, “respected father,” bowing low when he came for dinner three times a week, serving tea to him and Toru on the nights we ate at his house, just down the road from ours. Strangely, my new role as shufu, or “traditional Japanese housewife,” didn’t bother me, despite my history of feminism. This is not my culture, I thought. This is something I just do out of respect to Otōsan, when we’re with him. I surprised even myself by how easily I could play the part, as long as it was only for a few hours a week, in a country and language I knew I’d never call my own.

That night, while the men sipped the tea I’d served, I flipped through old albums of Toru as a baby. I saw him as a newborn in his mother’s arms, her face shining above his perfectly rounded cheeks, the red bow of his baby mouth. She stared at him with a love and pride so fierce it looked like hunger, a hunger I had never felt or wanted. Until then.

Suddenly, that hunger began to tempt me, my heart melting a bit until I could taste a new yearning on my tongue.

****

I was 41 when I first got pregnant. “Contratulation, Mrs. Tracy!” the doctor at the fertility clinic in Osaka said, dropping the “s” and confusing my first name for my last, as everyone in Japan did. She pronounced my name “To-ray-shee,” and she had doubted my ability to get pregnant at all, given my age.

The clinic nurses were giddy. They spoke no English, but I knew what their delight said: 41! Getting pregnant on your very first try of IVF! With your own eggs! They smiled happily and bowed enthusiastically when I came in for my weekly ultrasounds. “Iee, ne,” they would say—“It’s great, isn’t it!”—and their eyes would sparkle as they clasped their hands against the bright pink of their polyester uniforms.

Red the full piece in the March issue of Cha, or please come see me read on 3/7/13 if you’re in the Boston area! More info about the event is here!

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13 thoughts on ““Strangely, my new role as ‘traditional Japanese housewife,’ didn’t bother me, despite my history of feminism”

  1. Congratulations!

    I can relate to your comment about the semi-contradiction between having a history of feminism and becoming a “traditional Japanese housewife.” I’ve always been really independent, and now that I’m in a relationship with a very family-oriented Chilean man, I go with him to lots of family gatherings and his mother fixes my clothes and things like that. I’ve become accustomed to playing the part.

    I just got back to Chile after a visit “home” to San Francisco, and realized that my expectations about how I expect my parents to relate to me have been shaped by cultural standards that don’t come from them. These expectations come from China and Chile, where I’ve spent the majority of my “adult” life. My cultural bearings are mixed. It’s unsettling.

    I look forward to reading more of your book!

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    1. Thanks, Leslie, for your thoughtful and interesting comments. It’s interesting that your expectations of your own native culture are being shaped now by your expat one.

      One thing I’m always struck by is how my “shufu”/housewife role doesn’t bother me because I can always say, “oh, it’s not really my culture,” but if an American man expected me or wanted me to wait on him and his father, I’d be pissed! Do you find that same sense of remove–it almost feels like non-reactivity–in your Chilean life? And does it ever feel like a cop-out? It does sometimes to me, and other times it just feels almost like being in a play, but I wonder if others share my experiences.

      Thanks again for your comments,

      Tracy

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  2. Interesting that when the cultures are very different, you almost feel like you are playing a role, so you find it almost easier to accept. I had a good German friend who married an Indian man and reported feeling much the same as you describe it. However, when you come from similar cultures (but don’t necessarily agree with either of them), it can get confusing. I am Romanian, my husband is Greek, and our traditions (regarding sexism) are quite similar. As long as we live in a third culture, far away from our own, it works fine, but as soon as we go to either country or have parents and relatives visiting, it gets difficult.

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    1. Hi Marina. It’s funny how both places and the people around us can really impact our identities, isn’t it? It really challenges, for me at least, the notion of some kind of fixed or true or ultimate identity, and suggests to me how much identity is fluid. In any case, it sounds like you have a really interesting take on the issue from a personal perspective. Wishing you all the best in your 3rd-culture life!

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