On Marriage, Multiculturalism, & Compartmentalization

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Here’s a short but lovely review of The Good Shufu on the wonderful blog A Life with Subtitles, about multilingual marriage.  Following the review is an interview wherein I admit, sure I compartmentalize in my marriage, but I think that’s love (or at least marriage), not multicultural love per-se:

Q: I loved the exploration of gender norms and how you experienced them given your academic background in women’s studies. This was a fascinating theme throughout the book. Could you give those who haven’t yet read it a sneak preview of the ways you’ve incorporated more traditional gender roles into your lifestyle and how that’s been for you? 

Tracy: As I alluded to before, this is another paradox I never expected and that some people find surprising (as even I still do sometimes when I stop to think about it!). But the fact that my life as a “shufu” or housewife, or at least my life doing housewifely things, takes place in Japan, in a world so different from my own native one, provides a kind of barrier from what might otherwise be threatening to me, because it feels so contained by geographical and cultural distances from my native “home.”

Especially with Toru’s father, cooking dinner and serving him tea and bowing to him and cleaning up afterwards, as I used to do at least 3 nights a week when he was still alive, all felt like a role I was playing out of respect for someone very dear to me, but someone who nevertheless came from a very different place than the one that “made” me. I even feel this sometimes still with Toru (minus the bowing, of course, which is definitely where I draw the line in a marriage!). It’s a kind of compartmentalization that perhaps some might question. But it works.

And I think all marriages, all close relationships really, work in part because of a certain level of compartmentalization. We all, to some extent, try to bring the most harmonious parts of ourselves into our relationships in different ways and figure out how to express the other parts elsewhere or in other contexts.

I don’t really think the compartmentalization is the problem; it’s when you’re not honest or open about it that I think it becomes problematic usually. But even if this isn’t the case, and it’s just me who has welcomed a certain level of compartmentalization into my own home and marriage, I’m ok with that. Because as I said, it works, and I’m grateful for that.

Would love to know your thoughts on this or any of the other topics in the full interview. Oh, and there’s a link for a free giveaway of the book at the end of the interview!

PS. The pic at top has no real relation to the interview, but what better illustration of compartmentalization than this?

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