Feminine Speech Patterns and Japanese

A long time ago when I was first starting a career path, I would at times attend various workshops related to career development.  One of these workshops that I remember was for women teaching them to rid their speech of “feminine speech patterns.”  These speech patterns consisted of phrases such as “I think” and “I believe” and phrases such as “isn’t it,” which seek agreement from the listener.  Other patterns were frequent apologies and self-effacing language.  All of these speech patterns were to be avoided as they tended to keep women “in their place” and prevented them from “getting ahead” in the business world.

Business WomanLater when I embarked on a second career, I was taught that using words such as “I think” or “I believe” was improper “hedging.”  I can still hear voices of instructors saying, “No one cares what you think!”  According to the conventional wisdom of my career, it was important to sound confident, even (and maybe especially) when one was not!  Otherwise, one would not be taken seriously.  In writing, one was to avoid passive voice, except in very particular circumstances.  I also learned in other places, such as church settings, that it was important to be direct with one’s speech.  Indirect speech was said to be manipulative.

As I have discussed on this blog and on others, I am currently studying Japanese.  I have found it interesting that in Japanese, all of these “feminine” speech patterns that were drilled out of me in the West are all matters of ordinary politeness in Japanese.

In Japanese, it is frequent to end thoughts or sentences with qualifiers such as, to omoimasu (“I think”) or ne, (a sentence ending particle that seeks, or even assumes, agreement by the listener).  Not only does one frequently apologize in Japanese, but there are many different levels of apology.  The informal apologies, gomen or gomen nasai, are used all of the time, and it is polite to end a communication with a superior (or even with an equal in polite circumstances) with shitsurei shimasu, an apology meaning “I am committing an act of rudeness.”

Japanese-ClothingStyle-For-Women1In Japanese, self-effacing speech is considered the norm and to do otherwise is considered arrogant and rude.  One never uses an honorific to refer to oneself, one’s own household (to another outside her household), or one’s company or in-group, but always uses an honorific to refer to others, unless one on very intimate or friendly terms with the other.  There are different words in Japanese for “to give” based on the social position of the giver and the receiver.  Kureru is to “give down” to one socially below and ageru is to “give up” to one socially above.  When speaks of giving something to another, one uses ageru and when one is asking to be given something by another one uses kureru.  One only uses the word jouzu, meaning “skillful” or “good at” to refer to someone else.  To use jouzu for oneself sounds prideful and arrogant.

Passive voice is common in Japanese and is particularly used when one is being polite.  As a general rule, speech that is passive and indirect is considered more polite than active and direct speech.  For example, if one must refuse a request, it is common to do so with a simple chotto (“a little”) without completing the sentence.  This means the request is a little….(inconvenient, difficult, impossible, etc.).

It is interesting that the speech patterns that are considered “feminine” in English are part of everyday Japanese, and to omit them would be seen as rude or arrogant.  While Japanese does have speech patterns that are seen as more masculine or more feminine, I believe that the patterns I have mentioned are just a part of ordinary common courtesy in Japanese.

Is Being Non-Judgmental a Virtue?

I have to admit, I really do not know much about popular culture.  To be honest, I never really knew much about popular culture.  Even in my younger days, by the time I would find out about something and begin to like it, it was already out of style.  One of the advantages to being over forty years old is that by definition, I am no longer “cool,” or whatever term is used for that concept nowadays.  It was always rather useless for me to attempt to be “cool,” but now, there is no reason to even try.  I can gracefully move into the status of an “old lady” and ask the “young-uns” for explanations when I have no idea what they are talking about.  I do hope to avoid getting too grumpy, and I have not put up a “Keep Off the Grass” sign…yet.

Keep Off the Grass SignThat being said, I think I may indulge in a bit of old lady grumpiness for the moment.  Now that I am blogging, I have been reading articles about how to promote one’s blog.  Of course, if I am taking the trouble to write a blog, it is nice to find people who will read what I have to say, so I have been dutifully reading the articles about what one is supposed to do.  Anyways, one of the things one is supposed to do is to go out and about and read and comment on other people’s blogs.

In venturing out into the blogosphere (I am assuming that is still a term that is used), I am encountering some rather strange ideas.  Some of the strangest ideas revolve around being “non-judgmental.”  There was a time that I saw being “non-judgmental” as a virtue, but I do not think that we meant the same thing by that a few decades ago.  To me, being “non-judgmental” meant being understanding about differences in culture and abilities, and as a general rule, being kind and well-mannered to everyone, no matter who they were.  It also meant having a sense of humility, realizing that I had just as many flaws as anyone else, so I should not try to put on airs like I was better than anyone else.

In some of my recent Internet exploration, I ran across some words that I will not repeat that left me really scratching my head.  Most of them were rather insulting words ending in the suffix “-shaming.”  In these discussions, the context was that this shaming was a bad thing and was “judgmental.”  I will admit that I had no idea why these terms were applied to the context they were and no idea what was so “judgmental” about what was being said.  It seemed to me that the post was discussing good manners in the context of Lolita.  For those who do not know, Lolita is a fashion movement starting in Japan, which is Victorian inspired, with a pretty, cute and girly look.  For an explanation of Lolita, here is a really good article on the subject.  This article has been criticized in the blogosphere of being “judgmental” as well, and I do not understand these criticisms in the least.

It seems to me the meaning of being “non-judgmental” has changed so that it is now a fault to have any standards for behavior at all.  I understand that even in ancient times when I was a child, values were being turned topsy-turvy, as I discussed in a previous article, Welcome Back, Sandra Dee.  Still, there was some sense that some things were right and some were wrong.

There also seems to be a lot of unkindness surrounding being “non-judgmental,” in reading the comments I have seen.  Although, I don’t know really.  I have to admit to being a little surprised by the amount of unkindness and rudeness there is on the Internet and blogosphere in general.  It is nice to have a little haven here, and I have been quite grateful that everyone’s comments have been polite and kind.

To me, it seems that maybe being “non-judgmental” in the context that it is used today is not really much of a virtue.  I think that the real virtues are kindness, courtesy, and humility, and that they should be extended to everyone.  On the other hand, one can still have good judgment about one’s own behavior and make decisions regarding who and what one will allow to influence her.

Oh dear, maybe I am putting up the Keep Off the Grass sign.  Well, I have reached the age where I can say these things, I think!

Pleasant Speech

Many of us have heard the phrase from our mothers and grandmothers, “If you can not say anything nice, do not say anything at all.”  I think that this is a time honored statement of good manners that has been largely forgotten in this day and age.

A couple of months ago, I took a trip to Mexico to visit a dear friend.  There were many things that struck me about Mexico in comparison to the United States.  One of the things that struck me was how little people complained in Mexico.  Of course, it could be that people were really complaining, and I did not catch it because I do not speak Spanish, but I rarely got the impression from people’s facial expressions or tone of voice that they were complaining.  In contrast, when I came back to the States, I was shocked by how much complaining I saw, even on my the first day back.

Another bad habit I have noticed all around me is the habit of swearing.  People nowadays seem to use swear words as if they were ordinary nouns and adjectives.  I will admit that there was a time in which I too had that bad habit, but I think that I have mostly stopped that now.  It is particularly disturbing to see how much swearing there is on the Internet in social media.  It is one thing to shout an expletive in a moment of emotion such as shock, pain, or anger.  It is still not good, but it seems like a more forgivable indiscretion.  Yet, when one posts in the Internet, one has the opportunity for reflection and thoughtful consideration before hitting the “post” or “send” button, and of course, anything we put on the Internet is available to be viewed forever by anyone in the world.  Why would one want to show oneself to be foulmouthed in this context?

As a contrast, I was thinking of a video education series I watched a few years ago, The Story of Human Language.  It seems that many traditional cultures have a High and a Low Language, and some even have a Middle Language.  According to the professor, it is a huge challenge for linguists to capture the Low Language, because the minute traditional people know that they are being recorded for study, they are too embarrassed to use Low Language, and they will switch to speaking in the High Language.

I think that some of the reason for the prevalence of complaining and swearing in the Modern West is part of a larger decline in civilization and because people have forgotten their nature as spiritual beings.  Very few people go to church or are involved in any spiritual community, and even the leaders of spiritual communities do not really understand the power of speech anymore.

In the New Age movement, and in modern psychology, there is the concept of “Positive Thinking,” which is basically using our thoughts to bring to us what we want out of life.  Despite this, there are many who subscribe to these notions, yet are still sloppy with their speech in terms of complaining and swearing.

As a Filianist, I do believe that our speech does matter.  Metaphysically, everything that we say, think, and imagine is real in the Lunary Sphere of existence.  While I think that the notion of “Positive Thinking” is rather oversimplistic, what we do in the Lunary Sphere can and does impact the physical world.  When we swear and complain, we are polluting the Lunary Sphere.  The pollution of the Lunary Sphere is far, far more damaging to our souls than the pollution of the physical air is to our bodies.

This concept is better expressed in the feminine Scriptures, in the Sutra, Thoughts of the Mind,

20.  Forget not the power of words, for a word has all the power of a thought and a thought has power to move the earth and the heavens.

21.  Therefore speak not evil in idleness, nor fall into the custom of ill speaking; but govern your words even as your actions.

22.  Speak words of love and innocence, of mildness and of hope, and you shall weave a raiment of peace about your soul, and a veil of gentle light.

There are those who might read this and think to themselves that this is all well and good, but should not one be honest about negative feelings and thoughts?  Is it not wrong to speak polite words, if one is thinking negative thoughts?  I think the answer to this is that I believe that our thoughts are more complicated than we think they are.  I know, for myself, I often have negative thoughts, but I do not know that these negative thoughts always represent my true thoughts and feelings.

In the Modern West, there is a culture that teaches that the negative parts of ourselves and of others are what is “real,” and that when people are being nice and good, they are hiding something.  My own belief is that this is reversed.  The Real part of us is the part that is good and kind, and the False part of us is the ugly part.  For more discussion of this, you can refer to a previous article I have written for the Apple Seed, True and False Selves Through the Zodiac.

When I go through a day, many thoughts go through my head, like little birds.  Both negative and positive thoughts about situations and people flit past, sometimes at the same time about the same person or situation.  If I subscribe to the cultural belief that the negative thoughts are my “real feelings,” and the positive ones are “making excuses” or “holding back,” I will hold on to the negative thoughts and feelings and dismiss the positive ones.  Yet, why would my negative thoughts be any more “real” than my positive ones?  If I understand that often my negative thoughts and feelings are that of my False Self, and the positive, loving thoughts and feelings are those of my True Self, I can let the negative thoughts and feelings flit away, and I can hold on to the positive thoughts and feelings.  In doing so, I am being very honest when I speak kind and loving words to others, even as I am ignoring the whispers and complaints from my False Self.

Proud HorseAs I say this, I know that I am far from perfect.  As in the other areas of my life where I am making changes, I have a long way to go.  In another Sutra, The Clew of the Horse, it says:

58. Hard to govern is the mind, like to a proud horse that drinketh of the wind, filled with its own desires. 59. Fain would it draw the rain from thy hand and carry you where it will; fain will it take the body for its mistress. 60.  Like to a bird that doth hop from twig to twig, turning first to one fruit, then to another, without control or constancy.

Even so, I believe that it is a worthwhile endeavor to strive to control our words and our speech, or to follow the time honored quote I mentioned above, “if you can not say anything nice, do not say anything at all.”  If my thoughts are kind and loving, I can move them out into the world with my words.  If my thoughts are not kind and loving, I can let them pass as a flitting bird, without giving them more substance through my words.

See also:

The Cursing Ape

The Ladies’ Tea

This past weekend, I went to an Annual Ladies’ Tea at a larger church gathering.  The Tea itself was lovely.  There was beautiful china on the table with lovely teapots.  Ladies were dressed in beautiful and elegant dresses.

Arkadyan Ladies TeaWhat was interesting, and to me, a bit sad, were some reactions to the idea of a Ladies’ Tea.  There were women who seemed to think that such events should be long past.  There were also women, even at the tea, who chafed a bit at the entire concept behind this event, and I think, what such an event seemed to represent to them.  It was also sad that there were several teenage girls at the gathering who did not go to the Tea.  I think that this is symbolic of the direction our society has been headed in the last few decades, which is really just a culmination of millenia of a systemic patriarchal devaluation of the feminine principle.

In order to explain what seems to be a bit of an outlandish statement, we need to understand that the masculine principle and the feminine principle are metaphysical concepts that are separate from (but not completely unrelated to) biological gender.  In its highest form, the masculine principle is that of protection and courage, but on a more mundane level, it is related to outward action, competition, and conflict.  The feminine principle is related to nurturing, beauty, kindness, and gentleness, and is related to stillness, as opposed to action.  Stillness was not viewed as inferior – quite the reverse – to quote feminine Scripture “earth moves but heaven is still.”  Many millenia ago, even in the West, the feminine principle was seen as the higher principle, and the masculine principle was seen as the lower principle.

Estrenne Tea PartyWhen patriarchy took over the world around 600-500 B.C., both in the East and the West, the East and the West took different approaches.  In the East, the feminine principle was still considered the highest principle; however, the associations of masculine and feminine became reversed, at least in terms of the qualities of action and stillness.  The quality of stillness was assigned to the masculine gender, and the quality of action was assigned to the feminine gender.

In the West, however, the masculine principle itself became seen as the higher principle, and over time, the feminine principle became more and more devalued.  Nurturing, beauty, kindness and gentleness became associated with weakness, to be subordinated to the masculine principle of achievement, competition, and war.  Men were violently discouraged from manifesting feminine traits, and though women were still encouraged to manifest feminine traits, they were made subordinate to men, legally, socially, and often violently.

Despite this, until the past several decades, there have been vestiges of the ancient dance between the masculine and the feminine in the form of chivalry.  The true meaning of chivalry was an outward manifestation of the masculine principle giving honor to the feminine principle, which survived in form, even though the understanding of the meaning of the form had been lost.  Because the understanding of the meaning of the form was lost, people mistakenly believed that men engaged in chivalrous behavior because of the supposed weakness of women.   It is understandable that feminists chafed at chivalry with the long term mistaken social belief as to what it represented.

So, how do these deep philosophical concepts relate to a Ladies’ Tea?  I believe that these events represent a dying bastion of feminine space.  Femininity is not a restriction or a prison.  Femininity is a birthright.  Not all biological women need to accept or manifest this birthright; however, it is ours, should we choose to accept it.  The very form of such events is distinctly feminine and is not trivial.

China SetBeautiful clothing, china, teapots, and table settings are all symbolic of striving for beauty.  Beauty is an end to unto itself and is a trait of the Divine.  As children of the Divine, we can choose to adorn ourselves and our surroundings with beauty, even in a world that systematically devalues and tries to destroy beauty.  Good manners and pleasant conversation are symbolic of giving honor to each other and of engaging in harmonious social behavior.

As I am writing this, I can hear arguments and complaints about these events being far from harmonious.  Even at the tea, I heard stories of gossiping and subtle, and not so subtle, unkindness surrounding such events.  I have no doubt that women have used these events to compete with each other and to judge one another.  Yet, to avoid such events because of these things is to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Yes, women have traits of excessive competitiveness, just as men do.  Women can be mean to each other and gossip.  We are all imperfect human beings, and we all have faults.  Those faults are not intrinsic to the feminine principle, however.  In fact, the feminine principle, in its highest form, is the antidote to these faults.  Beauty, gentleness, and kindness in manner, dress, and decor, if truly embraced, can go a long way towards the healing of ourselves and our surrounding world.

I am so glad and honored that I was a part of one such feminine hold-out in this modern, hyper-masculine age, and I hope that I can find more such feminine hold-outs in the future.

Below are some related articles that may be of interest to readers:

Lolita — Mere Frills or a Light in the Darkness

Lolita Fashion and Philosophy for the Poor-but-Kawaii