My then-boyfriend and I were heading home one evening in Sendai City. I was beat from a long day at work and could barely keep a grip on my grocery bag. My boyfriend, a cheery Japanese guy from the Tohoku countryside, took the bag and slung it over his shoulder. I thanked him. He smiled and then uttered the words he probably regrets to this day: “Audrey wa kayowai ne.” (“Audrey, you’re ‘kayowai.’”)
“Kayowai”? What the heck is that? I popped open my electronic dictionary and looked up the word. “Feeble”?!
The blood vessels in my neck started bulging as I questioned in my head how a mild-mannered boy could say such a cruel thing. “Feeble” is a lab rat drained of its blood. “Feeble” is a stray cat found in a storm drain. “Feeble” isn’t your girlfriend who’s about to prepare you a home-cooked meal!
I gave him a verbal beating over the next several days. He defended himself by explaining that “kayowai” was used as a term of affection by Japanese boys. Only nice girls are paid such a compliment. It’s like describing a damsel in distress; if the damsel wasn’t “kayowai,” she wouldn’t need her Prince Charming.
I got the gist of his logic but wasn’t willing to budge. Raised in a society fine-tuned by feminists, I wasn’t going to be treated as a lesser person because of my gender. It just wasn’t right. So I began lecturing him on the importance of gender equality and how it’s made my good ol’ U.S. of A. a better place. “If it weren’t for gender equality, I’d be serving tea all day like Japanese women!” I said, dealing the decisive blow that rendered him speechless — though mostly because he was just tired.
Though just when I thought I had it all figured out…after telling a Japanese female friend about the incident, instead of questioning my boyfriend’s reasoning she challenged my own. “Why are American women so strong-minded?” she asked. “Is it that bad to let a man help you?”
She told me about her experience living in the U.S. and feeling that so many American women were too rigid and self-righteous to become friends with. She added how she practically envied me because her own boyfriend had never used the word on her. “It’s not a bad thing to be considered feminine,” she said. Here was a girl whom I’d admired for her intelligence and strength. And here she was, jealous of my “feebleness.”
It took months to digest the whirlwind of discussions, though in the end I came to accept that we all have weaknesses, so why be in denial about it? I’m indebted to the feminist movement for making the world a better place for me, but it doesn’t mean I need to put up a fight every time someone thinks I need a hand.
So go ahead, call me feeble. I won’t put up a fight.