About misconsceptions about Geisha
This is an idea I got while re-reading Memoirs of a Geisha for the post I’m going to do about it. I thought I’d share it with you since a lot of you seemed very agitated by how the book and the film distort the public’s perception of Geisha.
I wanted to talk about the very persistent misconception that Geisha are or were prostitutes (which they aren’t and never were, just to clarify) and a one of the reasons I think this misconception might exist.
I feel like it has to do with the sex-centeredness of our society/societies, especially the Western one.
As with a lot of people, my interest into the Geisha-culture was sparked by the terrible movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”, which took a big part in spreading the very hurtful, toxic misconceptions that Geisha were/are high-class prostitutes and play-things for men.
I am currently re-reading the novel the film was based on, and one sentence stuck with me: When Mameha, the official older-sister of the main protagonist Sayuri tells her about Dr. Crab, one of her closest clients “It’s not your conversation he’s interested in.”
Mameha means by this that the only actual reason Dr. Crab wants to spend time with Sayuri is because he wants to sleep with her eventually, and especially because he wants to “collect” her virginity. And I think this shows very well where a lot of the problems of the book and the film lie and why sexuality and gender-stereotypes might be a factor to the misconceptions about Geisha.
In the traditional Japanee society, sex was far less of a taboo than it was in the Western society at the same time.
Sex was seen as a part of a regular human’s life and although not talked much about publicly, was not seen as dirty or sinful, but as quite normal.
On the other hand, in the Western society, sex was an absolute taboo, and if it happened before or out of a marriage or with people of the same sex, even a punishable sin. It was seen as dirty and especially women were shamed and excluded for having it.
So when Japan was forced to open to the rest of the world in 1868, these two ideas collided.
To some extent, this still exists today (although it has gotten a lot better, of course) in the Western society and other societies as well, which might explain our obsession about it, since the things considered taboo and “dirty” are always the most exciting and interesting for most people.
This knowledge is important when we talk about a Geisha’s job. A Geisha offers her artistic talents in singing, daning, playing muscial instruments, the tea ceremony and more and her friendliness, her hostipitality and her absolute discretion about what is talked about in the banquet-room to her clients.
While it’s of course not impossible or forbidden for a Geisha and a client to fall in love with each other, this is not the goal of their interaction and sex is and never was involved.
And here we have the crux of the matter: We cannot imagine why a man (historically, most clients of Geisha were men and due to financial reasons, the majority still is) would spend a lot of time with a woman if he had no interest in a sexual relationship with her, especially if he spends money to be with her.
We cannot fathom the idea that a man solely or mostly likes a woman because of her personality and skills, and not because he is sexually attracted to her.
We reduce men to be mostly or even solely sexual, emotionless beings, even sexual predators, and brush it off as normal, and reduce women to sexual objects, whose main or only goal is to please men.
We make it out as if everything is truly about sex, which is just not the truth (athough biologists may disagree with me), as there are a lot of different reasons as to why people book Geisha.
An important factor weighing into this is that spending time with a Geisha is and always was expensive; one evening with several Geisha/apprentice Geisha can easily cost 2000 Dollars or even more.
This heightens the feeling that the men seeking their company secretly have “something more” in mind, which is to sleep with the women, of course, because we cannot imagine that a man would pay so highly “just” for a woman’s conversation.
In addition to this, in our society, we also have this very toxic idea that someone, especially a woman, who had something paid for them or received a gift, has to give back something in return, it is expected, almost mandatory, and for a woman, often sexual favors are wanted or expected (example: A man pays 30 Dollars for dinner and expects the woman he has paid it for to sleep with him afterwards, although she might be uncomfortable with it).
Also deeply weighing into this is the racism towards Asian girls and women and their fetishization, which I’ll cover more deeply in my extensive post.
I just think it’s sad that gender-stereotypes and hyper-sexualization may be two factors as to why this very toxic misconception about Geisha being prostitutes exists, even if they might just be minor.
I have no idea if anyone has actually understood with what I wanted to express, I’m not good with formulating my thoughts.Thank you for reading!