Japanese women intrigue Marguerite

In Japan, Marguerite for the first time began to seriously consider the roles of women in society.

She had not advocated women’s suffrage in the United States or fought for equal treatment in the workplace. She had been America’s first female foreign intelligence officer, but it was a position she wanted for herself, not her gender. She had never fought for women’s rights—or needed to. She had never encountered discrimination that prevented her from doing as she pleased.

But in Japan she found the question of women’s rights too pervasive to ignore. Marguerite based her assessment of Japanese women mainly upon her encounters with aristocrats, and even among the elites, views varied tremendously. A princess she met was not interested in the women’s movement or modern ways. She spent much of her time writing poetry and rarely went anywhere without her husband. She was young   and living in a modern atmosphere, but “deliberately choosing to remain medieval,” Harrison wrote.

Another woman embraced trendy new movements. She took up Margaret Sanger’s campaign to introduce birth control and was helping raise money for Russian famine relief. Nevertheless, Marguerite believed the woman was not serious about any of these projects.

A third woman Marguerite interviewed was an actress who worked to open theatrical doors to women. Women had been forbidden to perform on the Japanese stage, but this woman had managed to appear in several roles in the Imperial Theater and helped establish a theatrical school for girls.

But of all the women she met, Marguerite most admired the geishas, particularly those hired to converse with politicians and statesmen. To perform this role well, the women needed knowledge, wit, and charm, Marguerite noted. A middle-class girl aspiring to education and access to power could receive both in a geisha establishment. “If a geisha is ambitious, beautiful and clever, her opportunities are practically boundless,” she observed.

These were women after Marguerite’s own heart.

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