Finding Empowerment in Tea : Female Practitioners' Role in Japanese Tea Ceremony since the Warring States Period and the Claiming of Personal Power Through Their Association with Authority and Self-Development
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Women's role in tea ceremony has been and continues to be undermined and devalued. A large reason for this is the erasure of women's role in the history of Tea and general discrimination against women in society and the workforce. It is common for women practicing Tea to be associated with the etiquette education requirements for women during the nineteenth century and with a motivation to secure a better marriage through knowledge of Tea. These associations are reflected in the lack of interest of, most often male, scholars in the practice of Tea by middle aged housewives, despite their importance to the continuation of the school. These women are dismissed for putting too much emphasis on bodily motions, which contradicts tea ceremony discourse depicting a more spiritually focused, male dominated past. This assumption implies that women are concerned with the physical rather than metaphysical aspect of Tea in order to prove themselves, thereby discrediting them as superficial practitioners. Despite this historical and contemporary discrimination, as well as pressures to fulfill domestic duties, all ages are able to derive some form of enrichment from their practice of Tea. Younger practitioners tend to focus on the study of temae as a form of discipline for both the body and mind as well as a means of acquiring a deeper sense of femininity while older practitioners, or those returning from a hiatus of caring for their family, are much more concerned with the academic aspects of the art. Through this they are able to claim capital or authority that acts to empower them on a personal level. Women are able to derive empowerment from their practice of Tea in several different ways including the acquisition of skill and knowledge, association with important people and places, and an ability to act more independently. Female practitioners are able to enrich their lives through the practice of Tea outside of empowerment by obtaining cultural capital and authority. There are many ways in which women can obtain authority through the practice of Tea including association with powerful people and places through myths, motifs, and pilgrimage. Relating to myths acts as a means of legitimizing a practice through association with significant people, meaning current practitioners are able to obtain authority by calling on the authority of those who had practiced the same temae, used the same utensils, or been in the same place. Practitioners are able to assume the authority of Rikyu and other high standing teachers and figures through these relations, which in turn reinforces and continues the authority of the figures creating a cycle. Economic authority is also important for practitioners as it limits how involved a practitioner can become. Wealthy practitioners are able to display their economic power in regards to Tea by purchasing memberships to museums, costumes, utensils, lessons, and trips. Through financially investing in these Tea related activities and items they are demonstrating their disposable income; if they did not have money to spare after purchasing necessities they would not be able to include themselves in the Tea community so thoroughly. The history of women's role in Tea strongly reflects discrimination within Japanese society through time and continues to a certain extent today. It is usually a "general respect for tradition" that leads to respect for the women who practice it. However, women have derived new meanings from their interaction with this traditional art making it empowering and even using it to allow themselves a means of socially accepted self-exploration and development. Despite bias that may be held against women, the art of Tea is a nationally respected practice that transcends gender restrictions and allows women to find empowerment in society as well as themselves.