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Letter To The Editor: November 1995

Author: Julie Vernon-Edo, Susan Boyd, Issue: November 1995, Topic: Letters to or from the Editor

From Julie Vernon-Edo

I do not write to defend Martin Pauly's point of view or his arguments. Nor do I write to concur with the opinions espoused by Mr. and Mrs. Szalapski. I write to clarify some statements made, comment on others and lastly make a suggestion to future contributors and the critiquing of articles.

In the Feb. issue, Mr. Pauly, after giving readers a description of the Miss January/February calendar on the wall next to the menu, states "It takes me a long time to read the menu." In the June issue, Martin gives readers his interpretation of the criticism he received from a woman "caller (who) said that (his) activities (of) admiring the suggestive calendar ... were shameful." In the same issue, Martin remarks how he and his family "saw a woman on the wall in a wet T-shirt holding a beer mug." In his letter (Oct. issue) Rob Szalapski states that Mr. Pauly was "ogling 'girlie' calendars..." The words "admiring", "saw" and "ogling" carry very different meanings, as I am sure readers are aware.

Included in Mr. Szalapski's criticism of Martin Pauly's article was the idea that Martin was "using drunkenness as an excuse for molesting the hostess..." What Mr. Pauly did write was "dancing close with the hostess" (June issue) and "dance too much while holding the hostess too tightly" (May issue). There is a big difference between "dancing close", "holding the hostess too tightly" and "molesting"; so please in the future, don't misquote nor give an interpretation as to what may or may not have transpired.

As readers can see from the two examples above, word choice can and does affect our perception of what is under discussion. Since linguists will tell you that our perception is shaped to a large degree by the interchange between society and language, it shouldn't be difficult to understand why the spelling of a word is considered important by some. Why then, Mr. Szalapski, do you consider the activities of some feminists "trivial" (your word, not mine) when they want "to change the spelling of 'women' to 'womyn' and find their campaigning 'impossible to take seriously'..."? Please consider that since language is the basis to communicate and express our ideas it does affect our perception and understanding.

Mr. Szalapski states "...I hope that, 'as a man,' I have succeeded in providing a point of view that is quite contrary to that of Mr. Pauly." Are you suggesting that you are more enlightened on the topic? This being the case, could you please explaining your following comment? "One recent decision she (your wife) made was, at great personal sacrifice, to move to Japan so that I could accept an excellent job offer. This fills me with great happiness because she was compelled by her own free will, not by the shackles and chains of a rigid and unforgiving society." Why was it your wife who made the "great personal sacrifice" and not you? You too could have made a "great personal sacrifice" and not "accept(ed) an excellent job offer." The fact that this "fills (you) with great happiness" does not necessarily mean that your wife felt the same way. Moreover, what do you men when you say "she was compelled by her own free will"? Does not the word "compelled" imply that perhaps there was more to it than just "free will", in that the words "compelled" and "free will" seem incompatible? I do not make this point to be facetious, but to illustrate how easily one can critique a seemingly innocuous remark.

My reading of your letter, Mr. Szalapski, leads me to believe that you come from a country you believe is free of the "shackles and chains of a rigid and unforgiving society" and that Japan is not such a country. Well, in the 14 years in which I have lived in Japan, I have yet to see anyone -- man or womyn -- shackled or chained. As to Japan being a society which is "rigid and unforgiving", all societies have degrees of ridgedness and unforgiving. For example, the United States, as well as 51 other countries in the world, does not allow persons with HIV/AIDS entry. Is this not a sign of being "rigid and unforgiving"? Japan, on the other hand, does allow entry to those with HIV/AIDS. This is not to say that Japan is not "rigid and unforgiving" in other areas. Everything is relative to one's perspective.

The purpose of critiquing an article is to take issue with the topic under discussion, not to insult nor belittle the author(s) who wrote the article. The fact that you both, Mr. and Mrs. Szalapski, insult and belittle Martin Pauly by inference and direct reference in such unflattering terms as a: cockroach, jerk, defensive teenager, braggart, hypocrite and Neanderthal man, may tell THE ALIEN TIMES readers much about your own characters. The art of arguing/debating is to follow certain conventions of etiquette.

In many countries, the fact that you both resort to such blatant name calling would leave you open to charges of slander and libel. Since you state, Mr. Szalapski, that you "have spent many years in an academic environment..." you are obviously an educated person, as is, I assume, your wife. As such, I'm sure that had you both thought about your arguments more carefully, you could have articulated your points of view better, without resorting to such tactics. As you said, Mr. Szalapski, "contributors to THE ALIEN TIMES would (do well to) take into consideration the audience to whom they are writing." I would add that contributors should also think carefully before they write or speak. Since being in a foreign country is hard enough, we foreigners should all make a special effort not to alienate one another because of our differing points of view. Instead we should listen carefully to what has been said, think about it carefully and act, speak and write in a manner which is befitting.

Turning to a more general point, I question whether THE ALIEN TIMES should be used as a forum for foreigners to express their personal feelings on what is wrong with Japan. For instance, Rob Szalapski states "It is my personal feeling that the situation for women in Japan is deplorable and I would only encourage their liberation." What do you suppose Japanese womyn and men feel and think when they read such a statement? Who are we, after all, to even suggest that the situation for Japanese womyn is deplorable? A more objective reporting of the actual situation in Japan regarding controversial issues seems more appropriate for THE ALIEN TIMES. And each of us would do well to remember that our own home countries are not perfect, nor without problems.

And lastly, common courtesy, in any culture, goes a long way.

From Susan Boyd

To the editor: I realize that you don't intend publishing any further correspondence regarding the "Quality of Life" articles and their content, but I wanted to write to you as Editor of the Alien Times nonetheless.

In a nutshell, I simply wanted to add my voice to those I'm sure you must have heard already in supporting the comments made by Rob and Jeanne Szalapski in October's issue. Having spoken to a cross section of Tsukuba's foreign residents in the past few days, both male and female, I have absolutely no doubt that the views of the majority of your readership lean towards those of the Szalapskis and against the stance taken by Martin Pauly. As a community newspaper, I felt that you should be made amply aware of this, if you're not already. Without re-hashing too many issues, I will confine myself to a few comments specifically regarding Martin Pauly's reply to the Szalapskis as published.

I felt overall that it served little purpose to publish this length or style of reply from a member of your editorial staff. Martin has had his chance previously to leave us in no doubt as to his views. If he feels that those views have been misinterpreted, a brief statement to that effect would have been far more dignified than this self-indulgent and often self-contradictory ramble. This was supposed to be the readership's chance to voice an opinion and a brief right of reply for the journalist concerned, perhaps acknowledging and clarifying -- even apologizing for one or two points of ambiguous meaning, would have been the professional way to put an end to the debate. In stead, Martin was allowed to continue the debate in a way that cannot fail to attract further comment and leave your readership feeling the need to drag the issue out still further -- not, as you say yourself, the primary purpose of the AT.

One point I want to take issue with is this precept referred to over and over by Martin that because we don't fully understand a culture and because our own is not perfect either, we should therefore simply accept every culture's values wholesale and never deign to comment negatively or suggest changes, dismissing any niggles of our conscience under the "It's all part of the global ethnic diversity" banner. Yes, of course the morals and values of countries and societies differ widely, but it is a weak argument against "interference" in many instances. Are we supposed, for example, to condone the infanticide of baby girls in China merely because "It's in the culture"??? I'm sure I don't have to insult your intelligence by pointing out further examples throughout the world. Extreme comparisons I know, but I fell Martin needs to consider them when making such fatuous comments as this, on the subject of the trivial presentation of women TV hosts as compared to their male counterparts: "I don't even notice it anymore, and I'm sure most Japanese people just accept it as the way things are." Now come along, Martin, you don't really believe this is a real argument for not commenting on sexism in the Japanese media do you?

I could go on, but I don't want to sling more mud at poor Martin -- as he says in his own praise, full marks for investing his time in writing for the newsletter every month. Suffice to say that the Szalapskis chose to voice their concerns about the tone and content of a sizeable chunk of their community newsletter and whether this was the tone intended by the Alien Times or not, it must accept that the impression gained from Martin's articles by them WAS the impression given to the majority of readers. And whether the purpose of his reply was to correct that impression, or to reiterate his stance more convincingly, I'm afraid it fell a long way short of the mark on both counts. Perhaps a more brutal editorial hand could help to prevent the degeneration of the AT into a community slinging match in future.

In the meantime, thank you for continuing to produce the Alien Times -- on the whole an invaluable service to foreign residents in Tsukuba and that' something we can surely all agree on.Big text

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