When you think you are learning something about someone else, or some other culture – the sad fact is that you can learn about nothing except yourself. I see this among enthusiastic followers of social or religious groups – they fervently feel that they are taking the words of their guru or leader at literal and simple face value, when the fact of the mater is that the only words they are reading are their own. We filter everything through the sieve of our own mind. No idea can get through to our consciousness until it fits through the sizes and shapes that we have already imprinted within our mental selves. We learn about nothing, ever, except about our own selves.
That Chinese/Japanese character above is a very good example, a perfect example you might say.
People who have highly opinionated and sexist-slanted mentalities see only that there is a character for “woman” (女) as the main part of this character (安), and then see that the Japanese use this character in the word “yasui” (安い) which means cheap – then they conclude that Asian cultures and Japanese people are offensively backwards and sexist – saying that “women are cheap.”
Such interpretations tell you very little about the character “安” – but tell you volumes about the character of the persons making these prejudiced interpretations.
Here is why this letter means “cheap” and what “cheap” has to do with women, and how the concept thus embodied in this letter is thus a fairly accurate representation of something significantly glorious about the female gender. First of all do note that anyone telling you that this character represents a woman under a roof is wrong. There are no two ways about it. The sub-character (or “radical”) on top of the woman in this character is 宀 – “ukanmuri” – which represents not a roof or a building but a crown!
So, the letter 安 depicts a female with a crown. In other words it is referring to something foremost and kingly among the qualities or effects of the female gender.
What quality is that? Cheapness??? Yes, but now let us understand the word “cheap” and its chinese / japanese etymology.
Cheap is not the main meaning of this character, but is a derivative. The main meaning of 安 refers to beatitude. This letter is refers to things which are peaceful, lovable, smooth, and which are accomplished without strife. Really, that last one “accomplished without strife” says it all. One of the crowning qualities of women as a gender is that they make this world worth living in. They bring beauty – both physical and emotional, and kindness, and love and tenderness and make things easier to deal with. This is the true meaning of the character 安.
Something which is “cheap” is something that is easy to obtain, something which doesn’t require a lot of strife to get. This is why the word “yasui” 安い refers to things that you can purchase without having to spend a lot of your hard earned money on.
The contrast is “takai” 高い which is the word used for “expensive” and is also the word for things that are tall and high up out of reach. (Notice that the are no masculine characters in this symbol, btw.) Yasui 安い refers to things which are in reach, easy to grasp without strife and difficulty – inexpensive things, and takai 高い refers to things which are out of reach, high up and requiring strenuous effort to grasp and obtain – expensive things.
Just a few days ago at a bus stop with my whole family — brother-, sister- and mother-in-law too — we saw this kanji character at a bus stop. It was in a sentence telling the people at the bus stop to chill out and be peaceful, wait for the bus in an orderly fashion and be harmonious, because otherwise things would be dangerous.
That is a crowning glory of womanhood: to be peaceful and create harmony, averting danger and strife.
So people who have their minds cast in a sexist mold – either being overly sexist themselves or overly on the prowl to pronounce everything and it’s third cousin as sexist – will see everything in the world as sexist. All they see is their own selves. There is a Sanskrit saying to this effect: अात्मावान् मान्यते जगत् । – aatmaavaan maanyate jagat (Sanskritists, please forgive any spelling errors). It means that what you hold in your mind is what you experience in your world. This character, 安, is a perfect example of this principle in action. It is a glorious tribute to femininity that the world’s most important thing: peacefulness and beneficence, is described by the Chinese Kanji as a crown adorning the head of womanhood. But those whose minds are like rocks will never know this meaning.