Similar to current male views of the perfect women, the ideals in the Heian period were various depending on the man. However, with that being said, there are still common features that each man’s “perfect woman” shares. In the tale of Genji, the author Murasaki Shikibu dedicates almost a whole chapter to a conversation between four men, including the famous Genji, about their ideal woman.
Tō no Chūjō, a Guards Captain in the tale describes that even a seemingly perfect woman could be a disappointment. That so-called promising woman would be able to “write with a flowing hand, give you back a perfectly acceptable poem, and all in all do credit enough to the rank they have to uphold”(pg. 20). The disappointment would be that even though she could do all the socially expected norms of a proper lady, she is often “all too pleased with her own accomplishments, runs others down, and so on” (pg. 20). Therefore, her physical abilities and attributes are attractive, but her personality is not, thus tainting her perfection. In the Heian period, it was not just about the looks, in fact, it was more about the skills and personality of the woman that determined whether she was ideal or not.
He then explains that a girl who is loved and sheltered by her parents has to be, in a way, sold by her parents to other men by boasting about their daughters good points. She often just does as she is told and learns “a pastime she has seen others enjoy” (pg. 20). In other words, she is not her true self and is instead a mere copy of an acceptable woman.
Overall, Tō no Chūjō declared that “when a girl is highborn, everyone pampers her and a lot about her remains hidden, so that she naturally seems a paragon. Those of middle birth are the ones among whom you can see what a girl really has to offer and find ways to distinguish one from another. As for the lowborn, they hardly matter” (pg. 21). This shows that to Tō no Chūjō, his ideal lady would be in the middle-class. This statement also shows that even though he favors those in the middle-class, to the rest of the society, a girl that is high-born who can write with a flowing hand and everything he stated in the beginning would be thought of as “a paragon”, or an ideal.
During the Heian period, poetry and letters were thought of as not only a way to convey one’s emotions, but to rate how the person that is being courted is as a man or woman. That is probably why men like Tō no Chūjō think that women of the low-class are not even worth a shot; because they do not even have the proper education to write a simple letter to communicate with others. There is even an art to writing letters that is known among women. It is what catches the attention of men as well as frustrates them to no end. “,,,When composing a letter, she takes her time to choose her words and writes in ink faint enough to leave you bemused and longing for something clearer; then, when at last you get near enough to catch her faint voice, she...