Reclaiming my feminist side

During the past couple of days, they’ve been showing a lot of (or at least, marginally more than usual) footage of Princess Sayako, since she just wed a commoner and must say goodbye to Japanese royal life as a result–under Japanese law, if a woman in the royal family marries a commoner she’s no longer royalty, since she as a woman is ineligible to assume the throne. (They’re thinking about changing it, though, since the princess’s brother and his wife have only been able to produce a female heir. A lot of Japanese people are in favor of letting a woman rule, which would be a big step.)

It makes me so angry, though. And I’m not talking about her not getting to rule and having to give up the life of a noblewoman. I’m talking about how she constantly has this maddeningly calm and cute smile on her face, as if she refuses to let herself display any real emotion because that’s not how a “true lady” acts (no, that‘s not a “look of love;” that’s the same vapid smile she wears in every single media image!). I’m talking about how in every image, moving or still, of her with her husband, she’s always two to three steps behind him. She never, ever walks beside him. And I’m talking about how she’s made the decision to marry this man and become a housewife. She’s a member of Japan’s royal family, and she’s going to become a housewife? (Well…apparently she does have experience with a part-time job as an ornithologist, interestingly enough.) According to the articles I’ve read, she’s being seen as an inspiration to many Japanese women that they can find love later in life…but she should run with it and show them that they don’t have to buckle themselves down and become “the little women” when they tie the knot.

This is where the cultural divide hits me the hardest, I think. It’s so disconcerting to come from a country that stresses gender equality, while this country is blatantly male-dominated. I know that it’s seen as a real honor to stay at home and take care of the family–and I definitely am not looking down upon women who choose to give their all to the raising of their children, because it’s an honorable decision to make. It does bother me, however, in instances where the woman voluntarily decides to serve her husband, where maintaining the household becomes her sole duty in life and she looks up to her husband instead of the couple regarding each other as equals. In Japan, that seems to be the case quite often, and the media images of Princess Sayako are proving to be no exception.

We’ve had this “talk show” project in our 3rd-year (a.k.a. 9th grade) junior high classes, where pairs of students will come up to the front of the room, with one being an interviewer on a talk show and the other being a special guest, who’s there to talk about how they split up the housework. In these scenarios, I’m the commentator, who provides closing suggestions for each pair. I actually have to restrain myself from cheering on the women who make their husbands do everything and claim that, “I think we are sharing the housework very well.” I should have joked along, in hindsight, and said that I agreed that they split up the housework well and it was nice to see the wife taking a break, but instead (in the case of kids who “wash the dishes and clean the rooms and take out the garbage”), I always would say something like, “I’m sure your children are very busy with homework, so you should help them by doing a few more chores.” I did take great pleasure in berating the guys who did nothing while their wives did everything. (These are completely hypothetical families, and this was all completely in fun, and everybody knew that.)

Today, though, I got this sudden but very passionately strong urge to start up an after-school Women’s Empowerment Club at my junior high. (Yeah, like that’d go over well with the kocho-sensei.) I know that I’m being extremely critical, and I don’t want to be–these are the sweetest kids, the most cheerful girls, and they’ll always strike up conversations with me whenever they’re in the teachers’ room on other business, and I really adore them. But I just cannot stand how, any time they’re confronted with anything remotely challenging, they start giggling, whining, stamping their feet, and flailing their arms, as if they’re little children. It absolutely horrifies me every single time I see it, and that’s not an understatement at all.

I know that middle school students in the US aren’t particularly mature, but speaking from my experiences, while there were girls who made themselves look clueless (usually because they thought it’d make themselves attractive to guys), there were thankfully few of those at the schools I attended, and many of my classmates’ parents have worked to install a much greater sense of equality and self-worth. My parents never taught me to believe I was any less than my male counterparts; on the contrary, they’ve pushed academics throughout my life, and I never was even aware of gender inequality as an immediate issue I had to personally face until college (Georgia Tech, 4:1 male-female ratio–especially pronounced during my first 2 years, when I was a Computer Science major, which has roughly a 13:1 ratio; I distinctly remember there never being more than 10 girls in any of my 100-plus-person lectures). All my friends’ parents are the same, at least in the sense of instilling a greater sense of equality and self-worth.

So, coming from a background where I routinely competed with girls and boys academically and otherwise without gender ever being an issue, it’s appalling to me to see these girls acting like this. I wish I could figure out a way to tell them to kindly please grow a backbone, though that’s harsh and awful and it’s not completely their fault, since they’re a product of the society and culture they were raised in. (God knows the pop culture totally perpetuates this “childish female” role…yet another reason why I can’t stomach watching most of it.) But I wish I could make them aware of the fact that they don’t have to dumb their personalities down like this, that there’s no reason for them to doubt themselves at all, that they’re smart and wonderful and have the potential to grow up to be strong and capable women, and all they need is self-confidence and the will to just be themselves. They just have to believe they can do whatever they set their minds to, and there’s no reason for them to dumb themselves down to appeal to the tastes of their classmates, because if they shoot high, they’ll eventually end up with men who want more than just pretty faces and submissive personalities, and these men will respect and complement them, instead of viewing them as “the little wife.”

(whew, that felt good. I have more lighthearted stuff to relate, but I’ll end this on this warm-and-fuzzy moment for now.)

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