Tackling the terminology behind feminism in Japan

by

Special To The Japan Times

In 1985, women in gorilla masks gathered at New York’s Museum of Modern Art to protest its lack of female artists. Known as the Guerrilla Girls, the group continues to raise awareness about inequality in the art world. Thirty years later, their spirit has ignited some women in Japan to action.

Donning pink rabbit masks and adopting the names of women and sexual minorities who fought for their own rights after World War II (from the creative world and beyond) as their aliases, Ashita Shojo Tai (Tomorrow Girls Troop) employs Guerrilla Girls’ methods to tackle gender inequality in Japan. Established in 2015, the “fourth wave feminist social art collective” aims to promote a society in which everyone can express themselves freely.

“When I went to graduate school in New York to study art, I was surprised to find that feminist art was so established as a field that you couldn’t participate in any art discussion unless you understood feminism,” Midori Ozaki (named after the novelist who lived from 1896 to 1971), the founder of the group tells me. “In Japan, unless you major in gender studies at university, you never have an opportunity to study feminism.”

While feminist art and music collectives led by younger generations have become increasingly visible in Western countries, that hasn’t been the case in Japan. So why has it been difficult for feminism to reach younger generations here?

“I think it’s because there’s no foundation for young feminists to develop,” Ozaki says. “Along with education, the Japanese media hardly writes about feminism. I’ve been told that most people in Japan become feminists in their 30s or older, after they’ve had children and realized there are assigned gender roles and policies that are disadvantageous to women. Japanese mothers take on so many burdens that they don’t have enough free time, and I think that may be a reason why feminism hasn’t become a larger movement.”

The most recent project Tomorrow Girls Troop has released is the Kojien Project, an open letter addressing the reputable dictionary’s definition of feminist and feminism, along with a video.

The Kojien’s definition of feminist currently reads: “1) An advocate for women’s liberation. An advocate for the expansion of women’s rights. 2) Colloquially, a man who is soft on women.”

In the open letter, Tomorrow Girls Troop requests that the dictionary include the word “byōdō” (equality).

“The first definition can be easily interpreted as women wanting more rights than men, and many people quote this definition to prove that feminism is an ideology that aims to put women above men,” Ozaki says. As for the second definition, she says it should be deleted or it should be amended to “clarify that this is an incorrect use of the word.”

For more information, visit tomorrowgirlstroop.com.