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Lesson on sexist heckling: bridges involve ‘good men’

by Renge Jibu

Special To The Japan Times

The June 18 incident in which Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member Ayaka Shiomura was verbally attacked with sexist heckling has underlined the need for women to take concrete action to end the discriminatory attitude in Japanese society against women by joining hands not only among themselves but also with men.

Following the incident, a petition criticizing the sexist hecklers and calling on the Liberal Democratic Party to strictly punish them was posted on change.org, the world’s largest platform for petitions. The petition was written by an anonymous man in his late 20s.

On June 26, I and some other people who support the petition organized a workshop in the Diet members’ office building, and more than 150 men and women from a variety of backgrounds, including students, business people and mothers with young babies, gathered to discuss the heckling incident and related issues.

Through organizing the workshop, the organizers have learned that there were many vocal people with diversified views and that an important task is to connect these people tightly enough so that they can take effective political action. For the organizers, this was the major fruit from their work of organizing the event.

One thing I focused on in my address at the workshop was that women should not think that all men are evil and should not fall in the pitfall of overgeneralization about men.

I believe that a majority of Japanese men are decent people who think that sexist heckling should not be tolerated. Women need to form a joint front with men based on the idea of fraternity. Otherwise, women will lose.

There was a moment when I was able to notice that my message was fully appreciated. A man in his 50s who attended told me that he enjoyed talking with people of diversified opinions during the workshop.

Overall, the discussions were productive and positive as the title of the workshop suggested: “90,000 click, and next?” It was not aimed at bashing wrongdoers. A majority of people who attended the workshop were liberal but not too far to the left. They are ordinary citizens who work, study, do housework and take care of their children.

In other words, the petition got attention from a silent majority who are worried about the future of our country. In order to build a better society, they want to find out the background of the heckling problem and how to solve it.

Some of the organizers held discussions soon after the workshop and decided on the next step. They created a closed social networking site (SNS)where people can continue discussing political and social problems. Their hope is that this virtual space will empower a silent majority through talking with each other and will lead citizens to take political action in real life.

Another thing I believe that must be pushed is to connect people beyond generations. I gained this insight from the experience of organizing the workshop. During the preparation, veteran feminist activists provided their resources. They know how to involve politicians and even know how to have them enact new laws. Their experience and knowledge should be handed down to younger generations.

New communication tools such as SNS can be effectively used to connect people of different generations because they can spread information quickly, thus helping connect people with diversified backgrounds rather easily.

I came to have the conviction that younger women need to learn from these veteran feminist activists who fought for women’s rights. Thanks to these women, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and the Maternity Leave and Childcare Leave Act were enacted; they are of huge benefit for women in their 20s, 30s and 40s with higher education. I am one of them.

Generally speaking, younger women tend to avoid older feminist activists because they seem to be scary due to the strong anger they have expressed toward problems in society.

Younger women often attach more importance to likability than to commitment to pursuit of fairness in society. They take gender equality for granted during school. But they face the reality around them when they start working or get pregnant.

Many women around me encounter gender discrimination in Japanese society in its concrete form for the first time when they see male coworkers get promoted ahead of them, or when they face difficulty in continuing to work after having children. But often their realization of the reality comes too late.

Therefore, it is all the more important to learn from feminists of older generations who already discussed, decades ago, almost all the issues that today’s younger women face in Japanese society.

For example, Chizuko Ueno published “Reading the Controversy Over Housewives”(Shuhu ronso wo yomu) in 1982 from publishing company Keisoshobo. The book covers almost all the women’s issues that are currently discussed.

Also, Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” the bible of feminist movement, was translated into Japanese and published in 1965.

From these books younger women can learn that their problems have deep political and social roots.

In order to build a better society where women have true choices, it is important to learn from history. Otherwise, the same problems will be repeated. Contemporary young women have to study and connect with women who are in their 60s or older. They’re the ones with the experience in fighting gender discrimination in concrete ways; they’ve gained much knowledge.

At a time when the Abe administration, through its “Abenomics” policy, is trying to use women as a means of achieving economic growth, it is all the more important for young women to connect with women of different generations as well as with men in order to build a better society.

Government economic policy does not really improve women’s status. Women have to win it through their own actions.

Renge Jibu is a freelance journalist and a visiting fellow at Showa Women’s University. In 2006-2007, she was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Education of Women, University of Michigan. She may be contacted at: b_r_jibu@swu.edu.