What It's Like To Be A Feminist In A Country That Doesn't Prioritise Gender Equality

I was born in a traditional Japanese family where women do all of the housework to create a clean, comfortable space for the patriarchy
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I’m a feminist.

I’m also Japanese, and in my experience, a lot of men in Japan, especially middle-aged or elderly men, are allergic to feminism. They don’t want it and they certainly don’t care about it. Some of them don’t even know what feminism is. They can’t stomach the idea of relinquishing any control to women.

My dad is one of these men.

I was born in a traditional Japanese family where women do all of the housework to create a clean, comfortable space for the patriarchy.

Growing up, I was always questioning: ‘Isn’t it unfair?’. Even as a child, I could see there was a clear power relationship between my dad and my mum. I just couldn’t accept the way my dad treated my mum. I couldn’t accept the fact that my mum was completely subordinate to my dad. I was angry, sad and confused.

I asked my mum: ‘Don’t you think it’s unfair?’ She would just reply: ‘I’m fine.’

Back then I couldn’t find the words to react. What did ‘I’m fine’ mean? Does it mean you feel you’re physically and emotionally oppressed by housework but don’t want to mention it to your daughter?

The argument with my parents over gender roles in my house always left me in pain. I didn’t know how to digest those negative emotions. I was just frustrated.

In a society like Japan where gender equality is still not fully established, the voice of feminists doesn’t cut through. So you won’t be surprised when I say my voice is barely heard. People may pay lip service to it but that’s it, that’s all they do – no further action. People, institutions and government, talk as if they take gender equality very seriously. But what are they doing to improve gender equality?

My presence as a feminist itself is not a fun thing for most people I come across. It’s like I’m digging in the ground to find what a patriarchal society has been concealing for countless years. I have always been labelled ‘unique’ in a bad way and often described as just ‘an angry girl’ who makes ‘noise’. This description may sound too much for some of you, but I’m not kidding.

This is what it is. My identity as a feminist has been beaten by deeply rooted traditional gender roles. I wasn’t given the space to be who I am, even by my own parents – and that has been painful to accept.

This is how I have lived my life since I started calling myself a feminist but I haven’t stopped believing in myself. I don’t want to deny who I am, after all, if you’re not honest with yourself how can you be honest with other people? If I stopped calling myself a feminist, it would mean stopping fighting for gender equality – and that’s not something I’m prepared to do.

Now, I’m a student in London, majoring in sociology and taking a gender studies course. Everything I learn makes me understand why I have gone through what I have, in both academic and non-academic ways. Feminism is now my profession, my identity and my hope. Feminism is the reason why I’m here. It allows us to take up space.