Lately I’ve met a number of incredible women who are working in the United States on issues related to gender and East Asia. I feel so inspired! To share my excitement, I want to introduce you to one of the people I’ve met in particular.
Last week, on Friday, May 4, my research group at UC San Diego invited Professor Setsu Shigematsu from UC Riverside to facilitate a workshop about her recent book, Scream from the Shadows: The Women’s Liberation Movement in Japan. The book is rich with historical details about women who fought to win equal rights in, and liberation from, a society that they felt was too male-dominated. The book includes so much discussion about the activism, determination, and violence with which these women engaged in their cause…it’s both thrilling and nerve-racking!
As I was sitting there listening to Prof. Shigematsu talk about all the work that she put into writing her book—years of research, hours of interviews, her desire to have more people learn about the history and importance of the women’s liberation movement in Japan from decades ago—I asked myself, What in the world happened to that movement?
I look around now and the images of women I see in the Japanese media (and of Asian-American women in the U.S. media) make me kind of sad. I’m told that I have to be beautiful, wear expensive clothes, dye my hair any color but black, and be pale, snowy white (which is impossible in southern California). And in manga and anime so many of the female characters have huge eyes and big boobs…even when they are kicking butt, women have to also be sporting cleavage, apparently.
What happened to that spirit of women’s liberation? How can we try to live in a society where women and men don’t have to be told what to look like, what kind of body to have, what kinds of words to speak? How can we be mindful of the kinds of entertainment we enjoy and appreciate?
[Image of Prof. Shigematsu's book from University of Minnesota Press.]