The long history of feminism
I believe many people have heard of feminism or gender. However, there are few people who understand it correctly.
First, let us look back at the course and history of feminism. Feminism has had three broad waves.
The first wave of feminism, which mainly sought gender equality in the legal system, dates back to the end of the 18th century in France. However, activities that sought women’s suffrage and property rights became active in Europe and other countries from the middle of the 19th century.
The second wave of feminism was a women’s liberation movement that began in the 1950s and 60s, after World War II, along with civil rights movements in Europe and the United States. It became vigorous as efforts to seek equal employment opportunities for men and women, eliminate gender discrimination and legalize abortion.
In other words, feminism is a movement that arose in the first place because of gender inequality and the structure that oppresses women in society. Through these activities, women gained access to suffrage, property rights, and higher education such as that at universities.
However, from the late 1980s to the 1990s, the third-wave feminism emerged. It focused on individuals rather than the previous collective social reforms and emphasized the importance of diversity and intersectionality while continuing the second wave.
What we often see these days is the term post-feminism. It has a continuity with neoliberalism after the 1980s, and places emphasis on the advancement of individual women in a competitive society. In Japan, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was enforced in 1986, and from the 1980s to the 1990s, people began to feel that women’s rights and equality had been more or less achieved, and this perception remains until today.
Of course, in Japan, women have property rights and the right to vote. Many women go on to university. First, I want you to know that there is a history in which such situation has been achieved through feminism movements.
It should also be noted that women’s solidarity was one of the major factors behind some success of the past feminism movements. By establishing sisterhoods and forming solidarity, they have gained women’s rights and equality in a male-dominant society.
Divided women’s ties
On the other hand, in this post-feminism era, there is a division among women.
First, women’s social advancement is increasing thanks to equal opportunities for education and employment in the legal system. As career women, those women aim to achieve the same social success as men while hitting the glass ceiling.
Conversely, not a few women choose the role of supporting working men and protecting their families as full-time housewives.
Those women are often seen as a conflict structure, but they just live by their own values. You cannot say which is better or which is right.
Feminism is, in the first place, not for denying each other’s way of life, but for expanding choices and possibilities in life. Both types of women noted above can be said to live by their own choices.
However, there are women who are left out of this dichotomy between career women and full-time housewives.
For example, those who had to give up their career for some reason, those who wanted to get married but could not, or those who got married but later divorced. Those women often work as non-regular employees, have low incomes, and fall into poverty.
Such women are not included in the conflict structure between career women and full-time housewives and have become isolated and divided.
I think the reason behind this is the neoliberal self-responsibility theory that prevails in modern society and a lack of imagination.
In short, career women, full-time housewives, and other ways of life are all self-choices, and even if you end up in poverty, it is your own responsibility. However, awareness of helping and reaching out to those suffering from poverty is weakening today throughout society.
In fact, when students were shown a video of people facing poverty in university classes and were asked about their impressions, some students said that they could not sympathize with that person because he was not working hard, and that those who do not have money should be discarded.
In this case, it is just an impression by looking at one individual in the video. But they cannot imagine the various circumstances that led that person to such situation or the social problems such as the dysfunction of the social system or safety nets.
Why is it that we can only perceive things by what is in front of us and cannot imagine their background? Why do we wrap it up with self-responsibility? I believe this is an urgent issue for Japanese society as a whole.
In addition, many women are forced to sacrifice something to make a choice. They may give up marriage or childbirth to become a career woman, or they may give up their career to get married.
Social systems and systems of public assistance and mutual assistance are being established as one of the measures that enable people to balance work and family. However, we cannot say that they are always working well.
The first and second waves of feminism have yielded some results, but the current situation in which individualism has advanced in a neoliberal society, self-responsibility is asked for, and everyone is absorbed just in their own lives, may have created a division among women.
Gender remains the same even when institutions change
Recently, an increasing number of female students say that feminism has an image of being scary or extreme. In part, this is because we see posts on Twitter attacking men, which are described as Twifemi, and the media often speaks negatively of feminist voices. In addition, many women may feel what they have acquired through feminism is enough.
In fact, students these days do not often seem to feel gender inequality until high school. Basically, in the field of education, consideration is given not to make a difference between men and women, and female students are protected.
However, from the time they decide their career path or start looking for a job, they gradually start to feel strange.
For example, if you are a female science student, your family and the people around you may “advise” you to go to a liberal arts university because you are a girl. At the time of a job interview, some female students have said that they felt the male interviewer’s expression change as soon as they said that they had studied feminism in their graduation thesis.
The moment they step out of the protected space, they realize there is gender discrimination. At times, even in casual daily conversations, they perceive a sense of discrimination and contempt towards the existence of women.
Some female students feel uncomfortable when their boyfriends ask them to wear skirts or dress more cutely.
Such discomfort and uncertain feelings increase even more when they enter society. They may experience what is called sexual harassment, power harassment, and maternity harassment; they may be treated as children by men; or they may not be given important tasks.
Each of these things is very humiliating for women, and if they accumulate, they can be quite stressful.
If you complain about them to your coworkers or friends, they will get angry with you, but it is not easy to hold hands and raise your voice together. It is because you think about the human relations in the company and the effects such as it is becoming difficult to work in the company.
If women these days could recreate the female ties that feminism experienced in the past, it might be easier for them to speak up and live in a male-dominant society.
As I mentioned earlier, gender inequalities may be minimal in education, but gender norms of femininity and masculinity are always present subconsciously in the home and in society. We often involuntarily incorporate them into ourselves, and not only internalize them but also reproduce them.
For example, male students study at universities on the premise that they will work in society and support their families in the future. They do not have the option of being a househusband. In many Japanese families, it is taken for granted that husbands work and wives take care of their husbands and children. For those who grow up witnessing this, being a househusband means a departure from masculinity.
Many men aim to succeed in a society where men are tied to each other so that they do not deviate from this masculinity and do not fall out of men’s space. As women enter such a male-dominant society, they feel a variety of discomfort, irritations, and uncertain feelings on a daily basis.
Some people may shy away from feminism as a nuisance ideology that advocates only rights and equality. However, it is the bond between women as well as feminism that not only brings about rights and equality, but also provides clues to solving their everyday problems and suffering.
With neoliberal influences and a lack of imagination making it difficult for women to connect with others these days, if we are to simply conclude the way of modern women’s lives with the word post-feminism, then we need to reexamine feminism.
It is our responsibility to give students such educational opportunities.
Working adults also have the opportunity to learn through citizen courses in universities and various books. Regardless of age, gender, or regional differences, I would like many people to actively acquire the results of modern research and knowledge for the future.
* The information contained herein is current as of October 2022.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.
Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.