I received another request for advice from a woman.
Here is my response. I hope this will help her.
Haruko (Age: 34)
This is going to be lengthy, but please read until the end.
I have been fighting hard in a male-dominated society for a long time, and I have ended up feeling lonely. I am beginning to feel that the way I have lived my life is wrong, and I would like to rethink how to live my life as a woman. I wasn’t sure if this was the right site to consult my problem, but I decided to post it anyway.
My father was a "salaryman," a white-collar office worker, who graduated from a prestigious national university, and my mother was a housewife who had previously worked as a teacher. I grew up in an economically and educationally fortunate home environment. However, my father had a mental disorder due to the stressful relations in his workplace, and he often abused my mother verbally and physically. My grandparents on my father’s side sometimes came to see us. They told my mother to put up with him because my father was an "elite" office worker, saying, "He is a member of the elite, so we have to tolerate his unusual behavior." I thought, "How can they say such a thing? Do they believe that you are allowed to use violence against a vulnerable person like my mother if you are smarter and have a higher social status?" I wasn’t convinced, and had a strong antipathy for what my grandparents said. At that time, I decided I would someday humiliate my father by having higher academic credentials, a career, and better personality than his. I studied very hard and passed the entrance examination of the university that my father graduated from. As for choosing my major, I chose one based on my own interest. The only reason for having been able to survive such a rigorous preparation period for this very competitive entrance examination was my hatred against my father.
My mother often told me about her grandmother’s story, and encouraged me to pursue my education. Her grandmother held a life-long grudge: she was not allowed to study simply because she was a woman. Therefore, she always encouraged her daughters and granddaughters to continue their education, saying, "Women must study, too, so that we can succeed in a male-dominated world." I spent my teenage years developing hatred and rage towards this male-centered society as well as towards my father.
Since I entered college, I started acting out against the men’s community with my grudge towards them. In my club activities, I was angry at the men-centered organizational system that treated the women’s club unequally. At the same time, I was also angry at the members of the women’s club who would readily accept the system. I struggled to improve the status of the women’s club and achieved some kind of success. By training a lot harder than men, and discussing with men on an equal footing, I tried hard not to be regarded as a member of "the weaker women’s club." Even after I entered graduate school, my behavior did not change. I went out on field research trips with men, which were held in a harsh environment that women would not usually go to. I had developed a strong presence in the men’s community, and I was proud of myself for not being seen as an object of romantic interest. In other words, I was afraid of being regarded as a weak being and kept rejecting myself as being a woman. I was under constant fear of these images: if I was regarded as a weak woman, I would become a target of domestic violence, or I would be trapped in a hell-like abusive environment within the closed household if I ever got married.
After obtaining a Ph.D. and getting a job as a researcher, I gradually became aware of the social status of women. As time went by, I may have become physically weaker, and I got tired of fighting against the male-dominated society (as well as fighting against myself being a woman). In the meantime, I tried to date a man or tried to find someone that I could marry, but it didn’t work out. Though I never had a longing for marriage, I was jealous of my colleagues and friends who found happiness in their marriage. I was also frustrated with myself because I couldn’t get such happiness. I felt guilty for not being able to have a family, and envied women who (seemed to) do their jobs well and take care of their families flawlessly. I also became frustrated as my male colleagues got married one after another, and made good progress in their research fields. After all those years of fighting against the male-dominated society, I became the kind of person who belonged to neither gender, men nor women. I felt like I was left out alone from society.
When I was suffering from loneliness, I happened to read your congratulatory address delivered at the University of Tokyo, Dr. Ueno. I was profoundly impressed by your message. I began learning about feminism and gender equality little by little. I might lack full understanding of these matters, but issues such as the causes of domestic violence, the dissatisfactions and expectations passed down from mothers to daughters, and the division between men and women were the ones that I actually experienced, and I was able to understand the circumstances in my life objectively for the first time. After having fought against male-dominated society, I realized that I was trying not to establish myself in society as a woman, but I was forcing myself to fit into male-dominated society and to become more masculine than men so that men would accept me as their counterpart. I worked so hard that I got exhausted mentally and physically, but was it worth doing so? Was I only being manipulated by men in male-dominated society? This kind of thought has tormented me and left me with a strong sense of loss. I can’t find an answer to the way I lived or how I should live from now on.
I have never been proud of my being a woman.
Is there any way to have a positive view of being a woman from now on?
Also, is there anything we could do to reduce the number of women who would run this unnecessary competition against men like myself?
I will keep on searching for an answer, but I would appreciate it if you could give me some advice.
My heart ached when I read your long "confession."
It is quite amazing that you could critically reflect on your life as you did in your letter. You must be a very intelligent person to be able to do so. At the same time, it must have been such a painful undertaking.
The hatred for your patriarchal father, the resentment for your helpless mother, the hard work to be equal to men, the rejection of your own femininity, the feeling of void regarding what you have achieved, the magnitude of the sacrifice that you made for that … Women’s studies and gender studies offer a concept that explains the kind of experiences you had. The trap you fell into is called "misogyny," meaning "hatred of women." For women, it means "hatred of being a woman" or self-denial. You don’t like yourself as a woman; you want to deny your feminine look; you can’t allow other women to behave like a woman. (Some of these feelings of hate include "weakness phobia," the inability to tolerate women being weak.)
I kept thinking why some women behaved like you did, and wrote a book about this.
Chizuko Ueno (2010) Onnagirai: Nippon no Misogyny, Kinokuniya Book Store.
Chizuko Ueno (2018) Onnagirai: Nippon no Misogyny, Asahi Bunko.
Why did I write a book about misogyny? That is because I myself suffered from it. In the old boys’ club culture, women are imprinted with misogyny since they are children. Feminism provided me with a process of undoing the brainwashing of those past years about how women should behave. Undoing the brainwashing “on my own” is probably not the right expression. I was able to use the wisdom of our predecessors who had struggled to solve their own questions about misogyny.
Many people said to me,
"Ms. Ueno, you are misogynistic, aren’t you?"
I would often say,
"Yes, that’s right. That’s why I am a feminist."
A woman who is completely free from misogyny (I don’t think there is such a woman in this world) would no longer need feminism. Feminism has provided me with a conceptual framework and protection to fight against misogyny. Many of our fellow women and women before us have accumulated experiences and knowledge that we can refer to. That wisdom empowered me to fight and express myself.
Your grandmother wanted to continue her education, but she was not allowed to do so. Your mother acquired a teaching credential, but she had to take care of her tyrannical husband. You, as her daughter, obtained a Ph.D. (probably in line with your mother’s expectations) and entered a profession where you competed against men. Having witnessed the struggles of previous generations, the younger generations have learned what to do and what not to do. In previous days, "there was no other option but living the way they did." Thanks to those women, the following generations can learn from their experiences even though those women may not be good role models.
Whether you choose to have a family or not, you are carving the steps of history. There was a time when women were not allowed to have an education, and then there was a time when women couldn’t make the best use of their education. Then there was a time when women had to live "like men" to make use of their education. Finally, the time has come when women can get equal education as men, and women can relax and choose to live their own lives with multiple choices. Therefore, please be proud of yourself. You have lived your life in the best way you could under the circumstances of your time.
Translated by Rieko Imanari and Eriko Miyake, Ph.D.
The original article in Japanese: 「自分が女性であることを誇りに思えたことがありません」 ちづこのブログ 146 Traduction in Spanish: "Nunca he estado orgullosa de ser mujer": Blog de Chizuko No. 146