Politics & Media
Aug 20, 2014, 07:03AM

Who Needs Feminism?

 Apparently not women.

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Who needs feminism? Apparently not women, if you believe the under-informed and over-hyped girls disavowing it on the Internet these days. And before you check your computer clock to make sure we haven't all been sucked back to the 1960s, the very fact that these people have found their way to a computer indicates they clearly live in some form of the modern world. Which is interesting, because it's feminism itself that created this world and that continues to strive for a better one moving forward, for all members.

Why don't I give you a peek at what life in a modern industrialized country without feminism might look like? I live in Japan, a country that treats more than half its population like disposable napkins.

Start with the tamer examples, like the rampant incidence of gropings on subway trains, or the fact that there is currently a movie showing in theaters called Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead. A popular burger chain recently invented a wrapper just for women with a fake face on it so you can maintain “dignity” while eating. That should clue you in to just how rigid gender roles are here.

My first year at a university in Japan, they insisted we watch videos in class about “social problems” to provoke discussion: one was a documentary on women in their 30s and 40s who’d stopped waiting for a man to marry them and were instead using their money to buy themselves condos or go out to lunch with their friends. Some “social problem.” There's still an expectation that women will get married, drop out of the workforce, and have children. Setting aside the problems this is causing for the economy, it places a great strain on both partners in this equation: salaries have shrunk so small that most men find it hard to maintain a lifestyle, let alone a family, and women who try to re-enter the workforce after having children are treated like garbage. Forget getting a promotion, it's automatically assumed that you don't care about a career because you chose children.

Maternity leave is extremely short, and it's almost unheard of for men to take paternity leave. The glass ceiling is lower than ever here, and some companies still have positions grandfathered from the 80s that are glorified maids (the “tea ladies” who serve drinks to visitors, make tea for the office, do the dishes, clean up, and make photocopies). Those few women who make it into politics are targets for their male counterparts: an elected member was recently heckled in the middle of a speech about supporting women who choose to have children [], while another was berated for taking time off to have a baby.

It was feminism in the West that opened the door to acceptance of sexual minorities and alternative gender identities, and gave us the opportunity to see everyone as a human being deserving of love and respect. In Japan, LGBT culture is still heavily ghettoized, segregated to small sections of the major cities that only come alive at night and many of whose occupants must disavow all knowledge in the daytime to avoid persecution. Women or men who don't conform to gender stereotypes are often ostracized or just struggle to be treated as part of the group.

It should be clear that feminism, on whose shoulders rest the laurels from most of the battles that led to the advances we currently take for granted (such as equal parental leave after birth, childcare for working parents, more opportunities for women, LGBT rights, anti-stalking laws, and much more), has given us a lot. The fact that we have achieved these new levels of equality doesn't mean we don't need feminism (although the “radical” feminists give the rest of us a bad name), but we need to refine the directions we go in future to ensure that progress means more freedom for all members of society. Even those who don't realize it.


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