First Place, Nonfiction: “Bringing Gender Back: How the Japanese Youth Connect With Their Culture By Foregoing Gender Norms,” by Christina Wang
I was looking for writing contests related to social activism and I came upon this one. I read what it was about and I was immediately inspired to write.
I’ve always loved to express my self through language, favoring the use of concise but clever diction and syntax. In addition, I love exploring topics in depth, whether I write about them or not, in order to get a better understanding of the world.
I feel such unbridled enthusiasm for gender studies and equality. As someone who hates to conform to the status quo, I was compelled to write about an issue outside of the United States to give greater understanding to the way the agender/genderless community is perceived on a global scale.
I want to become a writer when I grow up and perhaps go into journalism. Social activism will continue in my life some way, shape, or form.
Christina Wang is a student writer at Milton High School. She has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition. She was an Atlanta Youth Poet Laureate Finalist and has attended Kenyon Young Writers’ 2019 Program. She is an editor at VOX Teen Communications, and has been published there as well as Crashtest Magazine, the Suoo Magazine; in her school’s literature magazine, Globe; and on Teen Ink’s website. She speaks four languages and lives her day to day life passionately. She is always in search of something interesting.
Bringing Gender Back: How the Japanese Youth Connect With Their Culture By Foregoing Gender Norms
In comparison to Japanese technological advancement exhibited through bullet trains and androids, overall social advancement with gender equality; LGBT acceptance; and, a mix of the two, genderless acceptance, appears slow. The Japanese stick to their heavily male-dominated ie system, from which their patriarchy seems to have evolved. Yet, the youth choose to forego such societal constructs and, with some, the gender binary altogether.
Define: The Nonbinary and What It Means In Japan
Interestingly enough, Japan holds a history with gender-bending actors and roles in traditional Noh, Kabuki, and Takarazuka theater. However, in the modern day, the nonbinary is most often associated with the Genderless Kei movement.
The Genderless Kei is a popular movement defined by its use of color and oversized clothing that young people, particularly around the Harajuku area, engage in, challenging the existing gender order through fashion. Participants are said to care about fashion and make-up without considering gender, achieving an androgynous look.
In an interview with i-D, Yutaro Goto, a charisma staff at a genderless boutique, states, “When I first wore a skirt, my dad was shocked. But after I explained to him how much I loved fashion, he has become very supportive.”
Similarly Sasaki Toman, a model and pop band member, relates that his parents are both designers that encouraged him to dress differently in his interview with the New York Times. He believes that gender can exist, but doesn’t have to exist.
In an article by Matthew Hernon, Satsuki Nakayama, model, mentions that, after she cut off her hair and threw out all her skirts, “her parents weren’t as cool with the new look. Neither was her management, who was concerned that she would lose out on opportunities.” However, she “felt very strongly about it, so [she] was able to stand up for [herself].”
Many genderless kei agree that their clothing has little to do with their sexuality. As Masafumi Monden, researcher of Japanese fashion and culture and the University of Technology Sydney, states, “In Japan, how people look and their sexual identities can be separated to a certain extent.” This statement does not hold entirely true, in terms of an outsider’s point of view, as Toman had often been asked about his sexuality when wearing genderless clothing; however, by engaging in the culture, these people have allowed themselves the opportunity to question, and, in some cases, shed their prejudices.
These models and idols provide insight into the mindset and daily lives of the Japanese people that reject the existing gender constructs, and perhaps represent the ideology of a larger group in the works.
There continues to be pushback against challengers to the social norm. For example, in an interview by AskJapanese, an effeminate-dressing student from Bunka College of Fashion states that during his everyday life, on the train and on his way to school, people give him weird looks, and he wishes they would stop. In a different interview, Toman agrees, adding, “We are shamed by a lot of people… People see me wearing makeup and say it’s gross.”
Toman states: “[Japan] holds on to old customs of telling men and women to be a certain way. Old people tell me not to dress the way that I do.” In fact, in the study, Negotiating What’s ‘Natural’: Persistent Domestic Gender Role Inequality in Japan, Scott North measures gender ideology with responses to the statement “Men should work outside and women should protect the household.” In comparison with their younger counterparts, of which 59.3% of males and 65.9% of females disagree, the Japanese elders lean towards maintaining the status quo with this traditional line of thinking, with 66.1% of males 60.7% of females in agreement.
Harajuku and Shibuya stand out as cities where people are free to express themselves and their sexuality. Those who live in the rural parts of Japan, as another Bunka student states, “don’t have a system to accept [those who defy gender norms].” The pressure to conform takes stronger precedence in these regions, allowing for less self-expression.
Why does genderlessness exist in Japan?
Toman’s agent, Takashi Marumoto, states of Japanese culture: “There is strong societal pressure to take the standard route, which is to go to a good college and get a good job… The more mainstream and normalized [the genderless kei] become, the more people will be inspired to live true to themselves.”
A major societal criticism from genderless kei is that nowadays males are scolded for wearing skirts while females can wear both pants and skirts. Junko Mitsuhashi, 61, adjunct lecturer in gender studies at Meiji university and a transgender woman, elaborates, “In my generation, women were jealous of men because they could work and do whatever they wanted. In the younger generation, men are jealous of women because they can express themselves through fashion.”
For some, to be genderless is an exploration into fashion and self-love only. For others, it includes sexuality and opportunity for those questioning their gender to safely explore. While there remains little discussion around the topic of genderlessness on its own currently, an overall community is being built.
Ranma Yuu, actress and dancer, describes: “There is a clothing boutique that my friend owns. It’s where genderless, unisex, and people who like fashion hang out and form a community.” More genderless boutiques have cropped up, in addition, such as San To Nibu No Ichi, which is located in Harajuku. Online, Japanese social media is dominated by the presence of a genderless community, as evidenced by the hashtag jendaresu-kei.
The genderless kei are the forerunners in the Japanese expansion into the nonbinary, hoping to establish a culture, as Toman says, “so widespread… that before long it’s going to be considered totally normal.”
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