Shiori Ito refuses kawaii cultureYUN SEOL-YOUNG
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
My husband and I were surprised to see our daughter performing at a recent preschool performance. She was wearing a shoulder-bearing pink dress and a plastic tiara. She was dressed as a princess and dancing to a princess song, while the boys presented a martial arts demonstration. Looking at my daughter wearing a princess dress and smiling, I was frankly uncomfortable. The young children were fulfilling outdated gender concepts of the 20th century, that women should be cute and men should be dashing.
In a 2016 interview, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie said that Japanese women are pressured to be cute rather than competent. Even skilled women pretend to be cute, and this “kawaii culture” prevents social advancement.
In fact, Japanese women often smile and say, “It’s okay” when they experience inconvenience or injustice. Women’s clothing is more on the “cute” side, with ribbons, frills and lace. It makes me wonder if this is the same Japan that used to be a leader in the fashion world.
Looking at the Shiori Ito case, Japan’s version of the Me Too movement, I thought that she was a woman who rejected “kawaii culture.” The aspiring journalist revealed that she had been sexually assaulted in 2017. Without knowing what disadvantages may be awaiting, it took her great courage to reveal her name and face, and name a media executive close to the administration as her assaulter.
The police and prosecutors did not investigate the case properly. But instead of giving up, she refused to be cute. After a two-year courtroom battle, the civil court ruled in her favor. As if she was refuting the assaulter, who said that “a true victim cannot smile or keep her head up,” she looked straight ahead throughout the press conference.
In the gender equality ranking released by the World Economic Forum, Japan was ranked 121st among 153 countries.
When Me Too became a worldwide topic in 2018, Japan was not affected. I hope more victims like Ito can speak up and our daughters can be active and confident.