The fight for equal rights and conditions for women has existed since time immemorial. No matter what part, nook, or corner of the world one is from, women have always been fighting for what they deserve.
With the passing of the centuries, women who have belonged to different groups, castes, and societies have become more conscious of the misogyny that is all-encompassing and became aware of the change that needed to occur. These socio-economic metamorphoses have been achieved in an intermittent fashion, but also in an inclusive way that seeks to create a better world for everyone.
Seitō Magazine and the Beginnings of the Japanese Feminist Movement
As previously mentioned, these progressions have been achieved unequally due to distinct social factors, for example, religion, politics, or traditions belonging to specific places. These blocks have been notoriously more frequent in Latin American countries, the Middle East, and Asia owing to these firmly rooted aforementioned social factors.
Japan is a clear example of what could be seen as late Feminism. However, to the surprise of many people, feminism has existed in that country for more than a century.
The rise of feminism at the end of the 19th Century, during the Meiji restoration, was led by the activist Kusunose Kita. The struggle fought for the right to vote in general elections, equality at work, and individual rights (which didn’t successfully happen until a century later, together with the law Fundamental Education). Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the middle of the following century that the movement grew in strength.
Arrests, persecutions, and social isolation were some of the punishments for women like Kusunose Kita, Kishida Toshiko; known for her discourse Daughters in Boxes, Fukuda Hideko; creator of the paper Sekai Fujin (Daughters of the World), and Shimizu Toyoko; novelist and author of To My Beloved Sisters in Tears. They suffered punishments in order to denounce and draw other voices against the oppressive system in which they lived daily.
It wasn’t until the next century, between 1910 and 1930, that this very same growth reached Japanese society. Women were increasingly conscious of their conditioning and it was time to put a stop to it.
Haru Raichō Hiratsuka, an important Japanese journalist, and writer, along with her colleagues and activists in the cause; Yasumochi Yoshiko, Mozume Kazuko, Kiuchi Teiko, and Nakano Hatsuko. Founded the first literary organisation for women in 1911. It was called Seitō (青鞜, Bluestocking) and with this, the first literary magazine for women.
Hiratsuka’s inspiration for creating the literary organisation drew from the writings of the Swedish essayist Ellen Key. It drew from the determination and intelligence of Nora Helmer, the protagonist of the theatrical work House of Dolls by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
Building from this inspirational base, Hiratsuka, along with Yoshiko, Kazuko, Teiko, and Hatsuko began to create a great tool with the goal of empowering Japanese women, not only socially but spiritually too.
Seitō, or Bluestocking in honour of the English feminist organisation of the same name, whose activity took place from 1911 to 1916, had the goal of promoting women’s rights and prompting readers to fight for them, through the medium of literature and education. Among their publications, one can find the Feminist Manifesto by Hiratsuka; translations of important works by the likes of Emma Goodman, Henrik Ibsen, Edgar Alan Poe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, George Bernard Shaw; collaborations among great intellectuals, and contemporary writers like Akiko Yosano and Nobuko Yoshiya.
One could also find articles focused on topics such as prostitution, the role of women in matrimony and the home, pre-bridal virginity, and abortion with the idea of generating discussion and bringing to the foreground social expectations of women.
The appearance of the Seitō magazine was the official start of feminism in Japan. Following the huge impact it had, women were winning distinct battles against the patriarchal system:
In 1919, Raicho Hiratsuka, creator of Seitō with the help of Ichikawa Fusae and Oku Mumeo created the Association of New Women: Shin Fujin Kyoka with the goal of nulling the prohibition of women participating in politics. It also sought to create a law to protect women against partners infected with some illness; the right to refuse an arranged marriage; that a woman could petition to divorce without their husband having committed adultery; among other petitions. It wasn’t until 1946 that these rights were guaranteed thanks to the League for the Realisation of Women’s Suffrage.
In 1945, thanks to the key support of the politician Fusae Ichikawa, the female vote was achieved. The national elections in 1946 saw the first time this right was exercised openly.
In 1946, activists from the movement caused the removal of sections of the constitution that guaranteed unequal economic rights according to gender.
In 1948, abortion was legalised for three reasons.
During the 70s, great advances in the struggle for Sexual Liberation were achieved (性の解放sei no kaihō)
In 2011, the Ministry of Wellbeing in Japan approved anti-conceptive medicine.
In 2019, the actress, writer, and activist Yumi Ishikawa began the campaign #KuToo with the goal of eradicating the obligatory use of heels for women in the workplace. The initiative was harshly criticised by the Minister for Health and Work in Japan, Takumi Nemoto, but nevertheless found huge support and acceptance on the world stage.
For Japanese feminists, it was a long and arduous journey to arrive where they are today. There still remains a long road to achieve the most important objective that we all yearn for and that we all fight for.
The great spirit and bravery the pioneers of the movement demonstrated are and will be the key for women, not only to win the daily battles against oppression and misogyny but also in order to win the war against the patriarchy.
TR: David Crowe.