It’s hard not to feel like women are under siege in America right now. Everywhere you turn, there’s a new crazy proposal to gut Planned Parenthood, or a teacher making $28,000 a year is being vilified in Wisconsin, or there are bills introduced making it possible for women to be put to the death penalty for having a miscarriage. There have been days this past year where I’ve read the news and torn out my hair and screamed, “That’s it! I wash my hands of this. All you crazy people are on your OWN! I’m moving to Canada. Or better yet, Scandinavia. Good-bye!”
But then I remember why I’m here, in America. I easily could not be — I grew up in Japan and my family is still there. Needless to say, it’s been a very stressful few weeks on the home front, but the silver lining has been that I’m talking to my mom much more frequently. Last weekend as I was telling her about Engendering Progress, I was reminded of why I ended up staying in America after graduating from college.
It was fall of my senior year and as I contemplated where to go after graduation, my mom told me that she didn’t want me to come back home to Japan. Why? She didn’t want me to be limited by Japanese stereotypes of young women and their place in the workplace and the world. Though gender stereotypes are evolving in Japan, the pace of change is glacial — women still face massive obstacles advancing their careers and they are written off as soon as they get married on the assumption they’ll want to stay home with the babies.
My mom’s (somewhat/exceedingly rosy-hued) vision of America was that of a place where hardworking people (women and men) were on equal footing; a meritocracy where my being a woman wouldn’t be a barrier to achieving everything she hoped for in my life. So I took her advice and stayed here, and have been here for the last 5 years — even though it has meant only seeing my parents and brother once, or if I’m lucky, twice a year.
In those five years, I’ve learned a few things about being a woman in America… And I’d sum it up just like the Facebook relationship status as: “It’s complicated.”
As women, we face challenges in so many different facets of our lives. Our confidence is constantly eroded as we are bombarded by air-brushed images of women as sex objects. We are ridiculed when we run for elected office, and our numbers in leadership have stagnated for the last decade. We work harder for less pay, and still do most of the housework. We are trafficked. We are silenced when we are raped. And unlike men, society values us less as we grow older.
But there are also things to be hopeful about. We are graduating at higher rates from college and professional schools and filling the pipeline with our talents. Our voice in the media is growing louder. We are founding our own businesses. And parents are raising their daughters to believe they can do anything in the world. And believe me (or rather, believe my mom) when we say that relative to the pace of change in Japan and many other countries, we’ve come an enormous way in an incredibly short period of time — and there are many reasons to think these trends will continue.
Our honorees for tonight’s Engendering Progress event are on the forefront of the complex and multifaceted experience of women in America. From media to politics, from trafficking to labor rights, they are an amazing group of women and organizations fighting to advance women in New York and beyond.
My mom was right when she told me to stay in America. It’s because of women like tonight’s honorees and the work of so many others in the women’s movement that made it possible for her to say that — saving me from a life of serving tea to some middle-aged, balding Japanese dude. 🙂
See you tonight.
Buy your tickets in advance and avoid long lines at the door. Link here.