LISTEN UP / Haruna Yokoi


When I was 13, I entered junior high school. All the students were numbered on our first day of school. Boys were numbered from 1 to 19 in alphabetical order and girls were numbered from 20 to 39 in alphabetical order. When I got home, I asked my mom, “Why do boys get an earlier number?” She looked at me dumbfounded and said, “Of course boys would go first.” I repeated to myself, “Right. Right, of course. Why wouldn’t boys go first?”

When I was 14, it was time to decide who would become the captain of our track and field team. My best girlfriend who had great leadership qualities, quietly said to me, “I want to be captain.” I said to her, “You should be captain! You would make a great captain!” She looked at me with disappointment and said, “We choose our captain from the boys, remember?” Two days later after practice, it was announced that the boys and the coach had already chosen the captain without us. I later found out that none of the boys wanted to be captain, so the teacher chose the captain and the boy unwillingly became captain.

When I was 15, I had my first real boyfriend. On our third date he said, “I will make you the happiest girl. You will be happy as long as you stay with me.” I felt all weird inside wondering if I had no power to make myself happy. However, when I told this story to my friends, they all told me that I was very lucky to find such a charming boyfriend who would say such a thing. So, I bottled up the voice inside me and told myself that he was a great boyfriend and I would be happy as long as I stayed with him.

When I was 16, I was molested by a man on a crowded train on my way to school. I was frightened. Even at the end of the day, I could not stop thinking about it. I took all my courage and talked to my homeroom teacher. The first thing that came out of his mouth was, “That’s why I always tell you that your skirt is too short.” Of course, I was molested. It was all my fault.

When I was 17, I started taking university entrance exams. I studied hard. I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor. On my way home from cram school, I was walking home with a guy friend who I was close with and trusted. We were talking about our future when he innocently said, “I wish I was a girl. Then, I wouldn’t have to worry about my future. You just have to think about becoming a sengyoshufu.” He said this as if I had no choice. I didn’t know what to say. So, I said in a small voice, “You’re right, I am lucky.”

When I was 18, I had my second boyfriend. Every time I would look for a new part time job, he gave me a lot of advice. He said I should “do that instead of this but not that.” He said that he was more “experienced” so he knew where I shouldn’t work. He would also tell me that he liked it when I wore skirts instead of pants because it was more “feminine.” I started to wear skirts more often. However, he said I shouldn’t wear short skirts when I was not around him. Little by little, he started to give me “advice” and take control of my decisions because I was his. He told me that all of this showed that he cared for me and that it was his way of expressing his love.

When I was 19, I started taking feminism courses at university. I started to realize the stereotypes that had built up inside of myself over the past 18 years. I worked hard to get rid of the stereotypes that I was soaked in from head to toe, through my skin, all the way into my organs. I learned that the patriarchy is torturing women and producing toxic masculinity. One day, I went out to eat with 7 of my friends. The guys told us girls that we did not have to pay. Then, one of the guys said that he was out of money. Then, another guy said to him, “Come on, man up!” I could not hold the voice inside me and blurted out, “Please. Stop. I want to pay for my own food. Leave him alone.” Everyone started laughing saying that it was a joke and that I was taking things too seriously. Then at last, someone said, “You’re so sensitive, sometimes you act like a very ‘mendokusai’ person.” “Mendokusai” in English means annoying or difficult. People gradually stopped inviting me because I was so “mendokusai.” This is no dystopian fiction story. This is my story and the voice of girls in Japan.

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