"Feminism is not just a movement for women"
~Why I call myself a feminist~

Profile: Rin Yoshitani is a rising sophomore at the International Christian University. He is a proud feminist and activist and is a founding member of ICU PRISM, a student organization that strives to educate and foster an understanding of gender issues while advocating for gender equality in the ICU campus and in the Japanese society.

How did you become interested in gender studies?

When I was a freshman in high school, I participated in a study abroad program in Santa Clara, California. The first place our bus guide took us was Castro District, which is a place similar to Shinjuku Ni-Chome in Tokyo in that it has a large LGBTQ community. The moment I set foot in the District, I saw rainbow flags everywhereーfrom inside all stores to outside the churches. This encounter was like no other, and it sparked my interest in LGBTQ and gender studies. 

What was a specific life event that made you a feminist? 

From what I learned in school and from watching the news, I had known that Japan is not the best place for women to live in. For example, I was very much aware of the fact that many women in Japan had to quit their jobs upon marriage and pregnancy, that women are paid less than men for the same job, and that women are deemed incapable of taking on leadership positions in the workplace due to stereotypes ingrained in our society. My parents are both teachers, and so my mother works from day to night every day like my father and earns around the same amount of money as my father. Therefore naturally, I could not confirm for sure whether gender inequality really existed in Japan. However, these doubts of mine were cleared after I entered ICU. At ICU, 60% of the student body is women, and through the day-to-day conversations and the in-class discussions with my friends and classmates, I heard about all of the different hardships they had to endure because of their gender. For the first time, I was exposed to the realities for women as well as to the deep-seated gender inequality that exists within the Japanese society. Take politics, for example. In Japan, politics is very much male-dominated, given the fact that most of the politicians are male. This contrasts dramatically if you compare it with other countries leading the Global Gender Gap Index. You see, this would have never bothered me before I entered ICU. I found myself becoming increasingly interested in not only LGBTQ rights but the rights of everyone on the gender spectrum. My experience during my first year at ICU became a starting point for me to become a feminist, as I discovered my mission of wanting to create an equal society for all genders. 

Why did you decide to take action?
 
I was born and raised in a small town in Shimane Prefecture. When I came to Tokyo, I was resolute to take some sort of action to contribute to society and grow as an individual. I was interested in gender studies from the beginning but was apprehensive to learn more about it because I knew I would struggle after learning about our society and how it negatively affects people of different genders. I just didn’t know if I could handle that. However one day, my fears were overturned. In ICU, there is a class called ELA, which aims to develop students’ English skills while fostering their critical thinking. The class is conducted in English and consists mainly of group discussions.I was inspired by one of my classmates, who was also interested in gender studies. From talking to her and getting to know about ICU PRISM and the various events she was attending, I was inspired to take action. At first, I was scared of what others would think if I became an activist, but I too wanted to be someone that stood for what they believed in, so I decided to become the founding member of ICU PRISM and share my thoughts and opinions on gender issues. Recently, I started an internship at BuzzFeed Japan. This is another form of activism for me because Buzzfeed Japan publishes lots of articles related to gender issues. I’m so excited for what’s to come!

How do you think we can look beyond the negative connotations that some people formed about “feminism”? 

I identify myself as a man, but feminism is not just a movement for women. From my experience, I think it’s rare to meet men who proclaim themselves feminists. I believe that if more men become feminists like me, more men will feel a direct connection to the movement and join in.

Who/what has influenced you the most?

There are three people I would like to mention. The first person is the program coordinator for my study abroad program in the U.S. I was impressed by how she was always smiling and had a positive outlook on life. Although I used to be a negative person, her optimistic personality changed the way I think and live today. 

The second person is my host brother. When I was studying abroad, I lived with a host family, and they had two sons. The older brother is gay, and one night, I had a chance to hear about his life story. I was so inspired by him because he told me “it’s not worth changing yourself for the sake of pleasing others; I love myself the way I am and there’s nothing I would change about myself’, even after going through unimaginable hardships since coming out as gay.

The third person is my classmate from ELA. She is a very active person, and has so much and much knowledge on a wide range of topics. Whenever I spend time with her, I learn so much from her. She is one of the main reasons I was inspired to become a feminist and activist and for that, I am forever grateful. 

And last but not least, coming to ICU has been a significant turning point in my life. Had I not chosen to study in ICU, I wouldn’t have been as interested in gender studies as I am now, nor would I have thought to major in this field. Given that most of the students are women in ICU, I was able to hear the raw, often difficult experiences as women in a still very much patriarchal and male-dominated world. Furthermore, studying alongside returnee students and exchange students, I am surrounded by people with different backgrounds on the campus, and it has truly been an enriching experience for me. 

What do you want to do in the future?

First of all, I want to study abroad and apply for an exchange program in my third year. ICU is very liberal, and you can learn a lot of things that you can’t in other universities, but it still is Japan, and I think there’s a lot you can learn if you take one step outside Japan. Through studying abroad, I want to broaden my knowledge, values and want to be exposed to different cultures. I am interested in gender and peace studies, and I also want to be involved in suicide prevention. I have recently started an internship at Buzzfeed, so if possible, I would like to write articles or create content related to those matters. I am interested in not only gender and peace issues, but also human rights in general. Therefore, in the future, I want to work at an international NGO, NPO, or international organizations that address human rights issues.

Where do you want to go to study abroad?

I want to go to UCLA (University of California Los Angeles). I know a person who went there and majored in LGBT studies. UCLA’s research is more advanced than Japan, and I think I would be able to learn more about LGBTQ or gender issues in depth. Adding on to that, I also want to learn more about Japanese-Americans.

I am interested in gender and peace studies, and I also want to be involved in suicide prevention. I have recently started an internship at Buzzfeed, so if possible, I would like to write articles or create content related to those matters.

I am interested in not only gender and peace issues, but also human rights in general. Therefore, in the future, I want to work at an international NGO, NPO, or international organizations that address human rights issues.

Why do you think more men should be involved in feminism?

I think a lot of men misunderstand what feminism is. Many assume that feminism is about giving more rights to women or making women more superior than men. But in reality, feminism is a movement about implementing a gender-equal world. To provide that message, I thought perhaps men would listen if it came from a man saying that message, rather than a woman to man. Although you may feel hesitant at first of proclaiming yourself as a feminist, if you say that, you won’t be able to take action. Being a feminist should not be seen as a negative title, but rather something you should pride yourself in being. For me, I think of myself as a feminist, and I am proud to tell others the same as well. 

Also, I feel like some men already realize the gender issues around them. For instance, I think there are a lot of men who might already realize the male superiority in society but don’t or can’t take action against it. The majority of the Japanese society, especially in the workplace, is men. So the majority should help to change society because if not, nothing will change. I think this could be said about the LGBTQ community as well. The majority of the population is straight, and if those people do not do anything, LGBTQ people might not be able to get the same rights, or it will be harder to have an equal society. Therefore, especially in Japanese society, the majority of people should support to bring about change in society, and that is why I think there needs to be more male feminists.

 

What is something you value in life?

Something I always make sure to do is always to have an idea of what kind of person I want to become. One thing is to never be too influenced or swayed by other people. Rather than doing something because other people are doing it, I try to do things that I actually want to do. So whenever I feel like I want to try something, I take it into action. For example, few people in my high school applied to private universities, but I decided to go to ICU from when I was in my second year of high school, and I turned that into reality. So far, I have done everything I have ever wanted to try. For example, going to America, going to ICU, working at Buzzfeed, these are all the things I’ve wanted to do, and I’ve accomplished all of them. And from now on I hope to keep giving things a try if there is something I passionately want to do. Of course, I might fail. However, you can’t fail without trying, so I want to live a life without regrets by first giving things a try.



Interview by Tohko Hirota and Kiyoka Tokumasu