“Miss” & “Mr.” contests are not unusual sights at campus festivals in Japan. Currently, around 80 organisations from different universities that hold “Miss” & “Mr.” contests are registered to “Miss Colle”, a website that allows quick online voting to choose Misses and Misters for each campus. UTokyo is not an exception, and it has been held almost every year since 1997. This year, as a freshman at this university, I decided to start a protest against this event, critiquing how it enforces and even praises existing gender norms. Below is the English version of what I wrote on the statement that I handed out during Komaba-sai 2019.
Why is the “Miss” & “Mr.” Contest held every year? Is it because it’s fun for everyone? We at least don’t find the contest amusing at all. The contest bases itself innocently on the norms that restrain and abuse us on a daily basis, aiming to decide who fits “norms” the best. “Women (meaning people who are treated as women)”, are evaluated by a standard of how “beautiful” they are on a daily basis. We often hear remarks like “who is cute” and “who is ugly”, and constantly encounter messages that order women to “be aware of their appearance”. This applies not only to appearance but to behaviour as well. Messages such as “be humble”, “be naive” and so on. And when women argue against it, they will be oppressed by narratives like “don’t say silly things” or criticized for being “emotional”. “Miss” and “Mr.” contests are a representation of the oppressions existing today. Finalists are judged based on their appearance throughout the process. Furthermore, meeting the wishes of the audience, who also contribute to the reproduction of the norms, is a big factor for the result of the vote. The norms that Miss and Mr. contests compel to people do not solely affect “women”. That this event is split into two contests, “Miss” and “Mr.”, is based on the short-sighted understanding that it is possible to classify every individual into two categories. When the result of the contest is announced, the finalists of “Miss” and “Mr.” contests go on the stage as a “pair”, with the triumphant “Miss” wearing a wedding dress. This also sends the message that we are expected to be heterosexual, wanting to get married. The reason why we focus especially on this event and the “gender norms” it enforces is because these gender norms have been created as a result of a huge asymmetry within society. The “majority”, who command more social power, has decided, in their favour, about the way in which the “minority” have to behave. We hope to stop “Miss” & “Mr.” contesta from being held, and to break down the norms that the contest bases itself on.
The paragraphs might give you the impression that I am a hardcore feminist who has been against sexism ever since I can remember. However, that is not the case. I was not interested in feminism, or worse, an anti-feminist until I entered university. Spending my adolescent time abroad at international schools where sexual harassment was not in any way accepted, I was protected, and was unable to understand why feminism was even needed. As far as I remember, no one expected me to perform less, no-one valued my opinion less, no-one objectified me based on my gender. At the same time, I was a sexist myself, somehow believing that my happiness entirely depends on whether I can get married or not, or who I will get married to.
However, when I came back to Japan and entered Keio University, this naïve perception of the world collapsed completely. Sexual harassment suddenly became an everyday reality, and I was expected to play the role of a “freshman girl” who would praise whatever older male students would say. Thanks to the repeated debate on sexism that I had heard in high school, which I managed to ignore at that time, I realised that what I was facing was sexism, and soon learned how to use feminist languageto fight against it.
After a year of Kamen-Ronin (studying for the university entrance exam even though you already belong to one), I entered University of Tokyo knowing I am a feminist. To my eyes, the situation here was even worse than the one at Keio University. I was speechless looking at a classroom full of male students and professors, despite knowing the gender ratio before entering the university. Many of the students graduated from boys’ schools and seem to have an idealistic and unrealistic image of “cute girls”, which I did not at all fit. When I faced sexual harassment during Ori-Gasshuku, an unofficial orientation camp in which freshmen are expected to participate, no one was there to stand with me. Instead, I got cold stares from my classmates for fighting back, and was immediately labelled as a “girl who gets angry over nothing”.
What is missing from this university, in my opinion, is a shared commitment to criticise gender norms and oppression. A moment to think about the meaning of enforcing “what seems normal” on other people. Of course, there are many people fighting against this culture, but their voices are not heard.
Let’s face it. This university has a culture that is predominantly male, cisgender and heterosexual. People who are not male, cisgender or heterosexual are ignored, judged, and despised. As a member of this society, we need to rethink the ways in which we can create a space that is comfortable for everyone. And that is why I have, and continuously will, criticise the “Miss” & “Mr.” contest at this university.