Recently my friend shared two interesting articles on women’s rights and issues from Asia, one from Japan and the other from China. In both articles women are either struggling to maintain power (China’s Mosuo tribe) or struggling to achieve it (Japan).
While I don’t believe that women should dominate men (which photograph Locatelli finds positive, you’ll see what I mean), I think more than anything juxtaposing these articles reveals how women aren’t “naturally” submissive and less powerful than men – we’ve just been socialized to think that way.
Is China’s Mosuo tribe the world’s last matriarchy?
…Known as the “Kingdom of Women” throughout China, 40,000 Mosuo people live in a series of villages around the lake. Women here make most major decisions; they control household finances, have the rightful ownership of land and houses, and full rights to the children born to them – quite radical considering that many parts of China still practise arranged marriages – although political power tends to rest with the men (making the description “matrilineal” more accurate).
But what makes the Mosuo unique is their practice of zuo hun, or “walking marriage”. From the age of 13, after being initiated, females may choose to take lovers from men within the tribe, having as many or as few as they please over their lifetime.
Male companions are known as axias and spend their days carrying out jobs such as fishing and animal rearing, and visit the women’s homes at night, often secretly; any resulting children are raised by the woman’s family. The father and all adult men are known as “uncles” – there is no stigma attached to not knowing who a child’s father is.
As commerce tries to elbow tradition out of the way and younger generations of the Mosuo are tempted by outside influence, a darker, seedier side has emerged in recent years. Tourism is booming, and the Chinese government is keen to market and monetise the Mosuo to Chinese tourists, even installing a toll booth charging $5 to enter the area from the newly laid main road.
Curious and frisky visitors are lured in by the suggestion that the Mosuo women offer free sex – hotels, restaurants, casinos and karaoke bars have been built, and sex workers shipped over from Thailand dress in Mosuo traditional dress in the “capital village”, Luoshu.
“Arriving in Luoshu was a shock – it was tacky and not how I expected,” says [photographer Luca] Locatelli. “There were a lot of people asking for money: bar owners and prostitutes that are obviously not Mosuo – it’s all geared towards male Chinese tourists.”
After talking to locals, Locatelli decided to move on to another village, Lige, in search of “real Mosuo”. “I crossed the lake to another village and found them living in the same traditions they have done for 2,000 years – the people there were lovely, kind and living simple, happy lives.” With all the modern temptations for the younger generation of Mosuo now right on their doorstep, Locatelli found a community caught between cultural tradition and the modern world.
“Their way of life is slowly changing, but there is a real sense of pride in the way they live,” he says. “Men and women are very much equals, but the women are just a little more in charge.”
Japanese women sue to keep maiden names
A group of Japanese women filed a challenge Monday to a 19th century law that compels almost all females to drop their maiden names and assume their husbands’ surnames when they marry.
The landmark case, launched before the Tokyo District Court, is seen as a test for the rights of women, who continue to struggle against gender stereotypes and remain under-represented in politics and corporate boardrooms.
Japan’s Civil Code stipulates that married couples must share one surname — in practice almost always that of the husband, although some men have assumed their wives’ names, often if the women come from noble families.
The plaintiffs — four women, and the husband of one of them — argue that the civil code clause dating back to 1898 breaches the constitutional guarantee of equal rights for both spouses.
The individuals from Tokyo, Kyoto and Toyama are also demanding a total of six million yen ($70,000) in damages for their emotional distress, a higher amount than the group had announced earlier, their lawyers said.
Hopes for a revision of the civil code rose after the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took power in September 2009, ending half a century of conservative rule, and pushed for an immediate change.
However the reform withered as the DPJ’s small coalition partner, the People’s New Party, strongly opposes the move, a position shared by many other conservative politicians in Japan.
Public opinion is sharply divided on the issue. In a recent government survey, 37 percent of respondents said they supported a revision of the code, while 35 percent were against.