By GWEN MURANAKA
“This is totally ridiculous. What a railroad job,” fumed Sen. Mazie Hirono before walking out on Friday as the Senate Judiciary Committee proceeded ahead with a vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Asian American women are not thought of as fiery, but that has been the senior senator from Hawaii in recent days. During the previous day’s hearing, Hirono said to Judge Kavanaugh that she was seeking “credibility, candor and character” in whoever is elevated to a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. By Friday, she had clearly had enough.
A first-generation Japanese American cancer survivor, Hirono was speaking for so many women around the country, as Senate Republicans pushed forward with the nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite the credible testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on allegations that she was assaulted by Kavanaugh at a party.
It is a different Senate now than when Anita Hill testified in 1991, and it’s because of the inclusion of women like Sen. Hirono. She is bringing the experiences of Asian American women to this conversation and I am grateful for it.
Now that the full Senate vote has been delayed, perhaps the whole country can take a few breaths and process what we witnessed.
Ford — quiet, clearly frightened, but certain of the details of her alleged assault. Kavanaugh — angry, emotional, livid at the toll that this is taking on himself and his family. This is “Rashomon” playing as the whole country watches, with highest stakes imaginable.
If there is anything good to come of this, it is the fact that so many women are now opening up about their own stories of assault.
For every woman who has come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault, there are countless others who remain silent. I think we must ask ourselves — are there similar stories right here in the Japanese American community?
Sadly, the answer no doubt is that of course there are, even if the issue is unspoken and largely still taboo. We are, after all, women in a society that all-too-frequently belittles, minimizes and devalues our worth. As Asian women, we are taught to be quiet and demure, not to make waves, and often explicitly, as my Nisei grandmother instructed me, to make sure the men are served first.
Dr. Ford’s story of a ’80s party ring true as someone who came of age in that era. My own experiences have not been as harrowing, although I’ve had my share of humiliating and demeaning encounters.
My first time living in Japan, I was groped on a Tokyo train, in an incident so depressingly common that the men who commit these offensive acts are referred to by a well-known term: chikan. I recall when it happened to me, I wasn’t sure what to do and I froze. The trains at rush hour are so crowded that you can hardly move and you can’t tell who the offender is. My solution was to get off the train at the next stop.
I’ve heard from other gaijin friends who were much more forthright during these encounters; one who when witnessing a man molesting a young schoolgirl went up to him and shouted him down, and got the attention of a station master. On a crowded train from Waseda to Takadanobaba, I saw a woman grab a man’s arm and smack him hard across the face, screaming, “Chikan!” His face turned a deep red and he stammered an embarrassed denial. I wish I had been that brave in the moment.
There have been so many brave women who have come forward in conversations with their families, in posts on Facebook, in marches across America. It’s time we listen.
Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at email@example.com. The Rafu Shimpo management and staff continually strive to maintain high editorial standards for professionalism as well as accurate and balanced news coverage. The inclusion of a particular piece, including columns and op-ed submissions by contributing writers in print and/or digitally, does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the owners, management, individual staff members, and editors. The Rafu Shimpo welcomes responses to any article published in print or digitally. Responses may be sent to author directly or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.