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Tomorrow Girls Troop
Tomorrow Girls Troop and Chabudai Gaeshi Joshi, TokyoCourtesy of Tomorrow Girls Troop

The art group preaching girl power to Japan

Tomorrow Girls Troop take on Japan’s dated gender ideals with bunny masks and art activism

Tomorrow Girls Troop members are artists, activists, academics. Among their ranks might be disgruntled housewives, dissatisfied career women, and former teen idols. But we wouldn’t know for sure, as the individuals who make up Tomorrow Girls Troop hide behind the mask of anonymity – and behind rabbit masks.

Their masks are a nod in the direction of the Guerrilla Girls and a wink toward the outmoded gender trope of the Playboy bunny, but also derive from a culturally specific source. The rabbit, in Japanese folklore, is characterised as meek, docile, and paragons of self-sacrifice (all qualities desired in a woman, natch). Rabbits can also be tricky, mischievous, and needy. “The rabbit is smart but powerless,” one of the founders of TGT told me, “a lot of Japanese girls associate themselves with rabbits.” With their rabbit masks, TGT hopes to reclaim and redefine the animal as a symbol of empowerment, to go with their message of raising awareness of feminism and gender equality in one of the most entrenched patriarchies in the developed world.

This means battling misogyny in a variety of institutional and cultural arenas. They’ve taken on the law (protesting the single-surname restriction on married couples in Japan), popular culture (parodying and critiquing depictions of women in popular magazines and advertisements), even language (they want to change the definition of “feminism” in the Japanese dictionary). “When an issue arises, we brainstorm, and try to react to it quickly, using visuals or some artistic form of communication,’ explained the group’s spokesperson via email. Their most high profile project prompted the removal of an objectionable municipal mascot – a sexualised manga-style representation of an ama diver endorsed by the city of Shima – through an online petition on change.org that garnered over 7,000 signatures in seven days.

With that small success came ‘immense backlash,’ however, as the TGT campaign against the city ignited the ire of otaku (obsessive fans of manga) who decried it as an infringement on their freedom of expression and discrimination against the otaku subculture. The antagonism online grew to be pretty severe. “It was somehow twisted into a ‘feminists vs otakus’ issue, when it is actually a ‘feminists calling out publicly-endorsed, institutionalised sexism’ issue,” TGT says. In response, TGT launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #otafemi, to prove that the otaku culture and feminism need not be mutually exclusive.

The opposition they face, however, is never ending. It’s like a reflex that springs into action whenever a woman raises her voice about the disadvantages she faces and the systemic misogyny that is built into Japan’s laws, traditions, and societal constraints. “Since women are generally discouraged to exist here unless we’re either career-driven, are married, have children, are model caregivers, and preferably all of the above,” TGT says, “we face constant backlash for advocating for the human right to live however women please, whatever suits our ever diversifying lifestyles.” Women are meant to be submissive, and quiet as rabbits.

“We face constant backlash for advocating for the human right to live however women please, whatever suits our ever diversifying lifestyles” – Tomorrow Girls Troop

That silence, TGT asserts, is part of what continues to hold Japan back when it comes to making meaningful progress toward gender parity. “The most disconcerting aspect of ‘backlash’ I would observe,” TGT says, “is the silence of academics and generally progressive thinkers in positions of influence when it comes to sexism…People sitting on the fence about sexism can sometimes be as harmful as detractors.” At present, speaking out – against the wage gap, unfair treatment in the workplace, maternity leave harassment, sexist imagery, or even the casual, misogynist comment – often seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

But Tomorrow Girls Troop is trying to keep feminist issues in the conversation – wherever and whenever they can. They’ll be donning their rabbit masks for two upcoming events in Tokyo – an exhibition of feminist art curated by Australian artist Kate Just, and a “Girls Power Parade” on the streets of Tokyo. In the exhibition, they’ll be joined by famed feminist artist Yoshiko Shimada, and the infamous Megumi Igarashi (aka Rokudenashiko ‘Good for nothing girl’). While TGT has participated in a few exhibitions since forming last year, this will be their first in Japan; ‘It’s not every day that an art space in Japan is willing to host overtly feminist work,’ they say. The “Girls Power Parade” will be their most highly visible appearance in public to date, gathering around 100 people with placards, music, and performances in an occupation of an intersection in Omotesando. For the parade, they are collaborating with another activist group, Chabudai Gaeshi Joshi, literally ‘Table-Turn-Over Ladies,’ which advocates for women to ‘raise their voices and speak their minds.’

Throughout it all, TGT asserts that their feminist art and activism don’t arise out of a place of anger – they’re simply fighting for happiness in society, for the girls of tomorrow.

Exhibition “Feminist Fan in Japan and Friends” runs from February 20 to February 26, 2016, at Youkobo Art Space, Tokyo. “Girls Power Parade” takes place on February 28 on Omotesandō intersection in Tokyo