- Rico Matsunaga
Stop trying to be the ‘affable girl,” loved by everyone
I’ve been wanting to be her ever since I was little. That girl who is affable, always smiling, happy and content; the girl that is loved by everyone.
“Girls are best affable.”
My grandmother and my mother, as well as all the grown-ups around me always complimented my looks and affable features rather than my grades or diligence.
“You shouldn’t try too hard; it’s going to become difficult to find a guy who would suit you.” They allowed me to go to an all-girls high school, but they became worried about my future after graduation when I made it clear I wanted to go study abroad or go to university in Tokyo.
“You’re able to live only because your husband works hard at work every day. You should come home early, make dinner, and welcome him home with a smile.”
This is what my grandmother would say whenever my mother made complaints about the family and domestic chores.
“You’re able to study only because your dad works hard at work every day. Be affable.”
When I became a little rebellious in my teens, as we all generally do, and started to visibly show a little sense of dislike towards my father, my mother would say these words I'd heard somewhere.
Hence, it was unfortunately programmed into my brain that “girls should be affable, and be liked by everyone.”
I only realized after a long time and becoming an adult that it had been programmed in me not to be “liked by everyone” but rather “liked by the men in this world”. I am now 28. I have been living under this same program for more than 10 years.
Even now writing this, news such as “Sexual abuse of study abroad students,” “Sexual harassment during job hunting,” and “Domestic violence cases increased in COVID situations” covers my phone. All these three are also my own stories.
Studying abroad had been a big dream of mine for a long time. I was surprised and confused at not just words but also differences in culture and communication. That day all my senses and emotions got lost. I wanted to disappear from that space right at that moment. It was only a few days later that I had understood that I had experienced sexual abuse: until then, I spent my days as usual. Yes, being affable, with a smile.
Even the foreign language that I am usually able to speak fluently wouldn't come out of my mouth when I tried to explain what had happened. I nor the people there could understand that it was not because of my lack of skills in the language, but because of the flashbacks that I was having due to the trauma.
“Why couldn’t you say no? Is it because you are Japanese?”
“How could you spend these days with a smile, even though you went through such a thing?”
Whilst job hunting, I received a message from a male senpai that I hadn't taken contact in a while. According to him, it is important in job hunting to visit graduates to know their routes in job hunting. I didn't have any interest in his work or genre of work, but I couldn't say no. I was afraid I would seem cold and not affable.
I waited until he finished working, and when we met up at the restaurant, it was late. It was supposed to be advice on job hunting, but instead, it was more me listening to him speak about his dreams whilst smiling. I would say “wow, how fascinating!” “That’s great!” and nod.
His audacity, kindness, and hidden sexual intensions; was it my affable feature that made those lines blurred? Was it my fault that I couldn't say no to “one more drink” because he said he would pay for everything? Although it was supposed to be advice, did I have the time to meet up with a man at such a late time?
We left the restaurant a few minutes after the last train had gone. He said to me, naturally-
“You still must have some questions, so I’ll be here for you to listen. How about watching a film at my house? It’s close from here, and there's that DVD at home I was talking about.”
2020: when it seemed like the pandemic had settled down a bit, I went back to my hometown. One night, I heard a big racket downstairs which woke me up. As I went down the stairs to see what was going on, my legs stopped halfway. My father was beating my mother up. The racket was my father punching, kicking, and beating her up. My mother was screaming and crying. I was too shocked to do anything. My body wouldn't move, and I couldn't say a word. When my father noticed me, he said one phrase - “Sorry for waking you up”.
The next morning when I woke up, the two were eating breakfast as if nothing had happened. That night, and the night after that the same racket was happening. I still couldn't do anything. All I could do was go back home like I was running away. On the bullet train home, I remembered the words my grandmother would say to my mother: “Girls are best affable.”
These words had stolen away freedom and had disabled us to say no when we should have said no, and to blame ourselves for me, my mother, my grandmother, and generations before that.
I know. That at schools, studying abroad, job hunting, at the workplace, in homes, on the streets-at places I don't recognize, this program is unconsciously working for us. Therefore I won't say the usual words like “I hope you won't suffer anymore”. Instead, I want to say, stop being “the affable type, loved by the other men,”
As long as this program does not delete itself, we won't become free. We are allowed to raise our voices whenever we feel the slightest discomfort. Even if it means we are cold or don't seem affable, or liked by not just the men around us but anyone around us. The level of how affable you are doesn't link to your value at all. Because your value is determined, not by others but by you and yourself only.
About Rico Matsunaga @beberiquito
Feminist, Bookworm, Plant-Based, Wellness-Enthusiast :)
Translated by Marina Ogawa
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphic by Emily Mogami