Former Japanese Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe won the Tokyo gubernatorial election on February 9th to become the city’s next governor. A field of 16 men fought a two-week campaign to become chief executive of the city of 13 million people. Masuzoe, 65, received over 2.11 million votes in the election.
During this campaign, a boycott was staged on social media. Using Twitter, a group of women called for a ‘sex strike’ to protest Masuzoe’s candidacy. They declared that they would withhold sex from men who voted for Tokyo’s leading candidate, Masuzoe. The Tokyo-based Twitter campaign group calls itself “The association of women who will not have sex with men who vote for Masuzoe” and has garnered over 3,000 followers since it launched on February 1st. The founders, who remain anonymous, say in their profile, “We have stood up to prevent Masuzoe, who makes such insulting remarks against women … We won’t have sex with men who vote for Masuzoe.”
Masuzoe became a celebrity through TV talk shows before getting involved in politics in 2001. In 1989, he told a men’s magazine that it would not be proper to have women at the highest level of government because their menstrual cycle makes them irrational. “Women are not normal when they are having a period. . . . You can’t possibly let them make critical decisions about the country during their period such as whether or not to go to war,” he said.
Masuzoe’s comments about women have triggered a backlash. Another website was launched on February 5th by a group of women also seeking to prevent him from becoming Tokyo governor. The site had attracted 200,000 hits as of February 9th. “Masuzoe is an enemy of women. . . . He doesn’t love Japan. He loves only himself,” said one comment on the site. “It’s so witty! I also will not have sex with women who will vote for Masuzoe,” said another comment.
The movement against Masuzoe in social media has also been covered by international media and reported in Western countries, but not in Japan. Japanese journalists, apparently, were unable to cover the event during the election for fear of “election bias”, with the result that the women in the movement had to have volunteers translate an English article into Japanese.
After he won the election, a group of women delivered an official statement on the website, and expressed disappointment over the result. They also vowed to keep an eye on his speaking and his behavior.
Despite high levels of education, many Japanese women are forced to leave their jobs when they have children. The social pressure to be a house wife is still intense. Women in senior political positions are rare, with only two in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 19-member cabinet.
In January, Abe pledged that 30% of leading positions would be occupied by women by 2020, but most observers suggest this target is unlikely to be attempted. Masuzoe was backed by Abe’s conservative (despite its name) Liberal Democratic Party in the election. Politics is not the only sphere of influence where women are rare; company boards are mostly male.
Japanese women will pay close attention to whether Masuzoe agrees with government policies or not.