Joanna is the Junior Wellness Lead for SSEDITORIAL Magazine, specialising…
Japanese culture is full of contradictions, as people who look beyond anime, manga and everything else that makes Japan such a popular travel destination might know. On the one hand, the porn industry is thriving, and the age of consent is 13 (although this soon might change). On the other hand, schoolgirls are subjected to rules, such as the ponytail ban. This is still enforced because it could arouse men since Japanese culture views the nape of the neck as sexual.
Is It Just a Japanese Issue?
For example, a school might ask a student to submit proof that their hair isn’t naturally straight. However, while rules like that might seem ridiculous and not our problem, policing women’s bodies is nothing new. In many countries, schools punish girls for wearing tight shirts in class and don’t permit the expression of individuality through clothes or hair colour. These draconian norms are called burakku kosoku (black rules) and don’t just apply to ponytails.
When I went to secondary school in Poland, girls weren’t allowed to wear makeup or even straighten their hair. Even though the teachers didn’t enforce the ban as much as they do in Japan, they would grade us on our behaviour every year. As expected, mine was lower due to wearing leggings and short skirts despite never causing any problems. Luckily, my parents didn’t care how I dressed, but the injustice of it stung. It stung significantly because clothes didn’t affect my grades. I wasn’t sure why it mattered so much at the time, but I hated being judged for my outfit choices.
Why Did Japan Impose the Black Rules?
The black rules were first imposed in Japan to fight bullying and school violence. These days all they achieve is shifting the responsibility from perpetrators to victims. Young girls are expected to never tempt men with their appearance, not men who should be taught about consent and respect. Ultimately, it doesn’t help anyone and creates a society that holds women accountable for men’s unacceptable behaviours. Unsurprisingly, Japan has separate trains for men and women because sexual assault is common, and women find it challenging to act assertively. How could they be if they were taught that unwanted attention is their fault?
What Is Happening in the UK?
In the UK, things aren’t much better. A few months ago, a secondary school banned skirts to make uniforms more gender-neutral. Once again, someone missed the point. We do not need to change what girls wear, but we need to educate boys. Ultimately, society as a whole needs a wake-up call.
Apart from victim blaming, strict appearance rules prevent female students from expressing themselves freely. They also convey that their education isn’t as important as their peers. In January, the teachers of a high school in Trafford put a girl in isolation for wearing an inappropriate skirt. This happened even though her mother argued that it met the knee-length requirement. Indeed, have teachers ever asked boys to leave class because their pants were too tight?
While we can rationalise that Japan is a more conservative society with different views on sexuality, the UK still has a long way to go. It’s 2023, and young girls are still not allowed to look how they want to look for fear that they’ll be a distraction. No one should feel bad for experimenting with their style, and we should stop sexualising female hairstyles and clothes.
Joanna is the Junior Wellness Lead for SSEDITORIAL Magazine, specialising in mental health, wellness and lifestyle. In her spare time, she likes to write scripts and dance.