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  • Writer's pictureMiki Goerdt

Allowing self-expression of love, sadness, and everything in between

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

“Allowing,” Mokuhanga woodblock print, 3 x 4.5 inches, 2023.

What emotions do you allow yourself to express?

Throughout history, social ideologies and societal beliefs silenced mothers and their self-expression– in Japan as well as in the United States. As Silva (2010) explains, women in Japan have been oppressed by the patriarchal ideologies originated from the Buddhist teaching which came to Japan in 552 C.E. Per Silva, “Japan’s newfound Buddhism had fundamental convictions that women were of evil nature, which eventually led women into a submissive role in Japanese society.” Such ideologies were reinforced by those in power throughout Japan’s history, including the anti-women rules of the Tokugawa era. Although sociopolitical contexts change over time, deeply rooted patriarchal beliefs are still present today in Japan. And these are the ideologies and contexts behind the lives of my grandmother and my mother, who lived their entire lives in Japan. And consequently, these contexts are a part of my life too.

Japanese Americans in the United States are not free from these contexts. In addition to the Japanese sociopolitical contexts, Japanese Americans have an additional set of contexts: American history and politics, social beliefs about Japanese and their culture, discrimination against Asian/Japanese Americans, and American beliefs about women, to name a few. These are the contexts behind my life and my daughter’s life.

"In my body," Mokuhanga woodblock print, 3 x 4.5 inches, 2023.

Our boides carry memories and experiences of our ancestors.

What are your ancestors' life experiences?

The silence of Japanese women is double-layered in nature, consisting of societal oppression and familial oppression. By examining two novels written by Japanese American writers, Endo (2022) articulates how a Japanese mother can be silenced by her own family members such as her husband and her children. Patriarchal beliefs in society can seep into one’s family life; these are exemplified by such actions as a husband discouraging his wife from having a career. “In addition to the lack of language abilities, issei [first generation Japanese] mothers conceal and do not talk about their inner self and problems to their daughters” (p.210). This learned silence of Japanese mothers results in their daughters’ attempting to interpret and narrate their mothers’ lives, as is seen in many novels written by Japanese American writers.

This is what I would rather live without. I have my own voice as a Japanese mother, and I use it to narrate my own stories in the way I want — through art, writing, and public speaking.

“Inheritances,” Mokuhanga woodblock print, 3 x 3.5 inches, 2023 Beliefs, emotions, coping mechanisms can be our inheritances.

Inheritances may be burdens or gifts.

When my daughter shares her emotions or opinions openly with me, I recognize the moment as one that changes the culture within the family—the lineage of silenced women. I see how our legacy burden of silence is changed by her acts of self-expression and by my encouragement of such acts from her in our relationship. We have allowed ourselves to express love and sadness–and everything in between. I believe expressing our feelings and thoughts is a learned skill which requires practice. If a daughter practices self-expression in a family that validates the worth of her voice, she can claim her voice outside of home as well. Japanese or not, what I know to be true is that the empowerment of women starts from home.

“Self-expression,” Mokuhanga woodblock prints, 3 x 3.5 inches, 2023.

At the conclusion of my Artist Residency in Motherhood in May 2023, it became more apparent to me why I wanted to do this residency. Because we live in a world where our appearances and identities produce assumptions in others, I wanted to narrate my stories with my own words, not through other people’s interpretations of me. I needed to understand myself first in order to do that, through understanding my ancestors and the culture they built, including our parents. Art has helped me with this process of understanding and learning.

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