Japan’s Search for Girl Power, or How Should We Call It?

Japan is all over Girl Power. Celebrities talk about it in mass media, women of all ages use it to compliment their female friends, it is used in advertisements, usually for products aimed at women. In the West, when we hear this word, we think about women rocking their careers, being more integrated in the society, having the same opportunities as men, but in Japan it has a drastically different meaning.

In Japanese it’s called 女子力, or ”Joshiryoku”, where 女子 stands for a girl, and 力 means power. Translated directly, we get Girl Power. This term is also used in articles that introduce this Japanese phenomenon to non-Japanese speakers. However, is it correct to use the same word to describe such different ideas? Considering the difference, I would translate it Power of a Girl, and I’m going to explain why.

Usually it is used in the conversations in the following form: ”女子力高い” or ”女子力低い”, which means ‘high girl power’ or ‘low girl power’. If you are told that you have high girl power, it’s a compliment that praises either your appearance or some habits that reveal a great housewife or mother in you.

The Japanese Internet describes Girl Power as a woman’s ability to cook, love for house chores, being good at makeup, having good manners, being lady-like, speaking softly, smelling good, having well organized surroundings (bag, room, work desk etc.).

For example, this blog gives a list of 50 traits that are attributed to someone with ‘low girl power’. Some of them can be perceived as common sense for presentable appearance for both sexes, like the following:

  • dirty shoes
  • not covering one’s mouth while sneezing
  • smell (not specified)

The left are bad traits which are traditionally targeted at the female population:

  • not removing body hair
  • not having a handkerchief
  • messy insides of a bag
  • not wearing matching underwear
  • being seen holding period goods
  • smoking, releasing smoke through nose
  • no feeling of seasons (Japanese cultural moment based on living in strict harmony with seasons)
  • broken smartphone display
  • not having a facial expression, not smiling, having dead eyes
  • not being stylish, wearing old-looking clothes
  • frizzy hair
  • visible roots

Basically, it is how about how polished a woman’s image should be. If you are caught holding your tampons in public, shame on you, because a true woman should not reveal her periods and always maintain a clean cute image. For what it’s worth, I can see it as efforts aimed at building a certain image – image of a woman suitable for marriage in a society with traditional gender roles.

According to this web-site, Power of a Girl includes charming traits that are desirable for women, such as: cute smile, being thoughtful of the others’ needs, being good at housework, striving to be beautiful, sexiness, dignity. Nowhere it states that she should have sharp mind, be responsible for her life, be able to stand up for herself, or think what’s fair and best for her.

This is where I come to conclusion that it is better to be translated as a Power of A Girl, because this way it reflects the nuance of it being a feminine trait that could be potentially used as a means to make people think of you as a Good Woman in a traditional interpretation. It doesn’t include a woman’s ability to think critically, to achieve results by using her brain, or by having a strong or competitive personality. Here in Japan when we talk about someone, whose  女子力  is  高い, we imagine cultivated femininity brought into perfection.

This was a quick insight on what the Power of a Girl concept is in the Land of the Rising Sun. Considering serious differences in meaning of original Girl Power idea, I believe it’S better to use a different term while translating Joshiryoku from Japanese, because it obviously creates misunderstandings in the perception of these two concepts. They are not the same, after all. Dividing them and not simplifying the idea of Girl Power to just looking as feminine as possible would help create a more correct definition for these two ideas.



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