Shu Matsuo Post is the author of the newly released book, I Took Her Name, which tells his story of when he changed his last name to his wife’s last name, and the journey to finding his own vulnerability and authenticity.
He is a Japanese national and his wife is American. While the name-changing process was simple in the U.S., it was a very challenging task in Japan. Since having different last names as a married couple is still prohibited in Japan, 94% of wives end up taking their husband’s name after marriage. As a Japanese man who changed his name, Shu experienced gender bias during this process.
Until he went through this process and saw the world from a woman’s perspective, he had no idea how much this world is tilted in men’s favor. The patriarchy is creating rigid gender expectations everywhere in the world. He believes those gender expectations are holding both women AND men back. Once he started to confront gender norms and realized that manhood doesn’t need to be a certain way, it gave him freedom. It took him a few years to achieve this freedom he was looking for. He wrote this book so that the readers can achieve it in a few hours.
How would you describe yourself growing up as a man with patriarchal values?
As a young man I wanted to be professionally successful, financially well off, and emotionally stoic, all those things that many men strive for. I thought that’s how I was supposed to live my life as a man.
At the same time, I associated being emotional as being weak. I stayed away from being emotional at all costs. I became very stoic and emotionally unavailable, uninvested to any romantic relationship I was in. Often, I wasn’t true to myself, I wasn’t authentic. In order to be authentic, one needs to feel his emotions. We need to allow ourselves to feel our emotions and respond to our emotions.
If you asked me 10 years ago, if I believed in gender equality, I think I would still say ‘yes’, but I don’t think I would have said I’m a proud feminist. Today, I’m a proud feminist. I believe in gender equality. And I take action by speaking up about gender inequality in the world and how almost every culture and the system favors men.
I grew up in Japan. In Japan, it’s very typical, like in most countries around the world, that women take their husband’s last name after marriage. I never questioned it. I thought that was the way it should be. Women have been doing this for centuries and no one’s really talked about it or they have been talking about it, but men have kind of silenced them or, we didn’t hear it.
After I myself went through the process of taking my wife’s name, I don’t believe that it’s fair for a culture to expect women to go through that process, I think it should be a choice based decision.
Thank you so much for sharing that. We have very strict gender norms and gender roles in all the societies. Men are traditionally seen as the financial contributor and bread earner of the family. Do you consider it as a burden to men?
Being a breadwinner is a beautiful thing, but certainly it doesn’t have to be only a man’s job. I truly believe that there should be more breadwinning women out there, so that it will allow men who don’t feel like they have to be the breadwinning partner in their relationship to stay at home and take care of their children. I think every man and woman needs to have the choice to decide what they would like to do in life. As a society, we shouldn’t think less of men for staying out of work or women for making more money than their male partners. To me, that’s the true equality. We need to represent both ends of the spectrum.
Some societies have done a pretty good job with empowering women and girls to be more independent and more powerful. I feel women and girls can play at both sides of the spectrum of gender roles, wherein men are still stuck in only one side. I’ve definitely felt that in my whole life.
I am looking forward to a time when it would be natural that men would be staying away from the workforce for a few years similarly as women nowadays take a break from work to raise children.
As you are speaking about switching the gender roles related to caregiving and domestic work, do you think societies should accept men as stay at home fathers or women to have more financial power and freedom than men?
I’ve just become a dad for the first time – we welcomed our son six weeks ago. My wife and I are both on parental leave. We both are taking care of him, it’s still a 24×7 job. Childcare can be more challenging than a traditional full-time job in a way, but it’s unpaid. I think, childcare needs to be considered as real work and should be respected.
If women can take years off because of raising kids, why cannot men? I think if more men consistently take time off of work to take care of their children, that’s going to give more opportunities to women to step up in the workplace. That’s also going to close the gender pay gap. It should not matter who works or not.
Right now, the gender pay gap is so huge that when it comes to someone having to stay behind to take care of the child, it’s usually the women because on an average, men earn a lot more than women.
A lot of men might want to stay at home and take some time off to take care of their children. but because of these statistics and gender stereotypes, most men end up going back to work, soon after they have their kids.
Women also have a lot of unconscious biases about taking care of the children and raising them because of the huge social conditioning. There are so many stereotypes to break that it might take another hundred years, but at least, we are talking about this. Having this conversation itself is an indication of changing mindset and challenging stereotypes.
What do you feel is the best way to train the younger generation, especially to young men and boys about breaking gender stereotypes?
I think education is the best way to move forward. Children have more open minds than adults. The younger you start, the better off kids will be in breaking gender barriers and challenging traditional gender norms. Gender equality and gender stereotypes should be taught and discussed in school.
One can sometimes go through an experience from someone else’s perspective like what I went through. I got a glimpse into a woman’s world by taking my wife’s name. But, in order to experience that one needs to be on someone else’s shoes just trying to experience life from her place, which most people don’t consider doing in their lifetime.
Once your book is published, do you have any plans after to keep advocating for feminism and gender equality?
Absolutely. Going back to my previous point, I think that my best bet would be educating the younger generation. I want to educate them about what I went through. If I had known about what I know now, even 10 years ago, I might’ve had a very different past 10 years.
I have a few speaking engagements with international schools in Tokyo. I want to do more of those. I want to speak at high schools and colleges to speak with teenagers and college students about this issue and just share my story so that they have a different perspective and hopefully, they can live a more courageous life or authentic life that they truly want to treat.
What would be your message to boys and men in general, if you have to say something to them what would you say?
I would say, when you let go of expectations, when you confront gender expectations and embrace vulnerability, you will achieve the freedom that you never thought was possible.