Reflecting on gender and nuclear disaster:
Over the course of my research in Fukushima I’ve had the pleasure of meeting farmers who continue to illegally farm within the nuclear Exclusion Zone. A couple of them – jokingly – compared themselves to ‘Kamikaze’ (神風) making it clear that their own health could be damaged for the greater good. Likewise, a friend of mine who is a Japanese policeman described his work in the Exclusion Zone after 3/11 in stoical terms, playing down his personal risk of exposure, or the difficulties of searching for post-Tsunami corpses, or having to contend with the heat of the anti-radiation suits in the stifling Japanese Summer:
“I was just doing my duty”
This idea of sacrifice seems to attach itself to nuclear disaster. The ‘liquidators’ of Chernobyl for example are also framed in a similar way: male heroes idolised in monochrome photographs, or cast in stone – sacrificing themselves for the greater good. The ‘Fukushima 50’ too, have become motifs of nuclear disaster, encapsulating this idea of the strong masculine hero.
What these have in common is gender. But my research in Fukushima has found other gendered realities – such as the bravery of the self titled ‘Mothers of Fukushima’ who – with their husbands unable or unwilling to leave Fukushima – managed to resettle in Tokyo single handedly; successfully campaigning for their right to welfare assistance, while looking after young children, even while pregnant. A different kind of sacrifice, but a brave move nonetheless. One mother, who relocated her three children from Fukushima described how “my son stopped eating after we evacuated, but my daughters were fine” She said, and then continued “That’s when I knew women were stronger!”