On today’s episode of Conversations with Thinking in English, I’m incredibly happy to welcome my good friend Marie onto the podcast! Marie is originally from France and runs the Feminist Majo blog which posts fascinating articles about the lives of women in East Asia. Marie also has a Master’s degree in Asian Politics (from the same university as I graduated from) and has studied a lot of languages in her life!
Join us for a conversation on feminism, women in East Asia, and how to develop your language skills to be able to study at a top English language university!
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Bachelor’s degree (n) – a first degree at college or university
I studied History during my bachelor’s degree
-ish (suffix) – used to form adjectives to give the meaning to some degree; fairly
He has a reddish sort of beard
Awareness (n) – knowledge and understanding of a particular activity, subject, etc
We are trying to raise awareness of environmental problems and issues
To undertake (v) – to do or begin to do something, especially something that will take a long time or be difficult
Students are required to undertake fieldwork in this course
Continuity (n) – the fact of something continuing of a long period of time without being changed or stopped
There has been no continuity in politics recently – they’ve had 5 different Prime Ministers in 5 years
To rock (v) – to cause feelings of shock
His resignation rocked the entire company
To emancipate (v) – to give people social or political freedom and rights
There are still people around the world who have not been fully emancipated
Engaged (adj) – involved in something
They’ve been engaged in a legal battle with the council for several months
Collaboration (n) – the act of working with someone else for a special purpose
The screenplay is a collaboration between two famous writers
To dominate (v) – to have control over a place or person
My friend dominates every single conversation we have
Discrimination (n) – treating a person or group of people differently because of their skin colour, sex, sexuality, etc
Discrimination against women in the workplace is still common in parts of Asia
To interject (v) – to say something while another person is speaking
“You’re wrong!” Tom interjected
Patriarchy (n) – a society in which the oldest male is the leader of the family, or a society controlled by men in which they use their power to their own advantages
Patriarchy has not disappeared – it has just changed form
Socialisation (n) – the process of training people or animals to behave in a way that others in the group think is suitable
Parents are responsible for much of a child’s socialisation
Heroine (n) – the main female character in a book or film, who is usually good
The heroine of her latest novel is called Sarah
Take (sth) for granted (phrasal v) – to not realise or show that you are grateful for how much you benefit from a situation or person
I will never take my podcast audience for granted
Vigilant (adj) – always being careful to notice things, especially danger
We need to be extra vigilant of shoplifters early in the morning
To suppress (v) – prevent something from being seen or expressed
She couldn’t suppress her delight any longer
To maintain (v) – to continue to have or keep in existence
I try to maintain a consistent upload schedule
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A Conversation with Marie from the Feminist Majo!
Marie, how are you?
I’m doing great, thank you, and you?
Thank you, I’m OK! And thank you for joining me on the Thinking in English podcast.
You’re my second guest and it’s a big honour to have you on. I wanted someone who is not a native English speaker but speaks English to a very high level! And I also wanted someone who could, I guess, give us an introduction to a new topic that my listeners have not heard me talk about!
Can you give us a brief introduction to who you are? And how do we know each other?
OK, so my name is Marie. I’m from France. I’ve been studying political sciences in France, and in the UK for my master’s degree – where I met you – we were in the same degree and in all the same classes
Yeah, all the same! You were actually the first person I met during our master’s degree, I think we were friends on Facebook before we started.
Yes, that’s true. And I lived in Japan twice. The first time was when I was a bachelor’s student for an exchange semester and the second time was after graduating from my masters – I did a working holiday visa in Japan for eight months-ish but due to COVID-19 I had to come back to France.
It’s a familiar story to me as well. I left Taiwan because of COVID-19
Right now, I’m working in a high school as what we call an assistant: an education assistant. It’s a kind of a weird title for a job, but I’m working with students. I’m not a teacher though, and I also work with the Student Council on gender equality and sex education, and we are putting together a big Awareness Week on sex education and gender equality upcoming in May.
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What is the Feminist Majo?
Excellent! Aside from doing your day job, you also run a blog, the Feminist Majo. Can you tell me a little bit about your blog?
After living in Japan, I had a lot of trouble finding a job – and this still is the case. I was very encouraged by my dissertation supervisor to undertake a PhD in gender politics, and I started writing a PhD proposal that was in the continuity of my dissertation topic on abortion politics in Taiwan and Japan.
But because of COVID and isolation, I kind of had a depression phase. Uh, and I struggled a lot. It was hard to motivate myself to work on that PhD project – and not to mention the super high tuition fees due to Brexit.
I was like, yeah, I’m not ready for a PhD right now, although I’m very passionate about reading, writing, and Asian feminism’s – so why not create a blog? That’s something I can do. It’s not too much pressure on me and I can write and discover what I like most.
I want to write, I wanna learn more about that topic, and don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. So how should I do that? Just creating a blog!
Some of your articles have been really interesting! But my listeners… not all of them speak Japanese. I think maybe about 6% of my audience is Japanese, so what does Feminist Majo mean? Can you tell me what it means?
Majo is witch in Japanese. I love the figure of the witch and the whole culture that is around it really fascinates me. Basically, the figure of Kiki – the delivery witch from Miyazaki – rocked my childhood. Seeing her, this little witch, this little woman emancipating herself in the big city was kind of a dream to me
But actually I also read a French essay written by Mona Chollet, a Swiss journalist, called “Sorcières – La puissance invaincue des femmes” – Which means something like witches and powerful women.
She actually takes the figure of the witch in the middle age and the witch hunts. And shows how today the figure of the witch is basically three kinds of women – independent women, women with no kids and old women – still is something that is not really accepted by the society. So that’s why I was like, OK, I need to find a title for my blog: the idea of a “witch” surrounded myself in terms of childhood figures, and also women who want to emancipate themselves are basically seen as kind of witches.
Marie’s Projects and Articles!
Can you maybe tell us a few of the different projects and articles that you’ve written about?
I have written an article on music and a rap artist in Japan called Awich – that was the first very small article I put on the blog because I had to start with something. She’s a woman from Okinawa and went through a lot, and she recently released an album called Queendom.
She’s like openly feminist and she supports the Black Lives Matter movements because her husband, her late husband, was African American. She also has a half African American and half Japanese little girl, so she’s very engaged with society’s issues and tried to put forward these issues within her music!
I’ve also seen lots of Instagram collaborations and projects on your blog in the last few weeks with a DJ from Paris and some other DJs throughout Asia, so can you tell us what are you doing?
Basically, one of my best friends is a DJ and she really knows about the entire electronic culture – from techno, trance music or drum and bass. Northeast Asia actually has a lot of female DJs and some of them are super famous – you might have heard of Peggy Gou or Yaeji in South Korea, and they are probably more famous than some idol groups, at least on the international scene.
And they’re very engaged as women trying to fit in this kind of male dominated world that is the entertainment and electronic music scene. So, we decided that we were going to take 3 separate parts – South Korea, Japan and then Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China. And trying to analyse and discover some female DJ’s that are like changing the standards of the entertainment world.
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What is Feminism?
Moving on to more of a discussion about feminism – What is feminism? Because it’s a very complicated topic with lots of different theories and different schools of what feminist thought is – from radical feminism to Marxist feminism, to neo-postcolonial feminism, to liberal feminism.
So, to you, to Marie, what is feminism?
Well, for me feminism is intersectional – it’s a term that was first defined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 – we tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of this and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.
So, any kind of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, race, age, cost, social economic status, physical or mental ability, gender and sexual identity or religion, and it interplays altogether, and feminism tends to correct this discrimination. It means to tend towards more equality and equity.
Just to quickly interject – equality and equity are two similar, but quite different concepts in feminism, but also in other parts of life. Equality means everyone has the same thing; whereas equity means everyone gets what they need. I think most people around the world believe in equality. But equity, a lot of people have problems with, because sometimes it means giving up some of your privileges, giving up some of your money in return for helping people who are less advantaged or disadvantaged
Yeah, and I think it also might be like an alternative political regime that the one we are living today – the heterosexual patriarchy that assigns us to certain roles and deprives us to be our true selves. Like us women, men and non-binary persons
I will say that out loud and very proud I am a feminist. Although I am biassed as a white educated middle-class woman, and biassed by my socialisation in this system, I just want to be my true self in the world and not be discriminated against just because I am a woman. I want to be able to do something very basic, like going to a party without being afraid to be drugged or touched by someone else without my consent. But also get the same wages and same salary as my male counterparts
I completely agree and support everything that you’ve said. I think we need to go beyond simple laws and policies that make equality enshrined in the Constitution, or enshrined in public law; instead, societal change then probably political change is necessary.
And so you’re interested in Asia – we met studying a master’s degree in Asian politics so – Why? Why are you interested in Asian feminism?
Why are you interested in “Asian” Feminism?
I’ve always been interested in Asia because my parents, before having me, lived in China and Cambodia. I grew up surrounded by their stories of the far east and they were very fond of Asian cinema as well.
Taiwanese and Chinese films were playing in my house when I was younger; I remember watching “Eat Drink Man Woman” directed by Ang Lee at a young age and I was very impressed by the three daughters in this film. And later on, the character of Chiyo in the “Memoirs of the Geisha” also had a deep impact on me.
Women were at the centre of these stories, told in Asia, and the same goes with Miyazaki’s animation films. Strong women – that’s something that was not really depicted in a Western culture. When you see these movies it is just about a Princess waiting for a Prince to save her, but in Asian film and animation it was always strong independent women.
But actually, I thought something was off – There’s something wrong about this. I felt like the reality was far from this super heroine that I saw in Asian cinema, and I wanted to dig more into the lives of women in Asia.
I think it was when I started my research for my bachelor’s dissertation that I found that Asian feminism was very different from my feminism – it has a very wonderful aspect that us in the West tend to erase.
My dissertation analysed the post-Fukushima anti-nukes movements and citizens’ public participation in decision making. I found out that the premise of the anti-nuke movement in Japan were women’s collectives. Or to be more precise, mother’s political groups that were marching and protesting against nuclear power plants for the purpose of their children’s health
The whole concept of motherhood is very occulted in the West but embraced in Asian feminism. And that’s probably what attracted me in the first place to the deeper way about Asian feminisms – because there’s so many feminisms, especially within Asia, and I’m interested in feminism in general and also this attraction to Asia, I cannot hide it. And why not just combine both? And make something out of it.
What are Your Hopes and Fears for the Future of Feminism in Asia?
Something I wrote a podcast on recently was the South Korean elections. I did a podcast explaining some of the election process because my interest in politics is more about the institutions and what happens in politics. The winner of the South Korean election, now the future President Yoon, who is, I guess I can say, a proud anti-feminist. What are your hopes and fears for the future of feminism in Asia?
That’s a good question! I think I have so many hopes and fears. The more I think about it, the less I have faith in humanity in general. It can sound really pessimistic, but recent events proved that nothing should be taken for granted, and Simone de Beauvoir in her book the Second Sex phrased it perfectly – she said never forget that it only takes one political or economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be put in jeopardy – those rights are never to be taken for granted, and you must remain vigilant throughout your life.
I have a lot of hopes for Taiwan because they legalized, in 2019, same sex marriage and probably going to go forward towards adoptions.
For Japan, there’s also like very interesting elements that happened earlier this year, especially about the same sex union recognitions in Tokyo.
As for South Korea – in December 2020, they de-penalised abortion.
These are moments that are true milestones events going forwards, but there’s also the election of the new anti-feminist Presidents in South Korea that just wants to suppress the gender equality and family ministry. And in Japan women are fighting to be able to have their own family name.
Things are going backwards a lot as well. The same for the US or in Europe. We see in Poland, two years ago, and the US right now with their anti-gay bills being discussed in Parliament
I guess history is not a straight line from bad to good, from the past to the future.
Marie’s Language Learning Journey!
Thank you so much for discussing feminism and your blog, the feminist majo.
It was a really interesting discussion, but the second reason I wanted to invite you, Marie, onto thinking in English is because you have learned English yourself and you have learned quite a lot of languages.
Can you tell us all a little bit about your language learning journey? What languages did you start with and what languages have you studied?
My language learning journey started in primary school. Living 10 minutes away from the German border I was taught some German songs, the colours, the numbers, etc.
But to be honest, I didn’t really like German. I was so envious of my cousins living in Paris who were learning English instead.
When I entered secondary school, I chose to study both English and German. After two years of learning English and German, I kind of quit German and started Spanish instead. Until the end of my bachelor’s degree, I was learning English and Spanish.
I was also fond of Asian languages – I told you before that my parents lived in China. I was in love with calligraphy, and old Asian languages.
I decided for my high school to live in a boarding school just to study Japanese. I left my parents, and I went 50/60 kilometres away to study Japanese in high school. So, in high school I was studying English, Spanish and Japanese.
And I managed to also study Japanese in my bachelor’s degree. It was only one and a half hours a week, but still, I could maintain my level. Oh, and during my masters, I stopped learning Spanish and focused on Japanese. And it’s been almost two years since I’ve been learning Korean.
Right, a lot of languages we mentioned there – you’re a native French speaker close to the border of Germany. You speak a bit of Spanish, and then you speak better Japanese and you’re learning Korean – which is a lot of languages – very impressive!
We studied a master’s degree together and then you were considering doing a PhD as well in the UK. How did you become confident enough in English to study a master’s degree, and also to write a blog in English? How did you become confident enough to publicly write and use English?
How did you Become Confident Using English?
After graduating high school, I entered a bilingual program for my bachelor’s degree. Half of my courses were taught in English, so I made a significant improvement during my bachelors.
But the first time I took an English proficiency test, to study in Japan, I did not do that well. Well, enough to do an exchange semester in Japan, but I mean I had like 6.5. It was the IELTS I had to do! Like 6.5 which is like B2 level, yeah?
It’s enough to go to university in some countries
In some countries, but not in the UK though. And then I lived in Japan surrounded by non-French speaking people and definitely I had to be out there and communicate with everybody.
So yeah, it was another step toward confidence. I came back to France after six months to finish my degree and I passed another proficiency test against, again the IELTS, and the results came out to C1 which was the level I needed to enter a master’s degree in UK, so I was very relieved because my first choice was to study at SOAS.
The first few months were really, really hard and challenging for me. I was surrounded by older, more mature people – who spent time working or abroad. Who were also native speakers.
Marie was the youngest person in our class by two or three years – I guess probably two years.
I was twenty when I started the masters.
So yeah, you were 20 and in our group of friends almost everyone had worked after they graduated for at least one or two years. I think I was 23 when I started, and most people were around that age or older.
I kind of spend most of my time in the first semester trying to catch up with everything – like module content and with English as well. I even took 4 in-sessional English classes for reading.
But I was very stressed for my first presentation, and it was the first presentation of the class in our Northeast Asian politics module. But the teacher was so encouraging
In my first essay as well, the teacher told me to be careful with my English, so I spent more time proofreading. And at the end of the day, it paid off! I graduated with a distinction, which is amazing!
I know that my English is not perfect and will never be – But that’s OK. I’d rather speak several languages OK than only one perfectly. I still make many grammar mistakes and I don’t know all words or synonyms, but the same is true in French, my mother tongue.
How do you Study and Maintain Your Languages in France?
You’re now living in France again, back in near your hometown – so not in a big city like Paris. How do you maintain your English, your Japanese, and keep studying Korean when you’re just living and working in a French world, a French environment?
I think that is different depending on what language.
For English – reading is what’s kept me up with my English skills. Before going to Japan, I bought a Kindle and I downloaded a lot of books in English and many of them were free.
The Kindle has the Oxford Dictionary integrated which is amazing, because when you don’t know a word, you just click on it, and it has the whole dictionary definition.
I tell all my students to do that. You don’t even need to buy a Kindle. If you have a computer or if you have a laptop or a tablet or even your smartphone, you can download the Kindle app. You press the button, you just tap on the word, and it tells you the definition of a word. It will also allow you to underline things so you can come back later.
I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and some Jane Austin books in English, and actually I found out that so many French words were used back in the day in English. 50% of the book was all English that I could understand and the other 50% was similar to French
I also communicate a lot with my foreign friends, so speaking is just a good way to be immersed. I call my friends a lot – We have chats together and then I watch many films, obviously, and I write for my blog.
I always have some reading materials – that can be like just on your phone. I read a lot of the Guardians article as well, which I believe are not too difficult
Everything around me is English and sometimes I also have trouble communicating with my family because I have the word in English but not in French.
Also try to, when you talk to yourself, to just switch the language to English.
Try to think in English – like l the name of my podcast.
With Japanese and Korean it’s a bit different I guess, because I’m not that advanced compared to English and I’ve been struggling with Japanese a lot because I kind of reached this, you know, intermediate ceiling.
Yeah, I feel your pain – I think you’re going through what happened to me three years ago when I got to a level I was happy with in Japanese and then I left the country. I didn’t use the language really for four years and now I’m trying to get back to that level.
I actually signed up for a language proficiency test yesterday to try and make myself study – I’m not going to pass but this is to try and make myself study.
I basically talk with a language partner every week, so we have 30 minutes of French and 30 minutes of Japanese and we have like the same level in each other’s languages.
And that’s the same for Korean. I also have a language partner in Korean and we speak once a week. I also try to study by myself for Japanese using apps, apps, books, everything I can find online.
And for Korean I also take some classes with the Korean language School in my city.
There’re so many things online for free that we can use.
What you’re doing is what I always tell people to do – study in lots of different ways. You have language exchange partners; You take classes; you read books; You use textbooks, apps on your phone and a lot of it’s free – language exchanges tend to be free. The classes you’ve got paid for, but you can get quite cheap classes online as well,
I’m going to a school every week for two hours and I pay for the entire €220 because it’s an association, so it can be really cheap. Usually, it’s on weekends or at night. And yeah, I mean $220 for an entire year and every week, you have two hours of Korean with a real teacher in a real class, being able to exchange with other students.
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Where can you Find Marie and the Feminist Majo?
Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Marie! Where can people find you and find your blog?
I’m doing research about Taiwan at the moment, which is very incredible and interesting. And my project with my DJ friends is also ongoing – we’ve been discussing electronic music and women in Japan, and we are probably going to interview someone special.
It’s all very exciting and I wish you the best of luck
Thank you so much for having me
I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation with Marie from the Feminst Majo! She is an excellent example of someone who has learned and developed her language skills to be able to study, work, and succeed in an English speaking environment. Hopefully she has inspired you – not only to think about feminism but also to keep studying and improving your English!
What are your thoughts about feminism? How is feminism viewed in your country or culture? Do you have hopes or fears for the future of women’s rights in your country?
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