The 1960's Movement; Yoko: A Powerful Woman

by Yoko Yamauchi, Osaka College of Foreign Languages, April 11, 2008

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Yoko. This has been my name since I was born, and this label that identifies who I am will stay with me until the last day of my life. Not only do I have a special feeling for this name because it is mine, but also because there is another woman with this name: “Yoko” Ono.

Yoko Ono was a powerful countercultural icon in the late 1960’s through the early 1970’s whose ideas about love, respect, and freedom were mirrored in the hippie culture. Yoko Ono was a strong and rebellious woman and social activist. She has inspired me to be a strong woman and to fight against inequality based on race, gender, and minority status in today’s unjust society. It is exciting to share a name with such a powerful woman. Perhaps I will be the new Yoko Ono.

By having the same first name, Yoko Ono has always been involved in my life somehow and I find that I cannot get away from her presence. For example, my friends and acquaintances sometimes call me “Yoko Ono” not only because we have the same first name but because, “You look like Yoko Ono.” It might be true since I have long black hair, bangs, a center part, and thick black eyebrows just as she does. I love listening to my old Rock and Roll music just as she did in her youth. Thanks to her, people easily remember my name whenever I am in Japan or outside of the country. However, some Beatles fans hate her because they say, “She broke up the Beatles.” Actually, I like the Beatles too, so I used to have this same prejudice against her. But ironically, while I have been blaming Yoko Ono for their break up, I have found many similarities between her and me that go beyond physical appearances.

Yoko Ono was a great poet, artist, musician, and social activist who advocated for love, respect and freedom. One time, she expressed her message toward society for female respect and equality by using her body freely as an artistic expression with her husband, John Lennon. According to Tamara Levitz in her essay, “Yoko Ono and the Unfinished Music of ‘John & Yoko’,” Yoko Ono was the first Japanese woman who openly exposed herself naked in public to the media. By doing so she raised the question of what is “natural.” She was also interested in breaking down barriers between races. She did this by being photographed with John, her white husband, when they had just gotten out of bed, showing people that they had nothing to be ashamed of” (Levitz 221). Her exposure had the message that despite gender and racial differences, both Yoko and John possessed “equal human cores” (Levitz 221). For Yoko, treating people equally beyond racial differences was to respect and understand differences, and loving one another would be the guiding principle for overcoming all social injustice.

While Yoko was advocating for all women, she was particularly interested in Japanese women. Because of WWⅡ, Americans began to stereotype Asian women as prostitutes. However, Yoko Ono counteracted this stereotype; she was a proud sexual being. As Teresa L. Amott explains in her book, Race Gender and Work, during the decade of 1960’s, greater public awareness arose about injustice and discrimination based on race (Amott 232). Japanese women were treated unfairly or with prejudice because they were especially different from people in Western society in terms of appearance, culture, and beliefs. Additionally, it was also a post-war period, which made it more difficult for Japanese women to be accepted and treated equally with others in the United States. Yoko showed Japanese women that “this woman, who is not even a pretty blond white woman or something, was sitting next to their hero and occupying a kind of equal peace” (Levitz 221). She was challenging the social views about racial and gender differences that existed in people’s minds.

A shocking and outstanding Japanese woman during the early 1960’s and late 1970’s, Yoko Ono has often been criticized by mass media since she married John Lennon, a member of the Beatles. However, Yoko and John worked for a revolution of social change, a just society, simplicity over greed, the people over the powerful, and love and respect for one another. Their ideas inspired countercultural movements over mainstream society in the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and all over the world. According to Leventman Seymour in his book, Counterculture and Social Transformation, the young people of the 1960’s generation were born during the baby boom after World WarⅡand it was a time of widespread prosperity. Therefore, unlike their parents, a greater number of young people were able to attend colleges and universities (Leventman 90). In these college communities, especially in the Unites States, young people could unite with peers who shared the same ideas about certain political issues and the fundamental American values. Together they formed the radical groups that fought against the Vietnam War and worked to gain equality for all races and sexualities. By doing so, they would possess their ultimate goal of fundamental freedom (Leventman 90). Those young radical movements, such as the counterculture Yoko was part of, were often viewed as “weird, outstanding, stupid, weak and naïve,” by the dominant culture; however these movements should have been taken seriously. We need to return to that radical attitude in order to change today’s troubled society.

Like Yoko, I believe that society is a man-made construction controlled by the men who have power. Each country has its own society based on what people believe. Therefore, there are some societies that still have discrimination against not only race but also gender. In Japan, gender equality has yet to be achieved between men and women, and men are socially, economically and physically superior to women under many circumstances. For instance, men generally dominate the business scene in Japan. Most of the time, chief executive officers or directors are men’s positions, and women hardly possess those statuses. As in Yoko Ono’s time, Japanese women have been fighting to be both socially and economically independent. Women, however, are not the only group to experience discrimination in Japan. I have a brother who is mentally disabled, so I have witnessed the difficulties that physically and mentally disabled people face. Globally, people categorize the handicapped as outsiders. Therefore, handicapped people have to put themselves within a narrow social community for them to be equal with one another. Once outside of this community, however, these people have to survive through the many obstacles of being different from others who are physically able. In fact, society rarely supports the innately weak class of powerless people such as women, racial minorities, and the disabled. High class and powerful people, like men, have a distinct advantage. Again, Yoko Ono would say that loving one another is to respect and understand one another: “All we need is love.”

Similar to Yoko, I personally have a rebellious stance toward society when I feel a difference or gap between a social injustice and my belief in social justice. When I think of Yoko Ono and myself, the title of a movie called Rebel Without a Cause comes to mind. However we do have a cause, which the Beatles sing about in their song called “Revolution”: “You say you want a revolution. Well you know. We all want to change the world. You tell me that it’s revolution.”

Over time, people of different genders, races and social classes have increasingly earned equal rights. Since we have acquired advanced technology, society has become materially richer and richer, but because of the technological improvements and developments, we have been losing many important values by paying more attention to things rather than people and their fundamental rights. In spite of the movements led by Yoko and people at that time, we still have suffered from the evil characteristics of mankind, which have caused wars over foreign affairs and racial and sexual discrimination. We need to turn to the mindset of the sixties, when people questioned society and took actions in order to create what they thought a peaceful and beautiful society should be.

After comparing Yoko Ono to myself, I am surprised by how many similarities we have. I had not been conscious of how important she is to my own identity and how much I thought about her. Although I had a strong prejudice against her, she has always been with me, and I have found that I respect her. She is a courageous woman who fought for gender and racial equality by promoting love and respect for one another and freedom, eventually becoming a symbol of the 1960’s even though she started as a small, powerless, and nameless Japanese woman. As Yoko Ono showed us, we know that freedom only exists when love and equality exist. There is no freedom without love and equality. These objectives need to be fought for today. I believe the pure and powerful movements by the young people like Yoko Ono in the sixties generation will rise again in order to seek a true and equal society.

Work Cited

Amott, Teresa L. Race Gender and Work. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1991.

Gaar, Gillian G. She’s a Rebel: The History of Woman in Rock & Roll. Washington: Seal Press, 1992.

Leventman, Seymour. Counterculture and Social Transformation: Essay on Negativistic Themes in Sociological Theory. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas publisher, 1982.

Levitz, Tamara. “Yoko Ono and the Unfinished Music of ‘John & Yoko’.” Impossible to Hold: Woman and Culture in the 1960s. Ed. Bloch Avital H and Umansky Lauri. New York: New York University Press, 2005. 217-239.


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