Fumi Amano jogs on a treadmill in the middle of traffic. A slightly raised median is the only thing separating her from the cars zooming by. There’s a Barnes & Noble bookstore in the background. Horns are honking. Drivers shout at her in Japanese. And a few vehicles slow to a crawl just so the passengers can capture a photo or video. Amano dons a soft pink helmet emblazoned with the symbol for female. “I am a 30-year-old woman!” she announces between huffs. “Most of my friends are married with a kid!” “I feel like I should have a baby.” Her treadmill jog intensifies. Her huffs get stronger. She’s holding a megaphone that is only slightly tinted pink. A few inches away is a bold pink placard with Japanese writing on it. She continues to announce to anyone listening that her family and friends pressure her to get married and have a baby even as they are not aware of what they’re doing. Her friend pities her because she is 30 years old and not yet married. She runs faster. “I’m getting sick of being a woman.” She continues to speak between quick breaths. “I used to enjoy being a woman.” “I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I feel as if I haven’t achieved anything as a woman.” She continues on about her period, inserting tampons, and how every night when she takes her birth control pill, she tells herself she doesn’t need a baby. That is Fumi Amano, an artist who’s honest and candid work is compelling and sometimes shocking. She’s willing to say things that other people only think to themselves. There’s a sense of vulnerability in her work that many artists are too afraid to expose to the public. But what I discovered about Amano when I interviewed her, first via videoconference then in-person at her Seattle studio, is that she too is afraid of exposing that vulnerability but she doesn’t let that fear stop her. She’s willing to be vulnerable so that she can help begin a conversation about issues, that for some, are too painful or awkward to discuss in public. How many women feel that their value is tied solely to marriage and children? Many feel this way. A 2017 survey of 5,500 single Millennials found that they are 177% more likely to feel pressured to get married than previous generations. But in an era of popular feminism and social justice, many people don’t feel free to reveal their feelings of failure when their life doesn’t reflect societal norms.
“I don't know if it's cultural,” said Amano, “but like after 25 or 30, women can make parents worried about their life. If the daughter isn’t married or if she doesn’t have some stable job, then parents might worry about that. I knew that's kind of a universal topic for a woman who has turned 30. But they don't talk about that.”