Term Paper: Japanese Women Gender Inequality

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[. . .] Consider, for example, the explanation of the change in perceived value women feel in traditional roles in Kazuko Tanaka's work "Changing marriage and family structure: Women's perspective:"

The family is strongly influenced by the ongoing transformation of the socio- economic context. Expanded work opportunities have provided the means for women to support themselves, and they have come to enjoy a greater range of marriage choices. Although their desire for marriage is strong, the absolute importance of becoming a wife and mother has largely diminished. Women now have alternative means to obtain social recognition outside of marriage. It is important to understand the delay of marriage in terms of these changing social and economic circumstances (Tanaka).

In this reality, it is extremely important for both Japanese men, as well as governmental bodies within the country, to respond to this reality. After all, even if one were to discount the so called "moral value" of the equality of the sexes (or at least a sense of equality in life satisfaction), there remains a very real threat to the continuation of the society, itself, which might be of interest to those parties (if only from a standpoint of self-interest and preservation). After all, it seems that the simple fact is that Japanese women are simply opting out of one half of the "responsibility equation," in essence shaking off the chain of motherhood (and, increasingly, marriage altogether), in order to carry the new, and perceptionally higher value modern pursuits (education, financial freedom, and career).

Of course, what is interesting about the decline in the Japanese birth rate and delayed age of marriage (both, to some degree, indicators of a "shaking off" of old, restricting roles), are the factors particular to Japanese society that seem to prompt such a drastic response. After all, the same sex role changes are common to many industrialized or "First World" countries. One theory as to why this is the case is the particularly harsh reality that traditional Japanese cultural beliefs meeting modern "values" seems to evoke. Again, this is a thought that Suvendrini Kakuchi notes in another article, "Japan: Steps in gender equality come to slowly for women," where he writes:

Mariko Bando, director-general of the Cabinet Office's Gender Equality Bureau, says the figures point to a weakness of Japanese society when it comes to gender - other countries have been improving conditions for women faster than Japan has.

While Japan is making numerous efforts to improve the status of women, countries such [as] France and South Korea have already quickly established legislation promoting women's employment," she explains. (Kakuchi, 2001).

Further, according to Kakuchi, the reason that Japan, unlike other countries, has been so slow to implement real governmental, business, and social change, is due to a particularly rigid male-dominated cultural view, kept in place by economic factors of power and influence. After all, not only are the vast majority of governmental positions held by men, but the leading companies, corporate positions, and economic policy makers are male as well (Kakuchi). That fact, coupled with a lack of male/female consensus on the inadequacy of the current sex-role/fulfillment situation, makes for slow change in outside policy.

Thus, in an atmosphere like this, women are forced to make the policy change "internal," resulting in the current demographic crisis.

Consider, for example, the words of Professor Sumiko Iwao, delivered during a speech at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation's seminar, "Gender, Equality, and Family Life: Social and Policy Issues Facing Women in Japan. In her speech, Iwao asserted:

The message I would like to convey to you today is that gender equality, work- life balance and Japan's declining birth-rate are closely linked, and in my view, achieving gender equality and work-life balance are a plausible solution to the declining birth rate. The low fertility symbolizes the social problems that women face today and the changing attitudes of the younger generation, especially women, in Japan (Daiwa).

Further, Iwao asserts that the attitude of men in Japanese society must radically change, if the situation is to improve. Not only would this be good in and of itself, she states, but it would improve the situation of men through the improvement of the health of the country, itself. She states:

Over the years, many policies have been adopted and implemented in Japan, but the majority of these have been aimed at eliminating discrimination against women and opening doors to women in different fields. In other words, they have focused on protecting women's interests by providing equal opportunities in employment and education. However, the impact has been rather limited. Because gender inequality remains systemic in nature, this mandates a comprehensive resolution...we cannot resolve these issues without an overall and holistic approach to reforming society structurally. Such a structural reform of society would also change men's lives and open up their options. Therefore, gender equality is also badly needed for men in Japan. Of course, whether men feel the same way as I do is questionable (Daiwa)

Unfortunately, the fact that men in Japan currently do not "feel the same way" as Iwao is precisely the problem. Perhaps the solution is, just as Iwao states, in "helping" Japanese men to see that they will benefit as a group from the true emancipation of women in Japan. After all, true emancipation is not in simply "allowing" women their freedom. One cannot open the gate while "forgetting" to untie the leg. Not only is that cruel, but it is ultimately a sham.

Instead real emancipation is allowing an environment to exist in which freedom is actually viable -- in which women can exist free from crushing and unequal responsibilities. It is in this freedom that Japanese society can once again become a living society rather than one dying a slow but inevitable death, and until Japanese women's responsibilities, legitimate and worthy as they are, are not allowed to become abject burdens, they will continue to be shaken off -- and with them, so goes the future of the country.

Works Cited

Daiwa Foundation. Gender, Equality and Family Life: Social and Policy Issues Facing Women in Japan. 21 February, 2003. Retrieved from Web site on April 15, 2004 http://www.daiwa-foundation.org.uk/_pdf/Iwao%20transcript.pdf

Jones, Randall S. Japan's Aging Population. The OECD Observer. No. 209. Dec/Jan. 1997. Retrieved from Web site on April 15, 2004

Kadri, Francoise. "Childless Japan." Retrieved from Web site on April 15, 2004 http://www.thingsasian.com/goto_article/article.2268.html

Kakuchi, Suvendrini. "Japan: Still a long way from gender equality." Asian Times Online. 6 June, 2000. Retrieved from Web site on April 15, 2004 http://www.atimes.com/japan-econ/BF06Dh01.html

Kakuchi, Suvendrini. "Japan: Steps in gender equality come to slowly for women." Third World National. 2001. Retrieved from Web site on April 15, 2004 http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/slowly.htm

Tanaka, Kazuko. "Changing Marriage and Family Structure: Women's Perspective." Special Topics. Vol. 31-No.01 January 1, 1992. Retrieved from Web site on April 15, 2004 http://www.jil.go.jp/bulletin/year/1992/vol31-01/05.htm [END OF PREVIEW]

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