I say this without any particular sense of oppression. There are after all many countries that have far more disturbing gender equality statistics including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Liberia, and the Congo, just to name a few. I know full well that in comparison, Japan doesn’t even make a blip on the radar. Moreover, no matter how long I stay here or how well I integrate myself into Japanese society, I will never be held to the same standards as a Japanese woman would be.
That said, a good friend of mine quite rightly pointed out the other day that the more subtle forms of discrimination can often be more problematic than the explicitly overt kind. Any decent human being will point out that rape, genital mutilation, and infanticide is wrong, for example, and the world is quick to call attention to the injustice of it. But when sexism is less obvious than that, it can’t be identified so easily. It becomes something insidious that allows for people in any given society to honestly believe that there is no discrimination, yet still go about their everyday lives while unconsciously perpetuating the problem.
Hence this post. The aim of it isn’t to have a whinge, or to lash out at the country I’m usually very happy to be a part of for now. I suppose if I have any single goal in writing this, it’s to make people aware that, while being nowhere near on the scale of some other places in the world, there is still a problem in Japan. It shouldn’t be ignored simply because it’s less conspicuous.
So, what are these problems exactly? So glad you asked – let me count the ways. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Japanese adult women working full time earn on average around 30% less than Japanese men. That’s twice the OECD average, in case you were wondering. When it comes to mothers who work full time the statistics dramatically worsen, with women on average earning over 60% less than adult males working full time. Professions which pay more – company board positions, supervisory work, management jobs – are all depressingly skewed in favour of men. The roles of gender in government is no better, with less than 10% of the parliamentary seats in Japan taken by women. In March this year, the results of a survey focusing on female socio-economic standings in the Asia-Pacific world regions was released, with Japan coming in at second-lowest on the index. (They managed to beat India. Yay.)
It’s no real wonder that both the marriage and birth rate in Japan is worryingly low. The Yomiuri Shimbun, one of the five Japanese national newspapers, reported that the number of Japanese who thought wives should stay at home jumped from 41.3% to 51.6% between 2009 and 2012. It’s also expected that a woman should retire, regardless of her age, after having a child because only one in five male employees work less than 40 hours, and mothers are therefore automatically responsible for most of the childcare and housework duties. For those Japanese women who don’t want to be housewives, the answer seems simply to be don’t get married, don’t have children.
As a first world country, and one without the convenient excuse of religion to pin attitudes towards gender on, Japan has no business being as bad as it is. (I bring up religion here not to bash it, but rather because there appears to be a direct parallel between those countries ranked worst in terms of gender equality and those which place an extreme importance on religion as a part of daily life – unfortunately I’m looking mostly at those same countries I mentioned earlier in this article: Liberia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, the Congo.)
On a more personal note, I look around my own work environment and see that the majority of people who work in my Board of Education are male; that of the six schools I currently teach at, the principals, vice principals and head teachers of the junior high schools are men while the principals of the much smaller elementary schools are women; and that only the ladies are ever expected to pour the tea. Cue gasps of shock and/or dismay whenever co-workers ask about my culinary skills and I explain that I’m terrible – at home in New Zealand, my past boyfriend did pretty much all the cooking. And as a huge anime fan, I can’t help but be aware that while there are a number of female artists out there, the production industry is largely dominated by male editors and directors.
Dear Japan – you’re better than this, Or rather, you should be. Don’t let me down by not giving these problems the amount of attention they deserve.
Question of the post: What are your own thoughts on gender equality in Japan? Do you have any personal experiences that contribute to that opinion?