Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tragedy in the workplace for Japanese Women

A while ago I read an article in the New York Times newspaper about Japanese women moving to America. The article was about discrimination faced by many Japanese women entering the workforce and their joy in living a different life on the American East Coast. Reading this article reminded me of a fascinating yet perplexing experience I had at school in Japan last summer. One day popular Japanese teacher for foreign students decided to make an announcement that she would be leaving soon. Our teacher was a women but she had always seemed very independent. She had even gone to university to get a teacher’s certification. Yet when it came to her announcement, the content of what she said shocked us all. She was getting married and become a housewife. We could not believe it. A housewife? No job? “Why on Earth would you desire that?” we all thought. When we asked her politely if she would not still like to teacher rather staying at home, she did betray what might be said to be regret on her usually always happy and caring face.
But she continued to profess she wanted to do this. Why was it that Japanese traditional culture even now expects women whom get married to stop working? The answer at first seemed to be that in conservative Japanese society women are expected to be homemakers, have children, and act as super nannies while fathers are away at work. But this disregards one important factor. Women in Japan rarely are able to hold jobs if they are to have kids. And thus it comes down to one or the other. In Japan daycare and paid maternity leave without consequences are not the norm. Most women who succeed in getting a good job are usually forced into losing everything if they have children. Such a system certainly does not aid in any way the lives of Japanese women.
As I read the article in the New York Times it became abundantly clear why unmarried young Japanese women would wish to leave Japanese temporarily and sometimes permanently. Society in Japan is rigged against the advancement of women. But the article at the end brought up the interesting fact that many women who come to America find the freedom and openness of western life to be too shocking and different. In the end the majority of women end up returning to Japan out of homesickness or inability to adapt to a radically different setting than in Japan, even if it might offer more opportunities for advancement in their lives. To me this is very distressing. For these women to comeback to Japan to face little prospect of achieving jobs and lives that are on par with what men can do must certainly be profoundly discouraging. What always amazes me when thinking about Asia is that in China, a nation of extreme poverty and wealth that has suffered so much war and political disasters compared to Japan, it still manages to easily beat Japan when it comes to women’s rights. This has always distressed me about Japan. This is a perpetual and dire quiet problem that afflicts Japanese gender relations in modern Japan.

1 comment:

Shingen said...

I get the feeling that perhaps the New York Times is overstating the phenomenon. Their reporting on Japan has been absolutely dire recently...

You're right about gender relations, feminism has yet to truly make a dent in Japanese society.