Gender Role Panic

You might have heard that women’s rights are thirty years behind in Japan. That assumption might be correct, but it is not as black and white as it might seem. Like most things you’ll find in Japan, male and female roles take on their own culturally unique characteristics. Male dominance is still the order of the day, however, but this is starting to change, and I’ve seen these changes with my own eyes. I want to talk a little about what I have noticed in those regards.

If you’ve lived in Japan for any period of time, you might have seen these gender roles in action. Boys are considered “Cool” or ???????and girls are supposed to be cute, or ??????Both genders try their best to fit those images, and usually they succeed. For example, it is frowned upon for women to smoke in public, office ladies are also still responsible for the tea duties and are are not usually on the fast track to becoming anything more than said OL. Men, on the other hand, are the ones fated to the working long hours at the office and wearing the cheap gray suits. They also have free reign of the porn and belligerency. We can also see this through the high domestic violence rate, with incidents that often go unreported.

You may see many similarities between these roles and the roles men and women in the U.S and Canada had in the 50’s, But there are some unique differences. Boys, for instance, regardless of how cool they appear to be, embrace the cute culture just as much as women do. I have seen many a boy walk down the hall with his own Winnie the Pooh or stuffed bear of choice. I should clarify that I’m talking about high school boys here. Boys also have a tendency to touch each other, all over. This is something that would surely brand you gay make you a target for ridicule in the west. This is not the case here, however. As for women, they also have many culturally unique traits. In a household for example, the woman usually controls the flow of money in the household. No one can buy anything unless their mother gives them permission. This also includes the husband. So, as you can see, there is a male dominance here, but it does have some interesting exceptions.

Recently, I have been noticing a change in these roles. My first clue came to me as I was sitting in the principal’s room on my first day at an Elementary school in northern Hachimantai. I glanced up at the wall and saw a series of portraits. Each one looking more distinguished than the next. There were about twenty in all, and all of them were of men. This was not too surprising. Many Japanese schools have these and they look pretty much the same. What was surprising, however, was that my school principal was a woman. The first woman principal I have ever worked for here. You can’t tell me that isn’t progress.

Another subtle clue of gender role change comes with the sheer numbers of women who are entering the workforce and choosing not to settle down. It has become so common, that many old and angry men politicians are demanding that women return to the home and start having babies again. Sadly for them, the women aren’t budging, and that is something I am very glad to see. If you need another form a proof, I might also mention that my supervisor is a woman as well, and that there are many women in high places around my city.

So as you can see, even though Japan has been a male dominated society for a very long time, it seems the modern ways of doing things are finally having on impact on some of the archaic traditional cultural strongholds. Of course, this is a course Japanese people must choose for themselves. For me, women have always been a source of strengh and perseverance. If I had relied on my male influences, I might be drunk in some bar today without a future or a prayer. I am very impressed Japan is starting to see women the way I do.