by Ayaka Nakamura
One of my Japanese American girl friends told me, “I hate the idea ‘equal rights’ between men and women. Why do I have to work like a man? I just want to marry someone and be a mother.” I was surprised, as I had always wanted to have a professional job and be treated in the same as men. She continued, “Who on earth did start to talk about equal rights? I want to go back to mom’s generation! Then, no one would blame me for not having a job.” Although I had not thought about the equal rights in that way, I could understand what she was saying. She was afraid of working in the same conditions as men because she wanted to have a child, so that a happy marriage was the only way to realize her desire. It is actually too tough for women to have a job with being a great mother at the same time. Equal right discourses having a place in Japan are about promoting women’s rights and giving the same amount of opportunities in job hunting, which would be good for those who want to work like men but not for those who want to enjoy being women. Also, this type of equal rights does not let men to enjoy their fatherhood either because raising children is still entrusted to women and embedded in women’s rights. Although the Japanese government declare equal rights, gendered ideologies and norms still remain vital. Therefore, some women, such as my friend, are having struggles between expectations for powerful women and the reality of women. The government set the equal opportunities, but women often have different life styles from men because male and female are different and only female can give a birth (I would like not to touch arguments about trans-sexual here), so that different approaches to realize the equality within considerations of gender differences are necessary.
We cannot ignore existing gender ideologies, such as women are supporters of men, women are inferior to men, women are emotional and illogical beings, and child caring is women’s job, which have been continued within this patriarchal society. We cannot skip any steps to realize the equality. It seems that giving equal opportunities is an idea of “gender-neutral society” in which people do not have gendered fetters and only one’s ability is a criterion of a judgment. Yet, Japan obviously has not reached that point, so that it has to aim for “gender-understanding society,” as the first step, in which people accept the differences of sexes and gender roles and aim to get equal results. Also, at this point, people understand not only that women have been victimized and had lower statuses at work, but also that men have been marginalized from child caring and forced to work outside.
In order to realize gender-understanding society, I believe education would play a key role to develop people’s new norms. Current Japanese schools are saturated with gendered ideas. From my experiences, girls’ bathrooms were more beautiful and had more mirrors than boys’. Girls had different P.E. curriculums. Girls were expected to perform better than boys in home economic (kateika 家庭科) classes. Boys were expected to perform better than girls in science and math classes. Girls were more likely to go on to language majors at universities. Scientific schools (rikei 理系) were full of boys. Most of English teachers were women while math teachers were men. All art history professors were women at American University in Washington, D.C. As to job hunting, mostly men got in a career course (sogoshoku 総合職) and women in a non-career course (ippanshoku 一般職). These examples seem to prove that Japanese gender ideologies are generated in children’s minds from elementary schools to universities. Therefore, it should be changed. All students and teachers have to be aware of gender norms and gendered decision-making processes. Having a lecture about gender at elementary school level would help children to have more equalized and neutral ideas about their future. Moreover, ability-based, not gender-based, curriculums and advices would give students wider opportunities to find their best field.
However, only education would not be enough for a gender ideology reform. Politics that promote gender-understanding society would be necessary. Ikumen 育メン, which can be translated to cool fathers, project has started with supports of the Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare of Japan. According to its website, the projects aim for increasing the percentage of paternity leave from 2.63 % to 10 % by 2017 and 13 % by 2020. I believe this project is worth to try for both purposes: to release women from child caring roles and to let men fulfill their fatherhoods. Moreover, companies’ supports by establishing a new paternity and maternity leave system are essential to produce ikumen and to achieve gender equality. Equal start lines that only force women to work like men do not bring reasonable results, thus companies must let women have a paid maternity leave that can cover their living for a limited time. Also, accepting mothers and fathers who have worked at the companies as part-time workers while they need a certain time for childcare. Those part-time workers should be able to have salaries at the same rate as full-time workers. I believe the experienced part-time workers are more worth to hire than a new graduate full-time worker who have not got any skills yet. Although giving a paid maternity leave is an expensive solution for companies, contributing society will end up bringing benefits for them, too. Many people would choose more flexible and more secured companies to work with than old-fashioned companies that use women as tea servers and fire pregnant workers.
If educations are improved and society understands gender ideologies and norms, then the number of female workers will increase and women will get more independent and free lives, and someday the society could achieve the real gender equality appreciating equal start lines. Yet, the change would not come in one or two years because the whole patriarchal system has lasted for hundreds of years and is a part of Japanese culture. Gendered ideas construct the bases of its society. Therefore, ikumen project and other gender equalizing projects must be kept going until we see the change in next generation. I hope, in the future, there are more super dads who are evolved from ever-at-work dads and normal moms who are released from pressures of being super moms.
 “育メンプロジェクト” Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare of Japan. http://ikumen-project.jp/project/index.html