Hostess workers in Japan – illegal sex work or deserving a visa?

Hostess bars and clubs in Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho

by Kyle Waylyszyn

The women who work as hostess workers work just like you and me, but their jobs come with a heavy stigma that surrounds their line of work. When you hear “hostess worker” or hear about them, they are never portrayed in a very positive light. The job description of a hostess, if you don’t know, is to entertain their male customers by doing things like talking, drinking, dancing and other things. Of course, there are some places that offer services greater than what the majority will not do, which is more sexual in nature, but this isn’t the norm.

Sociologist Rhacel Parreñas

The norm is that these women choose to take these jobs of their own free will, although sometimes out of necessity when giving the choice to either stay in their home country and make a far less salary or work as a hostess. Rhacel Parreñas has conducted firsthand research about this topic, and Parreñas says “No one lied to them and explicitly told them that they would only be singing and dancing on stage.” “They were quite adamant,” Parreñas says, “that they weren’t prostitutes.” Rather, she describes the work of hostessing as “commercial flirtation” through which women work to “bolster the masculinity” of their customers. They typically make money for the club owners to whom their labor is contracted by selling men drinks, not sexual acts.”

Even though that these women took these jobs of their own accord, the Japanese government was not pleased with being ranked the highest employers of “sex trade” workers as they were publicized as. In 2004, the Japanese government began changed the visa laws and enforced stricter requirements for the entertainers visa. This caused these women to lose the valuable income need to support their families, but the important numbers the government seen was that the hostess workers dropped down to only approximately 8,607 in 2006 from the 2004 statistic of 82,741 workers.

In light of the action things that go on and the willingness of these women should there be an entertainer’s visa specifically for hostess workers? These women have a right to make a living just like every other human on this planet, so why can’t they work as a hostess legally in a country that seems to have a demand for it? The morality of these jobs maybe the most prominent reason seeing as it doesn’t just involve the person that attends these places, but also the country that allows such unmoral and socially awkward things to happen as a legal business. Think about it would you choose a country to visit that just legalized commercial flirtation, if the stigma that everyone truly though about it was that it is actually houses of ill repute?

Reference

Parreñas, Rhacel. The ‘indentured mobility’ of migrant Filipina hostesses  http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2011/‘indentured-mobility’-migrant-filipina-hostesses

Advertisements

Japanese Women in the Workforce

by Olivia Katherine Parker

Due to Japan’s conservative and traditional society, most Japanese women have played the role of wife and mother instead of pursuing careers. The common ideal for young women within Japan is to marry a salary worker and to raise a family. Oftentimes, Japanese women do not plan to pursue a career because the challenge of raising children is enough for them.

Japanese women also face a large amount of pressure from society. Not only must a wife cook her husband meals and make him bento lunch boxes, but she must also care for her children, dress them, keep a tidy house, make sure the children get to school on time, make dinner, bathe the children, tuck them into bed, satisfy her husband, and then plan for the next day. The vicious yet “rewarding” cycle of motherhood doesn’t leave much room for a career let alone a part time job.

Since 1990 around 50% of all Japanese women have participated in the paid labor force, however, they leave due to factors such as marriage, child birth, or to assume the role as caretaker. Over two-thirds of Japanese women leave their jobs when they have children and don’t come back. If a woman returns to the workforce after having children, it is usually 5-10 years after the birth of her first child and instead of seeking out a career the majority of women take on part time jobs for extra income.

Japanese companies notoriously under pay their female employees. Women roughly earn 60% as much as men and very few women hold positions of authority such as manager or CEO. On top of that many female employees receive fewer benefits and smaller insurance policies within companies. This makes the allure of a career less enticing and deters many women. For most, job security is crucial and very hard to find.

Recently, Japan’s birth rate is on the decline. In theory this should not make sense. Women are staying home to fulfill the role as housewife so that should result in a higher or stabilized birth rate. Along with a declining birth rate Japan is also facing problems such as longer life expectancies and an increasing elderly population resulting in an economic recession. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to boost Japan’s economy by encouraging more women to join the workforce. However, Japan is also facing a child care crisis. Women who want to return to the workforce are faced with the difficulty of finding care for their children. Day care centers are often looked down upon by Japanese society because a child is not “receiving enough maternal care”. The Japanese perspective or normality is to see a mother with her child instead of in temporary care. So if a woman wants to come back to work after fulfilling her role in Japanese society as a mother but faces criticism and backlash by placing her child in day care (assuming she even finds a day care) it only perpetuates Japan’s contradictory views of women.

Many people believe that Japanese society and culture must change before women can be seen as equal in the work place. Societal pressure, stigmas, and sexism are so ingrained in Japanese culture that it could take decades or generations before a significant change can be seen.

Gender Inequality

by Michael McDonnell

The Irish constitution enacted in 1937 states that:

“1° the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

These declarations, though strongly criticised, are still in place today. I feel they give a good indication of the traditional Catholic views that influenced the policies of the state at its inception. The Ireland of today is quite different. In a 2014 survey by The World Economic Forum, Ireland was ranked 8th out of 142 countries on the global gender gap. This is calculated by examining the pay, health, education, and economic and political participation. As of 2013, 47% of workers are female, making up 55% of women. Half of women with children are working.

However, there are still many problems regarding gender inequality to be addressed. On average women are paid 12.6% less than men and women hold only 30% of managerial roles. Fewer than 20% of directors of large corporations are women.

One way Ireland is trying to address the gender imbalance is through the use of quotas. Currently, women only make up 19.4% of the Irish parliament placing Ireland 23rd out of the 27 EU member states for the representation of women in government. In 2012, legislation was enacted that required all political parties to ensure that women made up 30% of all candidates put forward in the next General Election and 40% within 7 years of that. Parties in breach of this quota risk having their government funding cut by half.

As no general election has occurred since been called since this legislation was enacted it remains to be seen what effect this will have on Irish politics. Much in the same way that quotas in business attempt to put women in managerial roles rather than just as board members, commentators have criticised the policy for not affecting local and regional elections. Women make up just 17% of local government bodies, where traditionally, politicians get their start and work towards the national legislature.

Japan is a lot like Ireland in the way it has seen the role of women in society, as a caregiver in the home. Japan has however been slower to address the gender gap in its society. Currently women make up just 1.2% of executives of Japanese companies and just 11% of the members of the Lower House of Parliament. Japanese Prime Minister Abe has set a goal to increase the number of women in executive positions in Japanese companies to 30% by 2020. This is not a legally binding directive but he has promised tax incentives for companies who reach the quota and has promised to increase the number of day care places and the length of family leave available to entice women to come back to work after having children. At the moment around 70% of women leave employment once they start a family.

A report from the Japanese Gender Equality Bureau in 2011 recommended the adoption of gender quotas in the political system and it was accepted by the cabinet. However, the report was non-binding and did not set specific quota levels.

Abe has said that “Women are Japan’s most underused resource,” and while Japan seems to be correcting this underutilisation it seems to be proceeding at a slower pace to other developed countries and to be missing the important issue of gender balance in political representation.

References

Buckley, F. 2013. Ireland offers an example of the way in which gender quotas can be implemented in national parliaments. EUROPP. Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2013/11/29/ireland-serves-as-an-example-for-the-way-in-which-gender-quotas-can-be-implemented-in-national-parliaments/

Covert, B. 2014. Japan Sets Ambitious Goal For Increasing Women In Executive Suites. [online] Thinkprogress.org. Available at: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/01/02/3111731/japan-women-boards-goal/

Global Gender Gap | World Economic Forum. 2014. Global Gender Gap. Available at: http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-gender-gap#

Independent.ie. 2014. Gender equality is still a problem in many Irish board rooms – Independent.ie. Available at: http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/gender-equality-is-still-a-problem-in-many-irish-board-rooms-30527067.html

Ryan, S. 2014. Irish system has failed to provide higher number of women TDs: Taoiseach. TheJournal.ie. Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/irish-system-has-failed-to-provide-higher-number-of-women-tds-taoiseach-332522-Jan2012/

Sanchanta, M. and Koh, Y. 2014. Japan Ponders Quotas for Women in Politics. WSJ. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304569504576403401964052630

Taylor, C. 2014. Ireland ranked in eighth place in gender gap rankings. Irish Times. Available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/work/ireland-ranked-in-eighth-place-in-gender-gap-rankings-1.1979254

The Modern Working Woman: Expectations and the Gender Income Gap

English: Gender Pay Gap in 19 OECD countries a...

English: Gender Pay Gap in 19 OECD countries according to the 2008 OECD Employment Outlook report (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Paige Shaw

From aprons to business suits and domestic duties to the nine-to-five grind, our idea of a hard-working woman has changed drastically. All around the world we see more and more women entering the work force. However, these attempts to make women “equal” have caused different problems to arise. Women who enter the work force are still expected to do the domestic duties they were previously expected to do, on top of having a career. There is simply not enough time in the day for any one person to be able to have a career, raise a family, and maintain a home. Men on the other are not expected to juggle all these things, but they are sometimes expected to put work before family. In addition women are paid a fraction of the amount to do the same work as their male counterparts. As a society we have developed this ideal of having work, home, and time for leisure. In the long run this is not a sustainable lifestyle. I have seen both in my home country, Canada, and in Japan on exchange, that in both countries there is a difference between being a man and being a woman in the workplace.

English: Map of Canada

English: Map of Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find generally when I talk to people who aren’t from North America, or who aren’t too familiar with Canada, that they sometimes have the idea that Canada has it all figured out. However in terms of the gender income gap, Canada has a larger gap then countries such as Norway, Italy, and France. The Conference Board of Canada ranked Canada 11th out of 17 peer countries and gave it a grade C in terms of the Gender Income Gap. Women will earn approximately 76 cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same job. I find in Canada there is still the stereotype that housework and child rearing are more of the woman’s job. However there isn’t as much stigma towards stay at home dads or men helping out around the house as there are in other countries. But it does still seem to be the ideal for a woman to have a successful career, well-behaved children, and a well-maintained home. This is unrealistic because there is simply not enough time for one woman to do all these things.

Compared to Canada, Japan’s gender income gap is much wider, and their expectations for women make it harder to maintain a job. Women in Japan on average earn 29% less than men. It is also uncommon to see a woman working in a high position at a company. Japan has very high expectations for its workers and its mothers. Most women end up quitting their job, either by their own choice or because of societal pressure, once they get married or start having kids. Even with the recent action to increase the amount of women in the workforce, because social expectations aren’t changing, women ultimately have to choose between work and having a family. The husbands are also unable to spend time with their kids, let alone help out around the house, because they are expected to spend long hours at work and put in overtime as well. In order to accommodate having women in the work force Japan would need to loosen its expectations on not only the wife’s duties at home, but also the husband’s obligations at work, so both parents can play a role at home.

Overall it seems globally we still have distinct gender roles, and although on the outside it can seem that women are on equal terms with men in the workplace, that might not be the case. To solve this would take a lot of rearranging of the social order. In countries like Canada we need to get rid of the idea of a “supermom” that can do everything in one day, while ideal, it’s not realistic. And in countries like Japan men need to be given as much opportunity to participate in their families’ lives as much a woman should be given equal opportunity to participate in the workforce. This includes equal pay; women in every country should be paid the same amount for the same work regardless of their gender. We need to release the time-squeeze, and give people more time to maintain a healthy home life as well as a healthy life at work.

Is the real goal of Japanese whitening cosmetics to be white-skinned?

by Umene Shikata

When you walk around Japan in the summer time, no matter whether it is in the city or rural areas, you will see women wearing long sleeves, hat, sunglasses, or long gloves that reach their elbows. You may also see those ladies (most of the time above their 20s) using a parasol also on a sunny day. These behaviors of Japanese women are understood as an indication of their preferences for white skin.

Ashikari Mikiko, a social anthropologist who studied at Kenbridge University, argues that the Japanese white-skin preference does not have anything to do with being like westerners, but rather cultivate “a Japanese form of whiteness which is based on the Japanese identity as a race” (2005:73). This means that she does not think Japanese people have this tendency for white skin because they have a complex towards their ‘yellow’ skin (since Japanese are often seen as a yellow-skinned race), neither do they have a desire to get westerners’ white skin. They want to be white because being white is a demonstration of belonging to ‘us’, which in this case means ‘being Japanese’.

I agree that Japanese people do not try to be western through whitening their own skin. However, the relation between white skin preference and sense of belonging to the ‘us/Japanese’ remains unclear to me. I asked my Japanese friends (a total of 15 people, both men and women, 20 to 22 years old) what they thought about Ashikari’s connection of being white and belonging to ‘us’, and all of them thought it was not fully explaining their feeling towards whitening their skin.

Then, to understand better what they are actually thinking and feeling, I made further question whether they prefer white skin or black skin, the reason of feeling in such way, whether white skin preference was based on admiration for westerners and, in the end, what is a ‘beautiful skin’ for them. All of them answered me that, as Ashikari mentioned in her article, their, or Japanese people’s white skin preference has nothing to do with westerners’ skin color, neither with a race issue. Rather, all of them answered that people doing whitening care are doing so for their own preference and happiness, in the other words, to be “cute” (kawaii) or “beautiful” (kirei). What should be underlined, however, is the fact none of them brought up ‘white color’ or ‘white skin’ to their idea of ‘beautiful skin’ image.

Their concept of beautiful skin, including boys’ opinions as well, could be divided in three categories; smooth (nameraka na hada, sube sube shita hada), no skin trouble (hada are no nai hada) such as acne, dry skin, and blotches, and finally transparency (toumeikan no aru hada). If you research ‘essences for beautiful skin’ (bihada no joken) on the internet, the results are the same.

It seems that Japanese people, both women and men, put skin condition above actual skin color. Some of my friends who answered me mentioned that they do not really care whether the skin is rather white, yellow, or well-tanned as long as it is healthy looking with no skin troubles. For instance, if you read Shiseido’s whitening product haku’s promotion page you may realize they are talking more about how to avoid blotches, or to make smoother skin condition rather than to actually having white-colored skin.

Moreover, Shiseido’s answer to the question “what is the containment of skin whitening products” is “active ingredient which suppresses the generation of melanin and prevent a blotches or freckles”. This means that when Japanese says white skin, they are not talking about actual skin color. However, they are talking about skin without any blotches, clean and beautiful skin condition.

If you take this assumption as the real fact, then it might be easier to understand Japanese women’s preferences, opinion and behavior. They prefer “white” skin, because it is clean, literally beautiful in the way there is no skin problem, and also shows they care about their own selves which in Japan is considered as a “high womenness” (joshi ryoku ga takai). They try to avoid being tanned because with the sun, tan skin tend to have more blotches and is drier (kasa kasa). It also may cause skin problems. This is why many people, including my own self, felt the reason of whitening as demonstration of belonging not appropriate to explain their tendencies and feelings.

Indeed, there may be some culture which considers blotches as a good thing, or something that has no importance. However, in this case we are talking more about cultural differences to see the world. However, it can be said that, at least Japanese whitening tendencies are not related to racial issues or belonging to us/Japanese, but rather to a pure cultural beauty concepts.

References

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetic Boom and the Japanese Identity”, Journal of Material Culture 10(1):73-91.

Watashi by Shiseido, Questions and answers: https://www.shiseido.co.jp/faq/qa.asp?faq_id=1000000335

Watashi by Shiseido, Shiseido no bihaku tokusyuu: https://www.shiseido.co.jp/beauty/bihaku/

Women on the move, but can’t men do domestic labour too?

English: Domestic worker in Colombia Nederland...

English: Domestic worker in Colombia Nederlands: Huishoudster in Colombia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lisbeth Damsbo Lyngs

Women in the 21st century are on the move as never before, as labour migration has become a response to demands created in mostly America and Europe. As women in these areas of the world have increasingly joined men in working outside of the home, less time has been left to do the the traditional housework labour, such as taking care of the children. Women from poorer countries in the world respond to this demand and migrate from their home countries to work as care takers and nannies, fueled by the need to support their own family financially. They then work in other people’s houses, do the laundry, cook dinner, clean the house, take care of children that are not their own, but all for a salary much higher than the standard they come from.

Ehrenreich and Hochschild discuss this movement of labour and it is consequences in their text “Global Woman”. They also discuss how the migrant women workers leave their own children to be taken care of by the children’s older siblings or grandmothers, how sons and daughters do not see their mothers while growing up and may experience neglect, while their said mothers’ affection is being given to other people’s children in a foreign country.

Additionally, not every domestic woman worker gets what she was promised. A minimum wage a month gets cut in half. Eight hours of rest a day gets ignored, seven days a week. They get overworked, stressed and in many cases abused and forced into giving sexual favors. The problem is, that many of these women are under migrant contracts through United Arab Emirates, which ties them to a single employer to act as their visa-sponsor. Even if they experience abuse and mistreatment, it is not possible to switch employer. The following video is a short documentary, encouraging this contract system to change, so the domestic workers can be protected by law:

My question is, why does it have to be like this?

It is great how women in first world countries today work outside the homes and more frequently do “men’s work”, as it fuels equality. It is no longer expected of the woman to do the domestic labour. She can get an education and work just as much as her husband. But the domestic labour still needs to be done, and so it transfers to migrant women workers with little to no other options of making enough money to support their family. Add to that an ill mentality of the employer, “I bought you, therefore I own you,” and you have grounds for a dangerous situation.

So how can we change this pattern of women from third world countries leaving their family behind, migrating to do domestic work and risking abuse?

Since the demand comes from countries where women’s position has shifted from being at home to being out in the work market, I have a question:

Where are the men?

If things are falling apart because women cannot do all the domestic work anymore, shouldn’t there be another half of the population to step up? If men in first world countries split the labour at home with their wives, picked up the children from daycare institutions and cooked dinner while the other did the laundry, etc., wouldn’t it work?

I am aware that it is not as simple as “get men to do more housework”. But as the social expectation has shifted for women to get an education and a job in first world countries, so is it shifting for men. Slowly, but surely, the traditional gender roles are fading and it is becoming more common for men to do more household chores that is not “fixing the light when it’s broken” and “cutting the hedge”. I believe, even if I may simplify it too much, that there is a way to balance work, children, house chores, and free time if we divide the effort and prioritize the right things.

Finally, as a result the demand for domestic workers would decrease, and women from third world countries would not have to face poor treatment, non-satisfying salary, discrimination and abuse when migrating to a first world country. They could stay with their family, raise their own children and focus their energy on their own household.

But the money really has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it?

Seeking Whiteness: For Asian Women Only?

by John Wang

As Ashikari (2005) mentions in “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening‘ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity”, in contemporary Japanese society, the strong preference for light complexions and skin tone was actually expressed as a dichotomy of ‘white’ and ‘black’. Another interesting result coming from the survey she conducted was that although in contemporary Japan the dark skin was spoken of negatively, “many informants, both men and women, insisted that white skin was the ideal only for women, and that dark skin was the ideal for men.” I found similar arguments in many Chinese media, although recently I was actually against this argument since I felt that seeking whiteness is no more a social phenomenon, which just limited to the Asian women. Asian men are also gradually involved.

According to International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the sales of skin care products for men increased 30 percent to over $280 million in China. Some industry giants including L’Oreal from France and Shisedo from Japan are looking forward to the boost of their business in China. China is going to account for half of the global growths in the men’s skin care market within the next five years.

Personally I did not realize this tendency until I met one of my roommates in my high school. In the first day of entry, the small bags he brought to the dormitory surprised all of his roommates, including me. There were so many bottles of cosmetics that we had never heard about and there were also some foreign cosmetics. He was always the last to go to class since he usually spent around twenty minutes to put on makeup. We were even more surprised that after a month, some female students started to ask him for advice on choosing the right white-lightening cosmetics. His skin was truly lighter compared to most male students, due to long-term use of different kinds of cosmetics. After I came to study in Japan, I also found male students using white-lightening cosmetics in order to keep their skin looking good and white. Some of my classmates in my high school have also started to use whitening cosmetic products.

So question here is whether lightening cosmetics are also “must-haves” for Asian men?

Research conducted by Zheng (2010) shows that the main reason for the increase in men’s use of cosmetics is that cosmetic use has become a symbol of men who care about their appearance, while previously this use had been regarded as feminine. Zheng argues that this change is due to the influence of mass media and advertisements. Meantime, rapid economic development has made cosmetics affordable for more men. Being able to using cosmetics is also one way to show one’s social status. These factors have made whiteness more appreciated. However, Zheng also pointed out that this tendency does not challenge the idea that tanned skin is a proper skin color for males. These two standards have become parallel in Asian countries.

The spread of whiteness as a standard of beauty seems unstoppable in Asian countries. With globalization and the spread of western aesthetics, whitening cosmetics are becoming must-haves for both men and women. It is creating massive business chances as well as changing people’s taste of aesthetics. I feel it is interesting if Ashikari can do her survey again, this time focusing on the opinions of Japanese men. They result might be similar as it was for women in contemporary Japan.

References

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity. Journal of Material Culture, 10 , 73-91.

Cosmetic market for men in China booming – Media Centre – International Enterprise Singapore (2011). Retrieved from International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, Web site: http://www.iesingapore.gov.sg/Media-Centre/News/2011/2/Cosmetic-market-for-men-in-China-booming

Zheng, J. (2012). 男士护肤品掀起热潮. 日用化学品科学, 10 10-16.