Saturday, November 7, 2009

Is Japan Mysoginistic?

Yes, at least publicly and legally. At least up until the 90's (and I don't suppose it's changed under the prolonged recession but I'm not sure,) women could not take out a mortgages. A few women got together and started a bank (with a pink ribbon logo) to do just this, but they had to have a male CEO and the bank closed rather too quickly. We have very few MPs, ministers or CEO's. It is hard to get accolade for any work other than "women's work", which would be nursing, and perhaps early childhood education. Even top chefs, top weavers, and heads of flower arrangement and tea ceremony schools are almost all men.

The very word "nurse" ("kango-fu"), although a description of profession, denotes woman (the suffix "fu"), in the same way fireman, postman and chairman denotes men, though I realize in the English language it also means "human".

In the early 90's when it became evident we needed more men in nursing, particularly geriatric nurses, (and this happened around the time I left Japan, so my knowledge is admittedly murky, but,) they established a different qualification based on a different training scheme and named it "kango-shi", a man ("shi"), in the same vein as fireman ("sh0h-b0h-shi") or pharmacist ("yakuzai-shi", nothing to do with Yakuza, mind,) but not doctor ("i-shi"; here "shi" means teacher; the Japanese language has homophones by the truck loads.)

In the language's defense, we also have many, many gender neutral professions, driver ("unten-shu", hand, ) MC ("shikai-sha", person), shop-owner ("insert-item-ya", shop, including postmen who delivers, "yubin-ya") or chairman ("shuseki", chair). There was some kind of an equal employment opportunity law passed possibly in the bubbly 80's, but a) employers can specify skills that eliminate all but the most gun-ho women from trying, and b) there are still tons of want ads for "pretty ladies between the ages of 18 and 24 looking for an easy way to earn high salary" and the like.

I hasten to add, I don't think many Japanese women think about this much, and when they do, they may not be bothered, because "segregation/separation" has its merits. Japanese gender specific responsibilities can certainly makes life easier for women; women are seldom expected to lift heavy stuff in a supermarket but just mind the till. Though, again, at least until the early 90's.

Literature, from diaries, poems (poet, "shijin") to novels (novelist "sakka"), the playing field have been comparatively level, though I have heard female authors complain publishers sometimes ask to sleep with them if they want to be published. And even the best of them sometimes can't escape being prefixed "women", ("jyoryuh-sakka", "jyoryuh-shijin").

Sometimes this is why women give up hitting their heads on the not-so-transparent glass ceiling and decide to marry belatedly. (But not in my case; well, not strictly.)

But fret not. Inside the home, women often have a lot of power. For example in many homes wives/women have total control of the money, often even the larger purchases, and the children's education. That is why the wife is sometimes called "Yama-no-Kami", God (not Goddess) of the Mountain!

PS: Back in the 70's, I thought replacing "man" with "one" was shorter and smarter than "person", i.e. "fire-one", "mail-one" and "chair-one" to match the use of "one" as in "one does not flaunt one's success," but nearly 40 years later, they sounds superbly comical, don't they!

3 comments:

  1. I'm not sure that I got it all right, but it seems to me that Sweden is kind of socialistic if you compere.

    Men and women are legally equal. And you would probaly have a hard time finding a housewife or a stay-at-home-mum. The tax system makes it very hard not to have an income of your own.

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  2. I could have sworn I blogged about this somewhere some time ago, but I can't find it, so here goes nothing.

    I had two department store credit cards with my name, attached to my bank account, into which my salary was automatically banked, for seven years and never once defaulted on payment. After I got married, I went to notify them of change of last name/address/phone. My favorite department store said they needed my husband's name, employment/salary details and bank account number to register the change, and I asked why. The woman at the desk said it was because I got married. I clarified that I still had the same job and the same bank account but that wasn't good enough for her, so I had to repeat the conversation with a male desk staff, and after that, a male Customer Services manager. Said manager gave me the same answer, so I said I'll cancel my card there and then if my salary, bank account and seven years of custom wasn't good enough. He ummmed and ahead for 10 minutes and just as I was going to walk away, said he'd make a special case for me and will go ahead with the changes without any of my husband's information, but he made darned sure it was a huge, personal, special favor, and I better not tell anyone else. I thanked him, but still insisted it was a dog stupid rule, in 1990.

    Can't remember what I did with the other department store, but I needed the said card because they had, among other things, a fabulous button selection and even more fabulous basement food area. My bank, which was next to my work place where most of my colleagues banked, gave me no grief; they must have known our workplace was brimming with "Western-educated" ("kikokkushijyo") women and we took no bull from from old men.

    My little triumph; I surprisingly often cave in, and quite easily.

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  3. In Japan, the cost of living, notably the mortgage and children's education, make it hard for women not to work, but in a recession, women, and middle age women, are the very first to be let go. I'm not sure what the situation is now, but the gap between the wealthy and the poor have been widening quickly and drastically since the start of the 90's recession.

    Working husbands used to get tax rebate for non-working wives, but it was about the same as one-meal-in-a-nice-restaurant per month; ditto with children under 18. I don't know what it's like but I can find out from my siblings. My sister in law works, but my sister doesn't. My dad, at 83, pays income tax for his pension, for which he paid all his working life.

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