On Wednesday 29th April, Hitomi Tonomura a Professor of Women’s Studies and History from the University of Michigan gave a guest lecture at UiB sponsored by The Department of Foreign Languages and the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research. Her areas of expertise include East-Asian History, pre-modern Japanese History, as well as gender and sexuality. Her lecture was extremely in depth and interesting and I cannot do justice to everything she touched on in one blog post, so I’ll give you just a few highlights.
Dr. Tonomura launched her talk by using the popular but contraversial Japanese TV show, “Disappointing Husband” as a way to break the ice. I couldn’t find additional details about the show online apart from the trailor (below), but my impression from what Professor Tonomura described was that the show illustrates a dynamic of separation of the sexes and dissatisfaction of the woman with the traditional gender role she is placed in, shouldering the work of raising a child without much help. In Japan, it garnered feedback from both sexes, some of which Professor Tonomura shared. A couple that stood out for me included a women who enjoyed it, but didn’t think that men should watch as it stressed them out too much with its realism, and a man who was offended that he might be expected to reflect upon his behavior in part because of a show like this.
Setting the Stage:
Throughout her presentation Professor Tonomura offered some background information about Japan’s current situation:
- Japan has a low birth rate (so much so that in school, young people are not being taught birth control, but rather how to make babies).
- Many people have extreme working hours (leaving at 6am and getting home at 11pm). Even “part-time” work can be over 40 hours per week.
- Women are often discouraged from taking the ‘career track’ (which has those long hour expectations), or they decide not pursue it to because of the possiblity of having children. (Read more about women and careers in Japan here.)
- More and more, women in Japan are not wanting to get married, due to factors such as unequal expectations of work inside the home despite also working outside the home. (Japanese men were ranked last in the amount of housework they contribute to – about 6% according to one source.)
- Divorce in Japan is a total separation, children stay with their mothers and fathers no longer see them. Additionally fathers don’t provide child support.
- Despite extremely low incomes, there are very few single mothers who get welfare in Japan.
- There are no punitive measures for companies which don’t follow the 1985 Law for Equal Opportunity in Employment for Men and Women.
- The amount of women in Japanese politics is extremely low.
- Japan ranks low on the Global Gender Gap rankings (In 2014 Japan is #104 of 142 countries… the US is #20, meh. And Norway is #3 Go, Norway!)
Low Birth Rate:
In response to Japan’s birth rate, there have been governmental policies that attempt to boost the birth rate in Japan, including gatherings to try to encourage people to meet and couple, increasing paternity leave and attempting to disuade ‘pata-hara’ and ‘mata-hara’ (paternity and maternity harassment). Pata-hara and mata-hara bascially are ways in which companies discourage men from taking any paternity leave or time for their families, and women from either working at all or potentially giving them different and less high-ranking jobs when they come back from maternity leave.
Constructs and the Future:
Professor Tonomura spoke about the constructed nature of traditional roles. While the are idea of the “traditional normative family” is part of the current fabric of Japanese society, Dr. Tonomura calls for more flexibility and awareness that so-called “traditional roles” are often constructed. She points to many aspects of Japanese history to support her argument, including the world’s first novel being written by a Japanese woman.
Ultimately Dr. Tonomura calls for changes in the Japanese working environment for all Japanese citizens, and new social norms and social consciousness. Do you have any ideas for shifting social consciousness? I would definitely want to hear them!