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26 MYTH: Japan is a sexist country.




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This article is from the American misconceptions about Japan FAQ, by Tanaka Tomoyuki ez074520@dilbert.ucdavis.edu with numerous contributions by others.

26 MYTH: Japan is a sexist country.

(2.7.1) sexism in Japan: the American propaganda
--- Japanese men are sexist.
--- Japanese women are mistreated.
--- Japan is one of the most sexist countries in the world.

(2.7.2) sexism in Japan: the truth
THE TRUTH: sexism in Japan is not much worse than in the USA.

=--------------------------------------------------------------------
---- (2.7.1) sexism in Japan: the American propaganda

One of the most common themes in US media coverage of Japan is
"Japan is a sexist country".

Edwin O. Reischauer has been the biggest contributor to the
"sexist Japan" image in the USA. In his book "The Japanese
Today" (1995) Reischauer emphasizes sexism to portray Japan as
backward and exotic.

"Chapter 17 Women" opens as follows: "The position of women in
Japanese society is one of the major differences between it and
American society and a subject that is likely to raise
indignation in the West. Japanese men are blatantly male
chauvinists and women seem shamefully exploited and suppressed."

in the last 20 years or so while I've paid close attention to
the US media portrayals of Japan, I have rarely seen a
positive coverage in reports relating to the issues of
relationship between the sexes, sexism, marriage and dating
practices, etc.
(it's possible to report positively: about progress
being made in fighting sexism, about the low divorce
rate and the secrets of Japanese marital success, about
characteristic courtship customs, etc.)

on the other hand, I've seen numerous negative reports.
some recent examples:

--- Newsweek, "Take a Hike, Hiroshi", August 10, 1992, (2 pages).
headline: "Japan's War of the Sexes is heating up ---
because Japan's women are fed up. A report from the front".
the caption to a photograph of 4 young Japanese men
reads, "Self-centered, boorish and predictable? Young
men relax in a resort town".

--- TIME, "Fighting Off HANAYOME BUSOKU", March 21, 1988.
headline: "Villagers cope with a shortage of brides by
recruiting overseas"
"... one reason Japanese women head for the cities is
their inferior position in small-town families. Unless
the status of rural women is elevated, ..."

THE TRUTH: recruiting mail order brides from Asia is a
practice that is much more common in the rich western
nations than in Japan. it is unfair that these
magazines draw attention to mail order brides in Japan,
while neglecting the practice (and its problems) in the
USA and other nations.

--- TIME, "Tying the knot, Japanese style", April 17, 1989.
headline: "A wedding can still be a feast of conspicuous
consumption".
a graph entitled "PRICELY PACKAGE --- Typical costs of a
fancy wedding".
a photograph of a couple: she is dressed in a western
wedding dress; he is dressed like a soldier
(very unusual for a Japanese wedding);
caption: "In a mist of dry ice at a bridal palace
in Tokyo, the happy couple descend to greet
their guests"; together they look very silly.

the hidden message is clear: we know Japanese are rich,
but Japanese spend their money in such stupid ways.

THE TRUTH: a typical expensive Japanese wedding costs no more
than a typical expensive American wedding.

if your main source of information on Japan is mainstream
US media (and movies), then you may actually believe what
has been drummed into your head:
--- Japanese men are sexist.
--- Japanese women are mistreated.
--- Japan is one of the most sexist countries in the world.

often Americans start telling me something like, "I know you're
Japanese, and so I understand that you can be a bit sexist, ..."
at which point I stop them, "whaaat? what have I done or said
which indicates that I'm being sexist?"
and they can't cite even a tiny example.

=--------------------------------------------------------------------
---- (2.7.2) sexism in Japan: the truth

THE TRUTH: sexism in Japan is not much worse than in the USA.

I very much doubt how meaningful it is to compare two
cultures with different histories, and say which one is "more
sexist". To look at superficial differences and drawing
conclusions from them is ludicrous. Is the common practice of
male genital mutilation at birth in the USA (circumcision) a
sign of backwardness? Do the current debates over abortion and
prayer in schools indicate that Americans are too backward to
understand the modern concept of separation of church and state?

Moreover, even by purely Western standards, sexism in Japan is
not much worse than in the USA, as indicated by the following.

(1) sexual violence/harassment against women in the USA is much
more frequent/severe, as compared to in Japan. The number of
reported rapes (per 100,000 women, 1987-89) is 118 in the USA
and 5 in Japan ("Human Development Report 1994" by
U.N._Development Programme).

(2) In Japan the wife is usually more dominant than the husband
in a married couple (especially regarding financial matters).
Even Reischauer, who is obsessed with portraying the Japanese as
sexist, admits this.

(3) Female politician DOI Takako was once the head of the Japan
Socialist Party (JSP), and is now the head of the Lower House
(shuu-giin-gichou). Consider that the current head of JSP
(Murayama) is the prime minister of Japan, and that the Japanese
"head of the Lower House" corresponds to the US Speaker of the
House. Conclusion: Japan is much closer to having a female
national political leader than the USA is.

(4) Male vs. female wage disparity. female wages (as % of male
wages, 1990-92): Sweden_90, Norway_87, France_81, Germany_78,
UK_70, Belgium_64, Canada_63, USA_59, Japan_51 ("Human
Development Report 1994", U.N.D.P.).

One factor in The New York Times and others' compulsive
portrayal of Japan as a sexist country is the US backlash
against feminism. About wage disparity (point (4) above), the
USA may have things to learn from the European nations where
gender equality has been more successful. But instead, these
newspapers report "sexist Japan" to give the message of assurance
and conservatism: "Look at how sexist the Japanese are. We've
gone far enough in the feminism movement. In fact, we've
probably gone too far. We must shift our attention from feminism
to more urgent matters, such as the Japanese economic threat."

American compulsion to portray Asian cultures as sexist is also
seen in "The Joy Luck Club", a film filled with racial/ethnic
prejudice against Asia and racially-Asian men.

 

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