THE ROOTS OF GENDER INEQUALITY IN JAPAN / Chelsea Kumono

Introduction

Japan is famous for its unique culture and traditions which attract many tourists and foreigners every year. However, within these unique traditions, lie intrinsic social issues such as racial-ethnic discrimination and gender inequality. Recently the phrase “KuToo” became viral on many social media platforms. The word “KuToo” is a pun which crosses the word “kutsu” meaning ‘shoes’ in Japanese, and “ku-tsuu” meaning ‘pain’ in Japanese. The whole movement argues that the professional attires and innate obligation of working women in Japanese companies is a form of gender inequality and should be legally revised (Mochizuki, 2019). In addition, issues concerning gender equality in Japan such as sexual harassment in workplaces, the disproportionate number of male and female managerial positions, and the gender wage gap have become extremely serious. In fact, “The Global Gender Gap Report 2018” published by the World Economic Forum showed that Japan ranked 110th out of 144 countries. This report measures the over-all gender parity of a country based on economic, educational, medical, and political perspectives.  Furthermore, although Japan moved up 4 ranks compared to the report published in 2017, it still remains the least gender-equal country of all G7 countries (“The Global Gender,” 2017/2018).  This report will examine the roots of gender inequality in Japan by looking closely at aspects such as the educational environment, workplace environment, and media representation.

 

Educational Environment & Gender Inequality

In Japan, all citizens receive nine years of compulsory education. Children start primary education at the age of six and learn many skills such as fundamental academic abilities; literacy/researching skills, core foundations of knowledge; basic mathematics/spelling/reading/writing, and social competence; time management/co-operation/ prioritization. Some of these abilities are verbally and visually lectured by teachers and some are simply acquired through socialization with peers. In terms of gender, children develop the idea of gender-roles, gender-expectations, relationships, and fairness through school education and school environment regardless of their societal influences from teachers, family, and peer groups (Delamont, 2014). Thus, for Japan to combat present and future gender inequality issues, it is crucial that schools teach gender equality, gender diversity, and gender identification in every level of education. Having said that, Japanese education still consists of many gender inequal approaches such as unnecessarily categorizing and labeling students with endemic educational customs and using male-centered teaching materials. Many of these practices are influenced by Japan’s post-war gender equality and sexuality norms. Moreover, post-war education in public schools was mostly single-sex education and was based on the ideology that educating women is for them to become ‘good’ mothers and wives. This was modified to mixed-sex education and liberated with the democratization policy settled by The USA Education Mission to Japan ((3)Report of the United States, MEXT ). In addition, for many years in Japanese high schools, home economics was mandatory for female students only and PE classes such as judo and wrestling were only for male students (Ishikida, 2005). Although many of these gender discrepancies have receded, there are still educational traditions that are not gender-free or that imply fixed gender categories. In 2018, multiple medical universities were caught rigging the entrance exam results of female applicants (Horike, 2018). This had resulted in a disproportionate ratio of 141:30, male and female students having an opportunity to become doctors in these universities. Such incidents affect the motivation of young female students who aspire to work in such industries knowing that these gender binaries and discriminatory practices are institutionalized (2018). Other traditions such as requiring students to line up in their biological sex for assemblies and whenever moving classrooms also create unconscious segregation based on sex. Subconscious everyday actions like these, highlight unnecessary gender binaries and constrain students to limited gender identities (Griffin, 2018).

Another concerning issue in Japanese compulsory education is that sexuality and gender education are not required of teachers to pass their civil service examination, hence, teachers lack understanding and are not capable of teaching an effective class that can reformulate students’ gender stereotypes (Hashimoto et al, 2017). This leads to sexuality classes that have no impression on students, let alone education on gender diversity, leaving students with their own entrenched gender biases and stereotypes. Moreover, many textbooks used for mandatory education are male-focused with very little information on the history of women and with very little female perspectives (Fujimura, 2011). For example, one Japanese textbook used in high schools for world history classes only featured 21 women as opposed to 565 men. In addition, out of the 21 women, only 11 were commoners (Tominaga, 2010). Certainly, there are more than 11 women who deserve the present generation’s acknowledgment and recognition. However, this is unsurprising, due to the fact that many of these textbooks are overwhelmingly written by male authors (Fujimura, 2011). This allows female students only limited sources and access to know about feminism, women empowerment, battles of the women who preceded them, and the many accomplishments they achieved.

Despite the many advances in women’s education and the effort towards gender-free education in Japan, there are still many educational aspects and traditions that underrepresent female students and emphasize unnecessary gender-binaries. This induces lack of confidence in female students and encourages male students to underestimate females in certain criteria’s such as science and engineering, where men outnumber women in both workplace and on university campuses (Charles & Thébaud, 2018). These gender-discriminative traditions and unconscious gender categorizing cultures rooted in Japanese education may be one of the causes of over-all gender inequality in Japanese society.

 

Workplace Environment & Gender Inequality

Japan is part of the G7 and has one of the worlds most developed economies. This highly advanced economy with a surge of highly educated women was expected to increase gender equality in the workplace, not to mention gender equality in society as a whole. However, despite these positive surges, only 13% of Japanese female workers hold managerial positions. Western countries such as the United States resulted in 43.4% and Asian countries such as the Philippines resulted in 46.6% of females working in managerial positions (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 2016). Sex segregation is said to be the primary indicator of gender inequality in working environments in Japan (Yamaguchi, 2019). Moreover, vertical segregation is the situation of a company employee not receiving jobs or positions above a certain level of authority because of their race or gender (Cambridge English Dictionary). In terms of gender, Japan has an overwhelmingly high degree of vertical sex segregation in the workplace, leaving women concentrated at the bottom end of the job hierarchy (Fujimura, 2011). Another issue that determines the overall gender disparity in the workplace is the gender wage gap. The gender wage gap marked 24.5% in 2017, meaning women earning less than one-fourth of what male workers would annually do so. This percentage placed second lowest in the OECD nations following Korea (OECD, 2018). These evident issues of gender inequality occurring in Japanese organizations have several reasons behind them.  Employment structure; differing ways which male and female workers are employed and corporate management; the traditional stake-holder dominated way of administration.

The different occupations woman and men are employed in, also known as occupational segregation, is considered one of the primary causes of the gender wage gap in Japan (Yamaguchi, 2019). According to research conducted by the Japanese government on the female shares in each occupational division, females’ proportions were intensely high in jobs such as ‘family-life supporting workers’ and ‘social and welfare workers’ showing both more than 85% of shares (2019). Based on this national population census, it can be said that Japanese women tend to have jobs that require service and clerical work. On the other hand, the percentage of females working in jobs such as ‘train drivers’ and ‘stationary engine, machinery and construction machinery operators’ both fell below 1% (2019). Furthermore, it may be observed that female workers tend to avoid occupations that involve transport and production. In addition, research showed  that if a significant number of female workers land in an initial workforce or occupation and they are considered less ideal in production compared to male workers, under the crowding hypothesis, their wages fall in relative to the potential amount they could earn in an alternate place consisting fewer of their group (Barry, & Miller, 2014). All in all, occupational segregation and the gender wage gap have a significant connection and the negative effects require further research in order for the Japanese government to find an effective solution towards this serious issue.

The absence of female workers in management and leadership positions in Japanese companies is led by the traditional stakeholder dominated way of management and its intimate corporate relations with the government (Yukongdi, 2009). Japanese business-state ties have advocated male-centered regimes based on the accustomed division of gender and this ideology has saturated Japanese society and has been standardized in fields of education, politics, and employment (Kimoto, 2005). In other words, the common idea that men should dedicate their lives to work and support their family while women should take responsibility in maintaining the household is affecting the system of Japanese recruiting and employment. One of the famous Japanese management customs is the ‘lifelong employment’ method. This method guarantees regular employees lifelong employment from out of school to retirement (Nottage, 2009). Although this postwar labor system has been declining in many companies, the motives of this tradition and present gender-discriminatory hiring process in several Japanese businesses’ have a strong relation. The priority of ‘lifelong employment’ is generally given to male workers in order to support their families, to stabilize industrial relations, and to keep administration insider directed. Lifelong employment will provide male employees with long-term financial assurance, as well as long-term benefits such as work safety and family support (2009). The lifelong employment system is also considered to be beneficial for a company in several ways. The lifelong employed workers guarantee long-term economic security for companies as a result of its internal ties with large banks which allows the company to aim for long-term profits instead of short-term contention (Imai, 2014). Thus, it can be said that the Japanese management systems are not only traditional methodologies but are practical approaches to save costs and stabilize company stocks. All in all, despite modifications towards management and corporate equilibrium among companies, it is likely that desegregation and diminishing gender division amongst Japanese companies will be challenging due to the fact that the sex segregation can be beneficial in several aspects towards a company.

 

Media Representation & Gender Inequality

Media has an undeniable impact on how stereotypes and biases are formed. This is often called media bias. The media bias is created when journalists or media outlets present biases in the selection of their facts, incidents, and happenings they choose to show their audience (Sloan & Mackay, 2007). From child TV programs we saw growing up, to the daily news we seek on the Internet, media bias can be found in all forms of media. They are the primary cause of our fictional generalizations that can potentially create subconscious biases. Moreover, not only the content of public media affects our ideologies, but the representation of female entertainers and the delivery of media content also have a significant impact in forming our gender biases.

One example that clearly shows Japanese female stereotypes and gender-biases is ‘anime’. Japan is world-famous for its great production of anime. Children grow up watching the Sunday morning anime and studies have shown that approximately 17 million adults from age 20 to 49 also watch anime at least once a week (Nihon niokeru anime, 2018). Nevertheless, in a majority of popular anime programs, the mother is pictured as a good wife and without a job. Take Sazae-san, a prolonged animated series. The main character of the show, Sazae-san is a housewife and a mother of a three-year-old son living in a house with three generations of the family. Despite the 40 years of broadcast, Sazae-san was never illustrated to work. Moreover, this housewife set up for female characters not only shows in Sazae-san but also can be seen in famous anime series such as ‘Crayon Shin-chan’ and ‘Yokai Watch’. These stereotypical illustrations children are exposed to at a very young age, can create subconscious biases of men not having to participate in house-work which may lead little boys to an absence in child-caring and household chores in the future (Wilson & Calvert, 2011).

Media’s representation of women is another serious cause of gender stereotyping in Japanese society. For instance, in Japan, critics argue that many news shows cast by Japanese production companies, position male newscasters as the main host and female newscasters in an assistant position (Kreiner, Möhwald, & Ölschleger, 2004). It was only around 40 years ago, in the 1980s when the first female newscaster first appeared on Japanese television as a supportive role of the main male anchorman (2004). It was only 10 years after that a female newscaster was found as the main broadcaster of the news program, however, still portrayed as the typical young and attractive assistant-like newscaster (2004). Women are more likely to be seen presenting topics that are generally entertaining, such as food and family and so-called ‘soft-topics’ in many Japanese television programs.

Another issue regarding female representation on television is the inequitable principles set for female performers; talents, actresses, singers and especially idols. Many female performers entertainers are banned by their talent agencies from having romantic relationships to prevent disappointment from their male fans. This norm of the entertainment industry that females cannot have a romantic partner to become successful has an emotional and psychological effect on the individual, as well as the public audience (Akamatsu, 2018). It leads to a lack of female performers’ self-confidence and positive self-image and affects the self-esteem and self-respect of younger females who may think of themselves the same way; ‘I cannot be in a relationship because I want to impress everyone’ (2018).

In order for the Japanese media production structure to transform into a gender-neutral industry and gender-sensitive platform, it is important to discuss the characterization of females and female characters. Media certainly has the power to reinforce gender biases and gender stereotypes in society and influence peoples understanding of gender equality.

 

Conclusion

Gender inequality in Japan is evident and undeniable in many situations from education, work environment, to media representation. Many educational environments lack gender-sensitive materials, carry on gender discriminative traditions, and require more qualified teachers on gender equality and sex education. Workplace environment still comprises of male-centered systems and male-dominated management. Media still reflects the gender unequal society of Japan and in many programs subconsciously objectifies women and creates false gender biases. Such gender unequal conditions in different fields that Japanese citizens are exposed to, result in the overall gender inequity in Japan. All in all, to diminish gender inequality and for gender parity to be achieved in Japan, it is crucial for the government and Japanese society as a whole to recognize this issue and tackle it at its core.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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