THE CULTURAL IMPEDIMENTS TO ABE’S “WOMENOMICS”

By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

When Shinzo Abe became Japan’s Prime Minister in 2012 he initiated his plan to reinvigorate an aged and ailing economy. While this plan, widely referred to as Abenomics, focuses on monetary, fiscal, and growth policies to end deflation, Abe has included a call to encourage Japanese women to enter the work force to increase productivity. [1] One of his goals is to increase female employment in leadership positions to 30 percent in six years. To begin working toward this goal, he appointed five female ministers to his cabinet. [2]

Though he is setting a strong example, he is ignoring certain social and cultural issues that prevent women from entering or excelling in the work place. To make up for her husband’s shortcomings, first lady Akie Abe expressed the necessity to change social attitudes so that “women can shine” in the careers they choose. [3] Mrs. Abe, an accomplished businesswoman, serves as an example of the success women can achieve. In addressing the World Assembly for Women hosted in Tokyo this September, Abe stated how achieving similar success in a career for women is impeded by a “male dominated business culture” that fails to accommodate the needs of working women. [4] Specifically, she scorned the ways in which Japanese culture limits women’s opportunities to excel in the work place as well as the lack of flexibility offered by high-level career paths when it comes to raising a family.

Because Japanese women face unequal opportunities when compared to men, they are widely discouraged from entering the job market. Women are often paid much less than their male counterparts: one estimate suggests 27 percent less. [5] Though this is an economic issue, it has social implications. If a job is not as lucrative when compared with the same job done by a man, women are more likely to deem their time working as less worthwhile. If this is the case, they might attempt to find a job where their time is valued to a greater extent, or they may drop out of the job search completely. Such wage discrimination is also indirectly discouraging for women in that men are in greater demand, increasing the competition in an already sparse job market.

A significant barrier to women gaining access to positions that utilize more technology lies in their relative level of education. Women are more likely to receive a university education than men, but they are severely underrepresented in fields involving mathematics and sciences. [6] If Japan is to successfully diversify its workforce, it cannot only focus on job fields in which women are already competitive. Although it is largely beyond the priorities of individual businesses to influence personal education choices, it could prove fruitful to increase recruiting efforts geared towards immersing female students in these fields.

Japan’s gender gap is clearly visible when examining women in upper management positions. In 2011, Japanese companies with over 5,000 employees had fewer than three percent of their management positions filled by women. [7] Abe has made women in leadership positions a priority, but he has done so largely through the aforementioned goal. But rhetoric is not likely to be effective unless Abe or others address the social and economic issues that discourage female participation, while guiding women to these positions. For example, Nissan has struggled to maintain a gender-diverse management staff, but has recently established policies to change this deficit. The company uses career fairs and advisers, as well as women speakers to demonstrate the feasibility of a career in management positions. [8] Though this is one company’s efforts toward diversification, it acts as a model that could be emulated across other Japanese businesses in order emphasize the necessity of diversity while increasing the motivational efforts that enable women to access higher management positions in the Japanese business world.

As women struggle to obtain managerial positions, they are statistically less likely to hold a job for a long period of time. A report from the office of the prime minister showed that employment of mothers was failing to grow in 2004. [9] In 2008, women desired to work less time in order to spend more time with their children. [10] This highlights the plausibility that mothers are trying to find a balance between time at home and time at work. Their efforts are hindered by the tradeoff that arises from compensation. Because women generally receive lower wages, they have to work longer days for their commitment at work to be worthwhile. This creates two extremes that they then have to choose from: they can work longer hours than they prefer or, if they can rely on their partner’s income, they can decide to not return to work at all.

Traditionally, Japanese women are more successful as homemakers that rely on financial support from their husbands when compared to other nations such as the United States. [11] Though women are progressively breaking this trend, the option is still open to them. Because of this, they can stay at home and out of work for long periods of time instead of making the decision between their children and their income. An alternative is for women to remain single and childless so that family does not interfere with their careers. These women work long hours to maintain an income and job security. In between, they do not have time to meet or date men. [12] While this has its positive implications—women are increasing their competitive edge in the workplace—it is also unfair that they have to forego having a family just so they can work. These two extremes demonstrate how Japanese women are placed in an awkward situation stemming from a lack of businesses practices that encourage diversity and that take into account a woman’s desired length of leave for child care.

Despite a growing female participation rate in its overall labor market, Japan is facing social problems that do not represent an isolated phenomenon. During World War II, the United States experienced an influx of women leaving the home and working jobs previously filled by men. It is remarkable how quickly they left their traditional roles in the home, but it is important to note that they remained in lower level positions. Currently, women in the United States represent around only a third of managers, even after decades of women’s rights movements. [13] This indicates that there is a long fight for Japanese women to gain total or near total equality in the work force, but this comparison also suggests Japan can use the example set by the United States. A further comparison done in 2009 offers three crucial steps to increasing female employment. Having higher education, more social support from a husband, and a smaller gap in wages between husband and wife all increase the likelihood of a woman’s employment. Education overall is no longer an issue for women getting a job, but they still lack social support and similar wages. Promoting equal or similar wages based on experience rather than gender can guarantee partial mitigation of these issues, but as long as Japan’s dominant culture remains the same, gender inequality will persist.

Japan’s history is filled with continuity of male dominance with few exceptions, and only in recent decades has the nation begun to work against this entrenched trend. Japan is moving in the right direction towards this goal, but not without the occasional setback. In June of this year, an assemblywoman was heckled while speaking on the necessity for more women’s services. The hecklers, also members of the assembly, suggested that she get married and questioned her ability to bear children. [14] Such abhorrent actions at the center of government do not bode well for the current state of women’s rights in Japan in general. Indeed, in working towards workplace equality, the women of Japan will have to endure insults and setbacks until the very foundations of Japanese culture embrace equality of opportunity for both genders.

 

 

[1] Koo, Bon-Kwan. “Abenomics, Finally a Solution to Revive Japan?” SERI Quarterly 6.3 (2013): 29-37.

[2] http://online.wsj.com/articles/abes-goal-for-more-women-in-japans-workforce-prompts-debate-1410446737

[3] Mari, Yamaguchi. “AP Interview: Japan’s First Lady Says Key to “Womenomics” is More Flexibility for Women.” Canadian Press.

[4] Matsutani, Minoru. “Japanese Women Still at a Disadvantage, First Lady Says.” Japan Times 19 Nov. 2014.

[5] Adema, Willem. “Closing the gender Gap Can Boost the Economy.” OECD Observer 298 (2014): 15-16.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jie, Ma, and Yuki Hagiwara. “At Japan’s Carmakers, Women Managers are Rare.” Businessweek.com (2013): 9.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Boyles, Corinne, and Aiko Shibata. “Job Satisfaction, Work time, and Well-Being Among Married Women in Japan.” Feminist Economics. 15.1 (2009): 57-84.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Nishimura, Junko. “Human Resources, Household Economy, Social Support, and Women’s Employment in the U.S. and Japan.” Conference Papers – American Sociological Association (2009): 1.

[12] Yoshida, Akiko. “No Chance for Romance: Corporate Culture, Gendered Work, and Increased Singlehood in Japan.” Contemporary Japan – Journal of the German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo 23.2 (2011): 213-234.

[13] Jie, Ma, and Yuki Hagiwara. “At Japan’s Carmakers, Women Managers are Rare.” Businessweek.com (2013): 9.

[14] Finley, JC. “Tokyo Assemblywoman Heckled by Male Colleagues While Speaking on Women’s Rights.” UPI Top News (2014).

THE WOMEN OF TODAY, THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW

By Viet Tran
Staff Writer

Let’s discuss the current world we live in – of the 195 countries, there are only 22 female leaders currently in power. If we delve further, in the United States women make up less than 20% of the 113th Congress (102 of 535). Why is it that in a global society in which females constitute roughly half the total population, women are underrepresented or marginalized? For thousands of years, women have impacted the course of history; however it has only been in the recent century that women have started to be recognized for their contributions.

The United States has had 44 consecutive male leaders. We are taught to familiarize ourselves with each President and his Vice President, but we are not as stringently made to focus on their female political counterparts – the First Ladies. We laud the achievements of prominent male athletes such as Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant but tend to prefer seeing women on the cover of Sports Illustrated rather than on the courts. If women are recognized for their leadership positions or accomplishments, we view them as cold, aggressive or downright intimidating.

It is 2014. Women have been changing the scope of the world by impacting the field of science, leading society in advanced technological innovations, changing the discourse of politics and more. There are countless women who should be recognized for how they have changed contemporary society. Move over Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. It is time to put a few others in the limelight.

In light of the upcoming Mother’s Day, most of these individuals listed below are also mothers in addition to being successful professionals and revolutionaries. The list below highlights a few women and mothers who I believe should be acknowledged for their achievements today.

Shirin Ebadi
Founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran, this Iranian lawyer has changed the scope of international affairs in the Middle East. Ebadi was not only the first ever woman judge in Iran but she was also the first Iranian and Muslim woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. She received the award in 2003 for her efforts in promoting democracy and human rights. Despite death threats, Ebadi continues to utilize her global recognition to campaign for human rights in Iran. The state of women’s rights still remains a concern in Iran, but her influence has prevailed across the Muslim world and her message for Muslim women out there is: “Keep on fighting.”

Aung San Suu Kyi
Suu Kyi is well recognized as an international figure standing for peace in the face of oppression. Her headstrong spirit has been compared to that of South African leader Nelson Mandela. She endured some form of detention for nearly two decades as a consequence of her efforts to change the political scope of the military-ruled Burma. In 2010, despite being a former political prisoner, she was sworn into parliament with the National League for Democracy, a previously unthinkable achievement given the political atmosphere. Even at 68 years old, she continues to fight for democracy and is a symbol of hope for many, proving that one individual with undivided passion for political justice can make a difference.

Wafaa El-Sadr
Wafaa El-Sadr is an Egyptian physician and a visionary in the field of global and public health. El-Sadr’s passion to eradicate HIV inspired the creation of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), where she is currently the director. This organization has provided more than one million individuals with HIV access to various services such as life-saving antiretroviral therapy.

Marissa Mayer
One of the technological innovations we all use religiously today is thanks to Marissa Mayer. At the start of her career, Mayer worked at Google. Her work with the company involved some of its most recognizable and successful products including Google Maps, Google Earth, Street View, Google News and Gmail. In addition to her pioneering work, she shattered gender barriers when she became Google’s first female engineer and later the CEO of Yahoo.

Fawsia Koofi
Afghanistan is a country with one of the most egregious atmospheres towards women and their human rights. In addition, given its history, Afghanistan is not an ideal place for a politician. Fawsia Koofi, a member of parliament and Vice President of the National Assembly, is both. Her decision to run as a presidential candidate in 2014 would have deemed her a revolutionary; however she missed the age cut-off of 40 years by months. Even with the considerable dangers she faces every day, she continues fight for women’s rights and encourages younger women to enter politics as well.

Ellen Johnson–Sirleaf
Johnson Sirleaf is an African icon. She was a headstrong dissident who spoke out against the Liberian military regime in 1985. Consequently she served 10 years in prison. When she returned in 2005 for the national election, her victory crowned her the first female elected head of state in Africa as well as the world’s first black female president.

Sonia Sotomayor
Just last month, our nation’s first Latina and third female justice spoke out about affirmative action. Justice Sotomayor expressed a dissenting opinion on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Michigan’s ban on race-based admission to its state universities. She stated that the decision “ignores the importance of diversity in institutions of higher education and reveals how little my colleagues understand about the reality of race in America.” Sotomayor not only stands as a beacon for social justice today but also as an icon for females and minorities in underrepresented areas such as politics.

Zaha Hadid
Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid has defied existing conventions of architectural and urban design by experimentation with new spatial concepts for her creations. Hadid is the first and only woman ever to be a recipient of the highest honor in architecture, the prestigious Pritzker Prize. Some of her most prominent works are the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinatti and the Hoenheim Nord Terminus in Strasbourg. Her projects across the world refute and give new definition to the gender charged word “man-made.” It should not be a surprise that we are now living in a world where some of the greatest architectural wonders are created by female visionaries.

Reshma Saujani
Saujani is on this list because she stands as a role model for an important demographic group in the United States – first generation individuals. Her parents were expelled from Uganda in the early 1970s by Idi Amin. Subsequently, they moved to the states for the promise of freedom and boundless opportunities. As the daughter of refugees, Saujani inhered an interest in politics and desired to be a voice that could speak about economic opportunity for all Americans. In 2010, she went on to become the first Indian-American woman to run for office in New York’s 14th Congressional District as a Democrat and community organizer. More recently, in 2012 she founded Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization with a mission to assist underprivileged girls by giving them resources and skills to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Her vision is one we should all grasp – “we don’t even know what the world would look like if we give girls the leverage and the power of technology – the ideas that they come with are so different, and they are centered on changing the world.”

Minhtam Thi Tran
The unconditional love of a mother is unparalleled and immeasurable. What this human being is willing to do for her loved ones is unquestionably one of the greatest acts of this world, yet at times we carry through our lives unaware that the masterpiece of a figure standing before us deserves much more recognition than given.

For my mother and all others out there – in all that they do and continue to do. This is a piece for my mother, Minhtam.

She is the girl that grew up among a group of seven boys.
She is the child that walked miles to attend the nearest public school.
She is the single daughter that received the highest education.
She is the female professional that held the most respected position in her field.
She is the educator that persevered through a war-torn country.
She is the widow that made the most difficult decision to leave her own country.
She is the immigrant carrying an infant son to live in a compacted home.
She is the silent American muted by her poor English skills.
She is the diligent baker, seamstress, babysitter, to make days end.
She is the last of the parents to say goodbye to her child on the first day of pre-school, but the first to standing at the gate to pick him/her up.
She is avid reader at the library whose checked out book titles consist of “How to write in cursive,” “Geometry 101,” “Science Projects for Beginners.”
She is the “worst” tennis enthusiast, but the biggest fan of one of the team’s player.
She is the make-up artist, the photographer and the videographer at your high school graduation.
She is the technologist that searches on Google, “how much UCSD cost,” “jobs in San Diego” and “what is loan.”
She is the insomniac that stays up until 3AM with you because you have a final tomorrow and offers, “I make coffee for you? How about some fried rice? Anything you want.”
She is the diamond among the crowd of people as you walk across the stage for your college diploma – you are smiling and she is crying.
And lastly, and best of all, through all the sacrifices she has made, the roles that she has taken, she simply does the best in being one incredible individual – your mother.

Cảm ơn mẹ, con thương mẹ rất nhiều.

Decades ago, the idea that a woman could step outside their societal household duties and have a professional career was outlandish. However, these women sought to challenge the scope of societal expectations. They changed the face of the world not only by shattering gender standards, but also by succeeding in the respective fields they each chose to pursue. You indeed can be a CEO, a politician, or even president of a nation and still be a mother.

Women are as capable as any other individuals, and they should not be defined by the fact that they do or do not have children. For hundreds of years, men have been fathers and workers but we do not question that societal order. Both men and women are human beings and thus are both endowed with the same rights to be educated, to raise families, to pursue what they desire and succeed. Celebrate women’s accomplishments as mothers, and celebrate women’s accomplishments as professionals, but do not confine them to either role.

The characteristics necessary for achievements are not based on parental status, sexual orientation, race, religious affiliation and most definitely not gender. What it takes is an undivided passion of pursuit, unwavering dedication and an incontrovertible sense of individuality that no one can take from you. Women are indeed changing the scope of contemporary society, so let us take a moment to recognize their accomplishments.

Image by Asia Society

BLACHMAN: A TV SHOW’S CONTROVERSIAL DESEXUALIZATION OF THE FEMALE BODY

By Rebecca Benest
Staff Writer

If you live in Denmark, you might turn on the publically funded television station “DR2,” and find yourself faced with a naked woman accompanied by two men conversing about her various physical attributes. But in the event that you haven’t kept up to date with Danish television, this new show, “Blachman,” has caused quite the international buzz.

Named after the creator, the premise of the show is to bring naked women on screen where they stand silently, allowing Blachman and a male guest comment on their body. While this show is definitely a chauvinistic display, it also brings up several discourses on body image and sexualization of the female body in a new, although potentially offensive, method.

The show’s namesake, Thomas Blachman, was a previous host of Denmark’s “X Factor” and is commonly called the “Simon Cowell of Denmark,” known for his regular stream of negative comments. Blachman, however, has a different angle for his new show, as his stated purpose is to get “men discussing the aesthetics of a female body without allowing the conversation to become pornographic or politically correct.” To do this, he brings of women of all ages, shapes, and sizes onto the show, in order to “revise women’s view of men’s view of women.”

The purported message of the show, however, will probably never be seen amid the hailstorm of comments and criticism following the its start. Knud Romer, a Danish author, calls it “a claustrophobic strip club which only serves to cement classic concepts of male dominance,” while Dr. Christian Jessen responds, “are naked women that shocking and shameful? Lets have a debate!”

This is the main debate “Blachman” brings about, that while it appears to be a pornographic display of chauvinistic ideals, it may also be illuminating the unnecessary stigma we place on the naked body and political correctness.

The hypocrisy of the show itself adds to this debate. The introduction states, “between pornography on the one hand and politically correct puritanism on the other side, the poetry is lost.”

Despite this, later on in the show Blachman seems to lose this poetry he speaks so highly of, with statements such as, “Now, I’ve always been an ass man. Would you mind turning around for a moment? Very animated nipples. How does that pussy work for you?” Statements like this are exactly what angers viewers and shows Blachman to be a misogynist.

As admittedly offensive as the show is, it brings up interesting issues of body image. The women on the show are not embarrassed to be there, nor do they avoid eye contact with the judges—some even smiling overbearingly as the judges comment on their bodies. These women don’t view themselves negatively, which is a “requirement” to be on the show, regardless of age or weight.

The body confidence the women on “Blachman” seem to have is not seen often, and is something that many girls and women today seem to have a problem with. The Dove Real Beauty Campaign, which recently took over social media, thought up an interesting experiment: through drawings based on oral descriptions, see how women describe themselves in comparison to how others describe them. The results were shocking: the pictures, when posed next to each other, were drastically different, and in some cases the way the woman described herself was almost unrecognizable. The way we view ourselves ultimately dictates our lifestyle, and as feminist Laura Fraser writes, “we need to protest those standards more demonstrably, reassure ourselves that we’re good and worthwhile human beings.”

“Blachman” also brings up the sexualization of the female body, which is seen drastically differently across nations. When I was 16, for example, I was at a spa in Berlin with an aunt and was shocked when I was told that clothes were not allowed inside. Terrified, I wrapped my towel around me as tightly as I could and went outside. Men and women were sitting, talking, in the saunas and pools seemingly oblivious to their nakedness. While I was utterly embarrassed, I soon became used to the environment and was almost relieved at the way bodies were not judged or micromanaged. You did not have to cover yourself, you weren’t labeled; it was just a body.

While this view is definitely more common in Europe than it is in America, and while the crude comments made on “Blachman” are unmistakably offensive, it does start to take away the stigma of the naked body by talking about the women without sexual or pornographic connotations. The documentary “Miss Representation” takes on the sexualization of women in the media and offers a solution through education and empowerment. Filmmaker Jackson Katz states, “people learn more from media than any other single source of information,” and the representations in the media affect how we view others and ourselves.

The immense power held by the TV shows and movies we watch, the magazines we read, even the songs we listen to, can dictate our views of the world without us even being aware of it and, while “Blachman” is not necessarily empowering these women, there is something the message: it is just a body. We should be able to talk about them without having to worry about being too sexual or politically correct.

Photo by Charlotte Astrid