HOLDING BACK HALF THE NATION
The Economist (14.03.29)
In Japan, I generally avoid talking about my potential future career with “normal” Japanese people (純ジャパ as they say, pure Japanese) who never went abroad and had little interactions with foreigners. I also avoid talking about it with firm Christians in France, who believe that women should take care of their household.
Here, I sometimes get frustrated by people. They seem to assume that women cannot procreate and work at the same time. Even women think this way. When I was in an exchange program in Waseda, one of the top private universities of the country, I met girls who told me that they would stop working when they would get married. After spending 4 years in a private university, meaning that their parents were spending at least USD10,000 every year to get them educated. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t say that they study a lot in university, but the fact that they are in this university means that they studied a lot in high-school. They are smart kids ready to get good jobs. But still.
From a very French point of view, I have troubles understanding why they would “waist” this time and money invested in education. I understand that some women would want to spend some time with their newborn babies, but I do not get the whole “giving up on my career” thing. It might be linked to the fact that nothing is done for women to continue working. Companies are grumpy at pregnant women; day-care is a nightmare; the state is quite insensitive… In France, you easily get maternity (or paternity) leaves, the more kids you have, the less taxes you pay, day-care is not a problem, infant schools are numerous,… Some women decide to take time to raise their kids; others continue working. In Japan, it’s almost like you don’t really have a choice. People are not expecting you to continue working. They would look at you in a weird way, whispering in your back “She cares more about her own career than about her children!”
I often wonder: would changing laws in Japan be enough to make this cultural fact change? Women themselves tell you that their dream is to become a nice housewife. Sometimes, they lament themselves, saying that they don’t know how to cook or clean properly, and that they will never be good wives. It is as if they assumed that they had to do all the chores without their husbands helping. This sounds terribly wrong. Then, when you tell them that you expect your future boyfriend/husband to cook, clean and take care of potential kids, they raise an eyebrow: “Really?” Yes, really. I am not going to take over all the chores; I am no super hero. But if women themselves tell themselves that their role is to be a good housewife (I wonder what it really means…), then it might be difficult to make the whole model change. Also, when you read “Promotion tends to be based on tenure and overtime, rather than on productivity and performance”, you get a glimpse of how wrong the whole system is.
Also, it is really interesting to see that women in Japan do not care about their own social status but are much more worried about their husbands’ status.
“Mariko Bando, author of “The Dignity of a Woman”, a bestselling guide for women on how to succeed in the workplace, points out that many Japanese women do not feel they need a high-status job to enjoy high status. A well-educated woman working part-time in a supermarket will not see that job as defining her identity if she is the wife of, say, a high-ranking Mitsubishi Corporation executive.”
This is such a weird concept to me. My husband has his life, I have mine; this is how I would picture it. It would drive me crazy if someone was to call me a “lawyer’s wife” or a “doctor’s wife”. And as a husband, I would like my wife to go for her dreams more than take care of me… But then, if her dream is to take care of me… Erf.
The Japanese society is changing, slowly but surely. Where I live, we can see fathers playing with their kids on Wednesday evenings, walking around holding babies during the weekend. The idea that the only way to take care of your family is to work hard and do crazy working hours, is challenged. Some women are becoming more aggressive, saying that they want to continue working while having a family. The internationalization of Japan will also pressure further the old model, showing that in some countries, women are able to take care of their work and their homes.
For the moment, I really think that I would prefer working for a French company based in Japan. My current workplace is nice, women are strong and ambitious, the atmosphere is somewhat international, but it’s still impossible for foreigners to get a normal full-time job. Ah, life’s so hard! I WANT TO BE A BOY!
Listening to: Jonghyun – Mono Drama