WOMENS’ ROLES IN JAPAN – CHANGE AND STAGNATION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Many things have changed in Japan since WWII but many things have also stayed the same. This dichotomy is creating unwanted trends and having far reaching consequences for the entire country.

Certain cultural expectations have remained static over time. Employees are still expected to devote most of their waking hours to their company. Working past 10 PM is the norm and men are often expected to take clients out for drinks after work. Rigorous targets must be met in order to get raises and promotions. This culture of overwork even has a name – “death from overwork.” It’s been argued that this demanding work environment leads to inefficiency and low productivity yet it still has a tight hold on Japanese work culture.

Another social phenomenon that has not changed is that women are still expected to care for the home, children and elderly relatives. They are also still given onerous tasks that they must fulfill to adequately perform their roles in the home. Cooking, for example, is a major job for Japanese women. They must prepare numerous, small dishes for their families every day AND the school lunches that they must prepare for their children have to be works of art!

Dishwashers are not as common as in the U.S and neither are dryers capable of doing large loads. So most women have to hang wet clothes on clotheslines outside, which dramatically increases the amount of time needed to do a family’s laundry.

But this is just the beginning. American women would be horrified at the volume of paperwork women have to do, every day, for their children’s schools and day-cares.

That’s right. Pre-schools demand meticulous and voluminous daily journals documenting their children’s temperatures, what they eat, their moods, conversations, sleeping hours and playtime activities. The elementary schools and after school tutoring classes, ubiquitous for older children, also require that a parent corrects and approves every page of their child’s homework. Women are thus swamped with household and bureaucratic tasks at home, which affects their ability to work outside the home.

Japanese elementary school class

Here comes the change part – now close to 70% of women 15-64 have jobs. Nevertheless, the heavy burden of domestic tasks holds women back from advancing in their careers. They can’t put in the crushing hours men do when they are on the promotion track. As a result, almost half of all working women only work part-time and often the other half are on temporary contracts. This creates a huge pay gap between men and women and also a shortage of women in management-level jobs.

Only 1% of the female workforce is in management. Yet women who work more than 49 hours a week typically also put in close to 25 hours of housework a week. Men typically average less than 5 hours a week, even when their wives work too. Thus Japanese men do less housework and childcare than men in any other of the world’s wealthiest nations.

This rigidity of gender roles at home has ramifications in the economy and society. Japan’s economic status in the world has stagnated and China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. The Prime Minister of Japan has pledged to return the economy to steady growth, which means countering the severe labor shortage due to a declining as well as a rapidly-aging population. To increase the workforce and energize the economy, the Prime Minister’s goal is to elevate and increase women’s participation in the workforce. This initiative is called “womenomics.”

The problem is that for women to increase their impact on the workplace, everyone has to reduce the bruising hours expected at work so the women can begin to catch up to the men. In addition, the rigid and excessive demands on a woman’s time at home have to be reduced – and/or these tasks must be shared more equally by the husbands. But that would require a major change in social norms and entrenched gender roles, which is not likely to happen quickly.

However, social change is happening in Japan, just not in the way the government wants or society needs. The biggest trend in Japanese society today is the tremendous surge of women choosing not to marry at all! More and more women are rejecting the life of domestic drudgery that comes with marriage and parenthood and the concomitant drag on their career advancement.

The Japanese are exhausted most of the time

This is a problem because Japan is also suffering from a decline in population that politicians are frantically trying to reverse. The birth rate is the lowest it’s been since 1899 when record-keeping began. The economy can’t continue to grow if the workforce continues to shrink.

The statistics on women staying single are dramatic. In the mid-1990s, only 1 in 20 women in Japan had never been married by the age of 50. By 2015, 1 in 7 remained unmarried. In women ages 35-39, 10% were unmarried 20 years ago and now 25% are staying single. The number of couples getting married is at its lowest level since WWII.

There is some good news for the business world. A growing number of new businesses have sprung up to cater to this large market of single women. Single Karaoke Bars have women-only zones, restaurants market to solo diners, travel companies book tours for single women and photo studios offer photoshoots where women put on wedding dresses and pose for solo bridal pictures. There are even solo wedding ceremonies for women committing to their independence and their single, career-oriented lives.

Women no longer need husbands to ensure their economic security because if they stay single and avoid the cultural demands on wives and mothers, they can put in the hours to get ahead at work. They can also have the freedom to pursue hobbies, travel and cultivate large circles of friends. Many see this lifestyle as more rewarding than being stuck in the quicksand of the socially mandated gender role of wife and mother.

Until these domestic roles are redefined, Japan will see more and more women opting out of the domestic rat race. And the population will continue to decline along with the economy. I’m not sure how the government can mandate the kind of social change they need, but they may have to try. It should be interesting to watch how this social experiment works out.

THE NEW POLITICAL MORALITY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read an article in the Washington Post on Sunday, May 12, by Marc Fisher, that piqued my interest. It was titled “The shape of the sex scandal has shifted. What does it take to kill a political career these days?”

The premise was simple. Plain old adultery used to be enough to tank a politician’s career. Today, not so much. The Gold Standard today for a career ending scandal has to involve violence, lack of consent, under age and possibly criminality.

I think I’m okay with this moral evolution. I never thought that politicians’ consensual sex lives should be a political issue. That was the purview of the overly moralistic, puritanical religious fundamentalists and others who view sex itself as something dirty and unsavory. I’m more interested in politicians’ positions on ‘moral’ issues like helping the poor, the sick and the victims of injustice and inequality.

‘Conservatives’ always seem to define morality in terms of sexual behavior. They also seem to be obsessed with the trappings of sex, like birth control and abortions. I always felt it was immoral to force women to get pregnant when they didn’t want to, or force them into celibacy to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Not only is that immoral, it’s also highly unrealistic and impractical. Sex is here to stay. Deal with it.

But today’s morality is taking a different turn. It focuses on the issues of the Me Too Movement – abuse, abuse of power, and consent. I have to admit that I didn’t realize how many women are harassed and taken advantage of, particularly in the workplace, where they have little, if no leverage. But given the prevalence of these abuses, I like where the emphasis is today. It’s on women’s consent and on their control over their own bodies. It also recognizes the verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation that women are subjected to, clearly without their consent.

Many high-powered men have been guilty of actual crimes against women. Bill Cosby has finally been convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting women. Other criminal behaviors that have been recently alleged are spousal abuse (Rob Porter), abuse of power and possibly rape (Harvey Weinstein) and physical assault (Governor Eric Greitens and former NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman).

Harvey Weinstein

Morality now is more in the realm of actual morality, not just sexuality itself as immorality. Hopefully this moral shift means that most Americans are prepared to give consensual, albeit extra-marital sex, a pass in their celebrities and politicians. It is usually a private matter between spouses. Or it should be.

The exception is when the perpetrator’s behavior reveals more about him than just promiscuity. For example, when Trump used to brag about his extra-marital affairs and flaunt them in the media, to the humiliation of his wife. Or in his Billy Bush tape when he reveled in the celebrity status that gave him the power to do whatever he wanted to women, sexually. Then there was Rudy Giuliani, who openly cheated on his wife and then informed her that he was asking for a divorce on national television.

Women are now, finally empowered to speak out and be believed about the abuses they suffer at the hands of men. Particularly men who are in positions of power over them. Up to now, the reality for most women was that they were afraid to report harassment, abuse or worse. If they did, they were unlikely to be believed over the denials of the more ‘powerful’ men they were accusing. That in itself is amoral. Morality, as well as justice and equality, will be taking a big step forward if women are encouraged to come forward more now and are believed when they do.

So maybe this new, politically correct morality will be a good thing for the country. At least for its women.

LOSERS

We’ve been watching this show about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. They are doing this last, terrible, desperate film. They don’t like each other. They may, in fact, truly loathe one another. But they need this movie because they are getting old and they know it is their last chance to do something before the rug is pulled out from under them.

That’s the real point of the story. They didn’t make a good movie. They didn’t change the rules of Hollywood. In fact, the rules have not changed. More women get decent roles even after passing that magic age — these days more like 55 than 40 — but most don’t. Women are still underpaid, underrated. A man playing a role for which he is blatantly too old is applauded. A woman is laughed at. A woman with wrinkles, if she is really top drawer in the acting department will get some roles, but not like a man.

Men can work as long as they can totter around. Not so for women.

BOSTON HERALD 03-17-2017

Women do get work. Not as many as eventually will, but many more than used to. We keep at it and one day, we will win. The women who fought the studios, battled movie moguls who treated them like soiled hankies? They were losers. Losers in every sense of the word. But the battles they fought opened up the world for others yet to come.

If you are wondering how the things we do now can help us in the battle to survive this thing who is our so-called leader? Everything we do matters. It counts. Even thought we fight and lose, we fight again. Maybe we lose. But …

Eventually, we don’t lose. In the end, we will win. Bet on it.

PERMANENT CURE FOR “MUFFIN TOP” FOUND!

Nothing makes us feel better about our bodies than accepting them! Great — funny and true — post!

Stuff my dog taught me

UnknownLike about 99.99% of women, I gained a few pounds as my 50th birthday approached, with most of the weight settling into the inches around my belly button.  I like to think that I am a self-confident woman who knows that beauty is more than skin deep, but something about this newfound roundness just ate away at me.

I started using a phone app to “track” my diet.  In principle, this seemed like a grand plan… enter my weight, set a goal, then eat the number of calories necessary to get to the finish line… how simple is that!?!  Super simple… except that I now spent every minute of the day thinking about food.  It is impossible not to obsess when every bite that goes in your mouth has to be entered into your “food diary”.

Most mornings, this meant that by 9am I was already stressed because a slice…

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PRETTY IS AS PRETTY DOES

It’s almost fetishistic the way we over-value prettiness. Over the years, I’ve watched relationships — mine and those of friends — as they wax and wane. I was about as unpopular through most of my public school days any anyone could be, yet I had my share of dates and attention. Often from “popular” guys. Mass Broadcasters 12

I didn’t do much to get attention because I didn’t know how. I failed flirting but knew how to have a conversation. I could talk about books, ideas, history. Feelings.

In college I was moderately popular, but never the most popular. There were always women for whom the local lads were more swoony than they were for me.

The most popular woman were never traditionally pretty. Instead, they were friendly. Kind. Funny. Ready to lend a sympathetic ear, or laugh at a joke. It turned out these human qualities were more important to young swains than whether or not a young woman met some ideal of beauty.

Through the years, I’ve watched men break off with flashy women in favor of less well-favored women who they wished to court. And vice versa. The handsomest guys may have been highly sought-after for dates, but when it came to real relationships, other characteristics were more important.

It seems sensible people may date for beauty, but become involved and marry for other reasons. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. In the course of years, some men have called me beautiful while others thought I looked like a stump. I’m neither. That’s the point.

I will close with an anecdote. Garry and I were not yet married, spending the weekend — as usual — on the Vineyard. At the house Garry shared with a bunch of other single guys, all of whom worked in Boston television.

That weekend, someone had brought a guest, a gorgeous young weather person from one of the Boston stations. Smashing figure, skin like cream, and face to match. Garry made a sour face every time he looked at her, which puzzled me. I didn’t expect him to slobber over her, but he usually appreciated beauty just because. Then I realized none of the guys was paying her any particular attention.

“Why don’t you like her?” I asked. “And why does no one else seem to like her either?”

“She used to work at the station,” he said.

“And?”

“She made messes. The rest of us had to clean up after her.”

“But she’s stunning,” I pointed out.

“Pretty is as pretty does,” he said. And that was that.

No matter what anyone says, real life is less about how you look and more about who you are. Because pretty is as pretty does.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside The Yarn Shoppe

I peeked inside the old shop. Outside, looking in. Old Williamsburg. The Yarn Shoppe.

Yarn Shoppe back door

It’s right there, on Main Street. I didn’t go in. Looking through the partly open door at the back of the shop was perfect. I didn’t need more. It would have spoiled the moment.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside – Beauty Shines Through

For this photo challenge, inside, I have a portrait. I took the picture just yesterday, so it’s as new as anything I’ve ever offered.

Cherrie

I’ve been taking pictures of Cherrie for more than 35 years and though I’ve done good portraits of pretty much everyone else in my world, I’ve had a terribly hard time getting one picture of Cherrie I feel “gets” her. This is close. It’s the Cherrie I love. Wisdom. A twinkle. The lurking laugh. A beautiful soul and the world’s best friend. A portrait.