The challenge of being a woman in Japan

The Princess Masako He is sad. It takes sad time, with its sweet porcelain face and dull eyes. It is possible that your husband, the Prince Naruhito, look down again when you appear next to her the day she is appointed emperor of Japan and carry the weight of the crown on his shoulders. Masako will sit next to her, perhaps slightly behind, and smile, converted now empress. The princesses smile. It is what all the princesses of the world do, even if they are sad.

Princess Masako represents an ancient myth and difficult to dismantle.

You can not extrapolate what happens to Princess Masako to what happens to the rest of the Japanese women. Real families are necessarily conservative; survive thanks to the preservation against wind and tide of the oldest traditions, even those that civil society, even the most rancid, discarded long ago. But although not all Japanese women are Masako, she is a particular Japanese woman, symbolic, one that represents a myth as old as it is difficult to dismantle.

Out of that redoubt of tradition in which the imperial family moves, the Japanese woman manifests herself in very different ways. There is not a single Japanese woman, as there is no single Spanish, Cuban or Mozambican woman. Is the Japanese woman of 60 years or more, for which working for a salary after having children was not only impossible, but undesirable. There is the same age that never stopped working the field, to plant, raise and cook. There is the youngest, who she became a housewife as soon as she got married, and the one who chose to keep his job after having his first child. Is the urban twenty-year, for which a life without work or with children is unthinkable, and there is also the rural twenty-year-old girl, for whom dedicating herself to her children is still a reasonable option.

The empire of the (non) senses

There is also the Extreme woman, postmodern, located in a point diametrically opposed to that of Princess Masako. Postmodern not as a pose, but as a result of a social change that has produced tremors. They are women not so independent as detached. Detached from the relationship of couple, sex, any desire to be a mother. So detached from his body that they have become a literary archetype: these are the protagonists of the books of the writer Sayaka Murata. For example, a woman who is a virgin after the age of 30 and who has no great interest in ceasing to be a virgin, but who succumbs to the social pressure and for that reason it makes strange decisions; a mother who feels nothing for her daughter, and a daughter who feels nothing for her mother; a marriage that is disgusting copulate and opts for artificial insemination, etc. The sexless (Relationships between partners without sex) is a real and booming phenomenon, fruit of modesty, reluctance, disgust, confusion, perhaps a very poor communication. Or perhaps an ideal of purity, to keep platonic things. It is also a recurring theme in contemporary literature, an almost apocalyptic one, because the birth rate in Japan does not stop going down. It is the lowest in the world.

Relationships between partners without sex are a real and booming phenomenon.

It is an extreme, as is the future empress. Most women are likely to be on the great plain that stretches between Masako and the "unattached" woman. Women who benefit from the new birth policies, longer maternity leave, leave and reincorporation possibilities; measures that try to boost the procreation and that 20 years ago they sounded like science fiction.

In the 80s, when I was a girl, no mother around me worked. They were Housewives They went out in the street wearing an apron and sandals, carrying a baby on their backs. They got up at dawn to prepare the food that the children took to school: perfect boxes with a little rice, a little vegetable and a little meat or fish that they cooked at the very first hour. The most educated gave private classes in English, mathematics, piano or drawing, as long as it did not interfere with domestic chores. There were even, and still are, short universities for them, in which for three years the students learn a little about general culture, family management and practical knowledge for "life". A contemporary version of the trainings that the promises of good families made in the early twentieth century to learn to be perfect handcuffs.

The urban women of my generation, on the other hand, work almost all full time, with or without children, with or without husbands, heterosexuals or lesbians. Few reach management positions, but are more independent of what their mothers never dreamed. Household chores are distributed more than before, provided that the spouse is present. Because men still live dedicated to work. They, on the other hand, comply with their schedule and go home.

The ideal wife it has evolved in the last 20 or 30 years, almost more because of their resistance than because of their conviction. Many still like to get from work to a table set, that food is homemade and varied, that they serve beer, that they put the bathroom. Some understand that role separation is outdated, not others. But the feminist messages who come from the West crush and convince like a pop song: young people sing them, repeat them, absorb them in advertisements and in television series. They become fashionable, and the newly married men assimilate that the modern thing is to know how to put washing machines, cook, vacuum and take care of the children. They are a minority, but they begin to stand out. And in any case, if not, the woman can always resort to her best weapon: divorce.

Japan is an empire of contrasts, which these days faces the abdication of the Emperor Akihito and the rise to the throne of Narhuito (above, with the princesses Masako and Aiko, his daughter). d.

The divorce trap

The divorce It has become a standard practice. It is not too frequent, but neither is it a rarity, nor is it something socially reprehensible. The problems come later. Once the marriage is dissolved and the mission of bringing children into the world is fulfilled, the laws become treacherous. The custody of the children, the pensions, those aspects that the legislation regulates in the West so that a divorce is as fair as possible, turn loose ground in Japan. It is then very easy to lose everything, including the right to see the offspring, because only one of the parents obtains parental authority, there is no concept of custody Y the right of visit is not granted unless it is consented to by the parent who stays with the children. This is as much for them as for them, according to the exclusive decision of the judge.

Until recently, and still today in rural areas, family affairs were almost always resolved by slamming doors, without resorting to the law. The abused women or bored of their conjugal life they packed their suitcases and left, taking the children, if they had them; leaving the bitterness under the pillow. They returned to their parents' house (the woman's return to the maternal home is so common that it has a specific name: satogaeri) and cut off all contact with the husband.

Out of the law, women have traditionally been granted moral right to decide what is best for the home. If the spouse is transferred to other geographies contrary to the family interest, the wife may decide to stay where she is, with her offspring, possibly close to her parents. Many families live like this today. Even if they are officially married, the husband lives alone in some remote place, devoted to his work, and the woman on her own, with the children, mother alone. The years go by, the distance grows, the relationship erodes, and when they realize they have not talked or seen each other for a long time, and the father, still a husband, has become a complete stranger.

Today the Japanese woman works more than ever70% of those of working age are part of the labor market, according to a recent report by the Nikkei newspaper. Although it is not easy to measure Japanese culture with the western squeegee. Concepts such as macho, machismo, feminism, even democracy are born and developed in the West as a result of a certain trajectory. But one of the most obvious manifestations of Japanese machismo, understood as a social structure designed for the benefit of man and to the detriment of women, is the way in which the Japanese are vetoed in some trades.

It is the case of some so traditional professions that are considered sacred, protected and sustained by the animistic pantheon of Shintoism. Sumo, for example. It is not that women are forbidden to practice it, that they do it. It is that they can not step on the battle track that has just been blessed by a priest. Because the woman is a menstruating being. Or sushi, another example. Only male chefs can touch the rice and mold it with your bare hands. The temperature and texture of the rice should always be the same: warm, neither too hard nor too soft. But the menstruation, according to legend, makes the body temperature vary with the cycle. And that, say the gods, affects the quality of sushi. Although science says otherwise and some chefs are responsible for demonstrating it.

But there is something that is more worrying, and it is the lack, as in many other societies, of good female referents. In Japan, the consciousness of women that develops in adolescence is dangerously interwoven with the models offered by the popular culture, especially the Japanese manga or comic. The shojo manga (manga for girls) is consumed by practically all adolescents and pre-teens. (Manga is consumed by 80% of men and women between 15 and 44 years old in Japan, according to a recent survey by NTT Research). They are comic booklets, caustic romances, which combine drama, humor and, often, science fiction or fantasy.

The plot is usually like this: girl falls in love with tall and handsome boy with some problem that makes him suffer in silence. To try to conquer it, the girl annuls herself almost completely and dedicates herself to live for him. He makes the food and offers it to him at recess. She blames herself for everything that goes wrong. He sacrifices himself, he resigns himself, he gives himself. He feels something for her, but he does not tell her. He never expresses his feelings. The story ends with a melodramatic twist, an absurd tear in the form of misunderstanding or sudden death. The readers cry.

I recently bought a fashion manga shojo - Orange, by Ichigo Takano - to see how they had evolved. The scheme remains the same: the protagonist, schoolgirl, goes out of her way to conquer the boy on duty. The female stereotypes They maintain the same vigor as 20 years ago: the protagonist is fragile and sensitiveHe knows how to put his needs before his own, maintains his perfect appearance and, finally, prostrates himself at the feet of his lover. In one scene, the protagonist and her friends write on a piece of paper what they would like to be when they grow up. Our heroine writes: "At 26, I want to be married and have children, and be a daycare teacher." Her friend writes: "I want to marry someone rich and not have to do anything". The paper of a third friend says: "I want to be a model and be famous in the whole world". To which a friend replies: "You are too ambitious." And it is not irony.

The end of submission?

The case of Orange is not a minority exception. He has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Japan and has been adapted to television and film. He has also been nominated for the Eisner Award, the most prestigious international award for a comic, and is translated into Spanish.

What the dream of a teenager of 2019 be get married and have children It may not be reprehensible in itself. But that this is the maximum reference for many of them is very revealing. And the fact that it appears in the mouth of the protagonist of one of the best-selling manga scares a bit.

Is the Japanese woman submissive? Not as much as the stereotype wants. Viewed from the West, the Japanese are docile, both they and them. They avoid conflict, avoid causing discomfort and try to please. There is always someone above whom to submit: the seller in front of the client, the student in front of the teacher, the employee in front of the boss, the child in front of the adult, the adult in front of the old man and, traditionally, the wife in front of the husband. It is Confucian morality.

In the specific case of women, submission to a male figure it is considered a desirable virtue. The ideal of a woman is that of one who anticipates the needs of man, be it her husband, her father, her grandfather or her boss. The one that goes out of his way to please him. The one that devotes monstrous amounts of time in preening and being perfect. This means that if a woman is very interested in liking a man, she may try to approach that ideal. Or not. It will depend on the character of each one. But even among the most submissive, with time and coexistence, such an attitude seems to have an expiration date.

Video: In Japan, career women challenge cultural norms (April 2020).