Japan has some problems that only workers can solve. It has other problems that only mothers and children can solve. Can both sets of problems be solved simultaneously? Or must one solution be at the expense of the other?
Any workplace, beneath the thin veneer of company unity, is a simmering stew of clashing ideas, clashing ambitions, clashing personalities. You’d think there’d be little new to say on the subject, but Shukan Gendai (March 19) unearths a new and sharpening conflict – that between working mothers and working non-mothers.
Twenty years ago – even 10 – motherhood was not, generally speaking, an office problem. More or less as a matter of course, working women quit when they got pregnant. They became fulltime housewives and mothers, and everyone was happy. Except that everyone wasn’t. Educated women wanted careers and felt entitled to them. The government, in recent years, has cheered them on under the slogan “womenomics” – part of its drive to revive the long-stalled national economy. Maternity leave was expanded, and childcare leave initiated, with a view toward allowing women to be both workers and mothers. Other countries had done the same. Japan, innately conservative, had more resistance to buck and progressed more slowly. Inevitably, eventually, the idea took hold: an advanced economy involves full participation by women. Otherwise it’s not an advanced economy.
You never solve one problem without causing others. Shukan Gendai shows working women at each other’s throats – mothers versus non-mothers. The fact is, a mother cannot take leave without her work falling on someone else. On who? On non-mothers, of course.
“I work on a six-women team,” says Emi. She’s 33, married, childless, a management-level employee of a manufacturing company. When a more senior colleague took maternity leave, Emi found her increased workload overwhelming. “I thought, I’ll have to put off having a child myself for a while.” Then a junior team member became pregnant. “She comes into the office and she’s like, ‘However did this happen!’” She, too, took leave. With one off, it had been bad. With two off, it was worse. “Soon,” says Emi, “I’ll be past childbearing age.” What can she do? “Is it my fault I have a strong sense of responsibility?”
Misato, 35 and single, is a program director at a radio station in a small city. When a coworker took maternity leave, she found herself having to cover all the local weekend events – not her favorite part of the job at the best of times. She complained to her boss: “Why don’t you do some of them?” There’s always a reason: “My child has a fever! My child has the flu!”
Can Misato be blamed for feeling resentful? “I have a cat,” she says. “My cat is more important to me than her child, or their children. And yet when my cat gets sick, can I take leave?”
Womenomics or not – the answer is no.© Japan Today