Why, wonders Shukan Post (Feb 5), is Japan failing so lamentably to produce women leaders?
A once revolutionary development is by now so globally commonplace that Japan’s relentlessly male political physiognomy draws stares worldwide. Names come so readily to mind it seems scarcely necessary to cite them to make the point: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, South Korean President Park Guen-hye, Taiwanese President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Myanmar’s democracy heroine Aung San Suu Kyi – the list goes on, but stops at Japan.
That’s not perhaps strictly true – Japan has had, and does have, female ministers, but their quality and standing, Shukan Post says, are not such as to blunt its argument that Japan remains woefully behind in this regard. Yuko Obuchi’s term as Economy, Trade and Industry minister, which ended in October 2014 after barely a month due to a funding scandal, did the cause of female empowerment no good. (Men too of course are felled by funding scandals, most recently former Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Akira Amari – but a man, it seems, can disgrace himself without reflecting poorly on his gender.)
The Communications ministry and the Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council are both currently headed by women – Sanae Takaichi and Tomomi Inada respectively – but both of them, and Japanese female politicians generally, says political commentator Ryoko Ozawa, owe their rise to their “fawning on male politicians.” Former Consumer Affairs Minister Seiko Noda gets credit for not fawning and for “having ideas of her own” – but her quixotic run for the LDP presidency last fall seemed to highlight rather than refute women’s outsider status in politics.
Why is Japan seemingly so immune to the currents of female empowerment sweeping the rest of the world? Is the male establishment so implacably chauvinist? Are women too insecure to challenge them? Maybe it’s a combination of the two? Or something else altogether?
Part of the problem, Shukan Post hears from political analyst Hiroshi Asakawa, is Japan’s cabinet system, which has evolved in such a way that “to claw your way to the top, you must use the power of numbers. You must form your own faction and attract 30 to 50 followers. To do this, you must be an adept fund-raiser.” Toward this particular aspect of politics, Asakawa says, “women politicians don’t seem much inclined.”
To the extent that that means they shun its moral ambiguities, it may be a good thing. If moral squeamishness means political impotence, however, the issue takes on more complex overtones. Should women get their hands dirtier?
Absent systemic change, it seems, they will either learn to or doom their country to exclusively male leadership – for the immediately foreseeable future, at least. And beyond that? “There may,” suggests commentator Ozawa, “be women now in their 30s and 40s who in time will be ready for the responsibilities of real power. It’s true that among the women I know, there’s almost no talk of politics. On the other hand, it’s women, after all, who bear and raise children. How can they not be involved in politics?”
Shukan Post looks forward to a time when male politicians will be fawning on a female prime minister. A time when no one fawns on anyone would be even better.© Japan Today