Boys vs Girls
There’s an emerging gender divide everywhere but Japan. Why?
Last week, the Financial Times published an article about a new global gender divide emerging in advanced nations around the globe. Using data from surveys in South Korea, the US, Germany, and the UK, it argued that the political ideology of young (18-29) men and women was sharply diverging. Young women are increasingly identifying as liberal, while young men are increasingly identifying as conservative. The chart makes the gap clear:
The piece traces the genesis of this phenomenon to gains made by women after the #MeToo movement, and maps it more broadly to feelings about gender equality. It theorizes that this explains the particularly huge divergence in South Korea, “where gender inequality remains stark, and outright misogyny is common.”
This might get you thinking: what about Japan, which wasn’t included in the article at all? Japan’s regressive attitudes towards women are legendary. It ranks a lowly 125 out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s gender equality index, a full twenty rungs below South Korea’s already sad 105.
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Examples of institutional sexism abound in Japan. Despite the late Prime Minister Abe’s famed push for “Womenomics,” misogyny abounds in political sphere. Ninety percent of parliamentarians are men. There’s that time the LDP invited women to “look, not talk” at its meetings. Or the time the G7 held a summit on women’s empowerment – in Japan, no less – and the government sent a guy. Things are little better in the business world, where only around one in ten executive positions is held by a woman. Women who speak out about sexism in society are often subjected to terrible harassment online. The list goes on, and on, and on.
But a recent survey (PDF) by Dentsu Soken, the research arm of the PR conglomerate Dentsu, seems to indicate that whatever the actual gender gap in Japanese society may be, men and women seem to hold similar attitudes towards gender equality as a whole. Now, it’s important to note that this survey doesn’t precisely map to the questions asked by the one quoted in the Financial Times’ article. It focuses specifically on gender equality. But given what a huge role that gender issues play in the liberal-conservative cultural divide, it feels a relevant analog.
The survey asked a simple question, or rather series of them. 3,000 respondents of both genders were queried, “Do you think that men and women enjoy equality in the following fields?” The fields being: society as a whole; the workplace; schools; home; politics; legally; culturally; and media. The choices included “Male dominated,” “Somewhat male dominated,” “Equal,” “Somewhat female dominated,” and “Female dominated.”
Overall, 79% of women felt that Japanese society as a whole was slanted towards men. And almost 69% of men agreed. That’s pretty close, but it’s the number among all age groups. When you look at the 18 to 29 year old range, the numbers shift.
Roughly 68% of young women feel that society is biased towards men, while only 37% of men feel that way. That is a big difference. It might indicate the stirrings of an ideological schism of the sort playing out abroad. Or it might not: in other spheres – education in particular – both sides seem to agree that there’s equality (73.6 percent of young men and 75.7 percent of young women.) And a significant majority of young men, some 60%, agreed that women were not being given a fair shake in politics. (That said, almost 90% of young women felt this way.)
The cynic in me wants to say that the reason older Japanese aren’t experiencing much of a gender ideology gap is because older men remain comfortably ensconced in positions of power; the average age of a parliamentarian is 55. But it does seem progress is being made, at least in some fields: in 2018, there was a really infuriating scandal in which medical schools were rigging entrance exams to exclude qualified female candidates, but as of 2022 women seem to be outperforming men there.
The question isn’t whether Japan is a male-dominated society. A majority of both genders surveyed agree that it is. The question is whether enough Japanese men and women agree on that point to effect meaningful change.
In society as a whole, that does seem to be the case. With the younger generation, it seems less clear. But neither do the figures seem to represent evidence of a broader culture war. What’s going on here? Is it because young Japanese men, more likely to be in school than older men, are in a bubble where women really do enjoy more equality than in society at large? Or is it evidence of something else altogether? I don’t know, but it’s a trend worth watching.
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