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Sunday, July 13, 2003
Misogynistic politicians get away with the gaffes
The recent series of verbal gaffes committed by Japanese politicians has whet the media's appetite for high-calorie, low-nutrition "gotcha" quotes.
Takami Eto, one of the oldest members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a known reliquary of boneheaded bon mots, was ambushed in the corridors of power two weeks ago. He was asked his opinion about a comment attributed to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda about an earlier comment by fellow LDP member Seiichi Ota defending some men who gang-raped a woman. Fukuda indicated that he thought female rape victims sometimes asked for it.
Eto took the bait. "I arrived at Tokyo Station the other day, and I saw women who were practically naked," he said before turning to an off-camera reporter, presumably a woman, and adding, "You shouldn't dress like that, even if you have confidence in yourself."
The exchange was shown on TBS's weekend news show, "Saturday Zubatto." The host, Monta Mino, said in reference to the various gaffes these men made that it was useless to comment on "such statements."
Why not? In the past week, a lot of media folk have discussed these embarrassments, which they say reveal a lack of "morality" and a general absence of common sense in the people who utter them, but no one has attempted to analyze the attitudes behind the remarks.
As usual, the media framed the discussion around itself. Last Monday, on TV Asahi's political talk show, "TV Tackle," the guests, while not condoning the remarks, said that one had to look at them in a media context to understand them. According to one guest, politicians, especially when they're talking to reporters off-record as Fukuda was doing when he made his gaffe, are trying to cultivate a relaxed atmosphere in order to get on the reporters' good side. They often make jokes, as evidenced by Fukuda's curious metaphor that women should be more careful because men "are like black panthers." According to the guest, Fukuda probably meant to say "wolves."
Even Shukan Bunshun, the weekly magazine that reported the Fukuda conversation in full (but didn't break it; that honor belongs to the tabloid, Nikkan Gendai), tried to explain it in a larger, mostly irrelevant context. Bunshun characterized it as a challenge to the national newspapers, which at first couldn't decide if they should report what Fukuda said. In the end they didn't, having decided that the press-club system that affords them access to the cabinet secretary was more important. Bunshun, which is not part of the press club, blasted Fukuda for "defending a criminal action," but declined to discuss what the statement says about Fukuda himself.
Similarly, Ota's comment was explained by one "TV Tackle" commentator as stemming from the lawmaker's belief that today's generation of males are uninterested in sex and from his anxiety that studies have shown sperm counts are dropping. Thus, it was noted, he found it reassuring that five young men had the "vitality" to rape a woman.
During the same discussion Ota uttered this notorious remark, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori also made a gaffe, though Mori is so famous for putting his foot in his mouth that he didn't bother to apologize, as Ota tried to do (and failed, since no one understood his apology). Mori said that women who don't bear children don't deserve any help from the government, and some pundits, like the young lawyer who appears on TBS's "Sunday Japon," agreed with the sentiment ("Women who don't plan to have children should pay the government 500,000 yen a year"). Pointing out that the panel discussion was for a group of mothers of kindergarten students, lawmaker Yoichi Masuzoe -- on "TV Tackle" -- said that Mori was obviously trying to gain political currency with his remark.
Mori isn't the first politician to complain about childless women, whom he blames for the current "low birthrate crisis." Women who don't have children are invariably branded "selfish" and said to be more interested in "enjoying life" than in carrying out their biological mandate. Leaving aside the curious omission of men from this equation of blame, not to mention the bizarre implication that mothers are nobly sacrificing their comfort for the benefit of us all rather than having children because they genuinely want to have children, it isn't difficult to discern from Mori's, Fukuda's, Ota's and Eto's comments, a deep-seated resentment toward women as a gender.
Eto's remark can be brushed aside as the babbling of an old man with old-fashioned ideas, but he and Fukuda see women as essentially devils whose purpose is to drive men crazy. Ota doesn't see them at all, except as receptacles of male "vitality." And Mori feels that once you give women their "freedom," they'll just abuse it. One doesn't have to be Freud to understand that these men have some serious personal issues when it comes to the opposite sex.
If the media discussed these character issues instead of passing off their faux pas as dumb choices of words that are nevertheless entertaining, maybe everyone would see how the LDP, which has run the country for the past half-century, created a society where women remain second-class citizens and childrearing has become a daunting economic and mental burden. It's undoubtedly true that human progress has allowed women greater freedom and opportunity, including the right to expose their midriffs in public without being insulted or attacked and the option to forego having children if they so choose. If a politician doesn't understand that, then he should have retired yesterday.