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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

THE ZEIT GIST

Japan's gender debate

Community Page readers respond to Satoko Kogure's article on gender roles in Japan

Grave risks

Thank you very much for your article "Turning back clock on gender equality."

You point out that the revision of the Japanese Constitution poses some risks. Indeed!

The panel's argument: that the Constitution was drafted by occupation forces after the war . . . and therefore cannot maintain Japanese traditional values and morals, doesn't convince at all.

After the war, women were forced by the LDP-governments to work and to earn a living for their families and to increase GNP and tax-incomes. It is really shameful to blame the "postwar egoism . . . of Japanese women who have chosen careers and independence over early family life and child-rearing."

Who advocated during the postwar years the use of birth control?

Only egoistic women? Not one politician?

And what are traditional values for women? What are the traditions? Maybe Shinto values? Women are a source of sin on account of their monthly menstruation? Or the tradition of the "Onna Daigaku," written by the 17th-century's Confucian scholar Kaibara Ekken?

According to him, women have to stay at home, serve the husband, take care of the children; they have to be obedient, subdued, willing sex-objects, without learning and knowledge, because only such women can have a self-sacrificing attitude.

It will be difficult to decide what are traditional Japanese values.

Such a backward-view is of no help to either the LDP Constitution revision panel or democracy or the people.

Joseph -- Kagoshima

Good progress

In response to Satoko Kogure's article on women's rights in Japan, I work in a Japanese office where the women appear to know the most and do the most, yet their only clearly designated role appears to be to wear snot-colored uniforms and serve coffee to chain-smoking salarymen.

I suggest that if any changes are to be made to the Constitution, they at the very least include a provision banning the aforementioned uniforms.

This would be a most progressive step, I believe.

James -- Shizuoka

Genuine concern

There doesn't seem to be anything worrying about altering Japan's Constitution and Article 24 to reflect the importance of family in Japan.

When Kyoko Nishikawa speaks about a parent's responsibility to their child, she is speaking both from experience -- as parent and career woman -- and surely also in the context of the infinitely more worrying rise in vicious teen crime, reported cases of child abuse and an increasing breakdown in the level of law and order that Japan is famed for.

I don't see anything in the government panel's recommendation that says women must give up their jobs and stay at home, or that Japan's women will face problems in the workplace because of the proposed changes.

Rather, they're designed to encourage people to think more about responsibility to themselves and others in what is an increasingly selfish society.

Joan -- Tokyo

Politics the problem

Thank you for Satoko Kogure's article on gender equality.

I believe that a country should, with the support of its citizens, be able to change its own Constitution in any way that it sees fit.

The problem in Japan, however, is that politicians seem to think that the Constitution is their own personal plaything to be altered as they please.

However, the lack of an adequate political system in Japan that can keep politicians accountable means that the well-stuffed representatives who dream up such changes to the law are never swayed by a fear of losing their jobs and thus continue to act against the wishes of their constituents.

This is the real scandal.

M. -- Sendai

An ex-pat benefit

It is not only Japanese women who have greatly benefited from Article 24 in the Constitution, as drawn up after World War II.

I, too, an American woman who became a female priest in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition in 1979 in Shikoku, am a beneficiary.

I was ordained, trained, and advanced along with my Japanese sisters through 12 years of monastic practice.

Changes for gender equality affected not only the Constitution but also religious traditions, where gender equality in our own Soto Zen had been at its nadir in 1941.

With this expansive post-war change, no different from Japanese female priests, I was given the chance to grow, to blossom, even to officiate at a ceremony for Zen Master Dogen at Eiheiji.

Returning to the U.S. in 1991, I found my fellow American Soto Zen priests and nuns taking on gender issues that my peers in Japan and I had already, quite amicably, worked on in our practice together.

Pioneering a Soto Zen temple in America for 14 years, I have now been requested by our Tokyo headquarters to become abbess of it.

I have Beate Sirota Gordon, Article 24, Soto Zen, and Japan to thank for this opportunity to offer to my far-off home area some of the best of the East.

May the women of Japan -- all women who live in Japan -- continue to be able to nourish their society through Article 24.

Dai-En Patricia Bennage -- U.S.

Wheely responsible

My father was a heavy duty mechanic with the city's largest school bus line. He said women are better drivers than men. Women are more careful and conscientious in their driving.

Many women bring their children with them while they are driving other children to school in buses.

During World War II, Queen Elizabeth II of England was trained to drive an army truck.

Women were also trained in the army in communications and signals.

Men under the age of 30 have an addiction to speed. Their hormones affect their perspective in driving.

This is why Japan's high-speed trains should employ women. Even during the war years, when we did not have gender equality, the government realized women were better at driving and communications.

Stan -- U.S.

More education needed

Regarding "Turning the clock back on gender equality," if anything, the government should be taking a more aggressive approach to the issue of gender discrimination and sexism, not trying to water down what few constitutional protections women have.

The U.N. Committee report that "stressed the importance of sensitizing and training public officials and members of the judiciary to eliminate gender-based stereotypes," was absolutely correct.

Can Japan's politicians say they are educating the public to try and eliminate gender bias when someone like Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara can publicly state that the world has no need for "old hags" past child-bearing age and remain the country's most popular politician -- including among women -- and former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori can say that single women are a burden on the state yet remain a powerful political force?

J. -- Tokyo

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