Leader’s wife says women held back by cul­ture of cute

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Is­abel Reynolds and Emi Nobuhiro

Ja­pan’s women are be­ing held back by pres­sure from men to be cute, rather than ca­pa­ble, the wife of Ja­pan’s prime min­is­ter said in an in­ter­view.

“Men’s think­ing has not changed,” 54year-old Akie Abe said last week when asked how so­ci­ety’s at­ti­tude to women has evolved since she joined the work­force in her 20s. “Ja­panese men tend to pre­fer cute women over ca­pa­ble and hard­work­ing women. So women try to ap­pear to be the type that men like. Even very tal­ented women put on cutesy ways.”

While many more women now con­tinue work­ing af­ter mar­riage and chil­dren, “big com­pa­nies are a man’s world,” she said. “Some things have changed and oth­ers haven’t.”

Akie said she sup­ports hus­band Shinzo Abe’s ef­forts to have women play a more ac­tive role in so­ci­ety. The pre­mier has cham­pi­oned a goal of hav­ing at least 30 per­cent of man­age­ment roles in all fields filled by women, to make up for the la­bor short­age caused by Ja­pan’s ag­ing and shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion.

The coun­try is mak­ing slow progress to­ward those tar­gets — a govern­ment sur­vey pub­lished last year found 8.3 per­cent of those in sec­tion chief or higher po­si­tions in busi­ness were fe­male, com­pared with 7.5 per­cent the year be­fore.

“My feel­ing is that women don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to work in the same way as men, such as think­ing it’s good to be pro­moted. There is now an ef­fort to change the way peo­ple work, work­ing ef­fi­ciently within a given time rather than late at night, so that women’s view­points can be re­flected in a way they haven’t been in the past,” she said.

Yoko Ishikura, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Hi­tot­sub­ashi Uni­ver­sity who serves on the board of cor­po­ra­tions in­clud­ing Shi­seido Co., agreed that many in­dus­tries re­main dom­i­nated by men and said flex­i­ble work­ing styles are the key to change.

“Work­ing styles have been chang­ing tremen­dously” in other coun­tries, Ishikura said. “Ja­pan is a lit­tle bit be­hind, be­cause tech­nol­ogy has not been rec­og­nized as driv­ing fun­da­men­tal change. If we can change the work style to fit with fu­ture needs, that’s more im­por­tant than just talk­ing about the ra­tio of women on the board.”

Akie Abe her­self worked for ad­ver­tis­ing agency Dentsu Inc. be­fore mar­ry­ing Shinzo Abe, who was at the time a po­lit­i­cal aide. Since then, she has stud­ied at grad­u­ate school and launched projects in­clud­ing sem­i­nars aimed at help­ing women bol­ster their pres­ence in so­ci­ety. She has built up a rep­u­ta­tion for sup­port­ing diver­sity in a broader sense, rais­ing eye­brows when she ap­peared at a Rain­bow Pride pa­rade in 2014.

Pol­i­tics is among the ar­eas where women’s opin­ions are needed, Abe added. Her hus­band’s 20-strong Cabi­net has three women, while Ja­pan ranks 156th out of 193 coun­tries in the world in terms of women’s po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter-Par­lia­men­tary Union.

Kas­sidy Suarez, 22, poses for a photo in her bed­room in Mi­ami. Af­ter com­ing out at age 15 as a gay young man, then, at 17, as a trans­gen­der woman, Suarez dropped out of high school, met re­jec­tion by her fam­ily and ended up home­less. She spent sev­eral years on the streets. Lynne Sladky, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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