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