Flyers from a Japanese city telling new mothers to cater to their husbands and take full responsibility for childcare and chores unleashed a firestorm of outrage and accusations of blatant sexism.
The controversial flyers, produced by Onomichi city based on a public survey, peddled archaic gender stereotypes advising women to give up their autonomy to please their husbands. They claimed men think logically while women act on emotion, and that childcare and housework fall exclusively on mothers.
When details emerged, social media sites exploded with anger. Critics blasted the "stunningly misogynistic" guidelines and argued fathers must share equal parenting responsibilities, not dump the entire burden on exhausted new mothers still recovering from childbirth.
The flyers urged women to "give their husbands massages, make lunches, and "always have a smile." New mothers were told not to "get frustrated for no reason" and to not "irritate" their husbands by failing to do enough chores.
The outrage was deafening. "Fathers are just as capable of caring for children and doing chores," wrote one Twitter user, attacking the outdated notion that only mothers should be responsible for child-rearing. Other critics pointed out that childbirth itself takes a heavy physical and emotional toll yet the flyers attacked women alone.
Onomichi's mayor was forced to apologize, acknowledging the flyers promoted "discriminatory gender attitudes." But critics noted the fiasco exposes how deeply entrenched the unequal division of labor remains in Japanese society where overworked mothers sacrifice their careers while fathers remain uninvolved.
The scandal is just another piece to shine a spotlight on Japan's social problems rooted in patriarchal gender norms. The nation ranked 125th out of 146 in gender equality and women make up just 10% of parliament. Despite government efforts, Japan's birthrate remains dangerously low as unaccommodating work cultures and absent fathers discourage women from having children.
Female labor force participation has risen in recent years but working mothers face lower wages, obstacles on the career ladder, and discrimination from employers who see them as less committed. Paternal involvement, meanwhile, remains negligible with few fathers taking up government-subsidized parental leave due to workplace stigma.
Issues of gender discrimination, pay gaps, harassment and inequality persist not just in Japan but worldwide. In the UK, women earned 17.9% less than men on average in 2019. In the US, women make just 84 cents for every dollar a man earns. In India, 87% of women have faced some form of sexual harassment at work.
The Onomichi controversy serves as great example of 21st century mistreatment of women, shining a light on the work still needed to achieve true gender equality in Japan and beyond. True gender equality remains elusive in Japan - and everywhere. While attitudes are slowly changing, systemic reforms are desperately needed to upend patriarchal structures that disadvantage women. Until then, scandals like this will continue erupting every time deep-seated sexism hits too close to home.
Advocates argue it will take concerted efforts on multiple levels - from progressive corporate policies to changes in social attitudes to empowering grassroots initiatives - to finally dismantle patriarchal structures and norms that disadvantage women. But with more women's voices joining the conversation and a growing recognition of the problems, there is hope that real progress toward a more just and equitable society for all genders may at last be within reach.
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