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Female novelist says pregnant women should quit work

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

The plight of Japan’s working women is a subject that often pops up in the media. Female politicians and company executives voice the opinion that it would be good to harness the power of women in Japan, and that the garasu no tenjō (ガラスの天井, glass ceiling) needs to be smashed. But meanwhile, the majority of both men and women still seem to support the idea that a mother’s place is in the home.

But when the silent majority gets vocal, its screams can often be heard on the Internet. A remarkable example is a Shukan Gendai weekly magazine article (Aug. 31) by female novelist Ayako Sono, titled, “Watashi no iwakan: Nandemo kaisha no seinisuru amattareta joshi shain tachi e” (「私の違和感」何でも会社のせいにする甘ったれた女子社員たちへ, “My feeling of discomfort: dedicated to spoiled female workers who blame everything on their company”).

In the article, Sono, 82, a member of the Education Rebuilding Implementation Council under the prime minister’s office, said women should quit work when they give birth. Mothers often have to leave the office early to attend their baby, for example when it has a fever, but not every company is happy to let them go home, she said in the article.

“Therefore, women should leave their company when they have babies and kosodate suru (子育てする, raise their children) for some years. This will work if society makes it possible for them to saishūshoku suru (再就職する, get a job again) after their children get older,” Sono was quoted as saying.

Sono also said sankyu (産休, maternity leave) is meiwaku senban (迷惑千万, causes a lot of trouble) for companies because they cannot easily hire a new person for a position that will be vacated by someone who will later come back from maternity leave. In the end, people in the same department have to cover for the person taking leave.

Konna kotodewa josei wo sekinin aru posuto ni oku wakeni ikanainomo touzen deshō” (「こんなことでは、女性を責任あるポストに置くわけにいかないのも当然でしょう」”In such situations, it is understandable that companies cannot put women in positions of responsibility”), Sono said in the article.

She also said the problem with an increasing number of taiki jidō (待機児童, children waiting to be accepted in nursery schools) is ijōda (異常だ, abnormal) because children should be raised at home.

“It is better to have more nursery schools. But parents should spend as much time with their children as possible,” she said.

Sono’s article drew lots of comments.

Birei Kin, a female critic who has authored books on Japanese lifestyle and philosophy, supported Sono. Kin was quoted by Josei Seven weekly magazine as saying, “I don’t believe everything (Sono) says is correct. But I believe it is significant that such kageki na (過激な, radical) mondai teiki (問題提起, problems are posed).”

There must be many amattarete inai josei (甘ったれていない女性, women who are not spoiled), but meanwhile, “Kenri bakkari shuchō suru josei ga fueteiru nowa jijitsu” (「権利ばっかり主張する女性が増えているのは事実」”It is true that an increasing number of women only claim their rights (and hardly fulfill their duties),” she said.

In a counter-argument, among many others, Human Rights Now Secretary General Kazuko Ito wrote in the contributor-essay section of Yahoo News an article titled, ” ‘Quit if you give birth’: Why has it not become a problem that Shukan Gendai published Ayako Sono’s essay recommending rōkihō ihan (労基法違反, abbreviation of rōdō kijun hō ihan, or violation of the Labor Standards Act)?”

In a harsh criticism, Ito said she was surprised by Sono’s article. The sankyū seido (産休制度, maternity leave system) is at the core of worker protection and is clearly stipulated in the Labor Standards Act’s Article 65. It is a basic element of worker protection and the minimum required standard, Ito said. Violating Article 65 can result in imprisonment and a fine.

The right to maternity leave is a basic right, as is a women’s right to work. There is no room to question it internationally, she said.

“I never thought anyone would attack kihonteki jinken (基本的人権, basic human rights) and minimum-requirement workers’ right like this,” she said.

Ito recognizes various conflicts between working mothers and companies. But the solution to it “should never begin with denying a worker’s right. It should only begin with discussing constructive measures under the assumption that the right will be protected,” she said.

The weekly magazine Aera quoted female office workers who questioned Sono’s remark that women should reenter the workforce after the children get older.

One of them doubted that companies can easily find someone to fill the position of a worker who has worked for the same company for 10 years.

“Even ikukyū sannen (育休3年, three-year child-care leave), which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed, is unrealistic. (Sono) does not know how hard it is to find a job a few years after losing a job,” the woman was quoted as saying.

One of the highlights of Abe’s so-called Abenomics policy is to make more use of the female workforce. But does Abe realize that not all women have the same needs? Some quit work to spend time with their children, and others have no choice but to work because their husband’s income is insufficient. Some want to work hard to climb the corporate ladder, while others want to work without aiming high.

Abe and his minions, both male and female, may think they have come up with the necessary measures to make as many women happy as possible. But this could prove difficult; as the Japanese saying goes, onna no teki wa onna (女の敵は女, women’s enemies are women).

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    Well, if you are going take that attitude, the Japanese birthrate is going to plummet even more! Women will either quit (because it is impossible to get one’s old job back) or not have children altogether. What decade is this old bat living in?

    • Roan Suda

      My, how ageist of you! Have you read anything that the “old bat”–a lovely lady by the way–has written? I have–and I share both her faith and her conservative outlook. She lives in a “decade” of common sense. It is madness to pretend that biology and millennia of human history can simply be ignored in the name of a pseudo-egalitarian ideology that emasculates men and enslaves women.

      • Mark Makino

        Regardless of the age of the bat that is its source, the idea that women had been unemployed full-time watchers of only their own biological children until the modern era is wrong. Women working alongside men outside the home for 10 hours every day probably represents a anthropologically novel phenomenon, but so does the “conservative” alternative.

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      The decade where women are supposedly independent and don’t need the subsidies of others to have it all.

      Or, does that belief only apply when convenient?

      • Glen Douglas Brügge

        If we men got pregnant, I am sure we would have to be rely on “subsidies” too!

      • Glen Douglas Brügge

        You must also remember, only women can get pregnant. If we men were capable of reproducing, we would also require the same. Society puts women in a bind – they have to bear the children, and in order to do so, they have to sacrifice one or the other – a choice we men do not have to make.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        How is that a claim on anyone else?

        Daily life is not a lifeboat scenario where the human race is going extinct because there are only one man and woman left alive.

        If we can claim that it is each man’s (and childless woman’s) have an obligation to “society” to subsidize a woman’s choice to have a child, we can also say that it is a woman’s obligation to have children. And when they do not have children, the social wrong they are committing is concomitant to men not subsidizing women’s choices to have children.

        Rights to be rights, have to be equal. Where is the consistency? Why do women get a choice, but men do not? If men have no choice, neither should women. Throw away the veiled nonsense about “society” and say it as it really is: one set of people being slaves to whatever degree, and another set being the masters. Or, the alternative is people being made into slaves for each other, to whatever degree.

        The reality is that people are born different. And it is not the capacity to become pregnant that is the only fundamental difference between individuals:

        Different heights, tendencies to different weights, different levels of talent, IQ, health and genetic disorders, circumstances, places of birth. There are all kinds of unchosen attributes.

        Society does not put women in a bind to provide for children anymore than it puts short, ugly men in a bind to find a romantic partner. Where’s his subsidy for plastic surgery? None of these things are unfair “binds”. Fairness is not a concept that can apply in any human way to unchosen attributes: all of these differences in people at birth are neither fair nor unfair, they simply ARE, including the capacity to be pregnant.

        Everyone is dealt the hand they are dealt. An individuals circumstances are their own. If they wish to achieve their values (including children) they need to prepare to meet those values by their own work and effort.

        Just she needs sperm to make the child, she will need the resources to support and protect the value of the child she wishes to have and grow and cultivate.
        She can save, as people do for houses, cars, vacations, and everything else in life. Or she can try to secure another value, a partner to help her. But in all cases these should voluntary actions by all involved.

        Social arrangements should not be between slaves and masters, nor between slaves and slaves. These arrangements are dark age ideas.

        The proper choice is to respect the autonomy of individuals and leave them free from obligation to each other. And free to seek to pursue and achieve their values, whatever those are.

      • Glen Douglas Brügge

        Isn’t this absolutely counter to Soda’s argument though? The freedom to do as you so please? I think you are missing the point I was making; I am envisioning a Soda-esque universe. Soda believes women belong at home. She envisions the old patriarchal Japan of her youth – the “good old days.” I believe a lot of this is stems from Japan’s dying population and a desire to see women back in their chief role as baby and home makers for the glory of ol’ Nippon. This is her vision of a correct “society,” where each person has a set role. I honestly think she could care less about the “meiwaku.” That being said, one has to be realistic. If it does come to the point of “lose your job or not have children,” in this day and age of economic stagnation, most will not choose the latter if it means zero support. We cannot realistically do anything else to work around the issue of the working mother and the need for population growth (unless fathers become stay at home dads).

  • Bruce Chatwin

    Sono is a member of the Education Rebuilding Implementation Council?
    Education in Japan isn’t going to improve any time soon then.

  • Guest

    Well, as I cannot post a reply to Roan, here it goes: So you are saying a woman should give up her dreams of a career to slave away in the kitchen and raise the kids – even if she truly desires something more for herself? That sounds like sexism and slavery to me. And to add insult to injury, you seem to think women have no right to rise above us men for fear that they might emasculate us? Oh, my male pride! Should I beat my wife too while I am at it to get the point across?

    People should be free to do what makes them feel complete, not what society dictates they should do based on nothing more than what is between their legs. Look at countries governed by strict forms of Islam – your thinking has the exact same roots, namely sexism and defined gender roles based on “tradition.” Some women place motherhood first, others don’t. So what? You are not them. Society cannot have its cake and eat it too.

    As things sit, once a woman leaves her job, her career is done. It is mighty tough to leave, raise the kids and then return if one has built a career. Soto does not see this and believe the 3 year plan is doable.

    But then again, if you see it in the Japanese way, in terms of “gimu,” “These women are selfish, and should give up their dreams for the society’s benefit by having more children.” Maybe I cannot leave my Western way of thinking behind, but in the end, we are all individuals and if you cannot pursue your dreams, your life is a wasted one.

    • Glen Douglas Brügge

      And I posted the above, no idea why I am listed as a Guest..

  • Guest

    In response to Roan: I still do not agree; she is essentially forcing her views of what a woman’s place in society should be onto all women. Her view is sexist and enslaving if anything. Oh, and us poor men, all these qualified women are emasculating us! She believes we should all remain in our pre-defined gender roles; the man works, the woman cooks and raises the children. This negates the individual’s ability to attain what they feel is best for them. Maybe my thinking is too Western, but I will never buy into the idea of sacrificing one’s own dreams to pop out some kids and do one’s duty to society as a woman as being the ultimate fulfillment of one’s life. People come in all different shapes. Some want children, some want both, some wan’t none. And as the system work now, women who do leave will never be able to return at a level comparable to their post position.

    • Kir

      This line “she is essentially forcing her views of what a woman’s place in society should be onto all women” is heard pretty often in these arguments. It’s also a very clear ‘ad hominem’ attack, a way to avoid engaging in the argument. You follow this up with a rather long extrapolation which wasn’t actually IN the article (although it might have been in the source material… I didn’t check).

      • Glen Douglas Brügge

        Again, I did not mean “forcing” as in making someone do something – she is purely stating that all women should do things one way (if you have kids, do not work, or rather, do not work, have kids), and that is that. And my extrapolation is purely a counter point to the idea that everyone should prescribe to a single, unalterable gender role.

      • Kir

        So… she’s making an argument? Trying to convince someone that she’s right? And you feel that shouldn’t be allowed.

      • Glen Douglas Brügge

        Not at all, but I am free to disagree. I could say “I believe all women should only where pink” – I have the right to say it, but everyone has the right to dissent and tell me “who are you to say what they should do?”

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      Who is forcing what on whom?

      The only “force” in this situation is the point of a gun the government can point at businesses to make them comply with whomever has the most political pull. In this case, who and how much they will be forced to sacrifice in order for a Miss Independent to “earn” her dream.

      And then when others don’t take her seriously or give her respect because she receives legal rights and benefits that others do not, that attitude will be blamed not on the law — but on men.

  • leaf

    Interesting that this article should be limited to women. A woman who works shorter hours for her child at my workplace never makes excuses and is more than eager to try and make up for whatever meiwaku she causes to her coworkers. Though still a bit unusual, there’s a man working shorter hours at my husband’s workplace and he, on the other hand, tries to get out of most things, forcing people to take what should be his share of responsibility.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    “But meanwhile, the majority of both men and women still seem to support the idea that a mother’s place is in the home.”

    Keywords: “and WOMEN”.

    Women are where they are because they choose to be there.

    Nothing is standing in their way except themselves and their own choices: of work, of husband (and his expectations of her, which she controls via her choice of husband), and of whether or not she wants and can put herself in the position to afford to have kids.

  • Mike Wyckoff

    With all do respect to the elderly, Ayako Sono is 82 and has wealth beyond her needs. So, of course, coupled with her Christian conservative views (for which she is outspoken) she’s against women leaving the home, and for that matter, birth control.

    More just a general comment here, but, Japan REALLY needs some younger (born after 1960), female politicians to share the voices of the current generation. But then again, most of them are probably stuck at home raising kids??

    • Glen Douglas Brügge

      Exactly, I love old people! I just dislike people any person dictating to others views that should be left well on the garbage heap of society. This goes of conservative Christians and their anti-gay rhetoric, or people like Sono who, for lack of a better word are claiming a woman’s place is int he kitchen.

  • Steven R. Simon

    Simon says Brother Abe is right to propose a 3 year maternity leave standard because Japan’s dismal birth rate is a national security issue – he is simply proposing for working mothers the same work preservation rights as exist in the US for military reservists in the workforce when they are called up for active duty.

  • montaigne1

    Hopefully her way of thinking dies with her generation.

  • Roan Suda

    I wonder about the actual experience of some of the commentators. I have a wife of 41 years, four grown children, and a grandchild. My wife has never been a “slave” – in the kitchen or anywhere else. She worked full-time in the early years of our marriage but then chose to become a full-time mother and housekeeper. She now works part-time, again by her own choice…”Progressive” talk about “equality” and “freedom” is contradicted by the implicit assumption that any woman who rejects the “careerist” mold is a loser or a sell-out.

  • Toolonggone

    This woman is a total detractor. What she says has absolutely nothing to do with the rights to work whatsoever. She’s a typical, narcissistic, rabble-rouser like Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, or Laura Ingraham. And this is the kind of person appointed to the Education Reform Council.