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Japan’s weeklies debate modern man’s burden

by Michael Hoffman

Special To The Japan Times

Pity the declining male in an age of expanding female empowerment!

True, he has only himself to blame. For centuries, millennia, man lorded over woman, subjecting her to every indignity, reducing her to servitude, denying her full membership in the community of human beings. Now the shoe is on the other foot, or on the way there. It serves men right, women will say. Fair enough — but will women prove as obnoxious in their ascendancy as men were in theirs?

The early signs are not encouraging, says the women’s weekly Josei Seven. “Are you guilty of ‘reverse power harassment?’ ” it asks its readers. When the term “power harassment” was coined in Japan in 2002, it was a new description of an old situation, a boss’ misuse of workplace authority to bully subordinates into fawning obedience, helpless despair or sexual compliancy. Not always but often, the boss was male and the subordinate female. But “reverse power harassment” — the torment inflicted by female bosses (there are more of them than ever before, though notoriously few by world standards) on male underlings — is, as a mass phenomenon, unprecedented.

“My boss is after me constantly: ‘How was it last night? Do you and your girlfriend get it on every night?’ ” complains a 25-year-old male employee at an appliance maker. His boss is a woman of 41 whose apparent sexual voracity is repellant to him. “She makes me go drinking with her, is always asking me about my sex life … I’m getting pretty damn sick of it!”

A 26-year-old man who works for a film company says of his 42-year-old boss, “She’ll say to us, ‘I feel really good this morning — I got laid last night!’ Well, good for her, but I don’t want to know!”

If misery loves company, he’s got some. Power harassment and its kissing cousin, sexual harassment, are still overwhelmingly women’s complaints against male perpetrators, but the balance is slowly shifting. A 2012 health ministry study cited by Josei Seven records 6,387 relevant complaints nationwide — 5,838 from women, 549 from men, the latter figure a record. Interestingly enough, while female victims range in age from the teens to the 60s, males are almost all in their 20s.

Separately, labor lawyer Misa Totsuka surveyed 2,666 men aged 22 to 39 and found 25 percent of them have felt ill at ease due to come-ons of various sorts by female bosses or senior coworkers. Furthermore, 75 percent of male victims shrink from talking to anyone about it. Female victims face difficulties of their own with regard to filing complaints — the fear of not being taken seriously, or of being subjected to even worse harassment. But the tide is turning in their favor. Power harassment or sexual harassment against women is no longer cool, and those committing it risk disapproval, if not worse. A young male victim, on the other hand, is apt to fear he will be simply laughed at.

We are witnesses to history, watching one gender rise and another fall with breathtaking rapidity. Nothing quite like it has ever happened before in Japan. How will it play out?

“Respect for women, contempt for men (joson danpi),” proclaims Shukan Post magazine, turning the well-known proverb “danson johi (Respect for men, contempt for women)” on its ear.

Has it come to that?

Favorable treatment for women at men’s expense is now the order of the day, the weekly concludes grimly. Commercial concerns from restaurants to credit card firms, from banks to matchmaking services, court the ladies and stiff the gentlemen. When is the last time you saw a “men’s special” at a restaurant, movie theater or gōkon matchmaking party? And yet “ladies’ specials” abound — not only there but even at golf clubs, “once a male preserve,” sniffs the magazine.

Women-only seats are not confined to trains. Some cafes have them, too — and libraries. Why libraries? “Because some women feel uncomfortable reading women’s magazines surrounded by men,” explains a staffer at the Negishi Public Library in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. Or “because we get a lot of homeless men coming in, and they smell bad, which is unpleasant to women,” says a spokesperson at Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Public Library.

Banks lately, it seems, would rather extend home loans to women than to men. Different banks have devised different packages with preferential ladies’ rates. One is aimed at women living alone. Don’t men live alone too? Another is for women who have just given birth. Men don’t do that, but the mortgage terms might make them wish they did — 0.1 percent interest per year.

And so on and so on. Why this sudden corporate lust for female business? Two points emerge from Shukan Post’s inquiry. First, women nowadays, young women in particular, have more disposable income than men — itself a telling indicator of who’s getting ahead in the world and who’s losing ground. The second point hinges on a peculiar feature of gender psychology. Think tank researchers have determined that satisfied female customers tend to tell their friends, in effect becoming walking advertisements. Men, for some reason, tend not to. Either they have other things to talk about, or their fall from grace has cowed them into silence.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say it has turned them sulky. “My boss is over 40 and she still comes to work in a miniskirt,” a 21-year-old part-timer tells Josei Seven. “I wish she’d stop. She has nothing I want to see!”

Who’s harassing whom? one might want to ask.

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

    First of all, good on you for tackling the subject. There really needs to be more written about the privileges women enjoy at the expense of men (in the name of “equality, obviously). But, there’s a problem in one of your premises:

    “True, he has only himself to blame. For centuries, millennia, man lorded over woman, subjecting her to every indignity, reducing her to servitude, denying her full membership in the community of human beings. ”

    The comparison is not sound. The alleged “patriarchy” of most cultures is revisionist feminist history. Men were just as trapped into their “roles” as women were. It’s easy to point to a woman’s “servitude” while ignoring the multitude of ways in which men were to serve women. You can allege that “men were more free”, but what that really means is that men were the only one’s obligated to take responsibility for doing the work of moving civilization forward. While she was being “oppressed” in the kitchen, he had the privilege of dying in war, being pushed out the front door to protect her and her children from danger.

    If I had to choose between the dual crippling roles of “provide and protect” and “raise kids and keep quiet.” I would much rather be the one in the kitchen, than slaving under the hot sun or being used as a tool of proxy violence in service to my “more oppressed” spouse.

    What we really have today, are women who have been freed from their old roles, with men still bound to theirs.

    Incidentally, when Abe gets the military he wants, and institutes a draft, which gender do you think will be exempt from conscription? Protip: See South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and the U.S.A for the answer.

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

    ” A 2012 health ministry study cited by Josei Seven records 6,387 relevant complaints nationwide — 5,838 from women, 549 from men, the latter figure a record. Interestingly enough, while female victims range in age from the teens to the 60s, males are almost all in their 20s.”

    The numbers are probably higher. You have to consider that men would under-report for many reasons.

    1) They don’t know they can. “Harassment” is something men do to women, by standard cultural definition.
    2) A man’s “toleration” for abuse may be higher than a woman’s. He may be harder to offend, as no one has been walking on eggshells to “protect” him his whole life. (Evidence: The library spokesperson says, “…the homeless men are unpleasant to women”, instead of , “the homeless men are unpleasant (to men and women).”.
    3) The man may not define it as “abuse” even though he is offended.
    4) The man would have to believe that he is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect by women, instead of being socially obligated to make sacrifices and tread on eggshells for risk of offending his inherent superiors.

    The numbers just suggest that there are many more men of the “quietly serve” older generation who fall under these possibilities, whereas younger men entering the workforce (generally more feminized, modern men) are more sensitive to abuse, no matter what the source.

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

    “Or “because we get a lot of homeless men coming in, and they smell bad, which is unpleasant to women,” says a spokesperson at Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Public Library.”

    Translation:

    Sorry that these downtrodden men are inconveniencing you, Princess. Since you have value by virtue of being a woman, and they are mere disposable men, we’ll put them in a place where there can’t be seen, and you in a place where you can live in comfortable obliviousness towards the real world. So sorry for these men sullying your personal space with their intrinsically tainted existence…please tell me that by getting them out of the way, you will bless me with your belief that I, as a man, am “one of the good ones” who has distinguished himself from his primitive, smelly homeless, and grope-y otaku, brothers, and thereby earned your approval; approval which is the validation for my entire existence, as a servant of the feminine. You have inherent value, I have to earn my value in service to you! And so I shall continue!

    Barf.