Assembly member loses bid to punish sexist hecklers


Staff Writer

A member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly subjected to sexist taunts by her colleagues during debate on child-rearing policy submitted a request Friday to the body’s president calling for identification of the perpetrators.

The incident Wednesday grabbed wide public attention, and criticism centering on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, whose members were allegedly responsible for the verbal abuse.

“I’d like (the assembly) to clarify who made such jeers and take appropriate actions against them,” Ayaka Shiomura of Your Party explained after submitting her request to assembly President Toshiaki Yoshino.

The complaint, however, was rejected because Shiomura could not name the assembly members who were allegedly harassing her, according to Minoru Morozumi, head of the center-right Your Party’s assembly members.

Shiomura was questioning senior officials in the metropolitan administration on plans to help current and future mothers when she faced shouts of “Why don’t you get married?” and “Are you not able to have a baby?”

She and her allies said the heckling came from the section in the assembly chamber occupied by members of the LDP. None have yet to be publicly identified.

The women’s affairs division in Your Party and the party’s Tokyo chapter also submitted formal protests to Yoshino.

Public reaction has been harsh. A Twitter message by Shiomura criticizing the heckling had been re-tweeted by 28,480 people as of 4:30 p.m. Friday. One of her Your Party colleagues in the assembly, Shun Otokita, tweeted on Wednesday night that his blog, in which he had posted an entry describing the incident, had been shut down by a surge in traffic.

The assembly had received more than 1,000 comments as of 4 p.m. Thursday, according to Akane Kobayashi, an assembly public relations official.

Kobayashi said most of the comments were critical, and included statements like “those remarks were rude to women” and “the jeers were excessive.”

Meanwhile, Emmy Suzuki Harris, director of the Japanese branch of Change.org, said Friday that the organization had received a single-day record of 37,000 signatures for a campaign calling on the LDP’s Tokyo chapter to identify who made the discriminatory remarks and to punish them. The number had passed 44,000 by Friday afternoon. The organizer of the campaign, a graduate student in Tokyo who declined to be named, said he launched the drive out of anger.

“I felt outrage seeing the news reports of the jeers,” he said. “I felt the remarks were very discriminatory since they were forcing marriage, pregnancy and childbirth on (Shiomura) simply because she was a woman, disregarding an individual’s condition and intention.”

He said he felt he had to take action so that members of the metro assembly, especially from the Liberal Democratic Party, understand that marriage, pregnancy and childbirth are issues relating to women’s human rights as well as all of society.

“Given the seriousness of the matter, it doesn’t surprise me that the petition collected such a large number of signatures,” he said.

Information from AFP-JIJI added

  • GBR48

    I would love to see this snowball, go viral globally online and lead to the women of Japan drawing a line in the sand on how they are treated.

    Unless the LDP name, shame and adequately punish the misogynists responsible, and establish a code of conduct that forbids a repeat, perhaps Japanese women might all consider being ‘unwell’ on the same day next week. Given that the party in power seem happy to regard them as second class citizens, capable of being underpaid until they marry and then fit only for the nursery, kitchen and bedroom, I’m sure Japan will cope just fine when they withdraw their labour under protest for one day of the week.

    The train service would be cut, many shops and schools wouldn’t be able to open and the convenience stores would be inconveniently understaffed or shut. Half empty lecture theatres and seminar rooms and no female academics. No idols singing, no maids waiting, no female presenters on the TV (or working anywhere within the media) and very few staff at the tourist attractions, quite a few of which would have to close.

    When the newly multi-tasking ‘Office Man’ returns home after an unsuccessful three hour tussle with a photocopier, finding no dinner on the table and no offer of conjugal pleasantries, he might head out to a hostess bar, only to find it closed.

    And if the LDP still refuse to do the decent thing, the good ladies of Japan can always hit the Ghandi button again the following week. I wonder how many millions of dollars of trade the LDP would be happy to flush away just to retain their right to treat half of their citizens like dirt and get away with it.

    I’d like to see that happen, but such things rarely do. Still, to the women of Japan, should you wish to protest at this offensive act of disrespect and make it clear that a kimono, and for that matter a tartan miniskirt is not a burqa, and you expect to be allowed access to every sphere of public life in Japan upon equal terms, there is one thing that you can do: Remember what has just happened. Politicians who treat their prospective electorate with such disrespect maybe haven’t quite got the hang of the democratic system.

    LDP politicians might not wish to listen to your opinions or respect them (or you), but they will eventually be asking for your vote. And women hold about half of all of those.

    At the next election, revive memories of this. When the LDP candidates ask for your votes, smile politely and then vote against them. Most political parties are pretty much the same in terms of what they will actually do when they are in power (regardless of their promises), but the sort of people who treat you like second class citizens are a group that you might usefully dump out of power with your vote, by casting it for their opponents.

    Because the only good political dinosaur is an extinct one.

  • Svenja

    The solution is simple — punish whoever was coordinating the meeting for losing control of it so totally and letting the ANIMALS run wild.

  • Steve Jackman

    And yet, there are still many Japanese out there who deny that Japan has a sexism and racism problem. Talk about having one’s head buried in the sand.

  • Tando

    As much as I agree with the sexist accusations I also think, that the problem has a lot to do with petrified outdated rolemodels. Men are the breadwinners, women stay at home and take care of household and kids. I have often experienced that women interpret this to their advantage. One middle aged homemaker without kids explained to me that it was them who enabled their husbands to perform in their job. “What came first the hen or the egg” she told me. When the time for his retirement came, she had a hard time to imagine him being home all day long and encouraged him very much to stay in the job. Men are still educated to perform in this system and although I can see that many women persue their own career many see in their husbands not a partner but rather the income that he provides.

  • Justin Thyme

    Nobody of any integrity is going to condone ad hominem heckling, certainly I don’t. However, Shiomura isn’t fit for the job if she can’t take heckling.

    If her reaction was genuine, that is to break down in tears rather than confidently retort with some acerbic criticism of the cantankerous old male-chauvinists, then she shouldn’t enter politics, which is notoriously ruthless and unforgiving.

    Politicians need to be strong-headed and thick-skinned. I can’t trust a person to make decisions on affairs of state let alone lead people if they react so emotionally to jeering. Furthermore, her reaction has played perfectly into the male-chauvinist stereotype of a weak and emotional woman unfit for the tough political world of men. She’s scored an own-goal.

    If she can’t stand the heat of politics, perhaps she should get into the kitchen.

  • Tim Johnston

    I felt so sorry for a lady who is just doing her job to take the sexist abuse and have to endure the childish “Te Shu kampaku” comments from a Japanese Male who is chauvinistic and should be banned from Politics.
    Xenophobia and sexism have no place in modern society.

    I hope the man suffers and is thrown to the lions. His actions need to set an example for the next generation.
    Tim Johnston Japan

  • Scott Beckingsale

    Since when has any politicians had the right to enter into a political career and be immune from hostile and offensive behaviour? Politics has never been a vocation which attracts the nicest type of person as politics is about power and power has always been at the centre of most unpleasant things. Politicians are meant to be capable of leading a nation through extremely difficult times and I just don’t think this women is capable of doing that as she seems to be either too delicate to handle heckling or only seeking public office to represent half the population: women.

  • dawnshine

    I don’t think that is totally wrong no matter where you look…. However, it seems that it is very difficult to pull off the traditional roles these days, because, there is too much for the women to lose in the end… and it’s too easy for men to walk away because of women being allowed in the workplace. So, we end up with women taking on all the roles (and some men also doing this) and there being no cooperation nor true commitment in relationships to support all the areas that need support. Supposedly there can be a meet in the middle… but, as a society of men and women, worldwide, I think we are all struggling to find it. Women may openly or secretly desire the supportive aspect of tradition, but they may still long for educational, creative, and career independence or even support in that as well as participation from a spouse and extended family as a mother. And often men are expecting women to work since they are able to and help with ever increasing costs of living, yet, may not take up slack in the home or with children (although there are exceptions of course). Ask some men what they want… most of the time they will say they want an “independent woman who is financially independent” yet, they still also want to have a dominating role in such a relationship. Women get worn out from all this and because they don’t Have to put up with it, they often don’t; similarly men can always find another woman to take up, as women do certainly desire the emotional attachment. It’s complicated. I hope it all works out someday so that everyone can have some balance all the way around.