On Dec. 16, Japan's Supreme Court struck a blow for patriarchy by refusing to strike down the law requiring married couples to adopt one surname, a regulation that weighs disproportionately on women since in almost all cases they adopt their husband's family name. For career women, this requirement burdens them in a way men are not, while for all couples the freedom to choose between a single surname, or maintain existing surnames, is denied for no compelling reason.

All of the women justices dissented, understanding exactly why the plaintiffs sought to overturn a law that infringes on their constitutional right to equal treatment. But since women only constitute 20 percent of the Supreme Court justices, the geriatric male majority prevailed. These Establishment men, appointed from a very small pool of candidates winnowed down over the years by the Justice Ministry to ensure that only status-quo conformists can become jurists, punted on the option of exercising their powers to review the constitutionality of the legislation, and instead stated that the Diet needs to act by changing the law.

But this is precisely why the female plaintiffs filed the lawsuit demanding the law be overturned and declared unconstitutional. The mostly geriatric male Diet has no problem with this law because they promote patriarchal family values. Recall that in his first spell as premier in 2006-07, current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cut welfare benefits for single mothers. This is because conservatives believe that they made a choice to become divorced and thus the state is under no obligation to help them out. No matter that some 80 percent of divorced women are working — some more than one job, because they typically hold low-paid nonregular jobs and only about 15 percent get any alimony. As a result, most of these working-poor moms live below the poverty line, which explains why over 16 percent of children in Japan are raised in poverty, exceeding the OECD average.