[In ancient times, Japanese women wielded considerable authority. Until the eleventh century, it was common for Japanese girls to inherit their parent’s house. The rise of Confucianism and a conservative moral movement that preached the inferiority of women in the early eighteenth century significantly reduced women’s role. In some respects, Japanese women today have less power in society than they did a thousand years ago. Fewer than one in ten Japanese managers is female; women in less-industrialized nations, like Mexico and Zimbawe, are twice as likely to be managers. Only 2.3 percent of Japan’s key legislative body are women, compared with 10.9 percent in the U.S. House of Representatives. In this regard, Japan ranks 145 in a list of 161 countries, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
[The public gender roles, however, are reversed when one steps inside the Japanese home. Typically, the wife handles and completely controls the household finances. She gives her husband a monthly allowance and has total control over the rest of the family income. Half of the husbands in one survey reported they were dissatisfied with the size of their allowance, but could do little if anything about it. While the husband and wife may have a joint bank account and automatic teller machines are available, wives often do not share access to these with their husbands (Kristoff 1996b). (Editor)].
Fascinating isn't it to actually have a record of how gender roles ebb and flow with time, the intrusions of religion and other cultures and economic reorganization? Sometimes it is hard to get out of my own Western bias when thinking about feminism and gender, even though I don't necessarily think this is the best model when looking at, say, Tanzania. But looking eastward (especially skipping right past India's caste system and anywhere that falls under the thrall of the Torah/Bible/Koran) often gives me more "aha!" moments than reading stuff from the West. Go figure.
And how about that bit about the iron-handed housewives, wasn't that a little unexpected? I love the contrast. Nothing is ever as it appears at first glance...
The rest of the article can be found here if you have a spare fifteen minutes to go culture-tripping.