The Forefront of Gender Issues: Labor and Childcare

ICU Graduate

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the ???th issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

After giving birth in late 2007, I returned to my job eight weeks later for several reasons. Here, I will record my personal opinions and thoughts on labor and childcare.

Many parents who work have no other option but to place their children in day-care. However, the number of applications for authorized day-cares is extremely high. As of November 2008, up to 150 children were awaiting entrance to authorized day-cares in my local area. Factors including the parents' income and work, as well as familial circumstances, are systematized into points such that children with the highest points are awarded entrance. Thus, parents are forced to prove how busy they are, by hastening their scheduled return to their jobs and extending their working hours. In other words, parents must increase their workloads in order to obtain childcare services. This highlights the inconsistency and paradox of childcare services in Japan.
Fortunately, my child was able to enter an authorized day-care. While I feel I should not complain because that is in itself fortunate , there are still a number of issues that worry me. What I find most difficult to tolerate is that the day-care staff try their best to raise my child to be as "manly" as possible: "You're a boy! Don't cry over such things!," "Don't give up!," "Assert yourself more!" I appreciate their passion, but I fear for the consequences. I am left feeling powerless against the male-female dichotomy and gender norms being imprinted upon my child's mind.
Furthermore, I am uncomfortable with the way mothers are addressed as "○○-chan (child's name) + mama." This results in strange conversations like, "Hello, this is Takuya's mama, is this Momo-chan's mama?" I have never been addressed by my full name by those associated with the day-care. I wonder how many people actually know my last name, and I move around feeling like an appendage of my child. I feel great loneliness in the sense that I am being robbed of my individual identity and potential.
I am also faced with difficulties at the office every day. My company is said to have a relatively large female workforce, yet, almost none of the women who have children are in managerial positions. This must be because it is hard to think that a woman can contribute the same amount of work when she has to be able to respond to the her child's sudden ailments or school events, even if her husband shares the responsibility. There is one female executive, but her child lives at her parents' home while she lives in an apartment near the office, and sees her child two or three days a week. In a typical Japanese company, there are only two roads that a woman can take in order to work and raise a child at the same time. One is to work "like a man" and earn a fair amount of credit, while the other is to forgo this credit and protect one's lifestyle. This dichotomy is not unrelated to the male-female dichotomy that is imprinted upon young minds at day-care. Indeed they are arguably rooted in the same framework.
To make matters worse, this framework is internalized in women. The women who choose to protect their lifestyles feel guilt in not working hard, while the women who choose to work as hard as men believe they are bad mothers. They judge each other and seek to reaffirm their own identities with the belief that "I live a different life from that person." However, there is no meaning in such a conflict, and child-rearing while working should be fairly evaluated. There should be no necessity to feel beholden to either path. This conflict between women is perhaps a result of the reluctance by Japanese companies and Japanese society to create an environment in which there is no need to feel beholden to any path.
It is said that "Children look at the backs of their parents as they grow." What will my child feel after looking at the back of a mother who faces conflicts and dilemmas everyday at the office and at the day-care? One day, when my child is older, I would like to ask.