Or am I just late to the conversation? And is it sufficiently explanatory?
I’m having lunch with a couple of foreign correspondents, one of who wonders why Japanese women play such a small role in the public sphere and yet complain so little. I wonder too; it’s as if the feminist movement of the sixties and seventies came went here with minimal effect. I don’t have a good answer, so I broaden the scope of gender-related issues and bring up LGBT in Japan. Specifically, I wager that you can go into most any normal workplace and chances are almost nil that you will find someone who knows a co-worker to be gay. Again, what pressure there has been from the LGBT community has been too little and too few to make a difference. And it’s really an East Asia thing, if you look at the male near-monopoly on political leadership roles in China and the Koreas, or the dearth of LGBTs with public profiles there. (Someone brought up Park Geun-hye on a different occasion. But she’s the daughter of a dead president and only entered public life in her forties. That’s not even Hillary Clinton, that’s the story of every political dynasty in South Asia.)
But then I think I’ve come up with something: your great AIDS epidemic of the seventies and eighties. Suddenly, people around you, your family, friends, colleagues, get sick and died, people that you thought were “normal”, you realize aren’t actually “normal”… which forces you to reconsider the meaning of “normal.” And the outcome, most people who are reading this will surely agree, has been a positive one, if one still in progress.
Of course, that never happened in Japan. We did not have that debate here, because we did not have that great AIDS epidemic here. (We didn’t give women birth control pills, but we didn’t say no either. We have perforce been great consumers of condoms.) It was talked about, but mainly as something that happened “over there,” while the domestic headlines were dominated by a slew of infections by blood transfusion. No family, friends, or colleagues involuntarily outed by HIV; no personal rethinking.
Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? But am I satisfied? No. I prefer overarching solutions, so I’m still left wondering whether there is a significant connection between the ways that the two gender-related issues that took center stage of public discourse in their respective decades over there yet failed to properly materialize here.