A Comparison of Roles of Women in Both Japanese and American Society

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A COMPARISON OF ROLES OF WOMEN IN BOTH JAPANESE AND AMERICAN SOCIETY

CHEYENNE BOYCE
SPELMAN COLLEGE

The contemporary world is changing very rapidly in various spheres of life. World economies are changing dramatically and globalization is quickly becoming an unavoidable phenomenon that everyone is becoming more and more aware of. Consequently, it is getting more and more important to think about what the future holds. As a student attending a woman’s college, I am aware of the roles that women have held in this country, and it is very important, especially as I begin to think about my career paths and future, to figure out where my place in the world will be in just a few years. As markets change and political and economic power shifts, the roles that women play in these various arenas may not be as easily determined as most may think. Further, aside from the threat of the unknown for women in American society, since globalization is becoming more and more important, it is imperative that I not only understand my role as a woman here in America, but also the roles of women in countries around the world. Aside from my deep interest in Japan, after researching the roles of women in Japanese society, I have found that the roles of women, although they seem to be very different, do have some similarities.

This paper will present a comparative study of the roles of women in Japanese society and American society. In order to offer a comprehensive look at the situation, a history of the roles of Women in both societies will be provided and an observation of current societal roles of women in each country will be described. Since Japan and the United States interact on each other in various ways, it will be interesting to explore what major roles of women in their respective society play and how such roles are changing. In order to offer some reasonable predictions of what societal roles of women will be like in the future, this paper will also explore the causes of the changes in women’s societal roles in these countries.

Before analyzing the role of women in Japanese society, it is important to think about where the societal norms that people are subjected to come from. Proverbs play a significant role in many cultures throughout the world including the Japanese culture and they also contribute significantly to the Japanese way of life. In her book Asian Folklore Studies, author Hiroko Storm explores how women in Japanese society are perceived through traditional Japanese proverbs. Storm studied 817 proverbs and discussed what they reveal regarding traditional Japanese attitudes toward women. Of these proverbs only 29 of these spoke positively of women and the other negative ones dealt with the undesirable characteristics of women or their oppressed situation. According to Storm, traditional proverbs about women can be classified into two categories: women in general which includes inferiority, stupidity, changeability, ill-nature, talkativeness, weakness and miscellaneous and women in specific roles or situations which includes wives, mother and daughter in law, widows, prostitutes, intelligent women and beautiful women. (Storm 168)

These categories were created prior to World War II and it is important to note that the status of wives was significantly lower among the upper class. In lower class families where the family earned money as farmers or merchants, husbands and wives worked together to earn a living so the wife’s position in the family was important. In the latter half of the 19th century, the Meiji government changed the political and social structure of Japan in an attempt to catch up with the more advanced nations of the West (Storm 170) However, during this time period they were not concerned with the position of women.

The first movements toward human rights for women in Japan began after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Unlike in America, during the...
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