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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 May 23 - 29  > In contrast to Abe’s argument, gender inequality spread its root during Meiji era
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2018 May 23 - 29 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

In contrast to Abe’s argument, gender inequality spread its root during Meiji era

May 23, 2018

The Abe government is organizing various events and campaigns to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the “Meiji Era” (1868-1912). The government is trying to give the general public an impression that that period of time was the dawn of the empowerment of women in Japan. However, in reality, from the viewpoint of women, it was totally different from what the government claims as the national narrative.

The 1879 Ordinance for Education had the principles of single-sex schools and separate educational ladders for boys and girls. Under the ordinance, girls’ high schools were set up as secondary institutions, but graduates of these schools were not expected to go on to university. Education for female high school students at that time mainly focused on sewing and other necessary skills for housework rather than math or foreign language studies. It was a given that boys would not learn how to cook in schools.

In addition, the Civil Code of 1898 disadvantaged women overall. It created a family system where a household can only be headed by a male member. It also changed the marriage system to one in which a wife marries into a husband’s family and a married couple has to use the same surname. In the days of Meiji, the father held parental authority. A wife’s property was controlled by her husband. Adultery was punishable only when committed by a woman. Of course, women did not have the right to vote.

As Japanese society industrialized during the Meiji era, a new stereotype about the family was formed: the man as the breadwinner and the woman as the housewife. The concepts of “motherhood” and “motherly instinct” were imported to Japan and their Japanese equivalents, “bosei” and “bosei honnou” respectively, became part of Japanese vocabulary. During the Asia-Pacific War, the Imperial government used this gender-biased view of the family to mobilize men for war abroad and women for work at the home front.
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