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A short documentary done by Al Jazeera in 2015 outlined the problems of Japan’s economy, proposing that a possible solution to a more prosperous economy would be allowing more women in the workplace and shattering the glass ceiling. The documentary says that Japan’s women are some of the most highly-educated around the world, but due to traditional views, they are often left out of the workforce. Instead, women are expected to leave their careers and stay at home to take care of their families.
I’ve tried to imagine myself in those shoes. If I was ever in a position where I needed to drop my career and stay at home to tend to my family, would I do it? The ideal family in traditional Asian views would be a stay-at-home mom and a working dad who could support the family on his own. Men are expected to be able to support their families so much that their wives wouldn’t need to work. If I had all of that security, would I drop everything to stay at home and only take care of my family? No matter how I think about it, my answer is always no.
I can’t imagine dropping the 17 years and counting of education I have been receiving since the age of four. I could go back to school in the future, and it would mean more money being spent on building my knowledge toward a career. If I was expected to simply drop all of that, I wouldn’t be able to justify it to myself. I will have worked hard and put in the effort to get to whatever career I would have ended up going into. And yet, when I often speak to my relatives about my future, the questions of if I have a boyfriend and if I want to get married come up just as much, if not more, than what I want to do after I graduate.
Saying this is an Asian problem is a major stereotype and overstatement that isn’t looking at the big picture. I would rather point to a traditional mindset. Regardless of culture, even in developed, progressive nations, the wife is still often seen as the default person to take care of the home and the family.
And while there is nothing wrong with women choosing to become stay-at-home moms to take care of their families, I would emphasize the fact that they have a choice to begin with. But it becomes dangerous when there is no choice and that becomes the only option.
The documentary from Al Jazeera focuses its story on women who want to be in the workforce. It discusses the importance of needing working women, and the hardships they face as a minority. Working women are needed, both to shatter the glass ceiling and the gender pay gap. Women are needed to diversify workplaces and bring different opinions and ideas that men may not have thought of.
My partner may have the means to take care of me and our family in the future. I might not need to work.
But I would want to work.
I would want to be given the chance to work and to use the skills I spent so much time, money and energy to learn, and apply them to a career. Being able to have a career and being given the choice of having a career is just one more step toward making our society equal.