Thursday, 8 May 2008

A Woman's World

One of the courses I am taking this term is Intro to Education Theory, a required course for both the teaching and curatorial certificates. The prof is apparently rather well known, as he is a prolific author. While I can't speak to that, I can tell that you he definitely doesn't fit the old adage that "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, teach teachers." His class is always interesting, thought provoking, and very well taught. We've been looking at gender and education over the past few classes and that, in combination with some comments I've gotten recently, got me to thinking...
Japan is famous for its cuteness. It is quite acceptable, normal even, for grown women to wear frilly pink things. Frilly pink is a fashion statement I haven't made since I was about 10 years old. But as bellbottoms demonstrated, fashion has a way of coming back, and so it appears that pink frills are going to be re-introduced into my wardrobe after a nearly 20 year hiatus. By force, if necessary, as one of my friends demonstrated recently! But let me backtrack...

I was a girly-girl as a kid, my favourite colours were pink and purple and my favourite clothes were the beautiful dresses my mother hand-made for me. Gradually, however, I (like most girls I knew) grew out of it, and became more comfortable in jeans. I took this trend a little further than some, perhaps, as when I wore a skirt to math class in grade 12 my teacher just about fell of his desk in surprise. Two years later, during my first trip to Japan, the petite and feminine Korean exchange students in one of the other classes all but forced me to start wearing make-up and buy a skirt. My second time studying in Japan I started wearing nail polish. My host mother attributed this to the guy I had just started dating and was so impressed that a guy could have such a feminizing effect on the lost case she saw me as, that she was ready to send us down the aisle after only a few weeks of dating. She immediately took me shopping and picked out a shade of pearly pink nail polish for me. Fast forward 5 years. Different university, different group of friend, different boy, and yet the same effect. My friends find out there is a guy I'm interested in and they go into full feminizing mode. While having lunch with a friend a few weeks back, I made the comment that I wanted to buy a pair of shoes. She squealed and proceeded to bodily drag me into shoe stores. My enormous foreign feet (I can still hear Indian shopkeepers yelling "big size, big size!!") are a size or two over the largest shoes normally available in the average store. My friend and I, however, managed to find a couple of different Godzilla-size shoe stores. She groaned and rolled her eyes at a few of my choices, clearly vetoing anything that didn't have a bow or other cutesy decoration. She argued hard for something with a heel, but those of you who know me know that this klutz needs no help tripping over her own feet, so I flatly (groan!) refused heels. I finally settled upon a pair of off white flats that satisfied both me AND my friend.

After shoe shopping, she decided to take the girl-ifying one step further, and address my accessories. She helped me pick out a pink and silver necklace and then proceeded to scour every single store she could find for matching earrings.

All of this (plus the blushing and gushing caused by the aforementioned thing for the guy) has caused my friends to make comments like "wow, you are a girl after all!" and "You're turning into a girl!!" (begging the question, what was I before?!)

With strains of Shania Twain running through my head, I've turned to people watching - checking out the shoes of women on the train (almost exclusively ballet flats or heels, except for the 65 and over crowd), noticing the high number of women in skirts walking by the coffee shop, remarking on the dressy-ness of women in the grocery store and groups of mothers waiting for the school bus. Everywhere I looked (in Tokyo, I admit), I was struck with the formalness, the dressy-ness, and most of all the femininity of Japanese women.

My professor today talked about societal conditioning of gender identity - from colouring and patterning of socks and other baby clothing, to usage of certain linguistic terms for boys or girls. In the arena of education one of the examples he gave was of a girls high school where a belief that girls were less interested in/qualified for maths and sciences led to a smaller number of those courses offered. This caused more girls to take arts and humanities courses, thereby fulfilling and fortifying the expectations. This self-perpetuating cycle makes it more difficult for girls who might be interested in maths and sciences to chose that route. I would add to that the uniforms worn by junior high and high school students. While boys wear shirts and ties or the more common Mandarin collar-style buttoned jacket with slacks, girls wear blouses or sailor blouses and (very short) skirts.

(the historical progression of uniforms from one school)

Girl Scout uniform is also skirts and blouses on all occasions except for camp.

While I know a number of examples to the contrary, it is still the norm for Japanese women to give up outside employment to look after their family. In response to a presentation in my sociology grad seminar last week about social support for mothers/housewives, the two male grad students remarked that they were open to the idea of quitting their jobs to look after the family/home if their wife were making more. When the professor, skeptical of their sincerity, questioned one with specific mention to the girlfriend, the student in question was much less convincing. My education professor came to basically the same answer. He would like to see change. He says he can't understand why more fathers don't get involved in child-rearing and housework, he loves it! (he's married with a young daughter)
He has little confidence in the ability of the education system to effect major change, however.

Where does this leave me? Well, I need to go and do my make-up and my hair and iron my outfit before I go to class, I'll get back to you later...

1 comment:

  1. I've seen a lot more girls in "recruit suits" with trousers this year than last. Could the tide be turning??