Japanese fury over "birth-giving machines" blunder

The general public isn't buying the health minister's statement as an innocent slip-up.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published February 2, 2007 8:04PM (EST)

Japanese Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa has been publicly excoriated and urged to resign after calling women "birth-giving machines." But his ill-conceived comment caused a domestic rift, too, Reuters reports. "My wife scolded me," Yanagisawa said.

You can almost feel sorry for the guy -- some have suggested the blunder was merely a result of overly technical thinking. Still, the general public just isn't taking to those types of justifications. "What women are angry about is that Yanagisawa's remarks are evidence that this is the view of men who have power,'' Sumiko Iwao, a professor at Keio University in Tokyo, told Reuters. "We have seen this time and again, and women are now convinced that this is a sort of shared attitude among many men in power."

There seems plenty reason for this conviction, too, given institutionalized male preference. "Japanese women still lag their counterparts in other advanced countries in terms of political clout and earning power," Reuters reports. Also, remember when a much-lamented 40-year-long stay in the birth of male princes lead to publicly supported plans to allow a woman to ascend as empress? When a male heir was born, the government tossed out those plans faster than they could crow "Y chromosome!"

As we reported earlier this week when news of his Gileadean decree broke, the comments have to be taken in light of Japan's hysteria over a birthrate that dipped to a historical low last year and some argue will eventually result in labor shortages and critical deficits in elderly benefits. But, again, as Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's Social Democratic Party, lucidly puts it: "The comments place the responsibility for the falling birth rate on women. They ignore the role of the government in creating an environment for women to raise children more easily."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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