- The Status of Women Faculty:A View from Japan
Linda Kerber's essay reminds me that all the classes I took as a graduate student both in Japan and in the United States in the late 1960s and in the 1970s were taught by men and yet I did not think it odd at all in those days. Since I had attended a women's college where faculty members were predominantly women, the classes taught by men were even refreshing to me. Now I find any workplace predominated by one sex rather odd, and this is the result of my education during the past three decades.
In Japan, one landmark in women's history is the passage of the Equal Opportunity Act in 1985 (amended in 1999), due to the persistent lobbying of various groups of women to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace. Another landmark was the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society (effective in 1999), whose preamble declared: "It is vital to position the realization of a Gender-Equal Society as a top-priority task in determining the framework of twenty-first-century Japan." The Gender Equality Basic Plan, approved by the cabinet in 2000, further called for enhancing women's participation in policy decision-making processes at the national government level as well as for encouraging private enterprises, education and research institutions, and other organizations to voluntarily take action on issues of gender equality. In 2003 the Headquarters for the Promotion of Gender Equality in the cabinet decided to take positive action so that women would occupy at least 30 percent of leading positions in all fields by 2020. To this end, the government was expected to employ a large number of female officials and also to encourage the private sector to make an effort to reach the target percentage.
I imagine that few scholars, especially few historians, take any optimistic government statements literally, and I also suspect that the sudden awakening of the conservative Japanese government to issues of gender equality is due not only to the genuine appreciation of women's capabilities but also to the embarrassing fact that with respect to gender equality, Japan ranks very low among major countries (Japan's ranking is the 38th among 58 countries in the 2005 report of the World Economic Forum; the United States is the 17th). But the announcements and actions of the government concerning gender equality are bringing some effects. For example, the prestigious male-dominated Science Council of Japan, established in 1949 to promote research and scholarship in the country, set up the Special Committee to Think about Gender Issues from Many Perspectives in 2000 [End Page 177] and announced its intention to increase the percentage of female members to 10 percent by 2010. In fact, as a result of a drastic change in membership in October 2005, female scholars now account for 20 percent of the total of 210 members. In 2000 the Japan Association of National Universities also set the target of raising the percentage of female tenured faculty members to 20 percent by 2010.
In Japan, the number of the women faculty members has been on the increase. Here I have to mention that my discussions mostly refer to the Japanese women faculty in general because it is difficult to sort out female historians as a group. Historians—both men and women—tend to belong to various departments other than history departments; this tendency is more noticeable in recent years, when many universities have undertaken their structural reorganization to make them attractive for high school students, and the departments with traditional names, such as literature and history, have often disappeared. According to the annual surveys conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, in 1990 women accounted for 5.3 percent of professors, 8.7 percent of associate professors, and 13.3 percent of tenured lecturers in four-year colleges and universities. They respectively increased to 11.2 percent, 17 percent, and 24.1 percent by 2005.
The percentage of women faculty members remarkably increases if the data include two-year colleges, where women make up 46.5 percent of all tenured faculty members...