- More "Ordinary Women":Gender Stereotypes in Arguments for Increased Female Representation in Japanese Politics
Japanese national-level politics is characterized by enduring gender imbalance. In the national parliament, the Diet, 88 percent of all seats are held by men.1 This inequality has meant that Japan has consistently been near the bottom of the ranking table of female representation in national parliaments around the world compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In 113th place out of 150 countries surveyed, Japan ranks just below Jordan, Armenia, Cyprus, and Liberia.2 Why this inequality in representative politics persists in Japan is an urgent question that needs addressing. It is particularly pressing given the Japanese government's recent enthusiasm for gender equality, as evidenced in policies aiming to create a "gender-equal society."3
Low female political representation is a complicated and difficult issue. Mikiko Etō points to a variety of intersecting factors that maintain female political under-representation in Japan.4 She argues that the absence of a strong women's movement and women's own lack of political ambition or motivation are major reasons for their relative scarcity. Political parties and electoral systems also play an important role in hindering women's progress in politics and should be considered in conjunction with a society's [End Page 24] culture.5 In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a conservative party that was in government for most of the period between 1955 and 2009, and that regained control of the Lower House in December 2012, has consistently had lower female representation than other parties. Its party culture and structures are also unwelcoming to women.6
In this article, I do not address the issue of female political underrepresentation directly. Instead, I seek to consider what conservative female politicians themselves think of the problem. Specifically, I am interested in exploring the language that women from the LDP use when talking about this. The language they use illuminates the strength of gender stereotypes in discourses surrounding politics—gender stereotypes whose deployment, I will argue, do not constructively address the issue of female political underrepresentation. I demonstrate how these discourses perpetuate the idea that women in politics should come from a wife-and-mother background. LDP women discursively construct female politicians dichotomously from male politicians, who are the "taken-for-granted" norm in politics7 and who therefore represent authority on public issues. In this male-dominated environment, which itself is situated within the broader patriarchal social system, perpetuating gender stereotypes would appear to be a strategy for women attempting to differentiate themselves from the mostly male incumbents.
I draw primarily from interviews conducted between 2007 and 2008 with 13 women from the Liberal Democratic Party. The LDP was the government party in Japan from its inception in 1955 until 2009, apart from a brief period in 1993-94 when it lost control of the Lower House for nine months. After losing control of the Lower House again in 2009, it lost control of the Upper House in 2010. In December 2012 it took control of the government once again, with its coalition partner the New Komeito, in a resounding Lower House election victory. The LDP has, and has always had, the lowest percentage of women members in the Diet compared to other major parties, though not by a great margin.8
The culture within the LDP is probably indicative of the broader political culture in the Diet, but based on an analysis of interview data, it would appear the LDP is viewed by many female Diet members, both from the LDP and from other parties, as having a particularly conservative approach to women's roles in society. For example, when asked for her thoughts on why the LDP had such poor representation of women, LDP Upper House member Ishii Midori responded that she thought attitudes in the LDP were "perhaps more patriarchal and old-fashioned" than in other parties (Interview with Ishii, 2008). Also, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) member and Upper House member Komiyama [End Page 25] Yōko was surprised when the LDP approached her to run for office when she was a news anchor. She did not...