Mitsui Mariko: An Avowed Feminist Assemblywoman

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‚‚‚™@Emiko Kaya

Japanese Women:New Feminist Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future


Edited by Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow and
Atsuko Kameda
@@Published 1995 by The Feminist Press
at The City University of New York
ISBN 1-55861-094-4(paper)
www.feministpress.org

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Since she was elected a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in April 1987, Mitsui Mariko has gained a reputation as one of the most vocal and energetic representatives and one who gives top priority to women's issues. As an avowed feminist, she has strived to examine the present conditions from an equal rights perspective and to demand that the government of Tokyo come up with effective measures to correct discriminatory practices against women. Mitsui served a second term in the assembly after being reelected to office in 1989. The issues she took up included those of gender inequalities in education, the depiction of women as sex objects in the mass media, sexual harassment, problems faced by working women, and welfare programs for the aged. All of these issues have, in fact, long been raised by the women's movement but received little attention from most politicians\ largely male \ until very recently, when women decided to try to secure seats in local as well as national legislative bodies and to tackle these issues themselves.

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Background

When Mitsui won her victory as a candidate from the Socialist Party in the election to fill a vacancy in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 1987, the mass media described her as ga eMadonnaf who magnificently transformed herself from a mere high school teacher to assemblywoman. gMitsui, however, completely rejects this view: gA emere high school teacher? No, that's not an accurate characterization. Since early 1970s I was continuously active in Women's Lib groups.gAfter graduating from university, she worked as an gOL,h or goffice lady,h for three years, during which she kept questioning why women are expected to pour tea as an extra duty or why they are not allowed to attend meetings or go on business trips. gBefore I realized it, I found myself in and out of Ichikawa Fusae's Women's Suffrage Assembly Hall and began participating in meetings of a citizens'group that advocated making the study of home economics mandatory not just for girls but also boys.h
Mitsui quit her job as an OL and became a high school teacher just around the time of the International Women's Year. In 1980, Tanaka Sumiko, a woman legislator in the House of Councilors, was appointed vice chair of the Socialist Party. The political climate in Japan in those days, however, was far from sympathetic toward a female political leader. gI was disgusted to learn that a male politician in the Socialist Party had stated, eIf a woman is going to be a vice-chair, then I'll resign.fIn those days help wanted ads imposingly read eMen Onlyf, eRestricted to female junior college graduates commuting from their homesf. Although we pointed out the injustice of these practices, our protests were received as merely noisy complaints of aggressive women.h
Her involvement with the women's movement continued throughout the early 1980s. In 1985 she went to the United States to study for a year ant witnessed the political processes through which women's issues were dealt with at various political levels, national to local. By the time Mitsui returned to Japan she was firmly convinced of the need for women's active participation in politics. Or rather, in her words: gThe activities I had been engaged in up until that time in Japan were, in fact, what is called epolitics. f My experience in the United Sates made me aware of this, and it seemed to me as though the Japan I found on my return had been waiting for me to make use of this experienceh(Mitsui 1990a).
@In the fall of 1986 Doi Takako became chair of the Socialist Party. Doi was Japan's first female party leader, and her presence gave great encouragement and confidence to Japanese women, who had become increasingly aware of their potential power. It was in the following year that assemblywoman Mitsui Mariko made her political debut. That year a sweeping number of female candidates were elected in the regional elections held in April across the country, a phenomenon the mass media dubbed gthe Madonna Whirlwind.h
When Mitsui first spoke in the Tokyo Assembly in July of 1987 she did not forget to call everyone's attention to the fact that the traditional male monopoly of the political world was an aberrant phenomenon that ought to be done away with in the future:

@ Please imagine the following, everyone, that all the directors sitting here on this side of the podium were women, expect for one man, and that 118 of the 127 people sitting in the assembly were women and only nine were men. You would certainly think it was strange if all the members of the highest deliberative bodies with decision-making power in the government of Tokyo were women. Yet this strange phenomenon exists within the present assembly, only the situation is exactly the reverse. (Minutes of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, 3 July 1987)

@To make such a comment before a city assembly would have been unimaginable prior to Mitsui's appearance. Most women politicians, regardless of their political ideology, would have avoided taking such a strong feminist stand, for feminism had been viewed as somewhat too radical and dangerous, and it was thought to alienate not only most men but the majority of women, who prefer to take a moderate stand, leading to possible loss of popular votes. Political concerns of women have been accepted as long as they have remained within the realm of their traditional gender roles, that is, those of mothers and housewives, as often expressed in such slogans as gWe, as mothers who give and bring up life, demand safe food products.hOutright defiance about the male monopoly of politics had been very difficult.
@The feminist movement, however, has been growing stronger since the United Nations (UN) Decade for Women. Both the national and local governments (especially the government of Tokyo) can no longer ignore, at least officially, the voices of women from various sectors demanding equality of the sexes, since Japan is one of the countries that have ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It may be said that the success of feminist assemblywoman Mitsui was made possible through the combination of many factors, her own political conviction and activities, the support of thousands of women who, like her, have been active in women's groups, and a change in the policy of Japan's Socialist Party toward greater cooperation with citizens' movements under the leadership of Doi Takako.

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Issues Taken Up by Mitsui

After her election to the assembly Mitsui raised several questions regarding the metropolitan government's policies with respect to such issues as gender equality in the areas of education and employment and sexual exploitation of women in advertisements, among others.

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Establishing a Mechanism for Handling Cases of Sexual Discrimination in Employment

In her first speech before the assembly Mitsui also proposed the enactment of a gsexual equality ombudsman regulation.h The Committee for Processing Complaints about Sexual Discrimination had proved to be ineffective in resolving problems because it lacked both a legal basis for forcing companies to respond to complaints as well as the authority to enforce measures directed against eliminating discrimination. Mitsui proposed as three elements essential to an ombudsman system that its members be publicly recruited rather than appointed by the governor, be able to aid in litigation, and have penalties spelled out (Minutes of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, 3 July 1987).
@She later learned that, in the assembly, proposing a member's bill requires the support of one-eighth (16.7 percent) or more of all the assembly members, which was larger than the total number of Socialist Party members in the assembly at the time (12). In retrospect, speaking at a womenÕs group two years later, she admitted that gproposing the ombudsman regulation as a member's bill was out of the question at the time, but I said what I had to say.h She has found it very difficult to propose bills under present conditions but says: gIt doesnft mean I can do nothing. I am given an equal right to speak up as the rest of the members. I have experienced firsthand the fact that the voice of one assemblyman is greater than the of many thousands of citizens. Therefore, if we want to bring up various issues pertaining to equality into the political scene in order to seek solutions, I'm convinced the most effective strategy is to send more women that women's groups can support to local and national legislative bodiesh (Mitsui 1990b).

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Issue of Gender Bias in Admission Quotas for High Schools

Mitsui has also questioned the metropolitan government's policies with regard to sexual equality in the field of education, using as a measuring stick the provisions called for in the preamble and Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

@ The place of learning is where equality should be carried through more than anywhere else. How on earth, then, can the Tokyo government allow public high school to discriminate against girls through the practice of setting recruitment quotas for girls? Because the so-called gnumbered schoolsh (i.e., prestigious high schools which used to by boys' middle schools before the war) have a quota for girls that is about one-third that of boys, even girls who score the same as boys or higher on the entrance examinations end up not getting admitted

Here Mitsui is referring to the fact that sex-segregated public secondary schools in Tokyo were made coeducational after World War II, but many of the top-rated boys' schools have persisted in setting a lower quota for girls, whereas most previously all-girls schools have achieved a fifty-fifty ratio of girls and boys. The result is that the admission quota for girls falls short of that for boys by three thousand for all the public high schools in Tokyo. Mitsui argued, gThere is no clearer or more blatant manifestation of sexual discrimination than the quota system practiced by public schools, hand she demanded that the situation be corrected by 1990 (Minutes of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, 3 July 1987). The Tokyo Bar Association concluded that differential quotas for boys and girls at public high schools violated the Japanese Constitution, the Basic School Education Act, as well as the spirit of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and it strongly recommended equalizing the quota.
@There have been some improvements, and since 1991 all of the thirteen numbered schools have a female enrollment of over 42 percent. In the meantime, the Committee for Considering the Selection of Entrants to Municipal High Schools was formed, and it has begun to shift toward the idea that sex-based quotas should be eliminated altogether. Does the abolition of quotas mean the elimination of sexual discrimination? No, not likely. Assemblyman Mitsui points out the danger of such a change bringing about the opposite result. That is, because the gender role ideology is so strongly rooted in the consciousness of Japanese people and academic achievement is thought to be more important for males than females, the top-rated schools are likely to be flooded with male applicants.

@ In several prefectures where sex-based quotas gave been eliminated, high schools which used to be all-male in the past still have an exceedingly high number of male students, while the former all-girls schools have mostly girls. Thus, unfortunately, the tradition of sex separation tends to be preserved. In addition, even though applications for technical and commercial programs in high school are open to both sexes, girls comprise a mere 4.6 percent of the students in the technical programs, while boys make up only 15 percent of those enrolled in commercial programs.

Mitsui insists that in order to achieve true equality between men and women it is urgent that, at the minimum, quotas be set for male and female students in accordance with the ratio of males and females in the general population (Minutes from the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, 8 December 1988).
@Her concern is shared by many women's groups and the teachers' union. In the face of the continuing decline in the school-age population, a reorganization of public high schools is being considered. The Committee to Consider the Selection of Entrants to Municipal High Schools presented its final report in April 1990, in which it stated that, from the viewpoint of ensuring sexual equality, it would be appropriated to abolish the sex-based quota system, though certain measures must be taken to avoid extreme imbalances. Exactly what form of selection system is to be adopted is yet unknown, but Mitsui feels she cannot be too optimistic and that there is every possibility that the new nondifferentiated selection system will bring about biased results in the student population.

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Issue of Sexual Exploitation in Ads and Beauty Contests

Another issue that Mitsui has been working on is that of the treatment of women as sexual commodities as witnessed in advertisement posters, beauty contests, and the practice of prostitution. Bringing in three posters in which a young woman's body or legs were displayed though they had no direct relation to the products being advertised, she called for a confirmation of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's position on this matter, which is that social tolerance for the treatment of women as sexual commodities reinforces the deeply rooted tendency to view women as objects as well as a disregard for the humanity of women and that active countermeasures should be taken to eliminate such tendencies and to create a society free of sexual discrimination (Minutes no.4 of Special Budget Committee Meeting, 16 March 1990).

@ We are faced with the reality in which women's naked bodies are used for advertisement posters of many comprises, and the government of Tokyo is no exception. An example was a poster for Tokyo's Bureau of Transportation which featured a woman in bikini…Also, the subway posters showing only legs in high-heeled shoes were terrible. Our protest led to the Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs issuing a warning, though it was not in writing, to all departments of the metropolitan government that in advertisement posters the female body or its parts should never be used as objects or simply to attract attention.

@These two posters in which the Tokyo government was directly involved were removed immediately as a result of MitsuiÕs questioning, although the top official concerned never acknowledged in the meeting that the posters did, in fact, threat women as mere sex objects.
@Mitsui also questioned the rational of the Miss Tokyo Contest, which has been supported by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for more than thirty years. gThere has been protest that beauty contests are an example of the commoditization of sex, and that they are like a meat market for women. What is the relevance of a woman's bust, waist or hip measurements to the social service activities and the promotion of international friendship [which are the roles Miss Tokyo is supposed to fulfill]? gShe also challenged the requirement that a contestant must be single and twenty-five years or younger by submitting her own name as a contestant, which was rejected. Mitsui publicized the decision by the prefecture and the city of Osaka to stop supporting beauty contests because of protests from women as well as the statement by Mayor Motoshima of Nagasaki that beauty contests are intricately related to discrimination against women (Minutes no.4 of the Special Budget Committee of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly). Despite her failure to affect the policies of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on this issue, her protest helped nonetheless to raise the consciousness of many Tokyo residents.

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Other Issues

Other improvements for which Mitsui has worked include: (1) calling for the inclusion of sexual harassment among labor issues for which consultation is offered b y the city to working women; (2)advocating extension of financial assistance to children of families headed by mothers at least until the children graduate from high school, that is, three years beyond the current limit; (3) eliminating the requirement that female, but not male, stenographers in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly wear uniforms; (4) including womenÕs issues among those investigated by the politicians and others taking part in city government-sponsored overseas study tours; (5) calling for a change in the architectural design of the Metropolitan Hall of Arts and Culture to create a nursery room; and (6) inviting a group of female interior designers to draw up plans for the new location of the Tokyo WomenÕs Information Center.

@ When politicians talk about their achievements in the assembly, male politicians
will usually talk about having sponsored the building of a hall, a bridge, or a subway,
which cost some hundreds of millions of yen. My accomplishments are paper
devoted to the cause of advancing gender equality, I'm sure I would appear on the
front page. Most people, other than those who are committed to the women's
movement, do not consider the kinds of things I have been doing as having much
importance .. Traditional politics has neglected issues pertaining to culture,
social welfare, education, and equality, and spent most of our tax money on
buildings and subways. However, I will stick to my position to give top priority to
human rights and equality issues in politics. (Mitsui 1990b)

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Conclusion

In February 1992 the National Federation of Feminist Legislators was established as a network for nonpartisan assembly members, male and female, across the country. Not surprisingly, Mitsui was one of the main organizers. The group started with twenty members, including one male. The goal of this group is to create a society in which womenÕs voices are reflected in politics. In order to bring this about they seek to increase to 30 percent (from the current figure of about 4 percent) the ratio of female assembly members at every level of government|prefectural, municipal, town, and village|and to promote policies to create an environment that will enable women to lead a full life (gWomen's Shareh1992). Membership grew to about 130 as of July 1992. The organization has called for affirmative action programs of the type that exist in some European countries. So far, however, in Japan the concept of affirmative action has had very little support from the national or local governments, much less from private industry, although it has been recommended by advisory committees such as the Tokyo government's Council on WomenÕs Issues as one of the most effective means to grapple with the problem of sexual inequality in present society. Mitsui has often referred to the kinds of changes that have been brought about in Norway, where not only is are women, and she has expressed strong support for the enactment of an affirmative action program in order to increase female representation in legislative bodies.
@Prior to the 1992 election for the House of Councilors, the federation requested that the major political parties list the names of make and female candidates alternately, instead of listing all of the male candidates' names before those of female candidates, as had always been the practice. Shortly before the election Mitsui made the following comment: gTo women who have entered late into the political world, and alternate listing of male and female candidates has great significance. With the advancement of women's status, each party finds it necessary to pay lip service to equality, but in reality it seems the male-centered ways of thinking have not changed. I feel a sense of crisis and as well as anger.h(gJosei kohoh1992). The results of that election proved to be a disappointment, with the number of women elected to the House of Councilors reduced to thirteen, compared with twenty-two in the prior 1989 election, although the total number of women members in the House of Councilors rose from thirty-five to thirty-seven. This clearly indicates that the so-called Madonna Whirlwind that swept the political scene in the latter part of the 1980s has lost its power. And, with the Japanese economy slowing down, the decade of the 1990s will further test the ability of women in Japan to break into the political world in substantial numbers and bring about long-awaited changes in the political decision-making processes. Nevertheless, as Mitsui has stated, gWomen succeeded in bringing about a shift in politics from Ôpolitics exclusively of menfto fpolitics of men and womenfh (1990a).

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Postscript

A great deal with have to be done if the 1990s is really to give birth to gpolitics of men and women.h While efforts in this direction have been started under the leadership of Assemblywoman Mitsui and many other female politicians like her, the difficulty of accomplishing this goal was brought sharply to focus by Mitsui's announcement in January 1993 that she was leaving the Socialist Party. The reasons she cited were: gThere is no democracy within the party. We cannot engage freely in discussion and debateĶ and gThe Socialist Party does not value the voice of women and therefore is incompatible with my efforts to try to improve the status of womenh(gTogisen hikaeh1993). She spoke of some male party leaders who denigrate the concept of gender equality and engage in sexual harassment of female assembly members, and she related some of her own experiences of sexual harassment (gMitsui shato togih 1993). Because Mitsui not only was the most well-known member among Socialist Party|affiliated assembly members but also had gained national prominence over the years, her decision to leave the Socialist Party and complete her term of office as an independent was seen as a serious blow to the party's image, particularly in light of upcoming elections.
Following completion of her term of office as assemblywoman in June of 1993, Mitsui ran, unsuccessfully, for the House of Representatives as an independent candidate in the July elections held the same year. Recognizing the difficulties facing candidates|particularly women such as herself |who are not affiliated with one of the major politician parties in winning election to the National Diet under the newly instituted single-member constituency system, Mitsui has decided to concentrate her efforts for the time being on trying to get as many women as possible elected to local assemblies throughout the country by providing support and assistance to female candidates as board member of the National Federation of Feminist Legislators.

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REFERENCES
gJosei Koho heru fumanh (Discontented with the decrease in the number of female candidates). 1992. Asahi shimbun(Asahi Newspaper), 22 July.
gJosei no seikai she'a mokuhyo 30%h (Women's share in political world aimed at 30 percent).1992. Asahi shimbun (Asahi Newspaper), 4 February.
Minutes of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. 1987, 3 July.
\ .1988, 8 December.
Minutes No. 4 of the Special Budget Committee Meeting of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. 1990, 16 March.
Mitsui, Mariko. 1990a. gHey Mister Businessmen There Are No Mrs. Sazaes: So, Whatchya Gonna Do?h Asahi journal, 30 March. Trans. From the Japanese by Miya E.Gardner.
\ .1990b. gJosei ga seiji ni noridashita hih (The day women launched into politics). Nihon fujin mondai konwakai kaiho (Bulletin of the Japan WomenÕs Forum), no.49(March): 58068.
gMitsui shato togi ga rinto todokeh (Socialist party metropolitan assembly member Mitsui gives notice she is quitting the party). 1993. Asahi shimbun (Asahi Newspaper), 14 January, 30.
gTogisen hikae tohombu konmeih(Party headquarters in turmoil in face of upcoming election for metropolitan assembly). 1993. Asahi shimbun (Asahi newspapers), 14 January, 27.