So, as something of an antidote to the last couple of weeks of ill-judged whimsy, I’m going to bang on about gender politics in Japan. Again.
For those of you who have forgotten, I should quickly recap that I’m based in a ‘high-level’ senior high school. There are a couple of private schools nearby with better reputations, but if you don’t want to pay through the nose or leave the prefecture this place will probably offer your kids the best chance of going to a reputable university, if they can get in. What this means is that the students here are by definition those who perform well on the tests which, to a large but not absolute degree, means those who are most adept at reproducing received wisdom (i.e. the party line).
A lot of these kids are, basically, nerds whose self-worth is based largely on receiving approval from authority figures, and have learned that the best way to do that is to parrot as much of what they’ve been exposed to as possible. I can’t in all honesty blame them for this as I have absolutely no doubt I was pretty similar at their age. Fortunately there are also a decent number who are clearly starting to realize how the game is played, and are showing very heartening signs of being able to say what’s expected while simultaneously making it clear they don’t believe a word of this horseshit (and these kids are why I really, really love working here). Nonetheless, the majority are ‘good kids’ who aren’t lacking critical facilities so much as have never had the chance or need to develop them.
Another pertinent impact of the selection criteria for this student body is that a small but definite majority of students are female. Each general course class of 40 students has 21 or 22 girls, and I know for a fact that this is a pattern repeated in other nearby ‘high level’ state schools. Girls just do better at school than boys in pretty much all First World countries (for reasons far too extensive to get into here, but not perhaps unconnected to that culturally-mandated necessity of winning approval through telling people what they think they want to hear).
So clearly I lied about that recap being ‘quick’, but it brings us back to this: this week the students have been talking about, among other things, the Tokyo Olympics, school uniform, elective subjects, and (as my token effort at a ‘light’ topic choice) whether St. Valentine’s Day should be banned.
A pleasing number of students are against the Olympics, and I was only prevented from hugging the handful who expressed open distrust of the government’s ability to manage both the Games and the Tohoku clean-up by the prospect of getting fired for inappropriate physical contact. Sadly, most showed an almost charmingly naive faith in Abenomics, even as its fabled arrows start to spatter to the ground woefully short of the target, and if I never hear the word “o-mo-te-na-shi” again I’ll consider it a life well lived. They all think they should wear school uniform because, “we must learn to follow the rules,” and choice of both attire and subject are distractions most could apparently do without.
All this is to be expected. What I didn’t expect quite so much, and what’s all the more disappointing for this, is quite how enthusiastically students of both sexes have embraced Valentine’s because, “it’s the day for girls to show their quality.” The quality in question being making chocolates and cookies.
Jesus wept. These are the very same girls who I see academically pounding the boys into the fucking ground EVERY. FUCKING. DAY, and yet this is apparently the one chance they get to display their most risible ‘qualities’. If you enjoy making cookies than good luck to you (I’m not above the odd cake myself), but for fuck’s sake girls, you’ve more to offer than this.
What do you do? How do you fix this? A large number ended up giving me those self-same cookies and I took them and ate them all because I’d have to be some kind of prick to throw them back in their faces to make some kind of political point they wouldn’t understand without a good half-hour’s explanation. I have tried embarking on a very measured, contained micro-rant to my ESS club students, who all listened and nodded politely and seemed to be getting it and agreeing before turning back to each other with the trays of biscuits they’d all made for themselves.
I dunno, they all seem to enjoy it and it’d be churlish and not a little counterproductive/ hypocritical for me as a male authority figure to deny them doing something they clearly want to do. The choosing can be feminist even if the choice itself is not. But really. Three-percent. Three fucking percent. This is where it comes from, and until Japan’s structural constraints shift from a point where academically elite girls consider that opportunities to show their ‘quality’ are limited to baking for Valentine’s, this is where it will remain.