Worlewide Wan



Has the concept of labor changed?

2011.12.12 Mon

I attended the symposium coordinated by Chizuko Ueno with participants including Emiko Takenaka, Mari Osawa, Mitsuko Miyaji and Kayoko Akabane. Each participant is a leading researcher and activist in the fields of feminism and labor studies. This symposium commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Creo Osaka and was entitled “The Future My Choices Bring About – Tomorrow of Living and Working.” It was certainly worth all my efforts to spare some time for attending the symposium because I could realize what new challenges I have to face now. Frankly though, it was interesting indeed, but frustrating, too.
To avoid causing unnecessary misunderstanding, let me be clear about this – the Book Talk by Osawa held prior to the symposium was very inspiring, and the talks by each symposium participant were also very intriguing. Ueno handled the symposium’s progress as skillfully as she always does in a very limited period of time and still gave us a clear message. The event coincided with the elections for Osaka Mayor and Governor, and Ueno said jokingly, “I wish the tenth anniversary of Creo Osaka won’t coincide with the day of its closing.” Many laughed, but this ominous prediction has become more realistic than a random speculation.
I will just point out my questions about one among some issues. Most symposium participants didn’t mention their critical attitude toward the concept of labor, which is one of the vital themes that feminists have been talking about. The talks were exclusively about paid work in the market, so that it could have been mistaken as talks by executives of Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) or Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) chairmen, who are supposed to take the utterly opposite position to that of these symposium participants. There was a bit of talk about poorly paid part-timers as well as single mothers in very dire situations. Had Emiko Takenaka not been there, nobody would have mentioned unpaid work, and her reference to that topic didn’t assimilate well into the tone of the symposium. It was regrettable that she couldn’t make her point clear enough about Pay Equity and the Child Allowance, due to the lack of time, because such issues are just as important as others, if not more. Her argument that the life security should be assured not by the state but by the corporation was worthy of attention for us to look at the labor movement with fresh eyes. I praise her effort for having said what she should in such a constrained amount of time.
It was very regrettable that she was not allotted time enough to explain more thoroughly about these matters, because these are the very points that require a fundamental shift in labor and labor movements from a feminism point of view.
I thought Feminism after the 1970s has helped clarify these two points: First, that wives with no income have been convinced that they share the same interests with their husbands, who are sole bread-winners in the family, but actually they may not. And second, that the notion that homemakers and working women have opposing interests cannot be true. The two major concepts – that the patriarchy containing the micro authority and the idea that labor within the family, which used to be regarded as family obligation, should be regarded as labor even in a family whose members are supposed to share completely the same agenda and interests – are answered by these two points mentioned above. Furthermore, the gender arguments should be a ground-breaking tool to question the legitimacy of how to differentiate labor from non-labor.
But when I listened to the talks in the symposium I realized that I may have been mistaken about these two. It seemed that such issues mentioned above have lost their importance along the way in talking about women’s diversity or a gap between a certain type of women and another type of women. It is true that women’s identity in the 1970s may be different from that of the present, so it would be better to give this theme a second thought on a different occasion. But the new recognition about the labor structure back then could lead us to a valuable mutual understanding, couldn’t it? Feminist arguments that start tentatively may make a certain case, and they have been an effective tool to make those who are in different or even in opposing positions to work together and to acquaint those who would never meet otherwise.
What was shocking to me was a cynical and less compassionate tone when the symposium participants talked about homemakers and their lack of imagination and generosity toward those who are in a slightly different position from them. I also didn’t understand the point of critics of so-called homemaker feminism.
I wondered what “My Choices” meant in the title of this symposium. I hope it didn’t mean self-responsibility, the often-used-word of today.
I think our lives can be characterized as swimming in an ocean, a constant struggle against random waves of all sizes and strengths, and it is our delusion that there is a freedom for us to make choices in our life. The reality is that we pick what looks the best among the skimpy choices available, which are greatly limited by the social structure and one’s fate. In making a choice, we are not allowed to have time to contemplate, and we are barely able to see which is better to pick. Plus, in many cases such a choice is more influenced by the interests of someone else who is closely related to you, rather than your own interests. Then we end up having children, or having no children, being married or unmarried, becoming a homemaker, getting a divorce, living with someone who is not a recognized spouse, living alone, giving labor without being paid or having no opportunity to get a decent job. No one is immune to becoming one of them.
On the other hand, we have been driving the society to change by exercising our very limited freedom. I think Feminism is a label given to an aggregation of such actions by numerous individual women. This phrase “My Choices” used in the symposium title represents such choices. The standpoint of Feminism should be our compassion to someone else’s life that could well be our own.
The Women’s Center seems to have a similar kind of problem regarding its position about “the labor” and “homemakers,” so I would like to give this more thought eventually.
Original Article by Kumiko Ida on the WAN Website (Nov. 30, 2011)
Translated and Adapted by Yoshiko M.