A Japanese Man's Perspective: Feminism Will Empower Women, Free Men, and Lift Up Humanity
Before I begin, let me get a couple of things straight.
I don't have a PhD in masculinity. I don't even have a college degree in gender studies.
But I do have a unique story.
I took my wife's name.
When my wife and I got married in 2017, we decided to combine our last names. In the United States, where she is from, the name-changing process was simple. But it was far from simple in Japan. To date, the country doesn't allow married couples to combine last names or have different names, so I went to the family court to seek approval for my request. The judge suggested that I adopt my wife's new last name, Matsuo Post, since it was already changed in the US. So, in essence, I took my wife's name.
And that changed my life.
Until I went through the name-changing process, I didn't know that married couples couldn't have different last names in Japan. I didn't know that the only reason I was allowed to take my wife's name in this way was because she was a foreigner, that Japanese couples don't have this option. I didn't know that 94% of the women in Japan end up taking their husband's name after marriage.
The more I thought about the inequality in my home country, the more issues I noticed around the world.
Why do men get paid more than their female counterparts for doing the same work?
Why are there overwhelmingly more stay-at-home moms than dads?
What would be the benefits of achieving gender equality for men?
These are the questions I never had to think about because I was born a male.
Despite growing up in a very stereotypical environment, my journey has confronted me with the reality and the danger of some of these roles.
But I've come to realize that we have a long way to go.
Most women I knew growing up took their husband's name after marriage. I thought it was just what everyone was supposed to do without knowing the reason behind it. I never thought of gender stereotypes as anything other than fact, a reality of the world we lived in.
While 45 percent of all S&P 500 company employees are female, women hold about 27 percent of senior executive positions, and represent only 11 percent of top earners. I thought men were supposed to make more money.
I kept asking myself questions.
Why do boys struggle academically at school?
Why are prisons full of men?
Why is suicide the most common cause of death for men under 50?
Because men have been conditioned to believe that manhood is supposed to be a certain way: be strong, don't show your feelings, suck it up, win at all costs, be aggressive, get rich, and get laid.
Changing my name allowed me a momentary glimpse into a woman's world. I finally understood what it means to live in a patriarchy because our culture expects women to go through the daunting name-changing process. But it also made me realize that the same world that systematically favors men is trapping them inside of a cage.
Yes, patriarchy is hurting men, too.
When I realized that all those supposed to's didn't have to be that way, I emerged from the cage I was trapped in. Searching for gender equality gave me the courage to live my truth.
How am I living my truth?
When my wife got pregnant, I decided to ask my employer for paternity leave. I was incredibly nervous broaching the subject with my boss. I was asking for a lot of time. How long? Seven months.
Thankfully, I have an understanding employer who approved my request immediately. Granted, Japan offers paid parental leave up to a year for both mothers and fathers.
Shockingly, nearly 80 percent of men entering the workforce in Japan wish to take paternity leave, but only 7 percent of fathers actually took it in 2020, according to the Japan Productivity Center. Additionally, of the 7 percent of men who took paternity leave, 75 percent took two weeks or less.
Earlier in 2020, Shinjiro Koizumi, Japan's environmental minister and the son of a popular ex-prime minister, made the news for setting an example of Japan's workaholic fathers by taking two weeks of paternity leave. In a country where fathers who take time off after a birth are rare, this was a big deal.
Despite Japan's generous parental leave system, most men in the country don’t even ask for paternity leave, fearing rejection from their employer and fewer career opportunities in the future. I knew all about these preconceived ideas, and yet these thoughts still came to my mind. I never knew how simple it was to secure parental leave until I asked.
As I write this, I'm more than halfway into my 7-month paternity leave, and I can't describe how much joy I get out of seeing my newborn son every day. To me, this precious time with my wife and our son is worth much more than the money I would be making if I stayed at work.
I believe that more men taking paternity leave will provide more opportunities for women to step up in the workplace. When we have more female representation in leadership, there will be more diversity and inclusion across all levels of organizations.
We need more countries to set up systems that allow both mothers and fathers to take paid childcare leave. More importantly, we need to create a culture that encourages men to actually take extended childcare leave. To be effective, it needs to be normalized.
I choose to leverage the privileged aspects of my identity to get the attention of other men who might be unaware of the gender inequality around the world. Men must work as hard as women to elevate gender equality and dismantle patriarchy because as Melinda Gates says, "when we lift up women, we lift up humanity."
About the writer
Shu Matsuo Post is the author of I Took Her Name. He is a feminism advocate, a plant-based endurance athlete, and a successful businessperson. He lives in Tokyo, Japan with his wife and their son.
Amazon page: https://geni.us/ITookHerName
Book website: itookhername.com