‘Ikumen Project’

Japan explores new strategy for promoting gender equality — hunky house husbands

An unusual Japanese policy aimed at encouraging men to engage in greater parenting and domestic duties by portraying such fathers as manly and attractive “hunks” is receiving both praise and criticism, as some credit the program with changing cultural attitudes while others decry it as a P.R. stunt that fails to address the country’s towering issues with gender equality.

The so-called Ikumen Project — a play on words that combines the words ikuji (childcare) with ikemen (hunk) — was launched in 2010 by Japan’s Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare to combat longstanding cultural attitudes that equated masculinity with “utter commitment to one’s work,” according to Hannah Vassallo, a researcher whose anthropological study of Japanese fathers underlies a new book on the topic: Cool Japanese Men. Research has shown that as recently as the 1980s, the average Japanese man spent fewer than 40 minutes interacting with their children each day.

As part of the Ikumen project, the government produced a “Work-life Balance Handbook” and offered workshops that were meant to encourage working fathers to spend more time with their children and helping out at home. The campaign has had at least some cultural success — the trope of the ikumen can be now found in Japanese TV, magazines, and movies. But according to Vassalo, many women question why men were being glorified for simply performing their fair share of household chores even as women continue to handle the vast bulk of such work without recognition.

Working women, critics allege, still routinely face discrimination and harassment from employers. A third of Japanese working women faced sexual harassment on the job, a 2016 study found, and the country’s most prestigious medical school, Tokyo University, was also recently discovered artificially lowering women’s entrance exam scores — apparently because officials believed that graduating women were more likely to get pregnant and become full-time mothers instead of finding jobs as doctors at the school’s understaffed hospital.

Still, advocates of the project say that there are some small signs of progress. The percentage of men taking available parental leave rose from 1.9 percent in 2012 to 7 percent in 2017. Since 1992, the percentage of Japanese residents who said they supported the notion that “men should work and women should stay at home” has dropped from 60 percent to below 45 percent.

Read the full story at BBC News.

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