Dec 02
Her eye on the news
‘Ikumen Project’

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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‘Oh God’

Popular singers Toni Braxton, Patti Labelle, and Jain recalled their first time hearing themselves on the radio in a recent interview with The Associated Press, a surreal experience that all three women characterized as simultaneously underwhelming and overwhelming.

Braxton, 51, said she was with her sisters — with whom she performed in the 1980s before her 1993 self-titled solo debut album made it to number one on the Billboard 200 chart — when they first heard their song “Good Life” on the radio. The moment, she recollected, was bittersweet — she was proud to hear herself on the radio, but as she listened she slowly grew convinced that the sisters’ debut wouldn’t make them a commercial success.

“I was in college — I was going to Bowie State University — and it played right after ‘Summertime,” Will Smith’s ‘Summertime,’” said Braxton. “And I knew it was not gonna hit, it’s like — it was that moment like, ‘Oh God, that’s not gonna happen.’ And I knew it wasn’t gonna happen. Not that it wasn’t a great song or a fun song — my family and I — but I knew it wasn’t going to be mainstream at all.”

Braxton’s instincts, it turned out, proved accurate. But despite the lack of sales, the song proved a valuable stepping stone for the young artist as it attracted the attention of famed producers Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, who went on to later publish Braxton’s hit debut.

“It was not mainstream at all. It sold three copies — my mom, my dad and my grandma,” Braxton recalled, smiling. “Me and my sisters, The Braxtons? The Braxtons, ‘Good Life’ — it got attention, it was a blessing in disguise because you know, we got with L.A. (Reid) and Babyface, and it worked out and the other side. But it was not gonna be a hit. I don’t think anything’s a hit following ‘Summertime,’ at that time.”

Patti Labelle said that hearing herself sing in “Lady Marmalade” on the radio “felt awesome,” but that nonetheless she found that she “wasn’t blown away” by the moment.

“I was excited because we have a song on the radio,” she said. “[It wasn’t like] a a lot of the moments when people in this industry first hear their music on the radio and they lose it. I didn’t quite lose it.”

For Jain, her first time hearing herself playing came while she was grocery shopping the supermarket. Nobody but her really noticed, she said, but she had a blast dancing by herself in a quiet aisle.

“I was watching everybody like, ‘Do you hear this? Do you hear this?’ and I was alone in the supermarket like. ‘Woo!’ So yeah, it was fun,” she said, laughing at the memory.

Watch The Associated Press’ interview with Braxton, Labelle and Jain below.


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Praise be

More than 30 years after the publication of her best-selling novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood has announced a sequel is on the way. The author says the new novel is inspired in part by letters from fans desperate for more information about the dystopian patriarchal world of Gilead.

“The other inspiration,” said Atwood in a video announcing a September 2019 release date for The Testaments, “is the world we’ve been living in.”

Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has found a renewed audience in recent years following a popular TV adaptation by Hulu and an increased push from religious conservatives at limiting women’s rights — in particular, the right to safe and legal abortions. In the wake of the show’s success, pro-choice protesters have even taken to dressing as ‘handmaids’ from the novel — women who have been forced into sexual slavery so that they can bear children for the rich and powerful — to highlight the dangers of allowing those who believe women’s sole purpose is to bear children to govern policy.

Margaret Atwood (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Speaking with The Los Angeles Times, the 79-year-old Canadian said that real-world events served as powerful literary fuel for her dystopian vision of a United States controlled by religious extremists.

“The news has become so much more extreme,” said Atwood. “What about these people in Ohio that are saying motherhood should be mandatory? They haven’t done it yet, they’re talking about it. But when people talk about things like that, being the age I am, I’m remembering that Hitler said it all in Mein Kampf and then he did it. If they had the power, they would do it. These ideas have been tried before.” Atwood was referring to reports about an Ohio lawmakers remark that “Motherhood isn’t easy but it’s necessary,” which she made during a floor speech ahead of the state’s House of Representatives approving a bill that would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

“What I’m fixated on now, of course, like all Canadians, is we’ve got our faces jammed up against the plate-glass window, looking into your country,” she continued. “What kind of shenanigans will they be up to next? What’s gonna happen next? I’ve never seen anything like it, and neither has anybody else. On one hand, it’s just riveting, and on the other hand, it’s quite appalling.”

Atwood also took on a variety of other topics in the interview with the Times — including the #MeToo movement and what comes next, her work for Equality Now, and the risk posed by extremists on both the far-right and far-left.

Read the full story at The Los Angeles Times.


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‘Unjust outcome’

A decade before Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor, was put on a list to potentially serve as the country’s new attorney general, the then up-and-coming federal prosecutor in Florida was facing the biggest case of his life — one that involved Jeffrey Epstein, a Palm Beach multi-millionaire accused of sexually abusing at least 36 underage victims as the head of a massive sex trafficking ring. Epstein, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Trump, and Prince Andrew, was facing a lifetime in federal prison.

But, as Julie K. Brown of The Miami Herald reports, in an extraordinary and unusual plea agreement negotiated between Acosta and Epstein’s legal team, the wealthy hedge fund manager was sentenced to just 13 months in the county jail and given a non-prosecution agreement that ended an FBI probe aimed at identifying more victims and collaborators who took part in Epstein’s crimes. In violation of federal law, Accosta agreed to keep the deal from the victims — preventing any of them from appearing in court to try to prevent the deal from taking place.

“Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless. He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right,’’ said Courtney Wild, 31, an Epstein victim who said she met him when she was just 14. Now in their 20s and 30s, Wild and dozens of Epstein’s victims — The Miami Herald identified 80 women who say they were abused by the millionaire between 2001 and 2006 — are hoping that two ongoing civil lawsuits will finally give them at least some measure of justice. One case involving Epstein and lawyer Bradley Edwards, a former state prosecutor representing some of Epstein’s victims, will give the women the chance to testify in court for the first time. A second lawsuit accuses Acosta of breaking the law and conspiring with Epstein to avoid media scrutiny and deceive his victims. If successful, it would invalidate the original non-prosecution agreement — and potentially allow for another trial that could send him to federal prison.

Jeffrey Epstein is shown in this undated Florida Department of Law Enforcement photo. (REUTERS/Florida Department of Law Enforcement/Handout via Reuters)

When Wild met Epstein, she told the Herald, she wore braces, was captain of the cheerleading squad, first trumpet in the school band, and an A-student at her local middle school. Wild said that Epstein offered her and other girls from poor families $200 to $300 to give him a massage at his luxurious mansion. He paid Wild to recruit other girls, who were also paid to find more themselves. When police finally began unraveling what investigators described as a massive sexual pyramid scheme, it started with just one girl who revealed the name of two girls who recruited her. Those girls then named their recruiters, and so on, until soon police had uncovered a massive pool of victims. Police said that the girls, despite not knowing each other, all told the same story — Epstein would pay them to massage them while half or completely naked, before proceeding to molest them and pay them additional money to convince them to stay quiet and find him new victims. According to another lawsuit, still pending in New York, Epstein also used an international modeling agency to recruit girls as young as 13 from Europe, Ecuador, and Brazil.

“By the time I was 16, I had probably brought him 70 to 80 girls who were all 14 and 15 years old,” said Wild. “He was involved in my life for years.”

Watch the video below to hear from victims and government officials talking about the explosive case:

Read the full story at The Miami Herald.


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‘Pleasure revolution’

A growing wave of sex-positive feminists are working to usher in what they describe as a “pleasure revolution” in which women’s sexuality is embraced, rather than stigmatized, by both individuals and society at large. According to advocates of the movement, such as author and feminist Stephanie Theobold, the pleasure revolution is “about women asserting their own pleasure,” just as the #MeToo movement was about the problem of “men imposing their pleasure on women.” But for Reba Maybury, a 27-year-old political science professor and professional dominatrix, the larger problem is a historical power imbalance that she’s now working to correct in a unique fashion.

A socialist of mixed-race background, Maybury, who also goes by the name Mistress Rebecca, says that she had “always been fascinated by sex and notions of shame around sexuality,” particularly in regard to fetishes.

“I find it ridiculous how secretive people are about fetishes, because everybody has them. Some are just more extreme than others. For most people fetishes are quite subtle and sensitive,” she explains.

For many of her clientele, who are almost exclusively white right-wing men because she finds herself unable “to be even fictionally cruel to any other type of man,” that fetish is serving a powerful woman. Maybury derives her pleasure comes from forcing those men to see the contradiction between their love of powerful women and their support for political parties that actively work to limit women’s rights and empowerment. In her book, Dining with Humpty Dumpty, she detailed conversations with a man she said exhibited the “disgusting contradiction” of claiming to be both “a ‘female supremacist’ and a Tory.’”

“A lot of the book is about how people use political issues as a sexual fantasy and how that’s problematic,” Marbury explained in an interview with Centre Pompadour. “In the book, I decide to think about the power dynamic that exists between a dominatrix and her submissive. If he wants to really make me happy, which he says he does, what could possibly make me more happy than turning him into a socialist?”

Watch Centre Pompadour’s three-part interview with Maybury below.


Read the full story at The Guardian.


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