Media Mix, March 31, 2019

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the effort to increase the number of female candidates in this month’s prefectural and municipal elections. By all accounts, the effort has been unsuccessful, and the column explains various reasons as reported in the press. Near the end of the piece I mention in passing a Mainichi article that outlined in disturbing detail the harassment and psychological abuse many female politicians have to endure, even from their own supporters. I could have written an entire column on this topic since Mainichi wasn’t the only media to report on it, though some tended to treat it in sensational terms. The usual pattern is that a male supporter gets close to a female candidate and after she is elected he demands more face time with her, and if she doesn’t offer as much attention as he thinks he deserves, he starts stalking and maligning her on social media. In many cases, the woman reduces her public appearances so as to avoid any possibility of coming into contact with her harassers, thus undermining her effectiveness as a public figure. One woman from Machida told Mainichi that she only goes out in public if she’s with other members of the assembly. “They enjoy it when I seem intimidated,” she said of her harassers (there’s more than one), “so I want to be in a position where I can always get help in such situations.” As another woman says, it’s very difficult to log off of social media or even block certain people because politicians have to make themselves available to their constituents. Another woman said she was told to just put up with it, because all public figures have to be effective in dealing with such problems. In other words, it’s part of the job; though it isn’t part of a man’s job, specifically. In that regard, even on a less scary level, almost all the women talked about normal casual harassment related to their gender. If you get pregnant, people complain because they think that means you won’t be able to fulfill your job as a lawmaker. More to the point, in matters of political disagreement, a man will take special offense if a woman politician opposes his viewpoint and use her sex against her. As the example of the young New York congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, shows, this is not a problem limited to Japan, but in America, at least, women who push back are supported in public. In Japan, that seems to be less likely, and the women in the Mainichi article imply that they don’t get much help when fighting against this kind of abuse, and that includes lack of support in the media, whose own attitudes about female politicians may simply exacerbate the problem.

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