So, it turns out my husband’s career isn’t adequately supporting me…
I met a former student at the supermarket late last week. He was always a bit odd and inclined to offer unsolicited judgment on things, and this encounter proved to be no exception. By the end of our conversation – the first we had had in over two years, where I used to be the teacher and he the student – he had informed me that I should take my son back to Australia (not in a nice way) and that the name we gave him was not suitable at all. He also managed to imply that my husband’s job was so low-ranking as to be somewhat embarrassing and that he was somehow letting me down.
Unfortunately, this particular individual is not alone in offering his unsolicited commentary on how R’s job really isn’t good enough for me. A lot of people hereabouts have done, often with the telltale expression of confusion that a Japanese man who speaks (nearly) fluent English and has a foreign wife somehow “only” has the job he does, as though I would somehow only have been attracted to someone who is a CEO or something?
Leaving aside what this says about bounty-hunting white women and the supposed inferiority of Japanese men for another day, let’s just look at the work problem. For the record, R is a postman. It’s not exactly a dream job, what with the high pressure he is under to deliver the mail no matter how banal or unnecessary, how long it might take, and the extreme weather that the Japanese climate tends to offer up. It also isn’t especially high-paying and the union is a joke. But it’s work and it’s money. It’s also decent work – he does something that needs doing and from which other people benefit, even if he takes it for granted. R being R, he has a way of making it work for him and owning the job, what with his creative means of making the work easier and the sheer number of his customers that he practically considers his friends.
But none of that is the point.
The point is this: I do not expect R to make career choices around some imagined idea of what will give us the greatest financial and social status while I simply sit back, reap the benefits and… I don’t know, go shopping? Clean the house? Effortlessly prepare divine meals? We do seem to be working with some very old, gender stereotypes here, after all.
I am the first person who will note that the system is rigged. By virtue of being female, I am still, STILL, expected to do the domestic and child-rearing duties. Employers here feel quite all right with asking me straight off if I’m married and who is looking after Mr. K when I’m not working. I will get overlooked for positions that I apply for now that I am in my 30s, if I wasn’t before, because I am expected to be the one bearing the brunt of whatever baby-related issues might arise, or falling pregnant again at any given moment, or both. R, in the meantime, is expected to go out there and earn all the money, and anything less than offering me full financial support is somehow failing as a man, and failing me and his son despite the fact that expenses and expectations keep on rising at the same time as salaries keep on falling.
Sometimes, living in Japan feels like a sojourn back to (my idea of) the 1950s. Aren’t we past this? Shouldn’t we be? Aren’t we trying to be, at least?
Yes, right now, I work part-time and do the bulk of the child-rearing. As I’ve noted before, it was a considered decision, not an automatic one. Yes, we were working within the constraints of the work culture we find ourselves in, but it also involved more individual considerations, like our own preferences and the relative wages we could earn. Right now, I am more reliant on R’s wage than I like, and I’m not terribly happy with our current financial situation, but I regard this as a temporary situation. I never wanted to be reliant on R financially and when I reflect on where my money’s gone, I reflect not on his salary but on my own less than wonderful career choices.
In short, I don’t hold R responsible for my financial situation, whether it be my personal one or our combined one. I don’t think I get off the hook financially because I’m a woman anymore than I think he gets off the hook with regards to childcare and domestic duties because he’s a man. I see us as two people and right now, we’re managing as best we can. In the past, we only needed to manage ourselves but now we’re trying to support the third one we’ve got together (and a pair or so of cats) as well. How we do this is subject to variability depending on our circumstances. That’s all there is to it. Keep the gender stereotypes out of it.