There’s nothing a new mother likes more than being told how to please her husband – right?
A Japanese city learned the hard way this week how very wrong they were, after prompting national outrage over flyers that tried to do just that.
Onomichi city, in Japan’s Hiroshima prefecture, conducted a public survey in 2017 that was used to create flyers for pregnant women later distributed to local residents, according to the city government’s website.
“There are differences in the way men and women feel and think,” one flyer reads. “One of the reasons for this is the structural difference in the brains of men and women. It is known that men act based on theories, while women act based on emotions.”
“The important thing is to understand each others’ differences and divide roles well,” it added, before stating that husbands and new fathers like to be thanked for carrying out basic tasks such as washing the dishes, changing diapers, and holding their child.
Wives may irritate their husbands if they are “busy taking care of the baby and not doing chores” the flyer said, advising women not to “get frustrated for no reason.”
It concluded that there are many things new mothers can do to please their husbands, including giving them massages, preparing their lunch every day, handling the childcare and housework, greeting them with a “welcome home,” and always having “a smile on her face.”
Local media reports this week drew attention to the flyers, with social media promptly erupting in anger and disbelief.
“It’s bad enough that local authorities are transmitting the idea that childcare is the mother’s job and that a third-party father’s assistance will help the mother,” one person wrote on Twitter, recently rebranded as X. “I would like local authorities to raise awareness that fathers are also main actors in childcare.”
“Stress is the enemy during pregnancy, so why exactly are they only attacking women?” another person wrote, pointing out that childbirth takes a heavy toll on women’s bodies. “A letter from an experienced mum to a new dad would probably be a hundred million times more helpful.”
The city’s mayor, Yukihiro Hiratani, published an apology on the local government website on Tuesday, saying the flyers “were not in line with the sentiments of pregnant women, childbearing mothers, and others involved in child rearing, and caused unpleasant feelings for many people.”
He added that the government had stopped distributing the flyers because they “contain expressions that promote attitudes and practices that stereotype gender roles.”
Some online users have pointed out that as stunningly misogynistic as the flyers are, they represent the reality of Japan’s outdated gender norms and the unequal burden placed on women – one reason that has been cited for the country’s continuously falling birth rate.
The flyers, and the public survey it was based on, “mean that this is what men really think,” one person wrote on X. “Most men think that childcare is someone else’s business, wives are supposed to do the housework, don’t neglect looking after their husbands, don’t upset their husbands … You’d better not get married.”
Japan remains a largely patriarchal, conservative society that was ranked 125th out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Index.
Japan’s gender equality in politics is “one of the lowest in the world,” with women making up only 10% of parliament seats, according to the report. And while the number of women in the workforce has increased in recent years, they make up only 12.9% of senior or managerial positions – compared to 41% in the United States and 43% in Sweden, according to the report.
Meanwhile, structural issues still prevent many working men and women from balancing careers with family life, with mothers often sacrificing their jobs to care for their children.
Even those who go back to work may face lower wages or get stuck on the career ladder, experts say. Authorities have tried to push fathers to take a more active role in childcare – but experts say many men are too scared to take paternity leave due to potential repercussions from employers.
All this has contributed to the country’s falling birth rate, with authorities so far failing to encourage young couples to have more children – despite launching a slew of initiatives over the years aimed at boosting childbirth, such as expanding childcare services and some towns offering cash payments for births.
The problem is so bad that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warned this year that Japan is “on the brink of not being able to maintain social functions.” In 2022, Japan recorded fewer than 800,000 births for the first time since records began in 1899.