This past Shabbat I gobbled up Aliza Orbach’s thought-provoking and wonderful book To be a Mother (Yediot Books, Hebrew, להיות אמא). Each chapter focuses on the life of a different Israeli mother. One of my favorite chapters is about a 40-year-old mother of 5 named Carmel Ronen, who shared the following:
I lived in Japan for 4 years. I worked with Israeli companies helping them to enter the Japanese market. When I married Zeev, I returned to Israel. A Japanese woman who marries stops working and becomes a housewife. I promised my Japanese customers that that was not going to happen to me, but when Ayalon was born I decided that I was going to stop the work trips and flights and that I was only going to work as much as motherhood allowed…
I made a choice to replace one career with another– the children. To this day, when people ask me what I do, I answer, “I am a mother and household manager.” And when they say, “Ahh, so you don’t work…” I tell them what my day looks like: I take care of my babies, I nurse, I clean, I do laundry, I fold laundry, I iron, I cook, I take my children to school and bring them home, I drive them to their friends and afterschool activities. Excuse me, that’s not work?!
In Western society, what I do is considered less respectable and “not working.” In Japan, the system works differently, and in this regard I connect very strongly to the Japanese culture.
When a Japanese man gets married, he receives a raise in salary, so that his wife can take care of the home and the children and the family can live honorably on one salary.
The nickname in Japanese for a married woman is “Kami-Sama” which means G-d, and that is also the way society relates to her.
We, instead, see her as “the Little Woman.” In Japan, they give true respect to the job which is called “household manager.” The man is the one who brings home the money, but the woman is the one who decides what to do with it. Women in Japan don’t have to earn money to feel self fulfilled. They are free to study, to enrich themselves, to be with their children, to meet friends. That’s what I call feminism.