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February 11, 2013 / Karen Hill Anton

The “50% Solution”

With my daughters in front of our house

With my daughters in front of our house

(January 26, 1995)

Not so long ago, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion held at a university in Tokyo.

I was introduced to the audience as a regular columnist for The Japan Times and another newspaper. They were told I had traveled widely, and that among my “many accomplishments” I was a published author.

I didn’t realize until the discussion was over that the moderator had not mentioned that I am a wife and mother of four children — facts that were in the profile she’d asked me to submit.

I know the woman who moderated the discussion. We’re old friends, and met just after I came here almost 20 years ago. She’s Japanese and an ardent feminist. She and I, and the American woman with whom she organized the event, have had more than one animated exchange of views.

Yuko says that I’m a feminist and that I don’t even know it. I say that I never said that I am not a feminist, but that I do not use one-word labels to describe who I am or expect those labels to explain how and why I think and act the way I do.

In any case, I’m sure she thought she was doing the correct thing by not “defining” me through my connection with my husband as his wife, or my children as their mother. I know she doesn’t think being a wife and mother is an “accomplishment” — but I do.

I was both amused and annoyed by the omission. After the discussion we were able to talk leisurely, first at a restaurant, and later at her luxury apartment where I was an overnight guest.

It appears she’d rather drink hemlock than address me as “Mrs.” (I met some people during a recent trip to America who admitted to being “afraid” to use that title.) What’s the big deal? That I’m married is not a secret. “I have four children,” I told her, “if I weren’t married, and living with their father, the chances are, statistically, my life would be one big hardship.”

I also let her know that while I don’t think I am deserving of any special awards, still — as anyone who has passed the 20-year mark can tell you — it’s one thing to get married, it’s quite another to remain married.

Yuko also seems to think if you happen to fall into the mother category, well, you needn’t mention it publicly. But for all the things I’ve done that could be announced as “accomplishments,” I can’t think of anything that has been more challenging, or for which I would more care to receive credit, than raising my children.

My friend Yuko is intelligent, multilingual, and has graduate degrees from European and American universities. She’s respected in her academic field and as the author and translator of numerous books. She is “successful” in the way that word is generally understood.

She’s also married. Her husband, to state it plainly, is very wealthy. She has a dog that eats grapes from her hand and on whom it would not be an exaggeration to say she lavishes more attention than I do on my children.

She’s told me that years ago she chose not to have children because her husband would not agree to look after them “50 percent.” This 50 percent was very important to her. She says that it’s still important to her that her husband do “exactly half of the domestic work,” which seems to make sense in their case.

Of course, there are many marriages in which the man works at an outside job exclusively, while the woman looks after the home and children, exclusively. While this can work, because it simplifies roles, it often appears to result in the overworked businessman who’s an alien in his family, and the unfulfilled housewife who seeks meaning in life through shopping.

Any woman might be perfectly happy to be home full-time with a newborn infant. I was. I thought it was a privilege. But the same woman may find that role totally unsatisfying when the infant is a child and the child an adolescent.

I can’t see how a marriage can be functional unless it reflects the couple’s real needs. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say marriages need to be perpetually renegotiated. In my marriage there are regular readjustments to accommodate our, or our children’s, continually changing circumstances.

What I think is most important, I told Yuko, is that each couple work things out for their own particular situation.

She, on the other hand, believes that it’s important that all women — Japanese women especially — insist on domestic equality. They must strive for what I call “the 50-percent solution.”

“Well, what about in my house?” I said. “Because of the nature of my husband’s work, that 50 percent wouldn’t be a solution, but a problem. If I go home and tell him, ‘Look, Yuko’s husband does this and that, and I want you to do this and that too,’ I wouldn’t have a solution but a dilemma.”

“Then you think the feminist ideal is wrong?” she asked. “And that it has to be worked out on an individual basis?”

“How else can your work it out?” I wanted to know. “After all, a marriage, a serious relationship, can’t be based on an ideology — on some abstract ’50 percent’.”

She agreed with me in the end, but told me I should be careful about expressing my views publicly. (You can see what I think about heeding her warning.)

Yuko said that it’s important to make the point that there must be equality between men and women. Of course I agree with her.

But since the idea that men and women are not equal has never crossed my mind, what I feel is important to establish in a marriage is not equality — but balance.


© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Leave a Comment
  1. neil / Feb 13 2013 4:08 am

    So lucid you are Karen. How come it didn’t rub off on Tamar


    • Karen Hill Anton / Feb 22 2013 11:38 am

      Neil, hey
      Thanks for your comment about my lucidity … goodness knows I try 😉


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