Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Avoiding Bad Moves: Relocation, Work/Family Conflict, and Japanese Career Women" talk at Pitt, December 6.

During the academic year the University of Pittsburgh's Asian Studies Center hosts numerous "Brown Bag Lecture Series" talks, and the last one of Fall 2012 is by Blaine Connor. It's titled "Avoiding Bad Moves: Relocation, Work/Family Conflict, and Japanese Career Women", and given at 4130 Posvar Hall. The abstract of the talk:
Relocation can lead to professional growth and career advancement, but can also lead to work/family conflict. In this talk Connor will present the stories of three Japanese career women whose relocations led to personal crises. These crises resulted from a workplace policy which made periodic relocation obligatory for male and female employees alike. By analyzing how they faced these crises and what gave rise to them, Connor aims to shed light on issues of work-life balance, gender equity, and obstacles to social and cultural change.

Men usually get the short end of the stick in gender studies, though Dr. Connor's earlier work provides more thorough coverage. Here's the abstract to his 2010 Ph.D. thesis, "Transfers and the Private Lives of Public Servants in Japan: Teachers in Nagasaki’s Outer Islands":
Women’s workforce participation has been rising in advanced capitalist countries over the past decades, leading to a question about whether concepts of gender and work are changing. Answering the question is important, because that rise has been associated with a drop in marriage and birth rates, worrying governments concerned about who will pay into social security, replace retirees, do military service, etc. The theory linking these trends is that “traditional” gender concepts (e.g., women as the primary homemakers) hamper women’s ability to succeed at work.

To address this question I researched public school teachers in Nagasaki, Japan. Men and women teachers work under equal conditions, including the obligation to accept relocations several times during their careers. Relocations challenge teachers’ work and family arrangements. Studying how teachers have dealt with them should reveal changes in concepts of work and gender.

Through ethnographic fieldwork (2003-2006) in Nagasaki’s outer islands and archival research, I find that even though men and women teachers have long been asked to perform the same duties in terms of teaching courses, leading homerooms, serving on committees, interacting with parents, and accepting transfers and relocations, they respond to this “on-paper” gender-blind work environment in a way which reflects “traditional” gender concepts. Although both choose to relocate alone rather than disrupt a child's education or a parent’s elder care, women feel their absence from the home is a burden on others, so tend to race home often, whereas men feel their presence in the home is disruptive to others, so tend to “tough it out” without returning much. And if the family is threatened by the parents' absence from home due to work, the woman is the one expected to quit. “Gender-blind” policies permit men and women to combine work and family, but men’s and women’s gender concepts continue to shape how they balance these sometimes competing commitments and goals.

These findings show that equalizing workforce participation does not lead to changes in concepts of work and gender, nor to a diminishment of gender’s significance, even when work policies are “gender-blind.” Culture can persist despite social and legal changes.
The full dissertation is available for those reading on a university campus.

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