There are a lot of subjects I don't follow with much enthusiasm or interest. Sports, by and large. American Idol. Anything on MTV since the B-52s were in heavy rotation. You get the idea.

To that list you can add "the Japanese monarchy." Without disputing its rich and intriguing history, I've never paid much attention to the lives of those around the Chrysanthemum Throne. However, noodling through the Times this morning, this article about the Crown Prince and his family caught my eye:

When an official at the Imperial Household Agency suddenly announced
last week
that 8-year-old Princess Aiko was refusing to go to school because of bullying, he did more than just disclose a mundane problem facing a member of Japan’s ancient and secretive monarchy.

He also added a new twist to one of the most riveting but mysterious dramas in Japan, the seven-year depression and seclusion of Aiko’s mother, Crown Princess Masako, the Harvard-trained former diplomat. Aiko is the only child of Princess Masako and her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito, and is widely known to be one of the few sources of joy for the troubled crown princess.

Frankly, I suspect Princess Masako has a pretty damn crappy life. I can't imagine that the secluded, tightly monitored life of a member of a royal family in a highly traditional culture holds much opportunity for joy of any kind for a woman who went to the trouble of becoming a Harvard-educated diplomat in the first place. It's the sort of life certain women went to a lot of trouble to leave.

But the next paragraph leaves me completely baffled:

The episode has once again put Princess Masako’s unhappy story into the harsh glare of Japan’s tabloid press. The news media here portrayed her 1993 wedding as the fairy-tale marriage of a commoner to a prince but then grew increasingly critical of her inability to bear a male heir for the Chrysanthemum Throne. The mounting pressure is widely seen as contributing to what appears to have been a breakdown. [emphasis added]

I will leave aside the questions about the value of heredity monarchies in modern democratic societies or the baffling insistence that only bearers of Y chromosomes are fit to ascend the throne. (One might note that some countries ended up doing quite well when women took over.) But can I really believe my eyes? Is the press in a highly-educated, scientifically-advanced society like Japan actually blaming a woman (any woman) for her "inability to bear a male heir"? Seriously?!?!?!?

Because, as even the most basic genetics textbook will tell you, women are not responsible for the gender of their children. The X or Y chromosome comes from the father. One may as well blame Princess Masako for inclement weather as for whether she bears girls or boys. If the Japanese press is somehow ignorant of this long-established bit of science then it is shockingly incompetent, and has no business offering commentary on the subject.

I know next to nothing about Japanese society, so perhaps there is some nuance I am missing. But to compound the misery of an unhappy woman by blaming her for something utterly out of control seems to say something very, very ugly about the country.


  1. Before writing off the Japanese Press as yahoos, one might ask if the NYT reporter has accurately captured the media's take on why the couple have no sons. Of course, journalists (and editors) are among the most innumerate, scientifically ignorant professionals in the US, and I'd be surprised if it were different in Japan.

  2. Because, as even the most basic genetics textbook will tell you, women are not responsible for the gender of their children. The X or Y chromosome comes from the father.

    Sorry Dr.dan, I know this is not your intention, but it sounds like you are saying the Japanese Press should be blaming the father.
    Who the hell cares in either case? no man has any control which of his little wigglers will run the gauntlet. Take them to task for blaming either parent, and especially take them to task for preferring a boy over a girl. Myself, I love me them Geishas.


  3. Since it seems to need clarifying, I don't think it makes sense to "blame" anyone for the gender of the children, in a similar vein as how ridiculous it is to insist on children of one gender in the first place. But I suspect the same kind of misogyny that would insist on a male heir also informs the placement of blame on the mother, which is particularly stupid.

    And yes, GJ, I am presuming a certain degree of due journalistic diligence on the part of the Times reporter. Perhaps this is wrong, but I have my doubts.

  4. Please don't devalue the word misogyny by claiming that retaining centuries old traditions constitutes hatred of women. If the tradition results in real physical harm, say severing the clitoris, then yes, it is misogynistic. But if granting preference to a male heir is misogyny, well, patronyms are misogyny. And then we'd have to figure out what to do when Ms. Jane Smythe-Butterfield-James-Cooper married Mr. Richard Thomas-Byrns-Campbell-Winfield and they had children.

  5. Gonna hit the "disagree" button on this one, GJ. Affirming the belief that only males are fit to ascend the throne is misogynist. Centuries old traditions are not given a pass just because they are centuries old.

    And so far in life, I have yet to meet a couple where the wife has chosen to keep her name that have had trouble finding a mutually acceptable means of naming their children.

  6. "But if granting preference to a male heir is misogyny," But??? Of course it is. The normal and natural preference is two have one healthy boy and one girl. With emphasis on healthy. And as to last names, that is entirely up to the parents. My children have Chinese and American names. The chinese surname is their mothers (and she chose their chinese given names as well). If my wife were an American whose family had no males I would have had no problem with my kids having another last name besides my own since I have brothers and plenty of nephews to carry on the name.


  7. I, too, think it's misogynist since it is predicated on the inability of women to be leaders. I don't think misogyny must rise to the level of violence.

  8. I don't think it is predicated on the inability of women to be leaders. We have records of women leaders back in the Bible. I think it was predicated on the higher likelihood of a warrior queen being killed in battle, back in the days when military leaders had to be close to battle to lead.

    And male primogeniture originated in the need to keep large estates intact. Males carried the name, and so the fortune, absent unusual circumstances.

    We're all misogynist, since we're all carrying names from fathers in this society. And we're all misandrists as well, since we grant women superior rights in family law.