Japanese-American Families Gender Roles

Gender roles in society play a huge part in the way that different cultures act. We are socialized by the expectations of gender roles and the ideas of how men and women are supposed to act. Gender roles differ in many cultures which is why it is important to understand where they come from. It is also interesting to see how gender roles change throughout time. For example in Japanese-American families fathers held most of the authority over the family (Rafael). This was due to the idea of Confucianism, where men were thought to dominate in a family structure and women were loyal to their family and husband (Rafael). Women were expected to be passive, nurtures and look out for the well-being of the family (Brandi). Although men and women both had expectations, the men were expected to work and serve the Lord, and the women were expected to take care of the family and household chores so the husband didn’t have to.

For Japanese-American families, World War II marked a huge shift in the way people thought about gender roles. Japanese-American families were forced from their homes and many were taken to internment camps in California. Some were first sent to assembly centers that consisted of horse stalls, fairgrounds, livestock exhibition halls and more that were built for the camps (Aulette 44). People were given about a week to gather their belongings, sell their business and homes at a fraction of the price and evacuate. They could only bring what they could carry and many women had children to carry as well (Aulette 44). Once in the camps, families were often housed together but some were split up. People were given little to no information about what happened to missing family members (Aulette 44).

Living in these camps were horrible experiences for families and individuals. Privacy was limited as all showers, toilets and eating were communal. On top of these harsh living conditions, families had lost all of the visual images of their memories (Aulette 45). These internment camps had a traumatic effect on every person who was forced to live there. Every person who was able to work was required to work and with nearly equal wages. Men, women, young or old all earned about $16 a month, while professionals like teachers or physicians earned about $19 a month (Aulette 45). Not only did this experience have a very negative effect on the lives of Japanese-Americans, but it also altered their perception of their own place in American society (Aulette 45).

Although this experience for Japanese-American families was a very horrific and traumatizing experience for everyone involved, there may have been some positives. Some researchers have argued that before the war Japanese-American parents, especially fathers held the authority within families (Aulette 46). Marriages were often arranged and all decisions made by the father were strictly followed by the children and wife (Aulette 46). Due to these internment camps and the struggles they faced, those relationships changed. The paid employment of all family members and the nearly equal wages earned, combined with the harsh living conditions and lack of privacy, make it difficult to maintain rigid boundaries around families and the strong authority of fathers over their families (Aulette 46).

Post-WWII jobs and occupations changed gender roles drastically. Many American values influenced this change of attitude of men and women towards each other and traditional roles (Rafael). Loyalty and harmony were still emphasized and women still held most of the control inside the house (Rafael). They still dealt with household chores and decisions allowing men to focus more on their work. However, it became more important to learn to cooperate and help one another as needed instead of viewing these gender roles and traditions so strictly. There were signs of growth and equality in the household of Japanese-Americans that created a greater respect between them.

Overall, we see how traditional gender roles in Japanese-American families has shifted throughout time. In the past, these gender roles were strict and played a huge role in the flow of the family and sticking with past traditions. Men held authority over their children and wives and were expected to work outside the home. They were to focus on themselves and the Lord while the wife dealt with household chores. Women were to be groomed, domestic and obedient, as well as nurturing and take on the responsibility of the well-being of the family (Gender Roles within the Japanese American Community). Although Japanese-American families and individuals endured a horrific experience in the internment camps, it initiated this shift in gender roles. These families went through so much together and ironically resulted in children and wives gaining more control over their lives (Aulette 46).

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