Baka 馬鹿 means stupid in Japanese and came from the Sanskrit word “baka” which means for “ignorance” and “illusion.” In Japan, the usage of “baka” started at the end of the Kamakura period (1185–1333). Nowadays we use Chinese characters for the word and the literal meaning of those kanji are 馬 (horse) and 鹿 (deer). It is said that those kanji are just used for their pronunciation, to match the sounds “ba” and “ka.” Actually, though, according to a book called 文明本説用集 written in the middle of the Muromachi period (1392–1573), the word “baka” was written a few different ways:
- 母娘 (Mother-Daughter)
- 馬娘 (Horse-Daughter)
- 破家 (Broken-House)
If asked, “Who do you like that is stupid?" I’d guess many of you would answer, “Nobody.” However, things are quite different in Japan. It’s really pathetic, but there is a famous phrase in Japan:
- Stupid women are better
Sadly, you actually see this question online quite often:
A stupid woman or a smart woman, which do you prefer?
You don’t have to answer, don’t worry.
A Stupid Woman vs A Smart Woman
On January 16, 2013, Goo’s Oshiete Watcher conducted several interviews to try to answer this question. Of course there are people that come down on either side of the fence, those who prefer smart women and those who prefer stupid women. The reasons for men who prefer stupid women were things like:
I prefer stupid women because I’m scared of smart women
When I think of my personality, I’m actually stupid, so I prefer a woman to be similar to me
The men who prefer smart women said things like:
I prefer smart women. If she was smart, then I can be stupid. If I do something stupid in front of a stupid woman, it will develop into a fight
I definitely prefer a smart woman who can pretend as if she is stupid to encourage me
I prefer women who are smart enough to be stupid and make hengao (funny faces), but if she is actually stupid, she wouldn’t know when to be stupid and where not to be. Thus, I prefer smart women.
But wait a minute! What do they mean by “pretending to be stupid”? Although they say they like smart women, doesn’t it also mean that they like a woman who is stupid anyways?
The Stupid Boom!
In fact, a category of Japanese TV people called “obaka-talent” (stupid-talent) or “obaka-Chara” (stupid-character) has even been created. Those women act childish and pretend to be dumb in order to appear “cute”. They usually show up on quiz shows or other comedy related trivia shows and are asked to answer questions really stupidly in order to be laughed at. This phenomenon was called the “Obaka-talent-boom” (Stupid-talent-boom) and they have been very popular since around 2007.
Because of this “stupid woman” demand, one Japanese woman, ＠ya, who married British guy and lives in the UK, was surprised to learn that guys in the UK don’t really like stupid women.
In the UK, men select women very carefully and much of it has to do with the woman’s capabilities. For example, a guy who cares about his career tends to choose a woman who is similar to him. There are many men who don’t choose women solely on their looks, but rather on the complete balance of looks, income and ability, with the latter two holding more weight. Of course, women choose men very selectively, too. Women who are popular choices for many men are often very social and competent at their work. It would also be a big bonus to be both physically and mentally healthy. Conversely, women who tend to just smile and do not have any opinions are called “plain” and are not very popular. You’d be invincible in either scenario if you were a beautiful blonde with a gorgeous body, though.
A Japanese Male Doctor’s Perspective
So, do Japanese men seriously think that women should be stupid? As a woman, I’m personally against the idea and feel compelled to say that men must not think that way, even if it is just one facet of sexual attraction. I don’t understand why this is even a phrase, but I came across blogs written by a plastic surgeon, and in his blog he writes about why men say “stupid women are better” and why he himself actually often says “stupid women are cuter.”
He begins his blog by saying that he doesn’t believe that the abilities of women are of a lesser value than men’s and that he doesn’t look down on women in the slightest. He then continues on to the purpose of writing the blog and does so from his doctor’s perspective.
In Japan, the family roles for men and women are still obviously different: men work to feed their family and women take care of the house. The Japanese work system is actually created for men while the framework for women to continue working while raising a family is not yet provided. In countries like America, where people can “out-source” house workers from different countries, women who have higher education and income also have a higher marriage rate. However, in Japan, even though women graduate from elite universities and start working for very reputable companies, there won’t be a position to return to, nor would they be able to resume their careers at the same level if they quit their jobs following marriage or give birth. Thus, if a woman winds up being a housewife despite her efforts, people conclude that being a stupid, yet cute, woman is better than being a smart woman. I’m pretty sure that if the system was altered, smart women would be more popular among men than stupid women because it’s already happening in the world of medical practice. We earn enough income to hire domestic workers, so wives don’t need to become a housewife and simply continue working. So, male doctors tend to marry female doctors or other such smart women of respectable professions, rather than choosing to marry a stupid women who is also cute.
I think he explains himself very well, thought I’m still not convinced. Let’s look a little deeper into what he’s saying, though.
Although many companies have been trying to change, there are still companies whose system is not good for working women. I worked for the biggest stock and investment exchange company in Japan and held a position that required me to work wherever the company ask me to. There are local positions, but in order to get a higher position, such as a branch manager or area manger, you have to hold a position in which being transferred is possible. I know many Japanese companies have a similar system and the IT company I worked for did this too. Anyways, my point is that it is so tough for women to continue working in the same career after starting a family if the system is like that.
I had a married female superior, who had the same position as I did when she got pregnant. Shortly after finding out that she was pregnant, the company ordered her to transfer from Kyoto to Tokyo, even though she and her husband lived in Osaka. So, until she went on maternity leave, she had to work in Tokyo, thus living separately from her husband. After her maternity leave finished, she had to move back to Tokyo with her baby but without her husband, all to keep her career. Transferring can be quite cruel, but from a company’s perspective it’s fair and equal because that’s how men work in the company. So, I agree that to continue working after marriage or giving birth can be very tough for women.
So, does this mean the reason for the phrase “Stupid Women Are Better” is because Japanese society has generally accepted that work environments are not yet fully developed to accommodate women? So is the solution then to continuously fight for women’s rights, including that of providing some allowances for returning to work after giving birth, and slowly progressing towards a better society for women, one in which they can work wherever and whenever they want? Well, it might surprise you to learn that this may not be what many Japanese women desire.
Japanese Wife = Housewife?
According to an official survey conducted by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which quizzed over 3,000 people aged 15-39 in March, 2013, 19.3% of Japanese men still prefer the woman they are with to become a housewife after getting married. I believe that the above mentioned work environment is one of the reasons why men want to keep their wives in house, otherwise there’s the possibility of not seeing her very often. You know, many Japanese men’s priority is work, but if a women pursues their careers, it means they have to make work a priority as well.
Surprisingly, it’s not every man’s ideal and a great many women also think this way. According to the same research, 1 in 3 single women in Japan want to be a full-time housewife, despite the growing demand for their participation in the male-dominated Japanese workforce.
I hope you noticed something interesting here. From that survey, more women wanted to become housewives than men who wanted their wives to become housewives. That means women want to be housewives on their own, much of the time. Why is that?
The Reasons Why Women Want To Be Housewives
So, why do women want to be housewives? According to another research study conducted by U-Can and I-Share where over 1,243 women were quizzed from July 16-20, 2010, 53.9% of women said they wanted to be a housewife.
- 55.2% of them said it was “because I want to attend to housework and raising children.”
- 25.5% said they wanted to focus on their hobbies.
- 15% said it was because they don’t like working.
Even though the women feel this way, 68% of women who wanted to become a housewife said that it’s difficult to become a housewife nowadays because of their family’s financial responsibilities. In fact, there are more and more wives who unwillingly continue to work because they need the money. 85% of them answered that they would find a job if their husband asked them to (because there is no other option) and 42.7% said they would choose a part time job (an arubaito) so that they could have some flexibility with their time and location and therefore be able to stay closer to home. Sort of the best(ish) of both worlds.
It’s A Stereotype, But Still Alive
So, regardless of whether they have to continue working or not, being a housewife and wanting your wife to be a housewife is often a mutual desire of both Japanese men and women. Therefore, when a Japanese person dates someone from another country, there can be some differences in thought. Take the following Japanese man’s comments, for example.
My girlfriend is Irish-Scottish. I’ve lived with her for half a year now and I don’t find many differences between her and Japanese girls. If there was one thing that I would highlight, it would be that she may have different ideas about work than a Japanese girl. She says she doesn’t understand having to quit her job just because she gets married.
Now, if the work environment is not the only reason, was it just men’s preference after all, then? According to Rocket News24’s The top 10 things foreign women hate about Japanese men, “Acting like they are better than women” was ranked number 8. Sometimes it’s fun to be a little stupid at parties or other such events, but it’s not fun at all to be called “stupid” all the time.
As for me, I’m not sure if I am smart because I do and say a lot of stupid stuff, but I don’t ever want to pretend as if I am stupid for the sake of men. If I am stupid or do stupid things, I want it to be for good reasons, like making my friends laugh – with me, not at me.
Actually, writing about this topic reminded me of my ex-boyfriend who didn’t like me giving him any advice. For example, when he complained about his superior, he just wanted me to smile and be sympathetic. At the time, we were both working for the same company, so I told him what I thought after he told me his complaint and it turned out to be the end of our relationship. He told me that an opinionated girl was not his type, so I guess he was one of those guys that like “obaka-character” girls. I considered his way of thinking to be rather appropriate for this article, STUPID! へへへへ。