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October 25: Women’s Rights and the Japanese Constitution

Lawrence Bush
October 24, 2016
Beate Sirota Gordon, who at the age of 22 was the only woman on General Douglas MacArthur’s negotiating team that created the post-World War II Japanese constitution, and was responsible for inserting articles that assured rights for women, was born in Austria on this date in 1923. She came to Japan at the age of 6 (her father was a concert pianist and conductor) and eventually became performing arts director of the Japan Society and the Asia Society. During the war, she lived in the U.S. and worked or the Office of War Information and for Time magazine; her parents survived the war in Japan. Gordon was fluent in Japanese, English, German, French, and Russian. When “Lt. Col. Charles L. Kades, head of the constitutional steering committee,” according to the New York Times, “said, ‘My God, you have given Japanese women more rights than in the American Constitution,’ ” she replied, “‘Colonel Kades, that’s not very difficult to do, because women are not in the American Constitution.’” Gordon returned to the U.S. in 1948 and became a presenter and teacher of the performing arts; Yoko Ono was among her best-known students. “The release of her memoir, The Only Woman in the Room, published in Japanese in 1995 and in English two years later, made her a celebrity in Japan,” writes the Jewish Women’s Archive, and she was awarded the Japanese government’s Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1998. Gordon died in 2012 at the age of 89. “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. 2) With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.”--Article 24

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.