The power, and the strangeness, of misogynist thinking are both on display in Japan, as a pregnancy in the royal family adds a new edge to the debate about the imperial succession.

While the British-cum-Australian monarchy gives male heirs preference
over females, Japanese law goes further and restricts the succession to
the male line: women cannot become emperor or pass on a claim to their
children. But the current heir apparent, crown prince Naruhito, has
only one child, a daughter, so the government of prime minister
Junichiro Koizumi has proposed amending the law to allow female

Now Princess Kiko, the wife of Naruhito’s younger brother, is expecting
her third child – she already has two daughters. If she gives birth to
a boy, he would take his place in the line of succession following his
uncle and his father. The three girls would still be ruled out, but the
“crisis” of no second-generation heir would be averted.

Koizumi plans to go ahead with his reform, which is strongly backed by
public opinion, but conservative opponents of the change will be
encouraged by the hope of a male heir. This morning’s Australian says that “Koizumi risks controversy and diminishing prospects of success, if he sticks to his guns.”

Opposition focuses not so much on the idea of a reigning empress, but
on succession passing through a woman. Hence former minister Takeo
Hiranuma, quoted by AFP,
is worried about a princess marrying a foreigner and so “permanently
changing the blood of the imperial line.” Blood is evidently just a
male thing, since the fact that emperors can marry anyone they like
doesn’t seem to worry him.

Another opponent of the change, quoted last October,
explained “We are not opposed to a female emperor, but we are opposed
to the disruption of the imperial lineage through male DNA.” So women
are allowed to rule, so long as they carry “male DNA” from their
fathers. But the son of an empress, who presumably would only have
female DNA (!), is ruled out.

The language of prejudice changes with the times, but not the ugly reality underneath.