From feminist icon to prime minister? Tuesday's announcement that 59-year old defense minister Yuriko Koike is now a candidate to run its top political party was more than an echo of the gender-gap politics across the world. Koike did sound more than a little like other female candidates we've heard from lately: "Female power is something that Japan can also possess," she told a news conference. "I would like to put into practice policies from the viewpoint of women, so that female power can be put to better use and women can be a part of society while being free from anxiety to give birth and raise children."

As Salon writer Corrie Pikul points out, Koike brings to her bid — which, if successful, could make her Japan's first female prime minister — both a deep legislative resume and a deep record of working toward those policies.

How relevant is Koike's gender to the job? Has she said anything about helping, you know, women? Because they could use it: In terms of economic, political and educational equality, Japan ranks 91 out of 128 countries, according to the World Economic Forum's 2007 Global Gender Gap Report (The U.S. ranks 31.) Japanese women have become notorious for stubbornly refusing to reproduce, and their country has become almost as notorious for its masochistic workplace customs, which make child rearing unappealing to men as well as women. Koike, who doesn't have any children, hasn't yet suggested any mom-friendly policies, but she appears to have been reaching out to professional women for years.

According to her Web site, she has written books and articles (it's unclear which are which) with titles like "Network for Women," "Women in the Environmental Business," and the catchy-if-slightly-incongruous "Climbing the Pyramid in a Kimono." Since sidling into the spotlight, she's drawn on her gender advantage when talking to the press. "Change is not happening fast enough for women, either in Japanese society or our political world," she recently told London's Daily Telegraph. When asked by a male TV anchor if she would fight with strength rather than beauty, Koike replied: "Naturally. In the first place, I'm not beautiful." Weird question, smooth (if untrue) answer.

Maybe it's all that Valium: In a recent California study, researchers found a significantly higher frequency of falls among women over 70 who get less than seven hours of sleep a night. But perhaps more important, the use of Valium or Xanax only makes it worse:

Overall, the average number of falls one year after the collection of sleep data was 0.84. But 549 (18.4 percent) of the women had two or more falls during that year. Women who slept five hours or less per night were more likely to have two or more falls than those who slept more than seven to eight hours a night….

In all, 214 subjects (7.2 percent) reported current use of benzodiazepines (hypnotic medicines used to treat insomnia). "Use of any benzodiazepine (short and long combined) was associated with a 1.34-fold increased risk of falls, whereas short- and long-acting benzodiazepine use was associated with an increased odds of 1.43 and 1.18, respectively," wrote [researcher] Katie L. Stone, of the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco.

Whatever you do, don't use Grandma.  At a recent journalists' conclave, reporters were warned off  of 99 percent of the usual taglines used to describe people over 45, according to the L.A. Times:

Steer clear of "senior citizen," the respondents say. It's offensive to many sets of 65 and older ears. And as for "boomer," it's been overused. Young people hate it. The 77 million people born between roughly 1946 and 1964, to whom it refers, might be getting a little sick of it too. What exactly does it even mean, when some of them will be collecting Social Security soon while others of them might be just sending tots off to kindergarten.

People in midlife, generally thought to be about 40 to 60, probably like that term more than "middle-aged," the journalists thought. It's probably just best to refer to a person's exact age, if it matters to the story, and leave the description out of it. The entry in our own Los Angeles Times Stylebook: "senior, senior citizen: Use these words with caution."

— Chris L.

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