Climbing the corporate ladder while dealing with a sexist office culture is, unfortunately, all in a day’s work for ladies in Japan. We show you some tactics to effect change at your workplace — even if it’s only baby steps.
It was 10 p.m. and my boss and I had just walked out of our last meeting for the day. I was lightheaded with hunger, tired and fantasizing about the moment I could take off my high heels. As we walked to the closest station together, out of the blue he turned to me and asked: “So, do you make dinner for your husband every night?”
My eyes narrowed and my neocortex went on red alert. What I really wanted to say was: “How could I possibly do that? It’s 10 p.m. and I’m here. With you. Working. For the third time this week — and it’s only Thursday!” Instead, I scrounged around for a comment biting enough to (hopefully) make him think and said: “My partner works for a gaishikei (foreign company). He leaves work on time and cooks for me.’
Ingrained sexism at the office
Deeply entrenched beliefs and assumptions like this flourish in Japan’s traditionally-minded office culture. This goes for office environments across the country, where due to the cultural focus on wa (harmony) and gaman (basically, “grin and bear it”), many women go along with uncomfortable situations and remain silent, since fighting back would paradoxically make them “a troublemaker.”
Most instances of outlandish behavior come from older managerial types, such as those who summon their female coworkers by calling out, “Ne! (Hey!)” or who refuse to see women as anything other than “OL” (office ladies) who take care of the workspace and perform menial tasks. Although the younger generation is not usually so blatantly sexist, it’s easy for men in the Japanese workplace to remain blissfully unaware of how the nature of their comments can affect us.
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