Gender Inequality For Women in Japan
I am an American who works at a Japanese company in Japan. I try to avoid commenting about social issues while at the office, but when the topic of women’s equality is brought up, I have a strong opinion.
Equality of Women in Japan
Women in Japan show higher rates of gender inequality than their counterparts from other developed nations because they have fewer equally available life and career choices available to them. I would call this a form of oppression.
A Look at Japan
Japan is the 3rd largest GDP in the world. Like the USA (#1 in GDP) and most of Europe, Japan is a country in post-industrialization. To put its GDP in perspective, Japan’s per capita GDP (PPP) is about equal to the United Kingdom and France, about 4x the PPP of China and 72% of the USA’s. Simply put, the people of Japan are as rich as the people of Western Europe.
Culture is not something that can be easily measured, but scholars have put some aspects of culture into sudo-measurable spectrums, and one such spectrum is groupism-individualism.
Japan scores higher on groupistic traits than on individualistic traits, meaning that harmony and unity are generally valued more than individual opinion and personal gain. In this culture one feels value when they are part of a group or class, with additional value on camaraderie and shared experiences. To be a loner or too concerned about selfish wants is looked down upon.
When thinking about groupism and individualism, neither is one is better or worse, just different.
Swallowing your pride is an expected part of everyone’s life in Japanese society. Personal pride can be an obstacle to the harmony of groupism, since you can’t have harmony if one person refuses to join the values of the group. A byproduct of this cultural feature is excellent customer service, since store staff are more willingly and used to putting themselves in a subservient roles for a customer, removing their pride.
Not following the group, not performing to the expectations of your company department, not getting married and having kids on time; these will bring shame upon you and/or your family. This can lead to hazing and being cast out of support circles. Shame is one of the stresses of groupism in Japan, and a deciding factor when choosing a course of action.
Oppression of Women in Japan?
In Japan, men and women are thought of as simply different. Different not just in body but in mind and inborn responsibility. Traditionally men hold power in society, and women have power in the family household, a form of dyadic power. As I will explain later, this role of “lord of the home” is a position that is very welcoming to women in Japanese society. It isn’t surprising many women strive for this to be their goal (groupism).
What if a woman doesn’t want that kind of life?
If a woman can’t or doesn’t want to get married, this may be viewed as shame on their family, so most in this situation will focus on their career and becoming independent. However, even though they are just as independent as their male counterparts, the pay is not equal, and the road to promotion is an uphill battle.
Women who don’t complete any tertiary education have a difficult time finding full-time employment. For women between the ages of 15 and 65, a 63% are working either full-time or part-time (compared to 85% of men working). Of the women who work, they will fill 70% of Japan’s part-time jobs, sometimes by choice but sometimes by lack of opportunity for full time employment. However, this data by itself can’t tell us much, because some women who are married and have kids also work part-time.
For the women who are in a full-time position, on average they receive 28% less than men of the same age in the same field. Putting that in perspective, if a man gets $2500 per month for his work, a woman will only get $1800.
Why the huge gap?
Skewed Educational Focus
A disproportional amount of women attend university, only about 40% of all students are women, and of those only 25% study sciences. And after graduation, for the amount of time they spent on their education, Japanese women receive lower salaries than women in other countries. This data is perhaps reflective of the lower numbers of women studying sciences, and a higher number studying arts and humanities.
Gender Roles in a Society That Chooses Your Carrer
A woman and a man enter a Japanese company at the same time, both with the same levels of experience and education. The woman will most likely be placed into a customer service department and the man into a sales department. Unfair? Yes, but this decision is decided for the company by pressure from customers.
It is a social norm for Japanese companies to have a cute image or character, and Japanese society values the beauty and cuteness of young women. When placed into a position of customer service, they become the “face” of the company, and women are stereotypically viewed as being kinder, nicer, more subservient and more beautiful than their male counterparts. Positions in customer service are generally on the lower paying steps of the cooperate ladder. There are few technical or speciality skills being taught in these positions, making it even more difficult for a career boost, not being able to compete with their male counterparts who were in the back office.
Most women will unfortunately put up with this employment. They don’t want cause waves or break the harmony of following management’s decisions. Plus, there is the added risk that causing trouble could lead to losing a comfortable full-time job and any future hope of advancement within the company. Even if they get stuck in a secretary, receptionist, or call center position, they won’t complain. She’s been trained by society to swallow her pride and work for the betterment of the group – and at least it’s full-time position with enough money to pay the bills of a tiny 25m2 apartment.
Women in Japan do have freedom and can decide how they want to live their life, but are given two very distint paths: the easy route to becoming a housewife, and the rocky road to do anything else. A career is possible, but trying to go up into the “boy’s club” of management is very difficult. This kind of career oppression that women have limits their ability to become financially independent and achieve the same social status as their male counterparts. This is not equal treatment, with less pay for equal work. This is a form of economic and social oppression.