SEXIST LANGUAGE IN JAPANESE TRADITION AND RECENT TRENDS / Aimi Kamozawa

One of the most popular menus at the Italian restaurant where I work is a ladies’ special course. This course, is of course, as it says, served for girls and women, and they can enjoy this course with extra pieces of cake at a low cost. Recently, in Japan, there are hundreds of words and phrases related to gender. These words and phrases remind me of my femininity anytime I am talking with family members and friends, watching TV or hearing the couple’s conversation next to me in the train. I think that it is almost impossible to have a conversation completely without these words in society. Many of these words and phrases are sexist, defining what women and men should be like. In the essay, “Bossy’ Is Not Just a Word to Women,” Deborah Tannen, a linguistic professor, argues how strongly the term “bossy” affects women. A number of women hesitate to act authoritatively at the workplace because they do not want to be criticized or sometimes labeled “bossy.” Tannen claims that women can neither behave modestly nor give orders directly when they are working because those behaviors make women seem unreliable or too aggressive. Tannen concludes her essay with her idea that the term “bossy” has stronger influence than usual words and that this word causes limitation of women’s activity, which denies their potential (63-65). I agree with Tannen’s idea that sexist language can influence our perceptions of gender, but I think that such influences are beginning to fade, especially in Japan.

Today many women behave like a typical woman partly because they do not want to be criticized in a sexist society. In Japan, where I think sexism is deeply rooted, roles of each family member were traditionally assigned by gender: women are in charge of housework, and men are in charge of earning for the family. That custom is proved in sexist words in Japanese, such as “家内” meaning “wife” and “亭主関白” meaning “chauvinistic husband.” Japanese language has several words meaning “wife,” but “家内” is a word used specifically by a husband. This term originally meant the inside of the house. Thus, the word “家内” indicates that women should be devoted to the care of her family and housework once they became married. Although this word does not specifically refer to women, it became the term for women because housekeeping is traditionally wives’ duty. The term “亭主関白,” which consists of “亭主(husband)” and “関白(the chief adviser to the emperor in ancient Japan),” also stands for a similar situation. This word symbolizes the relationship that a husband has the authority to make every decision while a wife follows in silence. On the contrary, wives who do not follow this standard and tell their husbands some directions are criticized as “鬼嫁” meaning “ogre wife.” Similar to the word “bossy” Tannen raises as an example in her essay, this word prevents wives from expressing their honest feeling and expressing their opinion in the house. These sexist words have affected women by limiting women’s activity.

While I gave three examples of sexist words that have influences on women, sexist language can influence men as well as women. In Japanese, the meal men cook for themselves is popularly called “男飯.” This kind of meal is different from other meals in terms of taste, the way to cook, and its appearance. Its taste is quite heavy and tends to be a mixture of salty and sweet flavors. Also, in most cases, the main ingredient is meat, which is believed to energize both men’s bodies and minds. Such meals take only minutes to prepare and are very easy and simple to cook. Even if they cook it in a rough way, it will probably never taste bad. They look quite simple and plain while more women emphasize the appearance of dishes, as well as taste, and arrange the table. I think that the term “男飯” gives preconceived ideas that men should be strong, brave and full of energy, they do not need to cook or have the ability to cook at all, and that their rough manner is rarely considered to be troublesome.

Although it is true that many sexist words or phrases establish typical figures of men and women, I think that youth culture creates new “sexist” language, which removes the stereotypes of gender these days. For example, the Japanese term “草食系男子(herbivorous boy),” challenges the stereotype of boys. Since this term means a calm boy who is passive when it comes to dating, I think that it is against the idea that men and boys have to be aggressive and brave. In my opinion, such “sexist” words confirm men’s modest behavior and women’s brave behavior rather than denying those attitudes.

In conclusion, I strongly agree with Tannen on the point that sexist language exerts influences on people’s behavior related to gender, but I believe that such influences are diminishing. Many Japanese youngsters who use new types of sexist language are probably so broad-minded that they accept diversified personalities. I hope for a society where each individual is free from stereotypes and outdated traditions.

Works Cited

Tannen, Deborah. “’Bossy’ Is More Than a Word to Women.” America Now: Short

Readings from Recent Periodicals. Ed. Robert Atwan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015. 63-65. Print.

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