Nobuko Kobayashi writes for Nikkei Asian Review
In the Nikkei Asian Review opinion piece, “Japan's language gender divide hurts women at work,” EY-Parthenon Partner Nobuko Kobayashi, comments on how gender-specific Japanese language forms, with various levels of assertiveness and social expectation behind them, put women at a disadvantage, in life and particularly in the workplace in Japan.
Gender linguistic differences in Japanese are evident in how and what women say. Unofficial rules around women’s language mirror the suitable characteristics of women in Japan, encouraging them to always be respectful and never direct when speaking.
According to Nabuko, “Classifying women as a different species implicitly justifies unequal treatment of men and women, from promotion in careers to role divisions at home.” Male-female gender distinctions in Japan can cause many limitations for women.
In a corporate setting, “even a senior-ranking woman would intentionally speak demurely to a male peer with a soft, soothing tone.” The forced trade-off between being articulate and being demure while speaking Japanese hurts Japanese women in the long term. It’s also a reason why many Japanese women find English-speaking “liberating.”
As Nabuko points out, “Speech should help us advance, not tie us down to stereotypes. It is time to face up to the discriminatory ways in which our words shape our worlds -- and change them.”