As someone that is bilingual and comes from two cultural backgrounds, this gives me the ability to compare the two languages and cultures in order to highlight certain concepts or issues that are specific to a certain culture.
I often wondered what the reason was behind the differences in “awareness” of sexism in English speaking countries compared to Japan. I’ve noticed that in Japan, the issue of sexism isn’t discussed very often, whereas in English speaking countries are constantly advocating women’s rights and gender equality through marches, social media posts spreading women’s movements. (ex: #metoo, #heforshe) As I saw aspects of sexism and gender inequality in both cultures, I questioned why there was such a difference in advocacy for equality.
As I was studying the topic of “Sexism in Language” in my English Language and Literature class, I started to wonder if it was the difference in language that the two cultures have, that contribute to the differences in awareness of gender equality.
For example, in the English language, there are a lot of insulting and degrading terms that specifically refer to women, which are all blatantly sexist in nature. I feel like these words contribute to the “catcalling culture”, allowing women to be deliberately called offensive names. On the other hand, Japan has little to no words that are explicitly offensive towards women, but rather implicitly sexist. In Japan, there are many ways to refer to a wife such as 妻 (tsuma),奥さん (oku-san), 嫁 (yome). When looking at the Chinese characters used in some of these words, they are made up of characters with sexist implications. For example, the term 嫁 (yome) is a combination of two characters: 女(woman) and 家(house), which associates women to housework,reinforcing the gender stereotype that a womanʻs duty is to do the housework. Similarly with the term 奥さん(oku-san), consists of the character 奥(oku), which means “in the back”. This could suggest two things: either that women are meant to be “in the back” of the house doing the housework, or that women are meant to be “in the back” of their husbands as a “supporting role” and pander to their husbands. The implications that are made in the terms to refer to a wife contrasts with the implications in the Chinese characters to refer to a husband. One common way to refer to a husband is 主人 (Shujin). The term can also mean “master” and is made up of characters 主(owner/main) and 人(person), implying that men take on the role of being the owners of the household, also reinforcing the idea that women are to be the “supporting role” for men. Although the terms are not explicitly sexist, they still reinforce gender roles, and expectations of both genders. Besides terms that are used to describe a husband and wife, there are many more examples in the Japanese language that imply these stereotypes. However, these terms are not meant to degrade women or to be misogynistic, and so the sexism in these terms often go unnoticed.
Through comparing the two languages, I came up with the conclusion that perhaps the reason why there is a difference in the “awareness” of sexism between the two cultures is because the English language is more explicit and deliberately offensive towards women, whereas in Japan the sexism is only implied, and is not meant to be offensive, therefore it is not seen as an issue. Thus, despite the fact that both cultures show aspects of sexism, one is more evident than the other, not to say that one culture is more sexist than the other. I found that the language of each culture reflects the characteristics of the culture.
I believe that the being bilingual and having an understanding of two different cultures has allowed me to understand what each society values, and has taught me the importance of choosing my words carefully in both languages, in order to respect the people in each society. I aim to continue looking into differences in the languages in both the Japanese and English language, in order to have a better understanding my two cultural backgrounds, and to use my biracial identity for a good cause.