Status of Women in Asian Countries
Women planning to teach in Asia can expect gender attitudes that are
outdated by Western social standards. East Asian cultures are based
on a traditional societal hierarchy in which women are the lowest
members and must show deference to males.
Not long ago, Japanese women under forty were
not allowed out of the
house without good reason, and women were required to use a more
humble form of language than men.
What is the status for women in present-day East Asia? Women have
been making great strides in society and the workplace. More and more
young women are going to college and pursuing careers. In fact, a
woman named Takako Doi headed the popular Japanese Socialist
Party, and the newly crowned Japanese princess, Masako Owada,
graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, speaks three languages
fluently, and is a respected international diplomat.
In spite of these examples, the nation's day-to-day mentality about
equality remains largely unchanged. The phrases "sexual harassment"
and "equal rights" are only now being introduced to Asian vocabularies.
Antiquated and insulting comparisons still exist, including the Japanese
"Christmas Cake Syndrome." Christmas cakes are sold on December 25
, and after that date the cakes are thrown away because they are no
longer fresh. The same is said to be true of women: If a woman is over
twenty-five and still single, then she should worry about her
depreciating value in the marriage market. Along these lines, women are
expected to work until age twenty-five and then retire to a life of
Although this mindset is gradually changing, don't be surprised if you
are politely questioned about your age and marital status.
Also be aware that in some cultures, Western women are considered
"easy" and immoral. This notion was most likely created by the media
portrayals that make it over to Asia. Nowhere is this perception more
widely held than in South Korea. We have had letters from women
teaching in South Korea who suggest that female teachers, unless
secure and independent, might want to look elsewhere for employment.
Some of them have been hassled simply because they are Western
Despite these challenges, women shouldn't lose faith in their ability to
teach. Instead, keep a healthy attitude; realize that the system is another
element of Asian culture and look at it as an opportunity to educate
your students on the status of women in your own country.
Whatever your viewpoint, remember that you are a guest in a foreign
land. Gender roles are created over thousands of years and evolve
according to social norms. Try to play a positive role in understanding
and acclimating to your new culture. You might not always agree with
cultural standards abroad, but if you take them in stride you'll certainly
enhance your learning experience.