The current government wants women to demonstrate their full potential in the workplace, which means transcending gender roles and achieving occupational parity with their male counterparts. Since these roles are socially conditioned, it’s important that young women understand their situation vis-a-vis the job market as early as possible.
On his website “13-sai Hello Work,” which helps adolescents consider what they want to do with their lives, novelist and economic pundit Ryu Murakami posts a list of occupations ranked in order of descending popularity as determined by the number of times individual job descriptions on the site are accessed. The list is gender-neutral, but No. 1 this month and last month is “grand hostess,” the person who manages the service functions for an airline in an airport. As the title indicates, it’s women’s work, and while, based on the ranking explanation, it’s impossible to say how many girls covet such a job, it does indicate that the connotation of “hostess” is not a negative one.
But it depends on the context. A fourth-year university student named Rina Sasazaki is suing Nippon Television Network Corp. after the company informally offered her a job as an announcer last year and then withdrew the offer when they learned she had worked part-time as a bar hostess. The suit has attracted attention ostensibly because it addresses job discrimination, but the story was initially reported by the weeklies and tabloids, whose main concern had little to do with social justice.
Female announcers, or joshi-ana, are more than copy readers. They are in-house, on-air talent for television shows, hired to attract viewers; part of the job description is keeping the media interested in their work as well as their lives. The show-biz press pays extra attention to the latter because readers like nothing better than to see how private reality compares to public image.
That’s why NTV was worried when it found out that Sasazaki was once a hostess. According to various reports, the company sent her a letter explaining that the image of a bar hostess is not compatible with that of a female announcer, which must convey seiren, meaning integrity or honesty. In relation to the lawsuit, some media have reported that NTV used the word seiso, which means cleanliness or purity, thus making the missive doubly insulting, since it implies that hostesses are dirty.
To the tabloid press, the story is even better than a joshi-ana scandal since it involves someone who aspires to be a joshi-ana and thus doesn’t yet understand how these things play out. Sasazaki, who has also worked as a model and is a beauty-contest winner, allowed the media to use her real name and photos and talked about her situation in detail. Shukan Gendai learned that she spent part of her sophomore year studying abroad, since she thought it would look better when she tried to find employment as an announcer, but when she returned from overseas she needed money. An “acquaintance” who owned a “club” in Ginza offered her a part-time job, and she worked there several days a week for a month. She didn’t think there was anything untoward about it. The experience it offered her of cultivating “human relationships” would be valuable for a future joshi-ana.
By allowing media access, Sasazaki made herself fair game. The press can skewer NTV’s narrow-mindedness and ridicule Sasazaki’s naive ambition at the same time. Sasazaki’s purpose in filing the suit is to regain her announcing position at NTV, something she never really had, but why would she still want to work for an organization that is sexist? More to the point, why would she still want to be a joshi-ana now that she knows what TV companies expect of one?
In an article on the sexual products website Love Piece Club, critic Debako Kuribayashi said NTV has a point about Sasazaki’s “integrity” since she didn’t mention the hostess gig at her original interview. It wasn’t until after she received the informal offer that Sasazaki told her recruiter about it, so she “misrepresented” herself. On the other hand, if hostesses lack integrity, as NTV claims, what does that say about men who patronize them? Is it possible, Kuribayashi wonders, that none of NTV’s male announcers have ever visited a drinking establishment employing female companions?
However, hypocrisy isn’t the issue: consistency is. In its letter to Sasazaki, NTV implies that female announcers have to be demure in the traditional sense. But so are bar hostesses, so what is NTV’s problem? That hostesses act demure in order to curry favor with customers so that they will spend more money? That they are required to sell the possibility of sexual availability? How is that different from a joshi-ana’s job, which is to look good, ride shotgun with her male colleagues and populate the fantasies of male viewers?
Sasazaki was probably right in thinking that a stint as a bar hostess would be good experience for a joshi-ana, since it teaches her what she needs to expect from men in a world where men make the rules. Female announcers are unique in terms of recruitment. Most companies, including broadcasters, hire university graduates on a non-discriminating basis. They are selected for certain desirable qualities, absorbed into the organization and then sorted into positions afterward. Joshi-ana, on the other hand, are hired as announcers, but not because of their public speaking ability. They are hired for their looks and demeanor. It’s why they all look and act alike.
Sasazaki was wrong in thinking that NTV would own up to this unspoken truth. One of the first things advisers tell undergraduates who are interviewing for jobs is to be careful about employment histories: It’s best not to be too candid. Company recruiters aren’t going to be totally honest with you, so there’s no reason to be totally honest with them.