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A third of Japanese working women were sexually harassed: study

AP, AFP-JIJI

A government study has found that nearly a third of working women who responded to a survey reported being sexually harassed on the job, such as being subjected to unwanted physical contact or degrading comments.

The study, released Tuesday and the first of its kind, examined responses from more than 9,600 women employees, submitted by mail or online. The response rate was 18 percent. It did not give a margin of error.

Of the respondents, 29 percent said they had suffered sexual harassment. The most common type of harassment was having their appearance or age become the focus of conversation, at 54 percent.

The next most common was unwanted touching at 40 percent, followed by sexually related questions at 38 percent. Twenty-seven percent were asked out for meals and dates.

More than 63 percent said they kept quiet, although they were reluctant to do so. The survey did not cite their reasons for staying silent.

And about one in 10 who did complain, however, said they were treated unfairly for speaking up. Penalties they suffered included being demoted.

Japan trails much of the world in achieving gender equality, ranking 101st among 145 nations and economies in the World Economic Forum’s study on the “gender gap,” which measures how fairly women are treated based on economic, educational, health-based and political indicators.

Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made encouraging women to work and get promoted a pillar of his policies, progress has been gradual.

Economists have said for years that Japan needs to make better use of its well-educated but underemployed women. This, they say, could go a long way toward plugging the country’s labor shortage.

One big reason behind that effort is that this nation’s society is aging and the workforce is rapidly shrinking. Women now occupy about 8 percent of leadership positions in companies hiring 100 people or more.

Tuesday’s study did not propose any specific measures for how the situation could be fixed, such as stiffer penalties for harassment or discrimination.

In many companies, women are placed on a different career track from men. They often have part-time jobs, partly because many men rarely help out with housework.

The “M-curve” in employment that used to be so pronounced in the West for women some years ago, in which they drop out of the workforce to have children then rejoin later, is still prominent in Japan.

The study also found many complaints of “maternity harassment,” in which women were bullied into quitting their jobs when they became pregnant, or were targeted with suggestions they do so.

In speech after speech, Abe has urged the country to open up to “womenomics,” encouraging some of Japan’s biggest firms — including Toyota, Panasonic and All Nippon Airways — to announce targets for boosting the number of female executives.

While women are widely represented in poorly-paid, part-time work, only a fraction of executives at 3,600 listed companies are female.

  • 151E

    Twenty-seven percent of those complaining of sexual harassment report they were asked out for meals and dates. That’s only sexual harassment when the guy isn’t ikemen. No wonder so many young Japanese claim that relationships are mendokusai.

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    • blondein_tokyo

      It’s harassment when it’s your boss or someone else who has power over you, or a co-worker you’ve previously said “no” to and who refuses to give up and leave you alone.
      But sure…women tend to say yes to guys who are good looking, and no to guys they aren’t attracted to. What’s wrong with that? Are you resentful of that for some reason? That is rather odd, considering everyone picks and choses who to date according to their own personal taste, including you, presumably.

      • Jonathan Fields

        The perception that it’s only harassment when the guy is not attractive doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s not just that women say ‘no’ to guys that they are aren’t attracted to. Women hate and fear the weak, the ugly, and the unsociable. If one of those men should have the gall to hit on a woman or ask her out, the absolute best case scenario is that he’s labeled ‘creepy’ or ‘weird.’

        When I was in university, the unassuming Afghani exchange students who wanted nothing more than to do their work and maybe be noticed by a girl were absolutely despised by the women in the lab. I was there all the time and had never seen anything. I couldn’t even imagine it happening, and especially since there were always a handful of people in each room. Then one day there were all these rumors that one of the exchange students had ‘harassed’ one of the girls. Then more and more girls started coming forward saying so-and-so had made her feel ‘unsafe’ or whatever. It was open season on these poor guys. The girls even tried to take down another totally unrelated student because he “didn’t do enough to stop the harassment.”

        The funny thing about the situation was that I got away with borderline (and over the line) stuff all the time. Off-color jokes, sleeping with several of the girls in the lab, being a nuisance at parties, you name it. I even remember hitting a girl on the butt with a folder. I was never labeled ‘creepy,’ I was always invited to parties and events, and I was even asked to help get the Afghani guys in trouble. That was when started date-coaching to make extra money.

        Women don’t just say ‘no’ to guys they find unattractive. It’s a well-known phenomenon that women are actually repulsed by men who they deem unsuitable mates. And they aren’t always great at separating the predatory boss who makes inappropriate comments from the awkward kid in IT who just can’t communicate well. Rather than the current “teach men not to harass, teach men not to rape” thing that feminists are pushing, I’d love to see something like “teach young boys how to properly deal with the opposite sex.” It’s a more positive message, it doesn’t put the onus on women, and it’s more productive (though maybe it’s too heteronormative lol).

      • blondein_tokyo

        Unattractive, unsociable, awkward guys can unintentionally come off as creepy, even when they are perfectly nice guys. As you said, they just don’t know how to relate to people, most especially women. I’ve known guys like that, and it takes a really open minded person to get past their exterior and get to know them as a person. I agree that these guys need help, not condemnation and shunning. Life is definitely not easy when you aren’t conventionally attractive, and are shy and socially awkward. I don’t deny that it isn’t fair.

        On the other hand, wouldn’t you agree that people have the right to set different boundaries for different people? As an example, while I would laugh if an office mate I was flirting with hit me on the rear with a folder, I wouldn’t accept that same action from another co-worker whom I wasn’t flirting with, nor would I accept it from my boss. The context is created by our relationship with the person, and context is what matters.

        For example, if you had misjudged the situation, and the girl you hit with the folder had reported you for harassment, would you have complained that it wasn’t fair and it shouldn’t be considered harassment because you were just joking and hadn’t meant to harass her? Or would you have fully admitted that you had misjudged the situation and apologized for upsetting her?

        This illustrates the problem. Some men WOULD refuse to acknowledge their error in judgment, and wouldn’t apologize. Even worse, there are men who would flat-out refuse to acknowledge that the woman even had the right to set different boundaries for different people, because “It’s not fair that women accept this from good looking men and not from me.”

        Unfortunately, some guys think “It’s not fair that women accept this from good looking men and not from me.” gives them the right to behave in any way they feel like towards women.

      • Jonathan Fields

        I think that’s a cynical viewpoint. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. I don’t think most guys think they have the right to behave however they want. I just think they’re idiots who don’t understand how women work and have been fed the wrong ideas their whole lives. The first date is a great example.

        Guy takes a girl out for a nice meal. He thinks, “I bought her dinner and I talked all night without making an ass out of myself. I’m doing pretty good. I guess I better go for a kiss.”

        Girl is taken out for a nice meal. She thinks, “That restaurant was great, but dude is boring as all get out. Oh, crap… We’re alone. Oh, WTF is he doing… Get off me.”

        Now, he ends up being the jerk because he didn’t know better. It doesn’t mean he isn’t wrong, but it’s unfair to attribute his lack of education to a sense of entitlement or patriarchy or whatever. Boys need to be taught this stuff from a young age. I donno who’s going to do it, but it’s necessary.

      • blondein_tokyo

        I think it goes both ways. There are women who are mean to guys who hit on them, and there are men who are mean to women who reject them. I’ve seen both, actually, so I am not saying you are wrong. I guess what I’m saying is, both sexes can be a–holes. :)

      • Hero for hire

        Bottom line is that kind of behavior has no place in the work place, whatsoever.
        People who don’t understand that probably shouldn’t be at work — they should be back in school learning _how_ to work.

      • Steve Jackman

        “and I was even asked to help get the Afghani guys in trouble.” This is a classic tactic from the Japanese playbook to draft foreigners to do the dirty work against other foreigners. This way the Japanese can stay comfortably above the fray and watch foreigners go at each other. Divide and conquer. No wonder the foreigners in Japan are such a fragmented bunch.

        On another note, I just read the story couple of days ago that Japan will host 2,500 Egyptian students. I’m afraid they’re in for a rude awakening, since they will likely meet the same fate as the students from Afghanistan.

      • blondein_tokyo

        I was going to ask earlier…how does he know the students didn’t sexually harass the girls? The girls may have been telling the truth.

      • Steve Jackman

        There’s no way for us to know and you may very well be right. I was just commenting on the tactic used in Japan where Japanese often enlist foreigners in conflict situations with other foreigners, so it becomes a foreigner vs. foreigner issue, rather than a Japanese vs. foreigner issue.

      • 151E

        You are of course quite right when you say that, “It’s harassment when it’s your boss or someone else who has power over you, or a co-worker you’ve previously said “no” to and who refuses to give up and leave you alone.” However, that is not what the article said. The article simply stated that they were “asked out for meals and dates”.

        And what’s with the straw man argument? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with accepting the advances of those you are attracted to and saying no to those you aren’t. I never said otherwise. What I was suggesting though was that it is not sexual harassment when someone unattractive asks you out.

        I have an number of friends in their late 20’s / early 30’s who regularly attend gokon and speed-dating parties looking for a potential husband. I usually laugh along with them at their dating disaster stories, but I am often struck by just how rude and immaturely they respond to guys that they aren’t interested in. I feel bad for some of those guys. And I ask these girls, how they’d feel if a guy treated them like that. They say guys are often just as bad or worse, like that excuses it. Then I tend to think if they can’t behave like adults, with decency towards each other, then they (both men and women) probably deserve to remain single. I just don’t like to see people treat each other poorly for no good reason.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Since we don’t know how the question was phrased or how harassment was defined we can’t accurately ascertain what exactly is meant by “Twenty-seven percent were asked out for meals and dates.”

        But if the surveyors defined harassment as simply as, “Someone unattractive asked you out on a date” then they should lose their jobs.

  • Johnny Kanoock

    Discussions on age or appearance are not necessarily sexual harassment, men have these discussions with men all the time (as I’m sure women do with women) Cast a wide enough net, you will always find issues. This just waters down true sexual harassment and these types of stats have to stop.

    • blondein_tokyo

      “Oh, it’s your birthday! How old are you?” “That’s a really nice suit”. Person doesn’t feel uncomfortable = not sexual harassment.
      “You’re over 25? Why aren’t you married? You are getting too old to be attractive.” “Nice suit, your body looks good under it, hehehe…” plus similar comments, repeated over and over again, despite the person’s discomfort = sexual harassment.
      Comments about appearance and age can be consistent with sexual harassment when they are 1) repetitious, and 2) make the person feel uncomfortable, and 3) create a hostile/sexualized atmosphere.
      What gets reported as sexual harassment is not just a one-off comment, but an overall attitude displayed by a particular person. Most people can ignore one-off comments, even if they get upset. It’s when the same person consistently makes those commments and is actively seeking to intimidate/harass/annoy/dominate that it crosses a line into the legal definition of harassment.

      • Steve Jackman

        After many years working at Japanese companies, trust me that there is much worse forms of sexual (and racial) harassment which routinely goes on within companies here. Anyone who’s worked at a Japanese company knows that it is just part of Japanese corporate culture.

  • Liars N. Fools

    This just reflects the number who are prepared to report sexual harassment. Shame on Japan. Not surprising, though.

  • Liars N. Fools

    This just reflects the number who are prepared to report sexual harassment. Shame on Japan. Not surprising, though.

  • 108

    “examined responses from more than 9,600 women employees, submitted by mail or online. The response rate was 18 percent.”

    Drawing conclusions at a national level from 1,728 responses?

    • Steve Jackman

      Given that this is Japan, the actual number is most certainly much higher, probably twice or more this many women have suffered sexual harassment at work. Most Japanese I know are extremely reluctant to admit such things even in anonymous surveys.

  • leconfidant

    I take sexual harassment very seriously,
    but if they include
    ‘being asked out for dinner or dates’
    as sexual harassment,
    it’s very hard to take the 30% figure seriously.
    Has the questionaire asked women,
    ‘Have you been asked out to dinner or dates by co-workers?’
    and then chalked that up as “harassment”,
    without the woman responding being aware of this?
    There seems to be a regular industry among professional feminists of inflating statistics to crate generous budgets for themselves.
    Then the rest of us have to walk on eggshells for being human.

    If I find someone attractive at work,
    which isn’t criminal, or harmful in any way,
    how do I progress towards romance without starting WW3?
    Do I need permission in writing?

    If I ask a female colleague out for coffee or a beer,
    for the same reason as I might invite a male colleague out for coffee or a beer,
    how do I retain my good reputation?

    And so how can men and women
    even become friends in such a climate,
    without risking legal action?

    And what happens to the REAL harassment victims
    when anyone who was ever asked out on a date
    seems to think they have a viable claim?

    • blondein_tokyo

      Maybe I can help you with this.

      If you ask a co-worker out, and she says “no thank you.” and you take no for an answer, and leave her alone, it’s not sexual harassment. You will be fine.

      If you are attracted to a subordinate, someone you have power over, then it’s more complicated. You should first flirt a bit, to see if she reciprocates. Take your time with it, to make sure she’s comfortable and doesn’t feel pressured to return the flirtation only because you are her superior. This means you have to have a good instinct for knowing when someone is really flirting, and when someone is just trying to be nice. And that might be a bit difficult, if you aren’t a particuarly senstive guy. If that is the case (you probably know yourself well enough to judge) then for your own sake and for hers, you might want to do the smart thing and not mix business with pleasure.

      In fact, I’d generally advise against dating co-workers anyway, since it can be super akward if you break up and yet still have to see each other every day. You might just not want to go there.

      As for your reputation, well…if you don’t want to get the reputation as the office Don Juan, then don’t date co-workers. After all, you can’t treat your office as your personal dating pool, anyway, as it’s quite inappropriate as you are there to do your job, not to socialize or find a wife/gf. There are other, better places to meet people, that are MUCH less fraught.
      I hope that helps! :)

      • leconfidant

        Actually I agree with what you’ve written.
        Every word, dot and comma of it. No argument, no contest. Thank you for providing the normal common sense of it.

        If that’s what the allegations of sexual harassment are based on, I agree that a figure like 30% might well be cause for concern.

        The reason I get so picky is that I myself have been accused of stalking or harassment when the whole idea of sex hadn’t occurred in my mind. As a man, I’m just tired of it. It makes me cynical of feminism

        But feminist research really does have a history of fudging stats and playing the genders off against each other. The classic example was Hostile Hallways study which asked women students if they had had sex while drunk. If they answered ‘Yes’, researcher Mary Koss would designate it ‘Rape’. Whether the respondant felt she had suffered or not. This threw up the oft repeated stat that “One in four women in college in the US has been the victim of rape or attempted rape”.

        Now nobody approves of taking advantage of someone too inebriated to refuse, and most people agree that it’s rape and should be treated as such. But if having sex with someone who has been drinking constitutes rape per se, half the adult population – men and women – could probably be found guilty of that. (I could put in a few claims myself). It has since become a case study in how not to do case studies. A raft of techniques to depict hell on earth had been applied, to depict hell on earth, when the reality was rather different. A review of the study found that 43% of these designated ‘rape victims’ were still happily dating their supposed ‘attackers’. The 1-in-4 stat is still common currency in feminist discussion of this issue.

        So yes, when I see a 30% figure, actually, I would like to know whether the women responding felt they were being harassed by being asked out, (that I would respect,) or whether the researchers were deciding this for them.

  • leconfidant

    I take sexual harassment very seriously,
    but if they include
    ‘being asked out for dinner or dates’
    as sexual harassment,
    it’s very hard to take the 30% figure seriously.
    Has the questionaire asked women,
    ‘Have you been asked out to dinner or dates by co-workers?’
    and then chalked that up as “harassment”,
    without the woman responding being aware of this?
    There seems to be a regular industry among professional feminists of inflating statistics to crate generous budgets for themselves.
    Then the rest of us have to walk on eggshells for being human.

    If I find someone attractive at work,
    which isn’t criminal, or harmful in any way,
    how do I progress towards romance without starting WW3?
    Do I need permission in writing?

    If I ask a female colleague out for coffee or a beer,
    for the same reason as I might invite a male colleague out for coffee or a beer,
    how do I retain my good reputation?

    And so how can men and women
    even become friends in such a climate,
    without risking legal action?

    And what happens to the REAL harassment victims
    when anyone who was ever asked out on a date
    seems to think they have a viable claim?

  • Toolonggone

    >In speech after speech, Abe has urged the country to open up to “womenomics,” encouraging some of Japan’s biggest firms — including Toyota, Panasonic and All Nippon Airways — to announce targets for boosting the number of female executives.

    No wonder his words fall on deaf ears. The vast majority of women don’t work at big corporation-J.

  • Toolonggone

    >In speech after speech, Abe has urged the country to open up to “womenomics,” encouraging some of Japan’s biggest firms — including Toyota, Panasonic and All Nippon Airways — to announce targets for boosting the number of female executives.

    No wonder his words fall on deaf ears. The vast majority of women don’t work at big corporation-J.

  • KenjiAd

    For any survey to be taken seriously, the survey has to establish that its results represent the entire group (in this case, female workers in Japan), not just those who responded.

    Online surveys are notoriously unreliable, because 1) the results would give more weight to frequent online users and 2) the results are given only by those who want their opinions counted.

    This survey has the response rate of 18%, which is not bad for online surveys. But we should be aware that the results do not include the remaining 82% who didn’t respond.

  • KenjiAd

    The problem I have with unscientific surveys like this one is that they tend to provide false legitimacy to the number claimed, in this case, 30%. This number is not scientifically legitimate. yet, it is this number, 30%, is catching the eyes. That’s the problem. It’s a sensationalism.

    I didn’t claim it was an over-estimate or under-estimate, as it depends on many other factors, such as the exact wording of the question.