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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Women planning to teach in Asia can expect gender attitudes that are outdated by Western social standards.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 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 domesticity.

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 females.

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.

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