Why #MeToo isn't taking off in Asia

by Anna Fifield / 21 November, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - #MeToo sexual harassment

Protestors at a #MeToo march in Hollywood in November. Photo/Getty Images

Making sexual harassment unacceptable in Asia will require huge cultural shifts.

Women worldwide have taken to the internet to say “me too”, voicing solidarity and underlining the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. The biggest headlines have been in the US, with explosive allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis CK and gay actor Kevin Spacey.

In the UK, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigned and dozens of politicians have been accused of sexual harassment. Even in France, women have been using the phrase “balance ton porc”, or “squeal on your pig”, to speak out.

But in northern Asia, the movement has gained little traction. In these patriarchal – bordering on misogynistic – societies, sexual harassment by men with power over younger women is rife. Yet it’s seldom discussed, even in the current environment.

The state-run China Daily, the country’s flagship English-language newspaper, even had the temerity to claim that sexual harassment was a Western problem.

“Chinese men are taught to be protective of their women,” a column in the paper claimed. “Behaving inappropriately towards women, including harassing them sexually, contradicts every Chinese traditional value and custom.”

Not surprisingly, there was an outcry on social media, with women telling their stories and pointing to surveys such as one from 2015 that found more than 30% of college students had been sexually harassed. The paper withdrew the column.

In South Korea and Japan, where there’s a cultural expectation that office workers regularly drink with co-workers and bosses, women have also taken to social media to recount their experiences.

The big difference here is the way sexual harassment is treated. It is considered shameful to talk about it – the stigma is attached to the woman – and those brave enough to tell their stories are often blamed for what happened.

Take a recent Japanese case. Journalist Shiori Ito publicly levelled accusations of rape against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s close friend and biographer after her complaints to the police went nowhere, leading to suspicions of a political cover-up.

The accusations caused shock – that a woman would have the audacity to speak about a sexual assault and also name her alleged perpetrator.

The idea that the woman must have been, in some way, “asking for it” is pervasive here.

Japan’s news broadcaster NHK asked men what they thought constituted “sexual consent”. Almost a quarter said that if a woman was wearing skimpy clothes, she was consenting, and more than a third said a woman who got drunk was agreeing to sex, the Daily Beast reported.

It’s a similar situation in South Korea, where the Education Ministry’s curriculum guidelines for high-school sex education say that if a man spends a lot of money on dates, “it is natural that he would want a commensurate compensation from the woman”. The ministry also tells girls that if they’re sexually harassed on the subway, they should step on the man’s foot “as if by mistake”, according to the Korea Herald.

So, what would it take to change the culture in this part of the world?

Some Japanese women have been tweeting to ask if this global “Me too” movement could lead to more accountability. In South Korea, the movement has struck a chord two years after a woman was murdered in a public toilet by a man who complained he was always ignored by the opposite sex.

But making sexual harassment, rather than the reporting of it, socially unacceptable will require huge cultural shifts. Japan and South Korea are among the least-advanced nations in the gender-equality stakes. Here’s hoping women in Asia will be able to speak up the same way women in the West are now.

New Zealander Anna Fifield is Tokyo bureau chief for the Washington Post.

This article was first published in the November 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Environment Ministry 'unashamedly proud' of bleak report's honesty
104868 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z Planet

Environment Ministry 'unashamedly proud' of bleak…

by RNZ

The Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said she was proud of the report's honesty and it was an important stocktake for the country.

Read more
The new What We Do in the Shadows is more dad joke than demonic
104712 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Television

The new What We Do in the Shadows is more dad joke…

by Diana Wichtel

Diana Wichtel reviews a new American TV series based on the hit Kiwi comedy.

Read more
Louis & Louise is a satisfying exploration of gender and identity
104230 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Books

Louis & Louise is a satisfying exploration of gend…

by Brigid Feehan

In her latest novel, Julie Cohen traces the parallel male and female lives of a single character.

Read more
Win a copy of Sir David Attenborough's Life on Earth: 40th Anniversary Edition
104844 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Win

Win a copy of Sir David Attenborough's Life on Ear…

by The Listener

To celebrate Sir David Attenborough season on Sky, we are giving away copies of his book Life on Earth: 40th Anniversary Edition.

Read more
The Kiwi behind the powerful Aspen Institute's Queenstown launch
104788 2019-04-18 09:00:50Z Profiles

The Kiwi behind the powerful Aspen Institute's Que…

by Clare de Lore

Thanks to the determination of Christine Maiden, NZ has joined an international leadership network that aims to work on issues important to the future

Read more
Science must trump ideology in the GE debate
104784 2019-04-18 08:52:29Z Politics

Science must trump ideology in the GE debate

by The Listener

A New Zealand-developed super-grass that appears to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions might be blocked in this country by the Green Party.

Read more
Simon Bridges hails PM Jacinda Ardern's capital gains tax u-turn as victory
104803 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Politics

Simon Bridges hails PM Jacinda Ardern's capital ga…

by Jo Moir

The National Party is calling the u-turn on a capital gains tax a massive failure for the Prime Minister.

Read more
John Campbell is replacing Jack Tame on TVNZ's Breakfast show
104860 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Television

John Campbell is replacing Jack Tame on TVNZ's Bre…

by Noted

The TV network is switching things up - again.

Read more