It’s All of Us

I had lunch with one of my mentors yesterday. She has worked in education for her whole career and is soon to retire.

She grew up in Ibaraki and then went to Tokyo for university. She was originally planning to find a job in Tokyo after she graduated. However, she was not able to because companies at that time (the 1980s) would not hire single women who didn’t live at home with their parents because there was a perception that they “couldn’t be trusted”.

She says that only two women who were in her class made it all the way through their working life to retirement. All the others ended up quitting after they got married or had children (which was perceived as the “right thing” for women to do). Or they left the profession for other reasons.

When she was in her 40s, she noticed that there were almost no women who became vice principals or principals. At that time (and maybe now too?), you had to get recommended by your principal in order to be allowed to study to become a principal. Only one person could be recommended per school per year. And because all of the principals were men, they almost always recommended other men.

Luckily, one of the principals that she worked for noticed her abilities and recommended her for principalship. She went on to become the head of a very prestigious school, and she made it even more successful.

There is so much wasted talent in Japan. There are so many intelligent and powerful women who are never given their chance to shine. I think this is true in almost all countries right now, but Japan is particularly behind in this regard.

There are people who believe that women have all the same opportunities as men and that women can get to the same positions as men as long as they try hard enough. This opinion is often held by men as they cannot see the invisible hand of society holding women back while men stride ahead.

This is one example of how various human-created systems in society work against the interests of a whole section of that society, and therefore against the better interests of the society as a whole.

Our society is built on sexist principles. The thinking — which has no basis in reality — is that men have the right characteristics for leadership, men therefore make better leaders, and so men should be in charge. This is just a line of thinking. It is not a physical barrier, but it might as well be, because it is really hard to push past it.

And not only men think this way, but also women. Women and men are both raised in the same society, based on the same principles, so women end up thinking that they are not as good at leading, so they probably shouldn’t even try to become a leader.

Notice that I am not accusing any one person of being sexist. Yes, there are super sexist people out there, and they are certainly part of the problem, but the bigger problem is that WE ALL think in sexist ways. And when I say we all, I am of course including myself. We all were raised in a sexist society, so we all think in a sexist way, and that works to keep women down.

Racism works the same way. Many white people think that people with other skin colours just have to work as hard as the white people do. White people can’t see the invisible hand of society that keeps people with other skin colours down. We all grew up in a racist society, so we all — including people with other skin colours — think in a racist way.

The only way forward is for all of us to become more aware of our own patterns of thinking, and to try to see beyond how we were raised, and the assumptions we have come to accept. And this applies to EVERYONE: women, men, people of all skin colours.

If we don’t start from the position that we are all sexist, racist, classist, etc., and try to fix things from that premise, we will not be able to move ahead.

The problem is not that one sexist guy, or that one racist white person, it’s all of us.


Edited to add: It’s not that specific white people, or specific men, or specific police officers are the problem. It’s that we all work to keep each other down because of our beliefs. We all need to work on thinking more clearly about what beliefs are holding people — including ourselves — down instead of building them up.

tldr: It’s all of us.