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4 Gender-based Conflict: The Revolt of the Tea Pourers
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Gender-based Conflict: The Revolt of the Tea Pourers

On an ordinary day in the fall of 1963, a small group of women civil servants launched a protest that is well remembered by senior male bureaucrats in the administrative offices for the city of Kyoto. The form of the protest was hardly dramatic. Acting on a plan worked out among the women and then communicated to a union section made up of the younger men in the office, women employees of the Housing Division, in accordance with their usual routines, prepared the morning round of tea for everyone in the division. But then, in an act akin to a declaration of war in this orderly world of the Japanese office, the women failed to pour and carry the tea, cup by cup, to the employees of their particular sections; instead they took a cup for themselves (and, in several cases, one for their immediate boss) and returned to their desks. Several younger men, by prior agreement, came forward to serve themselves—but for the most part, the great container of tea was left to steam soundlessly into an office whose rituals had been rent asunder.

According to the participants in the struggle, none of the more senior men ever said anything about the protest. Yet days after it began, women from among the small band of protesters began to backslide and resumed their tea-pouring duties. The most telling evidence of the charged climate of feeling at the time was the way my questions were received nine years later when I first interviewed high-ranking bureaucrats in the city office about the protest: their faces visibly darkened, and their tone as they spoke

Portions of this chapter appeared in Susan J. Pharr, "Status Conflict: The Rebellion of the Tea Pourers," inConflict in Japan,ed. Ellis S. Krauss, Thomas P. Rohlen, and Patricia G. Steinhoff, 214–240 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984).


of the "anti-tea pouring struggle" (ochakumi hantai toso ) can only be described as one of outrage. Several years after the protest, tea-serving rituals, even in the Housing Division, were back in place, the key participants having either left to get married or been transferred to other divisions.

The struggle over tea-serving duties was the culmination of a long process, dating from 1957, by which fourteen women had gradually become aware of certain problems they faced as female employees in the city office and had banded together to attempt to change those conditions. In the many meetings that preceded their protest, grievances other than those relating to tea pouring were aired. One problem was the women's need for a changing room. As is the custom in many Japanese offices, city office employees wore uniforms, and the women felt the need for a place to change into and out of their uniforms, comb their hair, touch up their makeup, eat their lunch, or lie down on an off day, especially during their menstrual period or during pregnancy. There was no place for any of these activities because the restrooms in the city office, again following Japanese custom, were for both men and women. Although hypothetically the restrooms were "shared," in practice they represented male turf; a woman might scurry past men lined up at the urinals to get to a cubicle, but she was not going to tarry long enough to comb her hair. Another topic of discussion was the unpleasant chore of cleaning the tops of the men's desks and emptying ashtrays brimming with stale cigarette butts. Still another issue centered on the problem of menstruation leave days. According to Japanese labor law provisions in place until 1986, women workers were entitled to up to two days of "menstruation leave" each month.[1] Women found it difficult to take the leave, however, for office procedure required that employees asking for time off state the reason on a publicly displayed sign-up sheet. Most women were too embarrassed to request their leave days, or suffered feelings of dread before they did so.

These various issues starkly reveal the harsh terms of status relations in the Housing Division in the 1960s. Along with the issue of tea pouring itself, all were linked to the condition of status inferiority. They were so


intimate, so rooted in fundamental biological and cultural differences dividing the sexes, that collective action on the part of the status group was mandatory if these conditions were to be acted on at all. Although the women's struggle was in every sense a micro-protest arising out of everyday office life, the issues it raised are symptomatic of the broader problems that all Japanese women face, both in the workplace and in other areas of life.

Recent works place Japan squarely in the front ranks of the post-industrial, "information" societies, and argue that Japan presents even the most advanced countries with "lessons" to be learned—social and political as well as economic. In the area of women's rights, however, few would offer Japan as a model. Japanese women today, despite major gains since World War II resulting from Occupation-era social reforms and more recent social and economic changes, still confront many of the problems that limit women's life chances in virtually all societies, whatever the level of economic development: underrepresentation in political life at all levels; an extraordinary degree of sex-role stereotyping in the media, advertising, and education; and, our concern here, highly discriminatory conditions in the workplace. An important book on Japanese working women concluded with the following appraisal: "Many norms that are used to describe the nature and scope of women's work in the national economies of the industrial nations . . . do not apply to Japan. . . . The Japanese employment system probably exploits women more extensively than is the case in any other industrialized country."[2]

Japan, then, is an important reminder that national economic development and improvements in women's status in the workplace do not automatically go hand in hand. Even spectacular economic performance in a "model" information society is no guarantee of fundamental change in the nature and conditions of women's work, or of redresses for stark inequities in the distribution of power between the sexes.

The problems confronting women today in the workplace are an extension of status relations as they have applied to Japanese women throughout history. Under the terms of status arrangements in place before World War II, women, by both law and custom, were considered dependents of male family heads who represented the family's interests to the outside world. Thus, upper-class married women played few roles outside the home and immediate neighborhood. And although gender-role distinctions were less pronounced among the working classes, where women and men labored side by side in the shop or field, the work of women in home


enterprises or in the mills and factories of prewar Japan was regarded as an outgrowth of their primary commitments to their father or husband. No wonder, then, that their wages were less than half those of men, and their status in the workplace exceedingly low.[3]

The traditional view of women's status and roles was challenged on many fronts after 1945. Not only did the constitution of 1947 give women a "Japanese ERA"—a provision that explicitly forbade discrimination on the basis of sex—but reform of the civil code altered the legal basis for women's dependence within the family as well.[4] The 1947 Labor Standards Law affirmed the principle of equal pay for equal work and introduced a number of measures aimed at improving the situation of working women. Meanwhile, increased prosperity, urbanization, and rapidly rising education levels in Japan have brought opportunities for daughters as well as sons, greater freedom for women in the nuclear family, and greater educational access for women (as evidenced by the thirty-two-fold increase in the number of women in institutions of higher education between 1950 and 1982)[5]

The legacy of the prewar era continues to affect women's status in the workplace, however. In 1987, women's wages were only 52.3 percent of those for men;[6] indeed, Japan is the only industrial country in which the differential between men's and women's wages has actually been increasing in recent years.[7] Better-educated women in particular have difficulty finding suitable jobs that offer them work on the same basis as male employees and a chance for advancement. A survey of companies in 1981 revealed that only 27 percent were prepared to hire women for positions requiring a university degree, and 45 percent indicated that they did not promote women to supervisory (kakaricho ) positions.[8] Of particular interest in rela-


tion to the present case study, only 1.7 percent of managerial positions in civil service jobs were held by women—even in 1980. That figure in 1960, in the period of the tea pourers' rebellion, was a mere 0.8 percent.[9]

The problems for women workers are rooted in the basic employment pattern for women in Japan, and in the way companies have dealt with it. The pattern resembles an M: typically, women work for several years from the time they complete their education until they marry or have their first child; they return to work in their mid to late thirties, once their children are well on in school. This second peak in women's employment has grown in recent years, greatly swelling the number of married women in the work force. Whereas in 1962 married women made up only 32.7 percent of the female work force, in 1986 they constituted 68.2 percent.[10]

This employment pattern has put women at a distinct disadvantage in a system that distinguishes sharply between "permanent" employees—who receive superior wages, benefits, training opportunities, promotions, and wage supplements (such as family and housing allowances)—and "temporary" or "part-time" employees, whose wages and benefits (if any) are far inferior. Temporary or part-time status often has little to do with the hours worked or how long the worker is prepared to continue employment; many "part-timers" work more hours than regular employees and may stay at the same job indefinitely. Generally, women's participation as permanent employees in such a system is confined to the first years of their working life, before they leave to marry or have children. Even as "permanent" employees, however, they fare less well than men because they are not eligible for the housing and family allowances that raise men's pay, and they normally have far fewer opportunities for promotion or training, on the grounds that they will soon be leaving the work force. When they return to the labor market after raising families, they are seldom eligible for permanent employee status and so typically continue their working life as temporary workers or part-timers, with all the disadvantages that such a status entails.

To employers, of course, this pattern of utilization offers major advantages. For one thing, top wages and benefits can be reserved for a relatively small portion of the work force, almost entirely male, from whom a high level of commitment to the firm is expected in return. For another, because women usually leave their "first-phase" permanent positions before their pay level rises substantially, their replacement by new low-paid young female workers represents substantial savings for the company. Fi-


nally, the growing number of married women who return to work after their children are in school provides a source of cheap labor and a major "safety valve" in the Japanese economy; in periods of recession or retrenchment, they can be laid off at will while the "permanent" work force remains intact.

Over the postwar era, consciousness of women's problems in the work force has increased. In a survey conducted by the Yomiuri Shinbun in 1988, over 80 percent of respondents agreed that discrimination against working women exists in employment and promotion practices, job assignments, and wages. At the same time, the majority of Japanese still see women's work for wages as secondary to their home responsibilities—a view that does not translate into strong support for improving women's career opportunities or the terms of their employment. In the same survey, 65 percent of respondents agreed that "it is more important for women to back up their husbands than to have work of their own."[11] Another major factor standing in the way of change, however, is the attitude of employers and of the ruling party. As Sidney Verba and his co-researchers found in a three-country study of equality issues, business leaders and ruling-party politicians in Japan were "far more conservative" than their counterparts in the United States and Sweden when it came to women's concerns.[12]

The status-based conflict that I call the "tea pourers' rebellion," then, began in the objective conditions that define the status of women in the Japanese workplace—or more specifically, that defined the status of women in a particular public bureaucracy in the early 1960s. These conditions were (and are) inherent in the tension between the official ideology of the workplace, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex and upholds the principle of equal opportunity, and the informal ideology, derived from traditional norms, which structures women's work roles and opportunities according to their ascribed status as women. The protest involved the problems that women face in the workplace, even those who enjoy the privileged status of permanent employees in Japan's dual economy.

The key issue at the Kyoto city office was "job content"—specifically, the requirement that women civil servants perform various extra custodial duties, including serving tea in the office. Indeed, so extensive were their tea-serving duties in this large bureaucracy that the average female civil servant was preparing and serving over one thousand cups of tea each


month, in addition to performing her regular workload. Other issues fell in the domain of working conditions. In lodging a formal protest, then, the women presented their superiors with a series of demands on specific issues, including their need for a changing room and their right to take menstrual leave. On these issues they scored success. The problem of tea-pouring duties, however, proved most intractable—and thus our focus on it here.

Tea-pouring duties are a metaphor or "condensation symbol" for traditional expectations regarding women that run counter to the official ideology.[13] These activities thus distill the larger objective conditions of the workplace, which structure the lives of all working women in Japan (and, indeed, to varying degrees in all societies) into the familiar rituals of daily life. The tea-pouring rituals had been practiced in the Kyoto city office throughout the postwar era, and in that sense the objective conditions that gave rise to the tea pourers' rebellion had been in place for some time. Before exploring the various issues in the conflict and the question of why a protest arose at the particular time it did, we must look at tea pouring itself—a set of rituals ubiquitous in Japanese organizational life.

It is a long-established tradition in Japanese offices that employees, even if their wages are low or the work unsatisfactory, are supplied with as much tea as they wish to drink. The central reality about this ritual is that all the activities relating to it except the drinking—heating the water, assembling the employees' personal cups, pouring and serving the tea (and remembering which cup belongs to whom), afterward gathering, washing, and arranging cups and cleaning the counter where the tea was made, and buying the tea or making sure that it is bought—are the assigned domain of women employees. It is true that many offices hire women who do little besides prepare tea; however, these women (known as ochakumi ) are generally reserved for "up front"—that is, for serving tea to those high-ranking officials who are in regular contact with the public and to their guests. Quite apart from the ochakumi and their duties, it is the general expectation of everyone in the office that if a woman employee is present when male employees of equal or superior bureaucratic rank want tea, she will be responsible for its preparation.

The tea-making routines in the Kyoto city office were highly developed. In most sections, the women employees formed a pool and rotated the duty. In one Housing Division section, for example, there were four women among the seventy employees, and so each woman's turn came


once every four working days. On this day, the woman employee would arrive at work about twenty minutes early on her own time (that is, without compensation) to prepare the water for everyone's morning cup. An even earlier arrival time was necessary in the winter for bringing a large container of water to the boil, and likewise in the summer, when the tea had to be allowed to cool slightly once it was made. After the first morning round she would go about her regular office duties, only to drop them again shortly before noon and again at three to prepare the next rounds. At the end of the day, having served some 210 cups of tea, she made a final round of the office to collect the cups, wash and arrange them, tidy up around the tea preparation area, and check supplies. She then went home, free of all tea-making responsibilities for three days.

Legally or "officially" none of these duties existed. Nowhere did tea making appear on women employees' job descriptions. Even the tea itself was not paid for by the city office but by the employees themselves from a kitty collected for that and related purposes. Several of the women I interviewed reported that when they had gone to their section chief with problems arising from the competing demands of their regular jobs and their tea-pouring responsibilities, they had been told that nothing could be done, since tea pouring was not an official duty. They were told to manage as best they could, but that when it came to the allocation of official duties they would have to be treated equally with the men. Occasionally at this juncture they were reminded that Japan is a democracy and that women must accept equal responsibilities in exchange for their rights. At the same time, however, a number of women and several high-ranking men in the office told me that female job applicants, in the interview that follows successful performance on the civil service exam, were asked how they felt about serving tea to office mates, and that if they voiced objections there was little chance of their being hired. A personnel officer half-heartedly denied that this practice existed, but added that it was natural and proper for women to pour tea. Among the many male officials and employees interviewed, none could agree with the view that it was unfair for women to be required to pour tea for their male office mates, and most repeated the phrase often heard in Japan—that it is "women's duty to pour tea."

The serving of tea has profound symbolic meaning in Japanese culture. In a larger sense, it is a ceremonial or ritual activity aimed at opening up lines of communication between individuals. But what makes it so central to this inquiry is the asymmetry implied—indeed, ritualized—in the relationship between the server and the one served. The serving of tea fits comfortably within Erving Goffman's definition of "status rituals": "marks


of devotion . . . in which an actor celebrates and confirms his relation to a recipient."[14] The implied relationship is reciprocal; in the status ritual of pouring tea, the social inferior expresses deference and dependence and is rewarded by the superior's protection. Indeed, the sociological and political uses of such ritual forms as tea pouring are profound, for by transmitting cultural formulas of appropriate social behavior they function to regulate and channel power itself.[15] In the terms of our earlier discussion on status politics, the tea-pouring ritual evokes the traditional normative code that regulates interaction between persons of different statuses, thus legitimating—even celebrating—status superiors' exercise of prerogatives over status inferiors.

One might argue that serving functions of all kinds—including the coffee-preparation duties of secretaries in Western offices—carry the same type of symbolic meaning. To a certain extent this is true. In Japan, however, where status is so crucial in the mediation of social relationships, these rituals are far more elaborate and central. In an office, tea is served not in a random fashion or on the basis of physical proximity to the server, but precisely according to status, from the highest-ranking person first right down to the lowest-ranking person last. In cases of equal rank—for example, three section chiefs (kacho ) in one division—service will be according to length of time in that particular rank; and where promotions or appointments were concurrent, then age decides who is served first. Needless to say, having to master and retain the "hierarchy map" of the office and adjust it as personnel changes occur makes tea-pouring duties quite onerous, especially in a large office. The rituals, then, play a central symbolic role in maintaining status lines in Japanese society more generally.

As a ritual engaged in primarily by women, the serving of tea is a potent symbolic act expressing the asymmetry of the sexes. By pouring tea for men, women express their deference and inferiority to them. At the same time, the symbolic act of serving tea is linked to woman's role as nurturer, a gender-based function that appears in most of women's social roles. In this sense, the tea-serving ritual accentuates the differences in behavioral expectations for the two sexes while ceremonially acknowledging and approving their traditional functional justification.

For these reasons, the expectation that women employees will assume the duties of tea pouring clashes with the official ideology of public bureaucracy in Japan, which holds aloft the principle of achievement over


that of ascription and explicitly forbids sex discrimination. Thus is laid the objective basis for conflict.

The process by which a small group of women in the Housing Division became "aware" of this basis for protest, one inherent in their daily routines, was a long one, just as it was in the intergenerational conflict examined in chapter 3. Whereas Kono came to his views gradually over a nine-year period, for the women office workers the process took over five—from 1957, when a male union official in the division began to investigate some of the women workers' problems, to 1962, by which time the women workers had begun to discuss their problems and to contemplate concrete steps to remedy them.

In contrast to Kono, who appears to have become conscious of status-based problems in the LDP on his own, the tea pourers were alerted to grounds for complaint by an outsider to the group of eventual protesters and, indeed, a man. This employee, Kawata,[16] was then in his late twenties and had become active in the public employees' union to which all regular employees in the city bureaucracy belonged. Kawata's initial concern was with the problems of young temporary workers, both male and female, and to address their needs he set about organizing union "youth and women's bureaus" (seinenfujin-bu ) in various divisions of the city office— including his own, where he became the bureau head. Gradually his attention fell on regular women employees, who, although hired on the basis of performance on a standard civil service exam, had career paths wholly different from those of men: "The role of women was as men's assistants. They had the jobs of servants and maids—running errands for men who should have run their own errands, cleaning up the mens desks. . . . Their future was entirely different from men's. They were permanent assistants to men.[17]

It is impossible to establish how firmly Kawata held such views in 1958, twenty years before he expressed them in an interview. His own efforts continued to focus on issues relating to temporary workers. But the new union bureau did create a setting in which the objective terms of women's employment in the city office were exposed to scrutiny, and Kawata took it on himself to stir the women employees to action.

The Youth and Women's Bureau of the Housing Division was just being formed when Makino Yuriko, the woman who would lead the rebellion, came to work in the division. As a recent high school graduate


attending college classes at night, Makino was for four years only nominally involved with the bureau. Then in 1962, soon after her March graduation from college, Kawata approached her and asked whether she would be interested in forming a women's section within the bureau to deal with the special problems of women workers. Indeed, by both his account and hers he asked her many times to lead the undertaking. As Kawata remembers her, Makino was a most reluctant leader, fearful of criticism from the men in her section of the Housing Division if she asserted herself. According to several female observers to the recruitment process, however, Makino stepped forward quite willingly. For these women, Kawata's role in instituting the new section figures less prominently than he himself indicates; meanwhile Makino, while acknowledging the importance of Kawata's role, claimed not to remember the details. Concretely, though, all do agree that for a period of at least a month in 1962, Kawata and Makino discussed the question of how to organize the women's section of the bureau.

It struck me in interviewing both leaders that neither remembered discussing specific issues to be dealt with by the proposed women's section. Kawata explains this lapse by stating that his primary aim was to see the new group launched; he assumed that once the group was formed, it would identify specific problems for attention. Makino, who by then was eager to take the reins of leadership, reports that she did not see a need to spell out the issues to be taken up, preferring to concentrate on organizational questions instead.

Another interpretation, based on a close reading of both accounts, is that the two were engaged in conflict-avoidance behavior. While Makino, like the other female participants, reported the later conflict as a struggle centered primarily on the women's tea-serving duties, Kawata preferred to portray it as having larger aims and appeared embarrassed to hear it referred to as a conflict over tea pouring. His verbal and facial responses gave every indication that he considered this label demeaning to the seriousness of what he had been trying to encourage. It should also be remembered that Kawata, despite the importance of his role as an agent of change and as a third party and ally once the conflict commenced, was a status superior whose tea the women poured every day. For both these reasons, then, if Makino had been planning to make tea pouring a central issue in the conflict to come, it seems doubtful that she would have brought the matter up with Kawata. For his part, Kawata, eager to make a leader out of someone he saw as reluctant to take on that role, would have had his own stake in conflict avoidance.

At the end of approximately one month of discussions with Kawata, Makino was prepared to call a meeting of women in the division to con-


sider what to do. The gathering marked the beginning of a process by which awareness of the conflict situation inherent in the office set-up gradually was diffused from Makino herself, and a small group of fellow college graduates who soon rallied around her, to the other women. Ostensibly, the meeting was an informal social get-together held after work at a nearby restaurant. Little if anything was said about the problems of women in the Housing Division or the possibility of organizing a women's section. The tone of the meeting, by Makino's description, was "let's all get to know one another."

Following this dinner came a long period, nearly a year, devoted to what the Japanese call nemawashi (preparatory activity—literally, "preparing the ground," as when setting in a plant) and hanashiai (exploratory talk). Conflict theories based on Western experience allow that considerable time may elapse between the emergence of conflict and the initiation of conflict behavior; in Japan, however, there is often an intermediate stage that is manifested quite distinctly before the onset of face-to-face protest. The overall goal of this stage, which is characterized by numerous meetings, often with no explicit agenda relating to the goal, is seemingly to create a feeling of oneness among the participants and a sense that they agree—even though the exact terms of the agreement are not necessarily spelled out. Indeed, in the present case the individuals interviewed all had difficulty characterizing the nature or content of these meetings, except to say that the end result was a formal move to seek approval from the union for the creation of a women's section. These meetings, taken collectively, seem to represent the search for consensus so often described as characteristic of Japanese decision-making.[18]

In this early stage, then, some fourteen women from four of the five sections in the Housing Division began gathering more or less regularly. In the course of the year's meetings, numerous grievances related to tea pouring were raised. One problem was the quality of the tea-making equipment, which a number of women felt to be old-fashioned and unsafe, not to mention extraordinarily slow at heating water. Furthermore, two of the five sections had no tea-making equipment of their own; the women employees had to carry huge teapots of boiling water up a flight of stairs several times a day, a chore that was considered troublesome and even dangerous. A second issue concerned precisely what women's tea-pouring


duties should be, given what appeared to be general agreement that it was in fact their responsibility to make tea for the men in the office. The points of discussion centered on how often each day the tea should be prepared and whether it was incumbent on the women to pour and serve the tea as well as make it. Much talk was devoted to the need to "rationalize" the tea-pouring duties, although what this meant was often not spelled out in the discussions.

A final issue, one central to this analysis, was the attitude of the men in the office about being served tea. The Housing Division was a new division in the city bureaucracy, and its office routines were said to be unsettled. Everyone seemed rushed and on different schedules, with builders, architects, and planners always hurrying in and out. Some of the higher-status males, particularly the architects, apparently took personal services of all kinds for granted; often tea was set before these men without their giving so much as a flicker or grunt of acknowledgment. The younger men, whom the women knew better through the Youth and Women's Bureau of the union, had a much better attitude in general, and, significantly, many of the women did not mind serving them.

These discussions hold much of interest to the student of status rituals, particularly in view of the changes that were occurring in the city office workload in the early 1960s. On the eve of a decade of double-digit growth in Japan, the work of public bureaucracies was expanding, with divisions such as housing, linked as it was to the construction boom of the period, especially affected. The workload of all employees was increasing, but the men in supervisory positions gave little thought to how these changes affected women. Assignments were handed down without regard to potential conflicts with tea-making duties. A classic example was the decision to locate two sections of the Housing Division in upstairs rooms with no place to make the tea that all the men expected to drink.

It is clear that in the Housing Division during that period many of the conditions under which status rituals would have most meaning for those performing them were not being met. It can be hypothesized that optimal performance of status rituals like that represented by tea pouring occurs when four conditions are maximized: (1) when the deference behavior is warmly rewarded by reciprocal conduct; (2) when the one engaging in the deference behavior feels it to be well deserved (for example, in the case of a military salute, the salute has more meaning and comes easier when the person saluted is a hero and general rather than a disliked or little-respected lesser officer); (3) when the required behavior is congruent with other expected behaviors; and (4) when the status differential due to sex is reinforced by other status differences (in bureaucratic rank, socio-


economic background, age, educational level, period of employment, and so on).[19]

In the case of women employees in the Housing Division, there had clearly been an erosion on all four fronts. In the hurried atmosphere of a new division, an absence of warmth in face-to-face relations drained deference behavior of its emotional rewards. The attitude of the older male professionals—their lack of basic courtesy and generosity and their failure to acknowledge favors—likewise made performance of the required rituals onerous. In addition, the nature of the workload for which female employees were held responsible was in flux in the early 1960s. Successive waves of postwar "rationalization" had increased women's share of the normal work of public bureaucracies without correspondingly decreasing the number of unofficial "women's chores"; consequently, there was a growing incongruence between the content of the tasks expected of them in their two roles—as workers on the one hand and as women on the other. Finally, the entry into the bureaucracy during this period of better-educated women, many of whom saw tea-pouring duties as beneath them, that is, as inappropriate to their level of training, experience, and skills, caused the status quo to be called into question for the first time.[20] For all these reasons, the status rituals expected of the women were losing their meaning, thus nullifying some of the factors that might otherwise have constrained conflict behavior.

The women's discussions continued for a year, forging the women's subjective awareness of their situation into a collective consciousness. The meetings also appear to have constituted an almost-formal prefatory stage prior to real action. And they made it possible for a distance to grow between the women and their male superiors. Locked into day-to-day relations with the targets of their anger, the female employees had to undergo a certain change of consciousness in which the ordinary Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Sakai of the office became cast as "the enemy." In status politics struggles that arise in close relationships, status superiors seemingly need to be objectified—blown up into larger-than-life caricatures and viewed collectively—before anger can be released on them.[21]

The process by which a group of women workers join together and contemplate taking active steps to change their working conditions is


complex and difficult—more so than in forming a new political group, as in the case discussed in chapter 3. In politics, after all, the name of the game is power; the formation of informal but goal-oriented groups and open sparring for power and privilege are a regular part of the life of a political party. In most organizational settings, however, overt conflict is rare, and for this reason the steps that the Kyoto city office workers took toward protest were far more hesitant and cautious than were Kono's early moves in breaking from the LDP. The need for validation from a higher-status third party to legitimize the protest, for preparatory meetings long before action was contemplated, for distancing—all reflect the greater constraints on engaging in protest in a public bureaucracy, with its emphasis on compliance, discipline, and conflict avoidance in interpersonal relations.

But the women workers' hesitancy is also a reflection of the greater force of the constraints involved in gender-based protest, as opposed to intergenerational conflict involving men. Traditionally women, more than men, have been enjoined to accept rather than protest, to endure rather than complain, to make sacrifices themselves rather than expect accommodation from others. For that reason, the cultural barriers to conflict behavior by women are extraordinarily high, and so it makes sense that the process of consciousness transformation would proceed slowly for women workers and that a higher-status authority figure—a male—would perform an important and perhaps necessary function by, in essence, legitimating their protest (to be discussed in chapter 7).

If status-based conflicts are supported by a common ideology of democracy and egalitarianism, each individual protest differs depending on the ascriptive group involved—its particular attributes and its own unique history of struggle. In the next chapter we will explore the third case, this one involving burakumin. Of the three groups examined here, burakumin are the furthest advanced in overcoming cultural obstacles to protest, but the problems they face arising from social inequities are also the most severe. Despite a century of status politics struggle, numerous barriers to full equality remain.


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