A hot topic has been brought up lately, namely sexual harassment in Japan, specifically in the schools. And I am appalled at the victim blaming and misogyny being displayed by both men and women. It is absolutely unbelievable that something as simple as "don't touch me without my permission" is apparently asking too much, being oversensitive, or deliberately stressing yourself out. It seems that expecting people, kids and adults, to refrain from making sexual comments in the workplace or during class is oppressive. Oh, and the ever popular "this is my opinion so it should be yours, too. I know better than you simply because I am (usually) a man."
Let's break this down.
Not wanting to be touched is not asking too much. If you are ok with being touched by your coworkers or your students, then more power to you, but no one should ever be made to feel guilty or wrong because they don't want to be touched. Didn't we learn this from Sesame Street? That it's your body and you have the right to decide who has access to it? Why is it so difficult now? Oh, that kid slapped you on the butt? Well, he's just being a kid, he didn't know any better. Oh, that middle-aged man grabbed you and you didn't like it? Well, he probably heard that all Americans/foreigners are touchy-feely so he thought it was ok. You should cut him some slack.
Japan is not a touchy-feely culture. In the rural areas, the inaka, you don't even see boyfriends and girlfriends holding hands. There is some touching between friends up to junior high school, but that touching very, very rarely crosses into touching teachers. Japan is not France, where you are greeted by kisses. It's not a highly physical culture, and I think it's dangerous to foster a standard where foreigners are walking playthings that can be touched anywhere and anytime. What's cute from a seven year old is pushing lines as a JHS student and completely over the line in high school. There is nothing wrong with enforcing boundaries. That's part of our job anyway, isn't it? To foster internationalization and tolerance? To broaden horizons? Oh, and to teach kids? Teachers in the West and the East aren't just supposed to be there to teach that 2+2=4. There's a reason that moral education classes are in the schedule.
This obviously carries over into inappropriate comments, as well. This line is blurrier, I think, because it's easy to dismiss a lot of questions as curiosity and cultural differences in terms of what it's ok to ask and not to ask. Sure, in your home country you would never ask a complete stranger what her bra size is, but maybe in Japan it's different. In China it isn't taboo to talk about salaries whereas in the US that's considered pretty gauche. But there is a difference between asking how old someone is and when they first had sex, and you aren't making waves or being an attention seeker by refusing to capitulate. You are standing up for your rights. I speak Japanese and I've never heard fellow Japanese teachers asked the same kind of questions that I've been asked. I've never heard kids yell anything provocative at their Japanese teachers, whereas I've had kids yell "Sexy" at me and one boy in particular is constantly bugging his friends to try to kiss me in class. Considering all I know about Japanese culture I've got to conclude that there's a double-standard here, and that it isn't being priggish to ask for the same respect from the students that our Japanese counterparts receive.
Finally, I'm sick and tired of people saying "I'm ok with X so I don't understand why you aren't" as if that's actually a real argument. So, because you're ok with being slapped on the butt you can't conceive of someone else not being ok with it? I can understand you being ok with it, why can't you understand why I'm not? Women are constantly told to protect themselves better, but when we take those steps (dressing more conservatively, asking people not to touch us without our permission, trying to get away from people who don't respect our boundaries) we are almost always torn down anyway. We're called cold bitches, oversensitive, and rude. "But why," is the affronted question. "I'm a nice person!" The thing is, and this is what I want people to realize: we don't know if you're a nice person. Molesters, harassers, and rapists don't give you a little card saying that they're sketchballs. There usually aren't easy to read signs. So the only way to really protect ourselves is to enforce simple boundaries like "don't grab my breasts/thighs/ass/etc." It makes me incredibly sad that expecting other human beings to respect those boundaries is apparently too much to ask.
I'd like to end with one more thing. Those of us who have these boundaries? We still have brains. We can work off of context. Of course there's a difference between a 10 year old and a 16 year old grabbing you. Of course there's a difference between a kid yelling "naisu basuto" for attention and a middle aged coworker sleezing it at you during a work party. We don't fly off the handle over every little thing. There is actually this thing called a middle ground where we pick and choose our battles as opposed to jumping onto our soapboxes every five minutes. So please, give us the respect that we give you. Don't treat our bodies as public property that anyone has access to. Don't say things to us when we've just met that you wouldn't say to your mother. And don't tell us how we should feel because we're so stupid and you're so smart. It's that simple.