The Modern Working Woman: Expectations and the Gender Income Gap

English: Gender Pay Gap in 19 OECD countries a...

English: Gender Pay Gap in 19 OECD countries according to the 2008 OECD Employment Outlook report (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Paige Shaw

From aprons to business suits and domestic duties to the nine-to-five grind, our idea of a hard-working woman has changed drastically. All around the world we see more and more women entering the work force. However, these attempts to make women “equal” have caused different problems to arise. Women who enter the work force are still expected to do the domestic duties they were previously expected to do, on top of having a career. There is simply not enough time in the day for any one person to be able to have a career, raise a family, and maintain a home. Men on the other are not expected to juggle all these things, but they are sometimes expected to put work before family. In addition women are paid a fraction of the amount to do the same work as their male counterparts. As a society we have developed this ideal of having work, home, and time for leisure. In the long run this is not a sustainable lifestyle. I have seen both in my home country, Canada, and in Japan on exchange, that in both countries there is a difference between being a man and being a woman in the workplace.

English: Map of Canada

English: Map of Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find generally when I talk to people who aren’t from North America, or who aren’t too familiar with Canada, that they sometimes have the idea that Canada has it all figured out. However in terms of the gender income gap, Canada has a larger gap then countries such as Norway, Italy, and France. The Conference Board of Canada ranked Canada 11th out of 17 peer countries and gave it a grade C in terms of the Gender Income Gap. Women will earn approximately 76 cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same job. I find in Canada there is still the stereotype that housework and child rearing are more of the woman’s job. However there isn’t as much stigma towards stay at home dads or men helping out around the house as there are in other countries. But it does still seem to be the ideal for a woman to have a successful career, well-behaved children, and a well-maintained home. This is unrealistic because there is simply not enough time for one woman to do all these things.

Compared to Canada, Japan’s gender income gap is much wider, and their expectations for women make it harder to maintain a job. Women in Japan on average earn 29% less than men. It is also uncommon to see a woman working in a high position at a company. Japan has very high expectations for its workers and its mothers. Most women end up quitting their job, either by their own choice or because of societal pressure, once they get married or start having kids. Even with the recent action to increase the amount of women in the workforce, because social expectations aren’t changing, women ultimately have to choose between work and having a family. The husbands are also unable to spend time with their kids, let alone help out around the house, because they are expected to spend long hours at work and put in overtime as well. In order to accommodate having women in the work force Japan would need to loosen its expectations on not only the wife’s duties at home, but also the husband’s obligations at work, so both parents can play a role at home.

Overall it seems globally we still have distinct gender roles, and although on the outside it can seem that women are on equal terms with men in the workplace, that might not be the case. To solve this would take a lot of rearranging of the social order. In countries like Canada we need to get rid of the idea of a “supermom” that can do everything in one day, while ideal, it’s not realistic. And in countries like Japan men need to be given as much opportunity to participate in their families’ lives as much a woman should be given equal opportunity to participate in the workforce. This includes equal pay; women in every country should be paid the same amount for the same work regardless of their gender. We need to release the time-squeeze, and give people more time to maintain a healthy home life as well as a healthy life at work.

How African Women See Themselves

by Yutaro Nishioka

The term colorism is defined in the work of Verna M. Keith, “A Colorstruck World: Skin tone, Achievement, and Self-Estimation Among African American Women,” as “the privileging of light skin tone over dark skin tone” (Keith, 2009). In other words, people with dark skin are seen as inferior to those with light skin. This view was somewhat hard for me, as a Japanese, to perceive in Japan, especially before I went to Atlanta at the age of 16 as an exchange student. Before I went to Atlanta, I had never known a black person; I had not seen a black person at school, supermarkets, stations, parks, libraries, or any other public places. Hence it is natural that I could not really perceive or feel colorism in Japan.

According to Keith (2009), black women (and even girls) are encouraged or even told to “marry light,” that is, marry a husband of lighter skin tone, so that they can at least “save” their children from having to go through the hardship and pain of being discriminated against for having dark skin, even if they had to suffer it themselves. Young black girls are even told not to play outside in the sunlight because that would make their skin even darker, which would make them “less attractive (often not spoken aloud)” (Keith, 2009).

While white or European features, such as “blue, grey or green eyes, straight hair texture, thin lips, and a narrow nose” are seen as “higher status,” more attractive, and intelligent, black or African features, such as “broad nose, kinky hair, full lips, and brown eyes” are devalued both inside and outside of the black community (Keith, 2009). This phenomenon, in my opinion, is horrible because not only do young black children get discouraged from playing outside—young children naturally like to play outside—but also the reason or excuse that the adults, or society, use for this phenomenon is extremely lame: having dark skin is somehow less attractive, and any attempt to avoid darkening the skin tone is thus justified. This can even affect who black American women will “date and marry” and the kinds of jobs they end up having (Keith, 2009).

To my surprise, these advices are given “out of love, and a deep historical understanding” of the discrimination against those with dark skin tone (Keith, 2009). This may imply that many black American women would rather “suck it up” and teach their children not to darken their skin any further to avoid undergoing the hardship, than fight the society and discrimination. It might be that the power of the discrimination against people with dark skin is so overwhelmingly strong and influential that they do not have a choice but to suck it up and do what the society tells them to do, that is, to avoid darkening their skin tone and marry a light skinned husband to make sure at least their children’s skin tone turns out lighter.

Reference

Keith, V. (2009). A Colorstruck world skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Skin tone and self-esteem: Impacts of colorism

by Keisuke Yamada

In “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women”, Verna M. Keith examines the relationships between skin tone, social and economic achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. Keith briefly mentions the history of slavery and how lighter-skinned blacks were more accepted than darker-skinned blacks because they had similarities with white people. As history clearly shows, colourism existed in the past when the skin tones you were categorised in decided what you can do and how you are treated. Even after the period of slavery, colourism continued to affect education, occupation, and income of African American women. The graphs the authour provides clearly show differences in education, occupation, and income among groups of people with different skin tones.

Then, Keith moves on to look at the relationship between skin tone and self-esteem, which I personally thought very interesting. Keith provides two graphs which show the relationships between the level of self-esteem and skin tones in adolescents and adulthood. There is not a huge difference in the level of self-esteem in adolescents. However, as they become adults, self-esteem of very dark brown people drops, although the author says that the results may have been different depending on when you were born. More interestingly, Keith mentions how skin tone is not related or ignored in predominantly white environments. One suggestion was that in predominantly white environments, there is only a distinction between black and white. I had a discussion in the class whether this can be applied to other cases. For example, in a country like US where Asian people are the minority, it is often ignored which part of Asia they come from. However, from the perspectives of those Asian people, it is of course a big of deal where they originated.

As we discuss the issue, I heard that the ratio of ‘black’ and ‘white’ people is changing in some parts of the US, and I guess that some parts of the world may be experiencing similar shifts as well. So my last question was whether colorism would still matter for some people, considering this shift may occur in the future. I personally think that it would have less influence on one’s self-esteem and career achievements, but at the same time, it is also possible that there would always be some kind of distinction or differentiation beside the idea of colorism.

Reference

Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Blackness in Brazil: ancestry, skin color, and race

by Hiroki Matsuyama

In today’s modern world, there are many types of injurious racisms all over the world. However, the elements to discriminate against people are different, and they are depending on countries. There are several interesting aspects in terms of the way to distinguish people in Brazil according to ‘The social consequences of Skin Color in Brazil’ by Edward Telles.

On the one hand, people in the U.S tend to discriminate against those who are black, on the other hand, people in Brazil do not distinguish people depending on their race, but they do depending on situation, classifier and region. In other words, skin color is more commonly used than race in terms of distinguishing people. The most interesting point in this reading to me is that some U.S blacks may be seen as white in Brazil, only people having very dark skin are considered black. In fact, there are Brazilians who call themselves white, have non-white ancestry, and the numbers of those people is not small surprisingly. In spite of the fact that the U.S does have the ‘one drop’ rule  to discriminate against blacks, you would not be considered black in Brazil if you do not have black ancestry. From this point of view, it can be said that miscegenation tends to whiten the population in Brazil, which is totally opposite idea of the U.S. This is because Brazil was the colony of Portugal, and Brazilian people were born between Portuguese males and African or indigenous females.

Honestly, racial discrimination in Brazil did not seem to be worse than it in the U.S as my first impression. However, there is severe discrimination depending on their skin tones in Brazil. Although, in the U.S, there are color differences within races of Black and Latino, not among white people, there are color differences within the entire population in Brazil. It means that job wage or opportunities in Brazil depend on skin color. Hence, there is the difficulty for policymakers to define racial boundaries, and decide who should benefit from affirmative action even though they try to make a move for low-income citizens.

There are totally different notions between two countries, the U.S and Brazil in terms of discrimination. I would not say which is in better or worse situation; people in both countries are struggling in different ways. As I am an Asian person, I would like to research how Asian people in Brazil are considered. If people in Brazil discriminate against people depending on their skin tone, Asian people might not be discriminated because so-called ‘yellow color’ is close to white color.

How do US stereotypes of Asian girls affect students’ school performance?

by Akimi Yano

According to Pyke and Johnson (2003), Asian American girls feel that they behave differently, depending on if they are with Asian Americans or with non-Asian Americans. It is because white society has created stereotypes of Asian Americans connoting that whites are more egalitarian than Asians, and has expected Asian Americans to act in a certain way, which affects how Asian Americans think about themselves. Therefore, they feel the necessity to differentiate their behavior, depending on if they are with Asian Americans or they are with non-Asian Americans. Because of the stereotypes, they feel like they are expected to act that way by both Asian Americans and by non-Asian Americans. At the same time, Asian American girls think that Asian femininities are inferior to white femininities. Therefore, some Asian American girls distance themselves from other Asians by following not Asian femininities but white femininities.

According to what I can interpret from the article, there are at least three possible ways of Asian girls’ performance in the classroom:

  • first, being active in the classes because they do not want to be categorized as stereotypical Asian girls;
  • second, being quiet because they feel the pressure to follow the stereotypes of Asians as passive, shy, and quiet;
  • finally, being quiet because they know that a professor would not have them talk in front of the class, by being told by the professor that it is okay if they does not want to talk in front of the class, so they take advantage of it.

However, the authors did not summarize what makes the female Asian students make decisions for their performance in detail. The differences in their performance in the classroom leads to diverse levels of educational achievement as well. In the first pattern, they speaks their minds because they do not want to be labeled as typical Asian girls, which in itself shows that they are not submissive people, in contrast to the stereotypes of Asian girls. This kind of person could do well at school.

In the second pattern, they feel the expectations of being quiet in the classroom by both Asian Americans and by non- Asian Americans, and they are afraid of others’ reactions against them being active in the class, therefore they comply with the expectations. This kind of student might not do well at school.

In the third pattern, they are vocal people but they act as if they were quiet people in order to make use of the opportunity of not having to talk in front of the class. This kind of student could do poorly if they do not start being active in the class. In all these three patterns, they act the way they do since the action leads them to a profitable or at least harmless outcome.

Moreover, in this article, teachers’ stereotypes of Asian Americans such as being passive, shy, and quiet could contradict with their more common stereotypes of Asian American students being “model minorities“; however, the authors did not explain it. Therefore, I analyzed it by myself. Since the targeted Asian American students are second-generation, they are to some extent assimilated into American society, where Asian students think being typical passive Asian is a negative thing when they interact with non-Asian Americans. Therefore, those female Asian students who live up to the standards to be “model minorities” might have intentionally disobeyed the expectations to be stereotypical passive Asian girls differentiating themselves from other Asians in order to be successful in the U.S. society, where white society implies that following white people’s norms is the only way to become successful in the U.S.

Finally, the authors also mentioned as an example of Asian girls feeling that they do not fit the stereotypes of Asian girls “some claimed that because they are assertive or career oriented, they are not really Asian”, yet I think being career-oriented fits the stereotypes of Asian American girls, considering the fact that it it is well known that Asian parents constantly encourage their kids to do well at school and to obtain a good occupation as they did in their country of origin; thus there must be a stereotype of Asian American girls as career-oriented, which the authors did not point out, either.

Reference

Pyke, K. & Johnson, D. 2003. Asian American Women and Racialized Femininities: “Doing” Gender across Cultural Worlds. Gender and Society 17(1):33-53. Retrieved June, 1, 2014, from http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0891-2432%28200302%2917%3A1%3C33%3AAAWARF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-5

The consequences of blackness in Brazil

by Saki Miyata

Brazilians from the end of the 19th century to...

Brazilians from the end of the 19th century to the very begining of the 20th century. First roll from left to right: A Portuguese-Brazilian woman, a German-Brazilian boy, an Italo-Brazilian man, an Arab-Brazilian and a Japanese-Brazilian woman. Second roll from left to right: an Afro-Brazilian man, a Cafuzo girl, a Mulatto woman, a Caboclo man and an Indian woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In “The social consequences of skin color in Brazil”, Edward Telles describes how people perceive skin color and race differently in the Brazil, compared to the United States, as well as the current inequalities caused by skin color. How Brazilians determine their identity or how they classify themselves, skin color is the main focused element. On the other hand in the United States, elements such as ancestors and “blood” determines one’s identity and race. Telles described that this is due to the difference in the laws that were made during slavery. In the United States, there was a law which described that if a person has a black ancestor, he or she is considered black; even though it was only 1/10th. However, in Brazil, this person might be considered “brown” or even “white”, according to his or her skin color. This seems very interesting, since one could change their class and “race” depending on the country.

After reading this chapter, I found an interesting blog about the consequences of “blackness” among the Brazilian people. Although more than half of the population is black descended or mixed race, the inequality and discrimination that dark skinned people receive are surprisingly high. However, according to the study, the “awareness of the importance of African culture in Brazilian history and Brazilians’ pride in their black origins has increased in recent years” (Global voices, 2011). On the other hand, another article showed that a famous funk star changed her skin color to a lighter complexion and became famous (Watts, 2013). In the discussion during class, our team shared our opinion toward this controversy. Although more and more people identify themselves as “black” or partially “black”, people still want to achieve whiteness. In our discussion, we concluded, that people who have dark or tanned skin wanted to have some sort of confident and pride towards who they are even though the society prefers whiter skin for success.

Through the past classes, it sees that throughout the world, the conscious of “white is beautify and successful” seem to be connected. Even in a country like Brazil, where enormous numbers of the population is mixed, and claims diversity, the inequality still exists. This fact questions me why does the “white as dominant” does not change over history? Even though the colonialism and slavery did end in most of the countries?

References

Global voices, 2011. Brazil: Census “Reveals” Majority of Population is Black or Mixed Race. Global voices. Retrieved from http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/11/29/brazil-census-black-mixed-population/

Watts, J. 2013. Brazilian funk star Anitta sparks new debate about skin whitening and race. The guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/08/brazilian-funk-anitta-debate-race

A counter-narrative to the Chinese exclusion policies of the US

English: Racist US political cartoon: Uncle Sa...

Racist US political cartoon: Uncle Sam kicks out the Chinaman, referring to the Chinese exclusion act. image published in 19th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

During the late nineteenth century, immigration to the United States from East Asia, particularly China, saw a massive influx, much to the surprise and eventual dismay to the American white population. For a population that were also inherently immigrants, built on the foundations of native population extermination before and after independence from the British, their indignation could be seen as quite hypocritical and in some sense, ironic. At the time, the Chinese were seen as a threat to ordinary, hard-working US citizens and “overlapped with domestic fears about American race, class, and gender relations and helped fan the fires of organized anti-Chinese sentiment … Chinese workers were blamed for competing unfairly with white workers. Chinese as a race were charged with being inassimilable, inferior, and immoral” (Lee, 2007, pp. 546-547).

Different states had different laws regarding the Chinese, and it is important to realise that at this time racism was rife in the country with the black population facing the brunt. In 1854, the State of California recategorised the Chinese to the same level as black and Native Americans, which meant that they did not have the right to testify against a white man in a court of law (Bancroft, 2005). In 1882, the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, country-wide, which severely prohibited the movement of Chinese citizens to the US, a law which was only repealed in 1943.

As all this went on in the foreground, there was other events taking place in the background. Seemingly at odds with the official stance of the US being “anti-Chinese”, there was however a few openings on the education front. Hsu (2014), in her work on educational exchange during this period of exclusionary policies, highlights what she calls a “counter-narrative” (p. 315) to the prevailing view of this time. She writes that “… even in the depths of restrictive fervor, Chinese students—seen as a leadership class that eventually shaped the future of modern China—were not only welcomed in the United States, but funded and protected by powerful American and Chinese interests”.

English: Editorial cartoon showing a Chinese m...

Editorial cartoon showing a Chinese man being excluded from entry to the “Golden Gate of Liberty.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previous historical circumstances had made China wary of foreign influence, encapsulated by the “Boxer Rebellion”, a strong backlash against western Christian missionaries and foreigners in general. (At the time, China was the predominant country for US missionary work). In the Qing dynasty, there were worries that students sent abroad would become “denationalized” and China would see no benefit (Hsu, 2014, p. 319). Through the creation of the China Institute, however, the US saw a climb in foreign students from China, as well as an acceptance that China would face an inevitable decline if they did not attempt to familiarise themselves with Western education. Even during the height of exclusion, Chinese students made “were among the most numerous of foreign students on U.S. campuses” and such a exchange managed to persuade “Americans not only to invest in positive experiences of the United States for Chinese, but also to rethink racialist ideologies of exclusion against Asians.” (Hsu, 2014, p. 322). In essence, student exchange helped to counter-balance xenophobic attitudes towards China.

The Cold War threatened to undo most of these relations, however, with a communist China considered a threat. Plus that to today, with increasingly paranoid US afraid of losing their Number 1 status, economically and politically, could there be similar sentiments rising? This video echoes of the late nineteenth century. And the US currently operate an anti-Chinese exclusion policy for NASA, and do not forget the Huawei “national security concerns” story. Will more Chinese students studying in the US help to ease tensions, or have times changed too much?

References

Bancroft. (2005). ‘Anti-Chinese Movement and Chinese Exclusion’, Bancroft Library, The Regents of University of California. Retrieved from http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/chineseinca/antichinese.html on 8 June 2014.

Hsu, M, Y. (2014). Chinese and American Collaborations through Educational Exchange during the Era of Exclusion, 1872–1955, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 83, No 2, pp. 314-332. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/phr.2014.83.2.314 on 8 June 2014.

Lee, E. (2007). The “Yellow Peril” and Asian Exclusion in the Americas, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 76, No. 4, pp. 537-562. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/phr.2007.76.4.537 on 8 June 2014.

“Making a choice” or “forceful separation”?

by Kyungyeon Chung

On the walls of immigration bureau offices in Japan, one can easily spot posters regarding dual citizenship. As the Japanese government does not recognize dual citizenship of its citizens, these posters usually say something along the line of  “let’s make it clear: choose your nationality,” “make a choice: no more duality.” Somehow, the rhetoric of posters seems to suggest that dual citizenship is unclear, undesirable, and duplicate, and thus a negative thing.

Today, in the face of increasing immigration and the growing flow of goods, services and persons across state borders, the concept of dual citizenship has arisen as a politically hot topic. While some argue that the recognition of dual citizenship is simply a legislative act that allows freedom, many believe it means more than granting of an extra passport. Opponents for the recognition argue it will complicate bureaucratic administration for the government. However, the most prominent argument behind the opposition is that the concept is not compatible with what “citizenship” entails. Citizenship has long been associated with state-control over its people – ‘citizenry’ – and, as T.H. Marshall defined, “a claim to be accepted as full members of the society” (Bloemraad, Korteweg & Yurdakul, 2008). Dual citizenship effectively challenges this idea of state-control as it allows the person to be a member of two separate societies, eligible for two separate sets of privileges, and obligated to two separate sets of duties.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 1.17.07 PMThe confusion it causes is understandable. However, forcing one to choose one citizenship over another – the father’s over mother’s, the birth country over the country of residence, or vice versa – is this reasonable? In an opinion article from the New York Times, Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies argued that, for US nationals, engaging in dual citizenship basically means renouncing US citizenship, and is an absurdity that should be prohibited (2014). However, having two passports cannot possibly mean that one is betraying their ‘native’ country. For many immigrants, their children, and expatriates around the world, dual citizenship is about having freedom of association. Just because a person has moved from his/her native country to another, it does not mean he/she automatically renounces, forgets, or even wants to distance from the past. As time passes their emotional attachment and/or political participation can grow in both countries. In such situations, denying the chance of dual citizenship forcefully imposes what a person’s identity should be or where his/her allegiance should lie – does this not qualify as an infringement on freedom of personal choice? It effectively forces them to officially renounce their past so that they can be ‘loyal’ citizens of the present country of residence. If that’s what opponents want to achieve by invalidating dual citizenship, how effective could this possibly be anyway in forming allegiance?

It is more likely that dual citizenship is an irreversible and unavoidable occurrence in the face of globalization. Multiple national, racial and ethnic identities will continue to grow unabated no matter what governmental policies are in place. Recognizing multiple nationalities may be a nuisance for many governments, especially the ones who believe in their perceived ‘homogeneity’. Yet, eventually, the time will come that they have to admit the presence of diversity within the artificially set state borders.

References

Bloemraad, I., Korteweg, A., & Yurdakul, G. (2008). Citizenship And Immigration: Multiculturalism, Assimilation, And Challenges To The Nation-State. Annual Review of Sociology, 34(1), 153-179.

Krikorian, M. (2014, January 30). An exclusive relationship. International New York Times. Retrieved May 18, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/05/14/can-dual-citizens-be-good-americans/citizenship-should-be-an-exclusive-relationship

法務省 (The Government of Japan Ministry of Justice). (n.d.). 国籍選択について (About choosing nationality). Retrieved May 18, 2014, from http://www.moj.go.jp/MINJI/minji06.html

 

My Future, My Nationality

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Tomoki Bischel

When we students think about our future, we tend to think about graduating school, job hunting, or other facts. I too also think about these facts and feel worried. However, when I think about my future, the first thing that comes in mind is about choosing my nationality. I was born and grew up in Japan, but since I was born half American and half Japanese, I have both nationalities. In Japan, the ministry of justice requires citizens who have a dual nationality to choose either one by the age of 22. Since I will be 20 this year and I only have 2 years left to decide, I am starting to think about this seriously. When thinking about which nationality I should choose, the word ibasho which we discussed in our class came to my mind.

I believe there are many definitions for the word ibasho. For me, ibasho is a place where you feel secure and happy; like when you’re with your friends or family, and I believe our nationality is also one of them to us. Although I was rose in Japan, I had many chances to go to America to meet my relatives. So, for me, not only Japan but America is also one of my ibasho. So, when it comes to have to choose my nationality, it sometimes feels like I have to choose my ibasho and feels almost impossible to choose only one. Some may say that choosing your nationality may not be the same as choosing your ibasho, since you don’t need a nationality to go to a country. However, not having a nationality can narrow choices that you have. For example, if I decide to choose America as my nationality, I won’t be able have suffrage in Japan even though I was born and grew up in this country.

I only have two years left to choose my nationality, and as I have mentioned, this would probably be one of the biggest choices that I will make in life. Having have to choose a nationality, I have a sort of fear against how the other country will look once I choose a nationality. Anyhow, I hope to be able to make a choice that I won’t regret in the future; a choice that will most help me in the future. For me, a nationality isn’t just a passport, it’s my ibasho.

Symbiosis in the World of Beauty: The Cosmetics Industry and the Western Beauty Ideal

English: Super Skin Lightener skin lightening ...

English: Super Skin Lightener skin lightening cream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kyungyeon Chung

Upon walking into a drug store in Japan, one will find an array of cosmetic products that promises hopeful transformation into what today’s Japanese society perceives as beauty. These end results the products promise – fairer, whiter skin, brighter teeth, bigger eyes, and longer eye lashes – all embodying the ideal that originated from the Western, Caucasian-centric beauty standards.

The cosmetics industry, even on a global scale, operates on the platform provided by Western standards of beauty, and especially by the colorism ideology that has penetrated into deep corners of modern society. At the same time, the beauty ideal and colorism are not self-sustaining. Their presence and growing prevalence are made possible by numerous industries that profit from the growth, with the cosmetic industry being a major stakeholder in play. By constantly being made to consume products designed with a limited set of objectives and outcome, the consumers are constantly reminded of the beauty ideals behind the products. The global cosmetics industry and the Western beauty standards based on colorism, mutually reinforce each other’s existence and influence.

In order to fully understand the core of modern society’s beauty standards, it is imperative to know the colorism ideology that frames the entire discourse. Colorism refers to “the preference for lighter skin and social hierarchy based on skin tone”, and has been widely expanding throughout the globe (Glenn, 2009, p.166). Being one of the main axes behind inequality today, it occurs at societal, systemic level through social structure that permits systematic discrimination towards darker skinned people. In many different regions and nations around the world, light skin tone has historically been preferred to dark skin tone, and given higher social status and easier access to social and economic resources (Keith, 2009, p.25). Although the beauty ideal does include other phenotypic aspects than skin complexion such as desirable weight, body shape, and facial structures, skin tone does hold significant importance, if not the most.

This ideology of colorism has been directly translated into the Western beauty ideals. Up high on the list of what composes the ideals is ‘fair’ skin. Having lighter, fairer, and whiter skin gives a great advantage in one’s life, and is central to the very definition of beauty. Having been spread as part of the ideological rationale for slavery and colonial imperialism of the European powers (Keith, 2009, p.27), the “white is better” or “white is right” idea still pervades modern societies thanks to mass media. Today, these ideologies are strongly embedded in ways we admire, desire, and look upon fair skin. Its importance can be easily understood and highlighted by the popular practice of skin whitening, which will be elaborated further later. It is also important to note here that females are subjected to these standards much more frequently and strictly than males (Keith, 2009).

In modern societies with capitalist economic system, the beauty standards manifest themselves as profitable industries whose products promise the achievement of ideal beauty via consumption. As societies are deeply instilled with consumerism, selling and buying beauty have been a huge, popularly sought-after business than ever. Plastic surgery is one of the most common and provocative examples. Cosmetic surgeries have spiked up in number and scale around the world: 14 million surgery procedures were performed in the US in 2011 (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2012); close to 7% of the population has undergone knife in South Korea in 2010 (Bates, 2013). A wide range diet-support programs, machines, and food products are readily available to help people lose weight.

Among many industries that thrive on our search for beauty, the cosmetics industry deserves particular attention. For instance, unlike plastic surgery, which may seem invasive, dangerous and rather extreme, putting on makeup is seldom-questioned practice for women. While showing up at school after a holiday with larger breasts may cause a stir, putting on mascara would hardly be an issue. For many, it is a daily routine, an ordinary and even expected behavior. It is also continuous – women who use skin care products will probably continue to do so for years to come. While it may seem trivial at first, considering the commonality and regularity of skin care and makeup, the cosmetics industry is massive, universally pervasive, and commercially successful.

The cosmetics industry owes much of its existence and enduring popularity to the beauty standards. An impressive array of products is available to help people achieve beauty as prescribed by the Western ideal. Eye makeup products are a great example. A dozen different types of products are readily available to make one’s eyes look bigger and more defined: mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, eyelash curler, eyebrow shaper, highlighter, etc. In East Asia in particular, the desire to have the Western look has also led to the popularity of double eyelid (Bates, 2013). In Korean and Japanese cosmetics shops, one can easily find glue or sticker-like products that hold the skin of upper eyelid together, creating an illusive double-lid. For those unwilling to undergo surgical procedures to create double eyelids, those products are a way to go.

Yet, the segment within the cosmetics industry that is perhaps the most influenced by, shaped by, and reflective of the Western ideals, is skin whitening products. Colorism has effectively produced a social view that associates whiteness with superiority and darkness with primitiveness, something to be avoided and fixed. In her book Shades of Differences, Evelyn Nakano Glenn argues that light skin has come to hold symbolic capital that furthers one’s life chances (2009, p. 166). This relates to the concept of beauty queue in society, whereby the level of beauty and social status are judged by the shades of complexion, the lightest at the top and the darkest at the bottom. For such reason, men and women from all parts of the world have strived for lighter complexion by consuming copious amounts of skin whitening products, supporting a multibillion-dollar global industry.

In the Asia Pacific region, the skin lightening market was valued at over US$13 billion in 2012 (Tan, 2012). In African continent, studies have found that up to 50% of population use skin lightening products in Dakar, Senegal; and even up to 77% in Lagos, Nigeria (Ntambwe, 2004). Almost all major cosmetic brands have a product line specifically dedicated to brightening care: Estée Lauder’s ‘CyberWhite’, Shiseido’s ‘White Lucent’, Clarins’s ‘Bright Plus’, Vichy’s ‘BiWhite’, Chanel’s ‘Le Blanc’. The list is endless. The prevalence and magnitude of the industry indicate how the widespread Western ideal of beauty and reverence for lighter skin tone has led to increasing demand for skin whitening products. The unabated expansion of the skin whitening products is a clear manifestation of colorism in action.

The highly interrelated relationship between the cosmetics industry and the Western beauty ideal can also be traced back from the other way around. The cosmetics industry work to constantly and persistently reinforce the ideal into the mindset of people, making it into an accepted social norm. Commercials by cosmetic firms continuously remind the consumers of what they should look like, and thus eventually what they should consume in order to achieve the said goals. These commercials tactically employ models that will spark the feeling of desire, which make the viewers think the goal – of looking like the model – is attainable. In essence, the models will look Caucasian enough to fit the White beauty standard, yet still possess enough ‘local’ features not to alienate the viewers too much. For instance, in Japan, half-Japanese and half-Caucasian models have rose to prominence for such reasons, brining the ‘ha-fu boom’ in entertainment and media (Krieger, 2010). In such manner, the constant bombardment of strategically produced advertisements on TV, magazines, and in shops, works to ensure the beauty ideal is here to stay.

As seen in the case of skin whitening products, the industry ushers consumers to fix their blemishes and dark spots, to get rid of undesirable features, and to become closer to the ideal beauty. Prominent cosmetic manufactures reveal supposedly bettered, new products every season. The products are ‘upgraded’ in a sense that they claim to produce better results, such as longer eyelashes, darker eye lines, more durability, brighter effects, to name a few. Consumers absorb such ideas: those results are good; those results are better; those results are what they should seek after. Through this process, the beauty standard gets repeatedly ingrained in the subconscious of society as a whole.

There is a wide range of factors at play that help maintain the global obsession with the White ideal of beauty, and especially that of light skin tone. One of the perpetuators is the cosmetics industry. In modern capitalist economy in which consumerism has become the social norm, the cosmetics industry prospers, thanks to the consumers’ ceaseless quest for beauty as dictated by the Western ideal. The quest for fairer skin, in particular, embodies the reality of colorstruck world – to borrow Verna Keith’s words – where colorism is firmly established as part of social structure.

The cosmetics industry and the White beauty ideals function as lifeline to each other. The ideals condition society for the industry to profit from, while the industry works to reinforce the ideals. It is a mutually interdependent, symbiotic relationship. If we want to start tackling the racially charged foundation behind the White ideal of beauty, we must first understand how it is perpetuated and internalized by consumption of products that cement the said ideal. Only when both ends are understood and questioned, can the process of deconstructing the colorstruck world begin.

References

  1. American Society of Plastic Surgeons (2012, September 2). 13.8 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed in 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/News-and-Resources/Press-Release-Archives/2012-Press-Release-Archives/138-Million-Cosmetic-Plastic-Surgery-Procedures-Performed-in-2011.html
  2. Bates, C. (2013, January 31). 15 million people worldwide had plastic surgery in 2011. Daily Mail Online. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2271134/15million-people-plastic-surgery-world-just-year–SOUTH-KOREA-leading-way.html
  3. Glenn, E. N. (2009). Consuming lightness. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters. (pp. 166-187). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  4. Keith, V. (2009). A colorstruck world. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters. (pp. 25-39). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  5. Krieger, D. (2010, November 29). The whole story on being ‘hafu’. CNN. Retrieved from: http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/life/whole-story-being-hafu-722376
  6. Ntambwe, M. (2004, March). Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Science in Africa. Retrieved from: http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2004/march/skinlightening.htm
  7. Tan, D. (2012, September 18). Who’s the fairest of them all? Asian Scientist. Retrieved from: http://www.asianscientist.com/features/skin-whitening-products-asia-2012/ 
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