Sexism in Japanese English Education: A Survey of EFL Texts

Article excerpt


The English language, it has been claimed, is sexist and possesses male-as-norm elements. Studies have been done on this issue, and de-sexing efforts have been made in publications in various disciplines. Starting in the early 1970s, many publishers (e.g., Scott, Foresman 1972; McGraw-Hill, 1974) and scholastic organizations (e.g., APA, 1986) published and revised guidelines which identified the areas of bias and suggested alternatives for authors and editors to consider when writing or approving new material. Academic surveys have been done on sexism in English textbooks (e.g., Gershuny, 1977, 1989; Worby, 1979; DeShazer, 1981; Nielsen, 1988) including ESL and EFL materials(1) (e.g., Hartman & Judd, 1978; Hellinger, 1980; Porreca, 1984; Sunderland, 1992). The National Council of Teachers of English formed a committee in 1971 on the Role and Image of Women in the Council and the Profession, and adopted a formal policy statement in 1975 that read in part: "The NCTE should encourage the use of nonsexist language, particularly through its publications and periodicals" (NCTE, 1985). Because of these efforts, English education texts have been reported far ahead of other disciplines in 'de-sexing' illustrative sentences and prose passages (e.g., Gershuny, 1977).

It is a significant question whether Japanese English education textbooks reflect these efforts to diminish sexist features of the English language. English is the only foreign language taught through junior and senior high schools in Japan. It is also taught in most of the universities and some of the elementary schools. When we consider that "a language can affect a society by influencing or even controlling the world-view of its speakers" (Trudgill, 1983) and that Japanese itself is a sexist language (Sakita, 1991; Cherry, 1988), then if the only foreign language that Japanese children learn also has sexist features, its teaching will reinforce the sexism in Japanese society. This would be a significant problem because "sexism is an unconscious cultural bias, expressed in and reinforced by the language people learn from childhood on" (Florent & Walter, 1988). This research examines the prevalence of sexism in currently used textbooks in English education in Japan. The purpose is to make teachers and publishers in Japan aware of sexist bias in textbooks, and to urge the development of guidelines for nonsexist design of textbooks. For the analysis, I adopt the following definition: "Textbooks are sexist if they omit the actions and achievements of women, if they demean women by using patronizing language or if they show women and men only in stereotyped roles with less than the full range of human interests, traits, and capabilities" (Scott, Foresman, 1972).


Ten textbooks widely used in Japanese junior and senior high schools were chosen for content analysis(2), all published between 1989 and 1992. They are at three levels: Introductory (two textbooks for the first year of junior high school); Intermediate (two for the first year of senior high school); and Advanced (six for the second and third years(3) of senior high school, two of which are for general English, two for reading, and two for composition).

The following aspects of content and stories were examined for gender bias:

1) The number of females and males as characters and as main characters in the randomly selected stories were counted. Forty-eight stories were surveyed: 16 of 30 stories in Introductory; 16 of 24 in Intermediate; 16 of 71 in Advanced (general English and reading) texts(4) were examined.

2) The number of females and males in the exercises and model sentences were counted.(5) All 30 chapters in Introductory texts, 16 of 24 in Intermediate texts, 34 of 105 in Advanced texts (general English and composition)(6) were randomly chosen.(7)

3) Qualifications (e.g., occupation, status) of the main characters and of the other characters in the stories randomly selected in the same way as in 1) were listed and examined. …