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Does Ladies First Account for Gender Equality?

Updated: Oct 5

July 3, 2022

Sae Hirata



Ladies First. This is one of the behaviors that many people know as a Western way of respecting women. However, there have been no such mannerisms among Japanese men. Escorting someone is an unfamiliar behavior for them and they often hesitate to do so.



How Gentle He Is!


US president Joe Biden visited Japan from May 22nd to 24th in 2022. While he was in Japan, he visited a restaurant with Fumio Kishida, the Prime Minister of Japan. When the scene of his entering to the dining hall was aired, people were surprised by his little action. He escorted a female restaurant staff to enter the hall. His action was praised as a smart and gentleman-like politeness.



History of Ladies First


The word Ladies First was born in Medieval Europe. According to one opinion, in the past, Ladies First meant that a woman to protect a man as a shield; Avoiding the risk of men being hit by something falling from windows in residential homes or being attacked by a killer waiting for them behind doors. Some believe that men also flirted with women to gain status. In the higher classes, the eldest son was supposed to be the successor. Therefore, the second and third sons needed to be liked by the women of another high class families to gain his social status. These ideas have changed over time and today Ladies First is regarded as one of the “gentleman's manners.”


Why did escorting not take rooted in Japan? There might be something to do with the cultural background of Japan. In 10th and 12th centuries, probably because of the Consucianisic influence, men's superiority were started; women were expected to walk three steps after men silently and obediently. The meaning of this idea was hat women should not be in front of men. There is another interpretation to this practice, that it is, women walking backward was to protect them from any dangerous happenings. In the era when samurai warriors were active, the idea was if a woman walked behind a man, he could protect her from the enemy. Whichever theory you believe, it is clear that in Japan it was not a custom for women to walk in front of men.



Changing Values with the Times


In recent years, this idea of Ladies First seems to be changed into a practice even in the Western world, for example, in the American workplace, because of it irrelevantly emphasizes gender distinction. Even if a man simply try to lead a woman politly, some women might feel offensive to be treated as a person of protection. He might even be accused as a "sexist" from the feminists.


We are living in an era in which such cases are not uncommon. Old custom has always changed over time. At least in the business world, escort culture and other gender-conscious customs are changing.


Escort culture might have spread as a way of careing for women. But nowadays, it should not be only for women but for others, regardless of gender. It would be comfortable if people's idea of "Ladies First" changes to a common consideration to others by saying "After you."

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