Diane Wei Lewis, Associate Professor, Film and Media Studies, Washington University in St Louis
In the early 1980s, office automation (OA) swept the Japanese business world. A variety of new data processing and telecommunications technologies seemed likely to transform women’s employment, for OA was expected to reduce clerical drudgework and therefore potentially eliminate the need for “office ladies” or OL. However, facing critical shortages of programmers, systems engineers, and other technical specialists, companies heavily recruited women and even created all-women work groups and subsidiary companies. In the popular cultural imagination, women brought “feminine” aptitudes and skills to a variety of computer-related jobs. I analyze the gendering of their work, arguing that the discursive foregrounding of feminine traits – such as attention to detail, patience, courteous service, and emotional intelligence – helped rationalize women’s increasing numbers in highly skilled fields, while trivializing their contributions and maintaining the low cost of their labor.
Office worker shinsango kakumei 1982
Cartoon by Hosoo Hirokazu Nikkei sangyo shinbun June 28 1989
Diane Wei Lewis is an Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She specializes in film and media cultures in Japan, with a focus on gender, emotion, and labor. Her essays have appeared in Cinema Journal, positions: asia critique, Feminist Media Histories, and Screen. She is author of Powers of the Real: Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2019) and is currently writing a book on women’s work and 1980s information technology.