Is This Sexual Harassment? Poster Draws Online Flak in Japan

(Bloomberg) -- An attempt by the Japanese government to encourage men to take responsibility for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace has drawn an uproar online, with Twitter users saying it makes excuses for willful ignorance of the issue.

Is This Sexual Harassment? Poster Draws Online Flak in Japan

The Cabinet Office poster features Japanese actor Mikihisa Azuma, who asks, when translated from Japanese: “Is this sexual harassment too?” The background contrasts his comments: “You’re prettier now that you’ve lost weight,” and “Cute outfit today -- that’s my type of look,” with illustrations of disapproving women. “You’re not the one to decide what’s sexual harassment!” it extols.

Users replying to a tweet this week unveiling the poster campaign said it serves to let sexual harassers off the hook by taking too sympathetic a view of their conduct.

“I realized immediately that women weren’t involved at any stage of making this,” said one Twitter user. “They really don’t get it...this is why there aren’t women politicians,” another said.

Other users defended the poster. One said: “I think it’s fine, because it’s a poster telling people who lack an understanding of sexual harassment that this is something that might involve you too.”

The Cabinet Office said it’s aware of the criticism and is taking it seriously, though has no plans to change the poster.

‘Increase Consciousness’

“It’s true that we decided to aim this at the perpetrators of sexual harassment and increase consciousness of the issue among men, because it’s such a wide-ranging problem and it can be difficult for victims to speak up," Takanobu Hirowatari of the office’s Gender Equality Bureau said by phone.

Hirowatari said women were involved in the project and the poster received the blessing of civic groups before its release.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying to draw more women into the labor force and management positions as part of a program of “Womenomics" as the country struggles with a shrinking and rapidly aging workforce. The poster is part of an annual education campaign about violence against women, which this year runs from Nov. 12 to Nov. 25.

Earlier this year, a group of activists launched #WeToo Japan after deciding on a need for widespread support for victims of sexual harassment, saying it goes beyond the self-identification of victims in the #MeToo movement started in the U.S. last year.

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