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Sorry ladies. I have bad news. Kanji isn’t a fan of your gender. Now, you can’t go blaming the Japanese for this. They got these kanji, along with their meanings, from China. That being said, no matter where you’re talking about, I wouldn’t say that equal opportunities between genders was a very big thing 3000-4000 years ago. Not to mention that the people coming up with all the kanji were dudes.

So, kanji hates women. Sure. But, perhaps the kanji-creators of old were victims of their very misogynistic time. I can’t say that sexism and misogyny in kanji is “right,” but I can see how it ended up happening. Want to see for yourself?

Kanji Made By Men, For Men

kanji sexism

Nowadays a lot of these kanji are just words. It’s kind of like how the English word “Woman” has the word “Man” in it. Most people don’t actually care about it that much. That being said, I went through a lot of kanji today in order to bring you this ultimate list of misogynistic kanji. They will surely be a bit controversial, so please don’t get angry (aka “woman slave heart”), noisy (aka “woman woman woman”) or hateful (aka “woman concurrently”) at me. I didn’t create these kanji, and the people who did are long dead, probably because of their recklessness (aka “dead woman”).

女: Woman

This kanji isn’t particularly interesting on its own, but it’s important to look at first, because it always plays a role in the misogynistic kanji to come, appearing over and over again. Although I’m not putting every 女 kanji in this list (there’s a lot of them), I would like to tell you about a pattern I noticed: Kanji that have 女 in them tend to be about something negative, about getting married, about being a female of some kind (daughter, niece, etc) or about looking pretty. Already a bad start, I’d say. Let’s see what those sexist Chinese monks came up with.

奴: Manservant, Slave

This kanji consists of a woman (女) and the “again” radical (又). I suppose when you’re a woman again, you’re a slave (man or lady). It’s like a demotion to a slave level, aka the level of women. Strangely, this kanji’s meaning also extends to the words “dude” or “guy.” Now we know why it has a slight derogatory meaning.

妄: Reckless, Delusion

This kanji is made of “dying” (亡) and woman (女). So, when women who die are being reckless and delusional. They need to be safe and calm so that they can take care of the children. Much better to keep them safe in the house, right? Right? *segue!!*

安: Cheap, Contented, Relax, Safe

This is a woman inside of a roof. A woman safe inside the house. When a woman is safe within a house, she costs a lot less and you (the man) can go out and do your manly things while feeling relaxed and contented that there’ll always be a meal ready for you when you get home.

好: Pleasing, Like

While she’s at home being safe, it’s good if the woman (女) has a child (子). Us men like (好) this. It helps us to feel 安 that you won’t go out and do anything 妄.

奸: Mischief, Rudeness

I’m not sure I can bring myself to believe that the parts of this kanji mean what I think they might mean… but I guess I can’t put it past a couple of horny old monks whose job it is to come up with new kanji. This is a “dry woman” … I’ll let you come up with your own interpretation on why a “dry woman” would cause mischief and/or be rude.

妓: Geisha, Prostitute

This kanji is woman (女) plus support (支). A “support woman” is, apparently, a prostitute. So, thank you prostitutes. Thank you for all your support, support women.

妬: Envy, Jealous

The kanji for woman (女) and stone (石) combined into one. Perhaps this means a “strong woman?” Ha! No, of course not. “Stone woman” instead means “envy” or “jealousy.” Stay away from them stone women.

姓: Surname

Woman (女) and life (生) combine together to mean “surname.” Since women don’t get to carry on their surname (that’s the family name), it becomes apparent that this kanji is suggesting that a woman’s life is to the surname of her husband. She’s kind of a lifelong 奴 (servant) to the surname, if you will, whether it’s her father’s or her husband’s.

孥: Slave, Servant, Wife And Children

You remember slave right? Now it’s a slave (奴) to the child (子). This still means “slave” or “servant,” but a third meaning has been added in to this kanjis as well: “Wife and Children.” So, a woman is a slave to her child. When you think about the relationship between Asian moms and their children, this kanji actually starts to make sense…

帑: Money Repository

Your lady slave (奴) now has a cloth (巾). This is your money repository. At best, this could mean a safe place to store your money (Japanese wives traditionally take care of all the money stuff at home). At worst this could mean your lady is super expensive, and she’s like a black hole where your yen never sees the light of day again once it gets past the event horizon of her money bag. I’ll let you decide this one.

姑: Mother-In-Law

In Asian dramas, the mother-in-law is almost always an evil hag (don’t worry, sometimes they come around after the protagonist good-for-nothing son-in-law does something right). In this kanji, it’s not quite that bad, though. This is a woman (女) plus “old” (古). Just an “old woman”… though you’d think they could have come up with something a little nicer. I don’t think mother-in-laws like being called “old women.” I’m pretty sure the creator of this kanji had a mother-in-law he didn’t really like…

怒: Angry

A slave lady (奴) plus a heart (心). Obviously the men weren’t totally clueless. They could tell the ladies get pretty angry when you treat them like slaves.

姻: Marry, Matrimony

Speaking of slavery, when you combine the kanji for woman (女) and “be associated with” (因) you get a word that means marriage. My theory is that someone wanted to use 囚 (captured) instead 因, but then the wife saw so he got in trouble and then had to switch it to 因. Anyways, marriage is “being associated with a woman.”

姦: Noisy, Wicked, Rape

Not one woman. Not two women. No. There are three women. What happens when you have three women together? They get really noisy. C’mon ladies.

Secondly, this kanji means “wicked” too. I guess when a few women get together, it’s time to get suspicious of their actions?

Lastly, this kanji also means rape too… which is absolutely terrible and probably makes this the worst kanji of all time. Seriously, though. There were some sick kanji-creators out there.

倭: Yamato People (Submissive People)

I wrote about the naming of the Yamato People (Japanese people) a while back. Basically, China used this kanji to name the Japanese a long time ago. It pretty much means “submissive ladylike dwarf people,” though you’ll have to read the whole history to find out why.

恕: Excuse

What’s in a woman’s (女) mouth’s (口) heart (心)? It’s to make excuses. The true words that come from a woman’s heart are just excuses. “So that’s why dinner isn’t ready, Natsumi??? What a terrible ‘woman’s mouth heart!'” Really kanji? C’mon.

案: Expectation, Suggestion, Worry

You have a woman in her house (安) standing on top of a tree (木) looking down on everyone telling them their suggestions and worries. Sounds familiar? This is basically the kanji for “helicopter mother,” if you ask me. They just didn’t have helicopters back then, so she’s standing on a tree instead.

娶: Arrange A Marriage

You’re taking (取) a woman (女). Could be worse, I suppose. Still, you don’t see anyone “taking a man” instead. It’s always the ladies that get the short end of the stick when it comes to kanji.

婬: Lewdness

The woman (女) is clawing (爪) the king (王). Perhaps this is talking about all those misbehaving queens that you hear about in stories. No good comes from nasty queens in folklore stories, Japanese or Chinese. I suppose this is why this kanji means “lewdness.”

嫌: Hate

When you have a woman (女) concurrently (兼) with anything (apparently), you get hate. It’s a mystery as to what you can have at the same time as a woman that will make this hate, but I’m sure someone had something in mind way back in the day.

嫉: Envy, Jealous

Wow, another kanji that means “envy” or “jealous.” Instead of being a stone lady (妬), this time it’s just a “rapid lady” (女=woman, 疾=rapidly). I’m guessing this is suggesting that women get envious or jealous very quickly… sounds like every jdrama / kdrama / cdrama I’ve ever seen.

楼: Watchtower

This kanji has a woman (女) carrying rice (米) on her back. There’s a tree (木) there too, which I’m guessing is the watchtower. I’m thinking you can guess who is in the watchtower by now, right?

媼: Grandma

This woman (女) has captured (囚) someone with a plate (皿). Perhaps this is a relatively nice kanji, actually. Maybe grandma’s cooking is so good that she’s captured you. Good ol’ grandma’s cooking! All she’s good for is cooking now, though. Too old to carry rice around the fields under the watchful watchtower eye of the man.

嫐: Flirt

Two ladies (女), one dude between them (男). Why not add three or four more ladies while you’re at it, wishful-thinking-monk?

嬲: Ridicule, Tease

So, when there are two guys (男) around one lady (女) it’s no longer flirting. Now it’s ridiculing and teasing… at least they got the “apparently most guys were jerks during the kanji-creation period” thing down right in this kanji.

餒: Hunger, Spoil

When a woman (女) has clawed (爪) at the food (食), everyone hungers and/or the food spoils. Sure, blame the food problems on the ladies.

孀: Widow

The women (女) who rain (雨) on each other (相) are the widows. I suppose they’re just crying so much that their really nice husbands have died in battle… or, perhaps they’re crying buckets of joy because apparently every man alive during this time was a complete jerk. I’ll let you decide.

男: Man

Now it’s high time to look at “man” (because, men are #1 in the kanji world, duh!). This kanji consists of a rice paddy (田) and power (力). Who’s the power on the rice field? That’s the dudes, of course. Look at our big muscles. *flex flex*

勇: Courage

Courage consists of the kanji for man (男) and the マ radical, which is an obsolete radical that means “person.” Basically, the kanji for “courage” is “person that is a man.” Because, uh, we’re not afraid of anything… that’s right. We’re MAN PEOPLE.

金玉: Testicles

Golden (金) balls (玉). That’s what testicles are made out of. GOLD. I guess a dude’s reproductive organs are so valuable that they’re being compared to a very expensive metal. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a “Cash For Balls” program going on during the Meiji Era. As everyone’s favorite super villain loved to say: “I like… teeeesticles gooooolllld.”

There’s not as many interesting kanji that have to do with dudes (especially when you compare it with 女), but even with just these two you can see the difference in how they’re treated. Generally, men-related kanji are awesome (or neutral), and women get the shaft. It’s obvious who was coming up with these kanji, though you’d think they’d actually try a little bit more… then again, maybe not.

What Dogs We Were!

sexist kanji

I imagine that almost every language has plenty of examples of sexism (prolly against the ladies… sorry ladies!) in them, just because things weren’t particularly fair thousands of years ago when languages and writing were developing. Japanese / Chinese just so happens to have an extremely easy way to look up the etymology of the kanji, making it easy to pick all these out and lay them out for you, probably making it seem worse than it actually is (at least when comparing with other languages out there).

But, like most languages, these words have been around a long time. Now they’re just words, and their original misogynistic meaning is very diluted and unimportant, meaning you’re not a horrible person if you use the word 安い (cheap) in your day-to-day life.

Besides how terrible some of the meanings of these kanji are, I’m also hoping you can take away something else. See how easy it is to figure out the meanings of kanji by breaking them up into radicals? I just looked up one radical (女), and was able to find out so much about how ancient China / Japan thought about women. You could do similar research on other radicals/kanji, for example 田 (rice paddy), 中 (middle) or 力 (power). There’s a lot that can be learned about via kanji radicals – they’re not only a tool for remembering and learning kanji (which is what we’re doing with our work on WaniKani). They give you a peek into the culture and history of China / Japanese as well.

So, I hope you learned something other than “getting three women together means ‘noisy’ in Japanese.” Are any of these your particular favorite? Does something make you “a slave woman’s heart”? No “woman mouth hearts” not to speak up and get “triple woman” if there’s something you want to say in the comments. Oh, but please be nice and don’t “two guys around one girl” anyone. That’s just “a woman clawing at a king” if you ask me. I “woman with a child” nice comments.

  • kurochii

    This helps memorize these kanji so much omg. Thanks!

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I love the banner!
    Although cuz I’m really suffering right now, it should be 3 frogs instead of 3 women! -_-;
    When I studied most of these kanji a long time ago I made up super weird stories. It’s interesting to read your ideas about each component and what they could be together.

    Oh, and I really recommend studying kanji using stories! Not only to remember the stroke order (or what components one kanji has), but also for the on-yomi! ^-^
    It worked wonders for me a long time ago and as this post has proven it’s also a LOT of fun!!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1550596562 Alexa VanDemark

    Oh man, I just sent in my application for the internship not half an hour ago, and I come to see this and now THIS is by far my favorite post. Go figure.

    Bravo, Koichi. This is amazing.

  • Blackdevil2722

    Super informative! Thanks a lot for this post!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AOO2KZ2RQXNZ7GZMLGPMB32FNM Rimania

    you forgot to put the radicals and the kanji in the brackets  Koichi

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    which brackets do you mean?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    yw!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    OH NO. AUTO FAILURE. jkjk. Good luck on your application!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    oh good! :D

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AOO2KZ2RQXNZ7GZMLGPMB32FNM Rimania

    the ones after each word of the definition

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Still don’t understand – example?

  • frostedfields

    Great post, Koichi! You always score a home run for humour.

    While it clearly shows cultural attitudes towards women and marriage, this article does illustrate how important paying to attention to meanings of radicals can be (in most cases). When I was studying Japanese, I never paid enough attention to the structure of kanji like 好 and 安 to notice how 女 ties into some pretty hilarious ideas. It actually makes a lot of sense in an ancient-global-historical perspective (I’m not about to go bashing old cultures for seeing women as they did). From what little I know of pre-Confucious China, I wonder how the kanji was influenced by Confucious’ “women are lower than merchants” attitude (according to my world history class), or did that attitude fit right in with the culture already there.

  • Jacktoner87

    I actually cried with laughter.

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Well.. If the fiery deaths of a million turtles result in the kanjis above….

  • ですこ

     Then the gods must be blazy?

  • フレヂィ

    コウイチさん、えらい投稿。この漢字をしばしば見る、それで「いい物」と思いました。

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet
  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    oh no! don’t cry! D':

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Blazy?

  • ジョサイア

    He is saying that the example Kanji don’t show up in his browser(Don’t show up in mine ether!)

    So, when you write:”So the Kanji for bird is (鳥)”

    To us It looks like:”So the Kanji for bird is ()”

    Why don’t you use a different font for example Kanji?

  • ジョサイア

    HA! That’s what I was thinking.
    Now I will always remember the Kanji for noisy!

  • ジョサイア

    This was a really funny post!
    The funnest part was when you got to the Kanji for man…
    Apparently Japanese got there pervertedness from chinese munks…? JKJK xD

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    oh ic – do the header ones show up? Or, is it just the ones in the content?

    I’ll look into fixing that.

  • Christina Akerlund

    Loved the post, interesting insight. I wonder if it is tied to the different ways the women spoke in Japanese (OLD youtube video) maybe because they didn’t want to use the same phrases that where so negative?

  • ジョサイア

    Turtle holocaust?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    one more question: do you have unicode on in your browser?

  • ジョサイア

    What do I look like a computer scientist? How would I know?  (Oh, wait…I am a computer scientist…)
    Anyway, I use Google chrome most off the time and it has problems with Unicode sometimes.
    But, To answer your question yes I do have Unicode In  my browser.(Look at my comment up there how can I possibly write that if I don’t have Unicode?)

  • ジョサイア

    Anyway, You can probably fix it by using a different font.
    Try the Google Japanese IME font.
    And see if it works in Firefox, Google chrome, safari and Internet explorer7

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AOO2KZ2RQXNZ7GZMLGPMB32FNM Rimania

    I do have unicode , but maybe it’s just because I use google chrome, sometimes it has problems with some fonts

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    both header and body kanji affected?

  • ジョサイア

    “do the header ones show up? Or, is it just the ones in the content?”None…show up

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I don’t know much about the dood, but his lifetime was probably around a time when kanji were still being developed… maybe, then? You’re bringing in so many new interesting ideas that I want to research now D:

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I like this alternate history that @ayabuns:twitter did.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    please please: http://supportdetails.com/

    Can send to koichi@tofugu.com – thank you!

  • ジョサイア

    Yep…I just checked and i get something very slimier on safari.
    On safari I get a nice little box with a x in the middle.

    Example…Bla bla bla(x)and(x)nnnn

  • ジョサイア

    Try writing a Kanji in a few different fonts and I’ll tell you witch ones I can see! :D

  • ジョサイア

    That is really funny…See this proves that people rewrite history…
    Even though this would be better…monks have more bones! And are not as cute as turtles!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1434168513 Juan Fernando Castellón

    ジョサイアさん、changing fonts won’t do any good, as not all systems have the same fonts installed. Japanese usage on the Net is still in its infancy and it’s been a roug road with Han symbols, Japan uses a blend of Simplified Chinese and traditional characters. Use the workaround that was posted earlier, or try in another browser. I get the same problem with Safari on my work PC, I haven’t tried it on a Mac, and the site works correctly on my iPhone.
    J&Simp. Chinese: 国 Trad. Chinese:國  J&Trad.:電
    J&Simp.:学 Trad: 學
    It’s not as simple as saying Use a different font. Koichi wrote a nice article in regards to Japanese web design: http://www.tofugu.com/2012/05/15/japanese-web-design-why-you-so-2003/

  • Berre

    Now, that’s very interesting! 

    But beside the interestingness of the topic, I’ve realized memorizing kanji is easier than I think. 

    Thanks, Koichi!

  • mkrause

    Although many of these are perfectly valid regarding the whole sexism thing, many of the stories you gave aren’t really historically accurate. Especially the kanji which are phonetic-signific (which most kanji are), where the phonetic part doesn’t actually have any meaning.

    Here’s some I looked up on http://www.chineseetymology.org:

    – 奴: “Signific Cluster, control of 又 a woman 女 – slave” (this one’s definitely sexist, probably more so than what you posted given that the right part means “control”)
    – 奸: “Phonetic Signific, aspect of some women 女 – selfish” (also sexist, but the “dry” part is just for sound)
    – 怒: “Phonetic Signific, related to the heart 忄心 – anger” (you can’t really take any meaning from the upper part)
    – 婬: this one seems to be a Japanese invention, it’s a rare variant of 淫 which apparently had something to do with masterbation.
    – 楼, 媼: more phonetic-signific kanji. Their etymology is really pretty innocuous.

    There’s certainly truth to whole sexism in kanji thing, but you can’t really get the intention behind a character just by looking at the components.

  • Jon E.

    Just want to let you know, as a Chrome user only, all the kanji show up just fine for me on mine. Google Chrome, Windows 7 PC. Maybe this doesn’t help you, but, don’t want you to think there’s something wrong for ALL Chrome users.

  • Kincaid42

    Why can’t I see the Kanji? Is it my browser or you just haven’t put them in yet?

  • ShimamuraMiriam

     “As everyone’s favorite super villain loved to say: “I like… teeeesticles gooooolllld.””
    LOL!

  • Morelli Vivian

    Another great, informative post!! I guess Japan really is NOT the best place for us girls….

  • SusiePlummer

    Interesting post! There’s probably a lot of sexism in the roots of all language, it’s just more obvious when kanji are there to highlight it!

    The other one I like is 家内, (in house) meaning wife. According to my Japanese tutor, it’s still used by older people, but it’s become politically incorrect kanji usage!

  • Djdieiu

    淫乱 淫ら lewd is more these than that. I’ve never seen that kanji. I’m sure it exists bt I’ve never sen it being used. But anyways interesting points. I never thought it like that

  • Ling Min

    Just saying, the current and former meanings of the kanji are different, and I’m very certain at least some of those kanji were not derived by the methods you’re saying. (I know this because I was forced to take a module about the formation and evolution of the ancient chinese language through time, because I have to study ancient chinese literature for this double degree that I’m foolishly taking. Yea, I know there has to be leeway for comedic license, but still..) Also, after the Japanese adopted kanji from China, they assigned their own meanings to kanji that may or may not have been related to the way that Chinese kanji was actually used, and modern Japanese kanji and modern Chinese kanji are really quite different. (Like with many other things, the Japanese got creative with kanji too. I know this because I’m a native Mandarin speaker. )

  • http://amandajapanda9000.blogspot.com/ amandajapanda

    I never thought this kanji 好 was sexist. A woman and child equals like. It seems quite endearing to me.

  • ZXNova

    Or the Kanji for testicles (金玉) could mean  Steel Balls. “I got balls of steel.”

  • Erick Reilly

     The “suki” kanji I could remember because it was like “drawing” a mother and child. 

  • Mandarina

    Same problem here, but actually in the last month or so I’ve never been able to see kanji (nor hiragana/katakana) on Tofugu… Is it my browser? I use Chrome, but on any other website I can see everything just right :

  • Kiriain

     いや!もっと泣け!涙、超美味しいぞ!

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    The only fonts you can reliably count on all computers having are fonts you don’t want to use under any circumstances ever (e.g., Times New Roman, the ugliest proportional font ever created in the history of the world and the second-ugliest font overall, after Courier New).  

    So what you do, as a web developer, is specify a list, starting with a couple of fonts that you’d *like* the browser to use *if* they’re available (which almost always won’t be) and then finishing up with one of the stock ones (“serif” or “sans” in most cases).  Either that or you find a font that you’re allowed to embed and use @font-face.

    It should probably be noted here that Gecko has special magic in its internals that will automatically switch fonts for foreign characters, using any available font that actually *has* the codepoint, in preference to the specified or default font that does not have it.  So if your system default font cannot display the characters, and the font you specify as default in your browser preferences cannot display them either, but you *do* have a font installed on your computer that can, Firefox may display the characters where another browser fails to do so.  You may be able to get the other browser to display the characters if you can figure out which font Firefox is really using for them and set your other browser’s default font to that.

  • helios

    Funny, my sensei just talked about this same topic today.
    I’ll add something based on what he said. I think he just made this up though.
    You can break down the kanji woman 女 into 3 strokes, く, ノ, 一, (ku, no, ichi) which has the same pronounciation as 苦の一 (“one of the things that make you suffer”)

    LOL

     

  • Neil

    Nothing sexist here. You women must get back to the kitchen……

  • Pjflan2

    Nice article! But you missed “家内"! I know it doesn’t use 女 but like 金玉 those two kanji put together to mean wife is pretty telling!

  • Djdiei

    Kunoichi also means female ninja

  • NA

    I can’t see the kanjis! (no problem on other websites like asahi dot com)

  • Guest

    The lack of women in certain kanji is also very telling about ancient society. For instance, 兄弟. It seems to place a greater value on both younger and older brothers…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=719958059 Kelsey Claire Yates

    That’s true. I saw it more as male being the default gender, tbh. Kind of like how in English “man” (e.g. one small step for mankind …!) refers to both men and women. But, if you said “one small step for women” you would be referring to only women. Kind of like how 姉妹 exists.

  • Ashley

    Erm geishas are not prostitutes o.o

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001499680545 Kaizer Ryo Marufuji

    funny Kanjis ……….. 

  • ButteryElle

    Sounds more like pedophilia to me. Now what did I do with my elementary school uniform?

  • smellmyknickers

    Men have golden balls and women have “mounds of shame.” 恥丘. Two pairs of undies it is, then.

  • Jean

    Nice article! Just thought I’d also point out that in Chinese the character 又 means “again” so the character for slave in fact consists of… Woman again.

  • EdGuth

    Ah, man-as-default, one of the most annoying little forms of sexism.

  • http://www.ripitgood.net Calophi

    I’m using google chrome and mine is fine. Also fine in Safari and Firefox. Though it’s a year later so I guess it could be fixed by now. :)

  • Suki

    I know, right? It’s my favorite kanji of all time

  • Suki

    They can be, sometimes

  • horriblewife

    I find 凄 and 妻 to be quite funny

  • Alyssa Glass

    There is a lot of mistakes being made on both definitions and explaining meanings of Character on this site.