Although the Japanese language has no morphological markings for gender when it comes to nouns and adjectives, like in Catalan or Spanish, we do find several ways in which the feminine gender is expressed in names of professions. These names have been undergoing changes as social consciousness evolves and new laws develop. Some of these ways of expressing feminine gender are still widely used today, while others have already become obsolete.
One way feminine gender is expressed is though the use of the word 女性, josei, which means “woman” and also denotes the “grammatical feminine gender”. The first kanji alone, /jo/, means “woman”, and the second, /sei/, means “sex” and “gender”. This word, whose opposite is 男性, dansei, or “man”, is a practical and appropriate way of marking the feminine gender.
There is also 婦人, fujin, another word meaning “woman” used to indicate feminine gender, but that’s being used less and less frequently. This word refers mainly to women of legal age or those who have wed. The first kanji alone, /fu/, means the same thing, and the second, /jin/, means “person”. In 1999, the term 婦人警察官, fujin keisatsukan, which had been used to refer to police women, became 女性警察官, josei keisatsukan.
Until 2001, female nurses were called kangofu and male nurses, kangoshi. Then, from 2002, all nurses were given the name kangoshi. This doesn’t mean that “female nurses” are now denoted as “male nurses”. Rather, the term kangoshi, in the current nomenclature, is written 看護師: kango (看護), meaning “nursing”, and shi (師), the character for “teacher” and “specialist”. However, the kangoshi representing only male nurses was written 看護士, with the kanji 士, which means “man of legal age”, “learned person” as well as “samurai”. Kangofu, or “female nurse”, on the other hand, was written 看護婦, with the kanji 婦, /fu/. These changes in nomenclature were the result of the 2001 reform to the Act on Public health nurses, midwives, and nurses, in which nomenclatures for the two genders were unified.
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