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When I come across the titles キャリアウーマン, OL, and ビジネスウーマン, I seem to have a difficult time picturing what their position is or what they do. I'm wondering if anyone can elaborate on how they are different.

Also, I know that there is a male counterpart to these, but are they the same in title and position? I know that there are ビジネスマン and サラリーマン, but are these different as well?

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From a politically correct point of view, the first two are discriminative and should be avoided. The third one is okay. That is, キャリアウーマン has an implication that women are supposed to stay at home taking care of the housework, and it refers to women who, regardless of that expectation, keep a professional career in life. OL refers to women who do deskwork as a job. Since there is already a widely accepted word 会社員 that expresses that job, using the word OL means that you are assuming that 会社員 should not be used to refer to women, and are using a new word for that conecpt, which is prejudice. In fact, there is nothing wrong with refering to female desk workers as well as male ones with the word 会社員. ビジネスウーマン is a word that was created as a woman counterpart to ビジネスマン for political correctness just like the English word firewoman was created as the counterpart to fireman.

Regarding the type of job, キャリアウーマン does not specify any, but OL and ビジネスウーマン refer to deskworkers.

I think ビジネスマン and サラリーマン are almost the same, but if you want to force a difference, ビジネスマン and ビジネスウーマン can refer to people who own their business whereas サラリーマン is someone who is hired.

  • Is the reason キャリアウーマン has that implication due to the word キャリア existing? – Chris Jul 15 '12 at 7:37
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    @Chris Of course. For men, there is no word キャリアマン because it is taken for granted that men should have a carrier. – user458 Jul 15 '12 at 7:39
  • Would it be safe to say that the use of OL is decreasing in comparison to ビジネスウーマン? I have heard that OL actually refers to different job responsibilities due to the discrimination that you mentioned. Is this the case? – Chris Jul 15 '12 at 7:48
  • I am not sure whether it is decreasing or not; things do not always change in the desired direction. But you should avoid it. And for women deskworkers, conservative Japanese companies make a distinction between 一般職 and 総合職, one of which is for professional carriers and the other for women expected to retire at marriage (which is called 寿退社 or 永久就職, both descriminative terms). Maybe that system, which does not exist for men, is contributing in those people's temptation to make a difference between male workers and female workers. – user458 Jul 15 '12 at 7:54
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    @AndrewGrimm No they are the same except that the latter only refers to male. – user458 Jul 15 '12 at 9:16

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