Fangirl Saves the World

just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

rejecting gender roles

with 2 comments

I’ll admit; this wasn’t a connection I made, but one of the girls in my class mentioned it and I liked her theory so much that I wanted to write about it.

Our reading for this week’s class was about the culture of kawaii, and L was talking about how the goals of kawaii were, in a way, the same basic goals of Western feminism/girl power: to escape defined gender roles of subservience and submissiveness.

L’s point was that in the West, feminism went in the direction of wanting what men have: equal access to traditionally male areas of employment, for example. Women were “masculinized,” if you will: pants, high powered careers, etc. (None of this is a bad thing.) The idea was to escape the defined role of “woman” if “woman” means “wife” or “helpmeet.*”

In Japan, the general cultural trend was not to demand access to the same spaces and opportunities as men, but to abandon “adulthood” all together. According to my professor, there is a certain amount of freedom of identity of children in Japan. The outlandish fashions of young women and men alike are excused on the basis that, when the time comes, people will grow out of that phase and move on to being responsible adults. L’s point was that women attempt to escape their defined role as “women” in a society where “woman” means “mother” by simply not growing up. (Women who are not married mothers are not regarded as fully grown-up, regardless of age or experience.) Instead, she argued, women make themselves (appear) cute and helpless so that they will not be expected to participate in the grown-up world of Japanese society. (In Japanese, most adjectives can be modified with sou to mean “it seems…” For example, oishiisou means “it seems delicious.” Kawaii, or cute, does not work the same way; kawaiisou means sad or pathetic. A story where young lovers sicken and die? Kawaiisou.)

These seem like very different aims, inclusion in society or exclusion from it, but L’s point was that at the bottom of it, the goal is the same: to escape rigidly defined  “womanhood.”

Kawaii as a topic fascinates me. As a lover of cute stuff and a young woman and a wannabe sociologist, I find that kawaii pulls in a lot of ideology about urban life, alienation, consumerism, gender, sexuality, psychological safety and so on. Expect more posts on this vein in the near(ish) future.

*Someday I’ll do a post about how much I hate this word/concept.


Written by Fangirl

November 10, 2009 at 11:07 am

2 Responses

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  1. Would Romeo and Juliet be described as a kawaiisou? And Little Women where Beth dies would be the same.

    ‘Helpmeet’ doesn’t sound so inspiring, either.


    November 13, 2009 at 3:39 am

    • If I understand correctly, yeah; those’d both be “kawaiisou.” I’m not fluent, though, so I’m not 100% sure about that.


      November 13, 2009 at 4:20 am

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