Posts Tagged ‘sociology’
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.
I may have mentioned, but I am currently studying abroad just outside of Tokyo. (I’m an East Asian Studies major, so it makes sense.) Two of the courses I’m taking are anthropology/sociology courses that focus on ethnography, a big part of which is learning to understand another culture in their own terms. It’s a lot harder than it looks, but I’m working on it.
One thing that came up was that a good ethnographer should be a cultural relativist and not judge; don’t say “what they do here is bad or weird/not as good as what I do at home.” I feel like that ought to be a given in an age of globalization. I’m good with that; I don’t believe any culture is inherently better or worse than others. (I don’t think I would be majoring in what I am if I did.)
There is one sticking point for me, though: as a whole (and, despite what some might think, Japan is not a homogeneous/monocultural country), Japanese culture is still very steeped in sexism. (I’m not saying that American culture isn’t also still deeply sexist, but because I’m not used to the ways that sexism operates in Japan, it’s easier for me to pin down as “this is sexism” rather than “this is normal.”) For example, most high schools do roll call by calling all of the boys first, and then all of the girls.
Not exactly a welcoming environment, is it?
There were times in high school (never in college, since I go to a women’s college) where I felt that the boys were trying to push me out – especially during junior year, when I was one of three girls in a class of thirty (it was a web design/computer animation votech program) – but the institution never made me feel unwelcome or like a second-class citizen.
Another example of sexism in education is the college ranking system here. My professor said that the process is a bit mysterious, but one thing that is known is that the higher the ratio of women to men in a university, the lower the university will be ranked. The university where I am studying, Kanda University of International Studies, is ranked around the B/B+ range, and until more men start attending (the students are mostly female), it will not be promoted to an A-/A ranking college.
Tokyo University, meanwhile, has an almost exclusively male student body – particularly problematic when you consider most Diet members are Todai grads – and is the most highly ranked university in the country. This ranking system is not about equality and having an even number of male and female students.
I have ideological issues with that; as an American, true, but as an American feminist. The feminist in me is not okay with those things, but the ethnographer in me is telling her to cool it, to try and understand it from a Japanese point-of-view.
I am, and I do try, but whatever the reason, the ultimate result still seems wrong to me.
So my question is this: can I be a good ethnographer, and work towards understanding Japanese society from a Japanese prospective, and a good feminist who notices and takes an issue with the way that society operates, or would that just be ethnocentricity? Or should I keep my white, Western nose out of it?