Herbivore Masculinity as an Oppositional Form of Masculinity

Article excerpt

Various sociocultural changes have influenced the emergence of non-hegemonic, oppositional masculinities in Japan. Herbivore masculinity exemplifies a non-hegemonic masculinity that has emerged in the wake of a shifting social landscape and thus departs from salaryman hegemonic masculinity. This paper provides an overview and critical investigation of the gender practices constituting herbivore masculinity. Results of the analysis indicate that many gender practices that constitute herbivore masculinity appear to resist salaryman hegemonic masculinity and in the process legitimate an equal relationship between men and women, masculinity and femininity. Nevertheless, herbivore masculinity is simultaneously underpinned by gender practices which rather than depart from, reify the hegemonic status quo. An implication of this investigation is that non-hegemonic masculinities are not necessarily more democratic than their hegemonic counterparts.

Keywords: herbivore masculinity, Japan, professional housewife femininity, salaryman masculinity

Similar to other socio-cultural contexts, non-hegemonic masculinities have recently emerged in Japan challenging and interrogating cornerstone elements of hegemonic masculinity. Sôshokukei danshi ("herbivore men"), or more accurately herbivore masculinities, represent an oppositional form of Japanese masculinity. Maki Fukasawa coined "herbivore" in reference to slim heterosexual men who are professionally unambitious, consumerists, and passive or uninterested in heterosexual romantic relationships (Chen, 2012; Fukasawa, 2009; Morioka, 2009; Ushikubo, 2008). "Sex" translates as "relationship in flesh" in Japanese; "herbivore" connotes an apparent disinterest in sexual intimacy. Notably, herbivores contest many of the time-honored practices associated with hegemonic masculinity such as excessive tobacco and alcohol consumption, chronic workaholicism, emotional illiteracy, and the subordination of women.

The present article critically examines the gender "practices" (Martin, 2003, 2006) that constitute herbivore masculinity, especially considering the extent to which they contribute to gender equity. Analysis indicates that while previously hegemonic archetypes are in a state of upheaval and reconfiguration, the emergence of alternative masculinities is not necessarily an indicator that gender relations are becoming more egalitarian in Japan. Rather, situated within Japan's shifting social geography, herbivore masculinities mark a context where long-cherished and hegemonic masculine gender practices are currently unavailable. In response to this sociocultural vista, herbivore masculinity entails a pastiche of alternative gender practices that might but do not per se equalize the relationship between men and women, between masculinity and femininity.

Data and Method

This research note consists of a content analysis (Berg, 1998) of emergent secondary literature on herbivores (Chen, 2012; Fukasawa, 2009; Morioka, 2009; Ushikubo, 2008). Excluding Chen's, these studies fail to conduct critical analysis or empirical research of herbivore masculinity. Instead, these sources provide exclusively popular, non-scholarly portrayals of an emergent phenomenon. Chen critically engages with the same secondary sources as this article, however he neglects to conduct primary empirical research. Building on and extending Chen's research, I critically analyzed this research in order to identify the recurrent social practices that arguably amount to herbivore masculinity. The article problematizes "herbivore" as an overarching category that encompasses men who engage in an array of divergent gender practices.

Validity issues arise from basing this article on a small sample of secondary sources. The secondary sources here examined failed to specify their sampling procedures, so the representativeness of their samples remains unclear. Notwithstanding, we can view the studies analyzed as part of an extended popular discourse circumscribing herbivore masculinity as a distinct entity. …