Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945

Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945

Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945

Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945

Synopsis

In thirteen wide-ranging essays, scholars and students of Asian and women's studies will find a vivid exploration of how female roles and feminine identity have evolved over 350 years, from the Tokugawa era to the end of World War II. Starting from the premise that gender is not a biological given, but is socially constructed and culturally transmitted, the authors describe the forces of change in the construction of female gender and explore the gap between the ideal of womanhood and the reality of Japanese women's lives. Most of all, the contributors speak to the diversity that has characterized women's experience in Japan. This is an imaginative, pioneering work, offering an interdisciplinary approach that will encourage a reconsideration of the paradigms of women's history, hitherto rooted in the Western experience.

Excerpt

Japanese women’s lives, like those of women everywhere and in every time, have been shaped by a multitude of factors. The many forces that have affected their fate include their position within the family (and the nature of the family system itself); their social class standing; the predominant religious and social values of their society; and the prevailing legal, economic, and political institutions. These have changed continuously over the course of Japanese history, altering women’s status and the roles they were expected to play. It makes little sense, therefore, to talk about Japanese women as though they formed a monolithic, unchanging group. Even within one historical time period, the lives of an upper-class woman, a merchant woman, and a female servant in a wealthy farm family were worlds apart in terms of work, clothing, norms of behavior, and the countless other indicators of standard of living, status, position—in short, life experience. Indeed, the distinction between femininity and masculinity itself has varied. Gender has been continuously recreated.

We are specifically concerned here with the creation of female gender. How has womanhood been defined and redefined over the past 350 years? Who did the defining? What gave femaleness its meaning? And what caused changes in the common understanding of differences between femininity and masculinity? Our underlying assumption is that

Following East Asian practice, Japanese surnames precede given names in this book, ex
cept in cases of Japanese scholars whose English-language works are cited or who reside
in the West and observe the Western practice of giving surnames last. Unless otherwise
indicated, Tokyo is the place of publication of all Japanese references.

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