Gender Construction of The Roles of Women in Japanese Society from 1800 to 1930
History Seminar: Gender and Culture in Modern Japan
Dr. Donald Roden
December 12, 2012
Since the 1800’s, Japan shows an enriching history that displays its growth in government and gender ideologies. In 1868, the Meiji era shifted Japan from feudalism in the Tokugawa era to a more modern state. Also, the Taisho era in 1912 continued Japan’s journey to modernity by adopting more Western cultures. The gender construction of women in Japanese society also changed from the Tokugawa era to World War I. In the Tokugawa and Meiji era, women were assigned household roles and duties and had limited rights. However, during the Taisho period and after World War I, women began to ague for equality and reject the traditional gender principles. Also, many women never associated themselves to the traditional gender roles, which they became geishas or prostitutes. This caused many debates by both female and male activists on the issues of women’s roles, which many of them argued on the elimination of prostitution. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the growth of gender construction of the roles of women from the Tokugawa era to the 1930’s, and to look at the different roles women participated in, such as being wives, mothers, prostitutes, and geishas. Women’s Roles in the Tokugawa Era
In the Tokugawa era the roles of women, particularly wives, were established to those who were in higher social classes in that period. The Tokugawa period was an era from 1600 to 1868, which the Japanese society was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate and the daimyos, who were territorial lords. In Kathleen S. Uno’s “The Household Division of Labor, discusses how roles were established for wives based on their social status. In her article she writes, “There was, of course, little need for women in wealthy households to [do productive work], but without women’s agricultural work, majority of rural households could not survive” (25). Uno is discussing how women of different social status had different productive and reproductive roles. In farm households, the wives had to work in the fields and harvest vegetables and paddies, and spent little time in taking care of their children. Childbearing was not the primary obligation for Tokugawa women, since they had grandmothers, fathers, and servants who took care of the children. However, wives who were married to peasants had both productive and reproductive chores, such as “[childbearing], scrubbing pots, sewing garments, and preparing meals” (27). The wives of high ranked samurais or feudal lords had no reproductive chores, due to the fact they had servants and maids that took care of their children and cleaning. They did have a few roles such as “[preparing] special foods, [decorating] the home, and [managing] servants” (28). The household duties that were within the wives of all social classes, shows that productive and reproductive duties were the traditional female roles in the Tokugawa period. This shows that the higher a wife was ranked in the social class, resulted in having fewer amounts of duties she had in the household. However, some Japanese women in the Tokugawa period did not have those traditional duties, because they were not wives.
Many Japanese women broke traditional gender roles and became Buddhist nuns or Kabuki actresses. In Jennifer Robertson article, she writes about the discourses of female likeness and how the Tokugawa society is misogynist. This article differs from Uno, because Uno portrays the Tokugawa period as a pleasant society for women, however Robertson gives examples of how women were inferior. Robertson writes on how in the Tokugawa society, “sex was perceived as subordinate to gender” (Robertson 90). The term sex refers to biological differences between males and females, while gender describes characteristics that a culture describes as masculine...
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