Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2006
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania
Gender Equal, Gender Free, and the Backlash: A Comparative Study of Gender Policy Debates in Japan and the U.S.A.

The current controversy over notions of "gender equal" (danjo ky6d6 sankaku) and "gender free" (jenda furi) reveals how policy-making, academia, and feminist discourse are interacting in a historically and global ly unique way in contemporary Japan. In this project, I wish to investigate how this controversy relates to the history of Japanese feminist debates, and compare this interaction with those in other advanced industrial societies, especially the United States. This project seeks to answer the following questions: 1) What has been the process and impact of feminist involvement in formulating notions of "gender equal society" and "gender free education" ? 2) What has been the historical precedent for such collaboration between academics, activists, and the government in formulating gender policy? 3)What are the comparable relationships between feminist scholarship, activism, and policy-making in other advanced industrial societies? Since the mid-1990s, the creation of a "gender equal society" has been formally promoted by the Japanese government, while the ideal of a "gender free" society has been advocated in a less formal way by some educators and academics. Since about 2000, these ideas, often understood to be overlapping and explicitly or implicitly feminist, have faced a "backlash" that has been compared to the backlash against feminism in the United States. Because the Japanese government' s promotion of gender equality has been intimacely linked to its effort to increase the birthrate, and because the backlash reveals significant disagreement about the goals and methods of the government' s gender policies, understanding this dynamic is both a pressing concern and a challenge with long-term implications . What gets lost in the war of words now fought in Japan is the extraordinary range of op1n1on, held both currently and historically, about what would constitute equality between the genders as well as freedom from gender norms. Excavating this rich history is crucial for understanding the current controversy over the government' s gender policies and for successfully implementing these policies. At the same time, analyzing the current debates raises important intellectual questions for reevaluating the history of the problematic relationship between feminist discourse and the state in modern Japan. Moreover, the backlash suggests a connection between a particular kind of nationalism anti-feminism, whose global implications need to be understood and openly discussed . same time, seeing the controversy in a comparative light will elucidate how Japan is negotiating dilemmas faced by all advanced industrial nations. My primary methods will be interviews with the agents involved in these debates, as well as archival research and analysis of media discourse . I have studied Japanese women's history and feminist theory for the past twenty years, and as a scholar with connections with both the Japanese and U.S. academic community, I am will placed to investigate the relationship between feminist discourse, academia, and policy- making. At the same time, as a cultural and intellectual historian, I am equipped to place the current debates into broader historical perspective. In addition, my training in comparative cultural studies will enable me to focus critically on the comparison of Japan and the United States.