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Evolution of Feminism Essay


The first civil rights movement in Japan emerged in the 1870s with a small number of Japanese women as the pioneers. In the prewar period, women’s legal status was significantly inferior to men’s in Japan, and feminists struggled for decades to improve it. This paper explores a long journey feminism took during the prewar period in Japan. It is achieved by delving into the gender ideology during the prewar period on the women’s role in Japanese society and focusing on the success and limits of Japanese feminism during the prewar period. Women’s movements have achieved relative success in addressing gender discrimination through achieving legal equalities in some aspects; however, the limitation of Japanese women’s political rights almost remained unchanged despite the efforts of the feminist movement.

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Introduction: Social Context against Japan’s Feminism (prewar)
The role of women in Japan, before the feminist campaigns, was predominantly to deal with domestic duties and make sure that all pertaining chores were adequately attended. Females were not allowed to take part in any decision-making processes as they were seen not to fit such roles, unlike the present-day Japan. Therefore, analysis of the social context against feminism during the prewar period in Japan is necessary.

The politics of cultural division, difference, differentiation, and diversity have become one of the most contentious issues of feminist practice and theory in contemporary times. Simone de Beauvoir distinguished gender from sex (biological) by noting that one becomes a woman but is not born a woman. In that regard, the varying epistemological, ontological and methodological persuasions have begged to understand the role played by values, cultural beliefs, norms, customs, languages, representations, and practices across the space and time in terms of reproduction, construction, or gender identities, roles, power structures and subjectivities (Eto, 2010). The gendered forms of inequality, oppression, and subordination have been overcome and challenged with a variety of economic, political, and social contexts, thereby rendering visible the masculine ideas, representations and meanings that are in most cases, naturalized or concealed as a common-sense fact of reality. According to Shigematsu, (2012), the transformation of women was supposed to enhance their power relations and improve their material conditions. The political and cultural changes regarding women’s rights taking place all over the world soon influenced Japan.

Notably, there are people opposed to these campaigns, believing in counter opinions about women and their feminist approaches. It is seen in some groups of society as an interdisciplinary area of contesting approaches and perspectives rather than the unified body brought together for purposes of practice and thought as they would make the world believe. As any revolutionary idea, feminism is met with disbelief and even fear by conservative representatives of society.

The Good Wife and Wise Woman
The “good wife and wise mother” was an ideology in the prewar Japan that was meant to advance the agenda of the West. It is believed to be a patriarchal arrangement that was designed to tackle new challenges as occasioned by the new era. The argument that was further fronted held that the modern woman was both liberating and oppressive. To back this notion, the counterargument stressed that, rather than working to gain even more strides in pursuit of excellence among women, the women campaigners have in that it did not end the injustice as all they did was advance the hierarchical demands. Through this ideology, the Japanese women used these realizations to carve out new paths for authority and power, something that most political players and opinion shapers who dismissed. Based on the society’s expectations, women were exclusively expected to have such skills as cooking and other house duties. The prewar Japanese women were also encouraged to go to school and acquire the minimum required for intellectual skills that would make them raise their children. Clearly, this title presents everything negative about the feminist approach.

The main arguments of Women’s movements in prewar Japan
There is no denying that feminism was initially a protest that was staged against women’s exclusion from politics and economic development: its goal was to eradicate the sexual differences in economic and political spheres. To achieve this goal, the Crusaders had to make their claims on behalf of the women who, according to those opposed to feminism, note that the history of feminism has been characterized by radical, yet heavily invested, women who worked hard in realizing that their position had been dragged through the shocking words and acts (Anderson, 2010). They note that most women benefitted from such approaches and advances made by the few feminists, while in most cases, they dissociated themselves from these women. Additionally, Shigematsu, (2012 notes that the anti-feminists have held to the fact that feminism was built on the unforgiving indictment of capitalism and individualism, ensuring that they encourage women to craft the movement for purposes of advancing their gains. Therefore, the idea of feminism, although welcomed by most women, was often abused for personal reasons.

The anti-feminist’s perception of feminism may be considered a rejection of the differences between the genders, and an attempt to make people go against their orientations and biological tendencies. Welker, Kano, & Bullock, (2017) also point to the fact that the feminists, despite their claim to espouse equality, disregard the rights issues that are attached to men. According to them, the feminist’s groups have attained their quest and now want to seek higher positions and statuses than men.

Remarkably, women have been actively involved in the social movements in Japan and have taken part in the major social movements that include but are not limited to student activism, peace movements, labour and social movements. Shigematsu, (2012) remarks that women in prewar Japan were organized just like their counterparts in the rest of the world. Interestingly, their activism in Japan gathered little attention until recently. The women seemed to have had challenges in the patriarchal Japanese society. Their mobilization and robust tendency approaches of the grass-roots networking made them abolish patriarchal systems and gain a voice in the international radar.

Undeniably, these conditions have made it difficult to achieve the visibility of Japanese women’s feminist movements to those outside activism cycles. Despite everything, Japanese women who believed in liberation stood their ground and formed women groups and feminist activism (Anderson, 2010). When the Japanese feminist evolution emerged, there was a wave of opposition from the Japanese antifeminism conservatives who held that allowing women freedom would be equivalent to radicalizing the society. This compounded the main arguments against women movements during the prewar period. To demonstrate how Japan’s feminist movements reacted against unfair gender ideology, some people previously opposed feminist activities but later began supporting the same quest they opposed. According to Welker, Kano, & Bullock, (2017), some people insisted that it was wrong for women to champion for such things as feminism as they had hidden meaning to their push for freedom, inclusion, and respect for their space.

The Japanese feminist movement and evolution emerged from the advent of the liberation movement. With the fragmentation of women liberation movements after the WWI, however, the pioneering ideas were being lost from view. Their history continued to attract international attention despite the myriad obstacles, earning renewed interests, for instance, in their suffrage in the 1940s. The political activists at the time pointed to the failure of the Japanese women inclusion in the political processes, given the new wave of integration that swept across the country (Welker, Kano, & Bullock, 2017). While the heralded era of feminism faded with the downfall of the economy, prewar Japan formed a vital moment in the country’s history as far as feminism in the country is concerned.

Success and limits of Japanese feminism (prewar)
The Japanese women, amid controversies and pitfalls, witnessed great success as a result of their resilience and purpose. They managed to make their voices heard, and their grievances addressed, not only in the local but also in the international radar. Notably, their relative success that was achieved by the quest to have a free world for women, dubbed, feminism, covers overturning legal inequalities in some aspects (Eto, 2010). After the Meiji Restoration the position of women in society began to change. In 1921, the Diet allowed them to attend political meetings; but the rule did not come into power until 1945 when the election law was revised under the U.S. occupation of Japan, allowing women over the age of 20 to vote in elections (Anderson, 2010). By that time, women had gained great strides in their clamor to have their rights respected, and their place in society acknowledged. Some of the great feminism crusaders held that it was in the best interest of the women to have inclusion and participation in the country’s development matters (Welker, Kano, & Bullock, 2017). For instance, the Japanese woman made strides in the political scenes; they made headlines on pertinent issues that affected the society such as contributing to the minimum reforms in the laws that advanced women exclusion in the country. Their distinct contribution also saw them assist the development of women’s rights and freedom through drawing attention to noteworthy sexual disparities in places of work and homesteads. Women could also advance their studies to attain high echelons of education. As a result, the Japanese nation could boast of a woman pilot, mechanic, lawyer, and economist. Looking at the history, they raised essential concerns, among them being the personal relationships and support that were accorded, women.

The limits to the Japanese feminist campaigns were achieved by the anti-feminist groups such as influential members of the society and the political class who held conservative views of the role of women in society. To them, women were supposed to know their place because their liberation would lead to radicalization and demeaning of men. The supporters of conservative ideas in Japanese society hindered the progress of feminism. The Prewar Japanese society was also inclined towards believing that women could never lead influential positions in the Japanese society, something that must have prompted the need to stage a revolution among the Japanese women. Lastly, the fact of the matter is that feminism is a perspective matter and that one can choose to join in while some may not. The same ideas and goals might not have played out well among some Japanese women dealing a blow to their quest. Some, perhaps, were afraid of what could befall them given the fact that the prewar society had not embraced such discourses.

Japanese women achieved success in their quest to push their feminist ideologies. However, in the wake of this clamour, the feminists witnessed suppression in the course of the prewar period. Even then, they seemed to have achieved their goals. Among the achievements of Japanese feminism movement were women’s inclusion in political participation, involvement in weighty development matters of the country, and respect for female rights and freedoms. While the clamor for the liberation of women has gained positive momentum, aggression should be tamed, and sound reason should be given a chance. There should be a reinterpretation of the feminist women’s actions from a political angle as this analysis will help reveal the political dichotomy that has over the years been seen as oppressing women. Though it should not be seen as some form of political resistance, feminist activists should take into account the fact that moderation can be a critical factor in making sure that they reach all their goals in an organized fashion. Therefore, looking at these activities from a political angle makes the women’s choices both accurate and modest, prompting the need to offer support to their quest.

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Primary sources:
Shigematsu, S. (2012). Scream from the shadows: The women’s liberation movement in Japan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Welker, J., Kano, A., & Bullock, J. C. (2017). Rethinking Japanese feminisms. S.l.: University of Hawaii Press.
Secondary sources:
Anderson, M. (2010). A Place in public: Women’s rights in Meiji Japan. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Asia Center.
Eto, M. (2010). Women and representation in Japan: The causes of political inequality. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 12(2), 177-201.

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