３月末にシカゴのダウンタウンのSheraton Hotelで開催される、 Association for Asian Studies年次学会に当研究会の荻上チキ、小山エミ、斉藤正美、山口智美が参加します。
“Gender-Free” Backlash on the Internet and Beyond: National Politics and Feminism in the 21st Century Japanというタイトルのパネルで、日本で起きた「ジェンダーフリー論争」について、インターネット、そしてそれを超えたリアルの場に視野をおき、学際的に検討するというものです。
SESSION 188. Mar 28 (Sat) 2:45 P.M.–4:45 P.M.
Michigan B, Level 2
Gender-free Backlash on the Internet and Beyond: National Politics and Feminism in 21st Century Japan
Chaired by Kazuo Yamaguchi, University of Chicago
(Un)making Sense of “Gender-free” and “Backlash”
Tomomi Yamaguchi, Montana State University
Freedom from What? Definitions of “Gender” in the Gender-free Controversy
Lauren Kocher, Independent Scholar
Interrupting the “Gender-free” Backlash on the Internet: Political Implication of “Sociality of Connectedness” in Japanese Cyberspace
Chiki Ogiue, Independent Scholar
Convergence of Xenophobic Uprising and Feminism Online: Japanese Internet Users’ Responses to Mainichi Shimbun’s Denigrating Depictions of Japanese Women and Girls
Emi Koyama, Independent Scholar
Gender Equality Measures and the Politics of Implementation at the Local Level
Masami Saito, Toyama University
Discussant: Kazuo Yamaguchi, University of Chicago
“Gender-Free” Backlash on the Internet and Beyond: National Politics and
Feminism in the 21st Century Japan
This interdisciplinary panel brings together scholars, activists, and bloggers from
anthropology, sociology, media studies, gender studies, and others to examine the
aftershocks of the “gender-free” controversy that arose in Japan in around 2000, in which
the term quickly became a focal point in the backlash against feminism. In our discussion
of the controversy, we deal with not only scholarly debates and political processes, but
the debate over feminism in 2 channel message board and other online forums, whose
influence permeated beyond the internet to impact broader public discourse. Our panelists
have themselves made important contributions to this controversy in this way.
First, Tomomi Yamaguchi situates the term by giving a general overview of the
mainstreaming of feminism and the conservative backlash against it since 1995. Kocher
then focuses on various definitions of “gender-free,” examining how the term “gender”
was introduced and utilized in Japan. Ogiue discusses the political impact of the shortterm
flourishing of anti-feminist discourse on the internet. Koyama investigates the more
recent controversy surrounding Mainichi Daily News’ online content, which was
considered damaging to the reputation of Japanese women and girls. Saito focuses on
gender equality issues in the regional women’s center of Toyama Prefecture, and offers a
snapshot of the way local politics intersects with national policies and online debates.
Finally, our discussant, sociologist Kazuo Yamaguchi, offers his insights as a scholar
involved in national-level policy making on gender equality, and also as an active voice
in Japanese online discussion on gender issues.
(Un)making Sense of “Gender-Free” and “Backlash”
From its invention in 1995 till its eventual demise in the mid-2000s, “gender-free,” a
buzzword originally invented by a group of non-feminist scholars who misinterpreted an
American scholar’s use of the term, sparked criticism and debate among feminists, queer
activists and conservatives. The history of the term goes hand in hand with the
mainstreaming of institutionalized feminism, symbolized by the Basic Law for a Gender
Equal Society in 1999 and the movement to create gender-equality ordinances, and it
became the main target of backlash by conservative forces, such as Nippon Kaigi and socalled
“internet right wingers.” The term eventually lost favor with the government, and
now even those who originally promoted the term rarely use it.
By looking at the history of “gender-free,” this paper attempts to provide an overview of
the historical transformation of the controversy between feminists and conservatives from
1995 until now, thereby giving context to the other panelists’ papers on the concrete
phenomena surrounding the politics of gender in Japan of this period. At the same time,
drawing from my field-based, archival and web-based research on feminists and antifeminist
conservatives engaged in the “gender-free” controversy, I would like to address
the question of what “backlash against feminism” – whether real or cyber – has meant for
feminists and conservatives in Japan.
Freedom from What? Definitions of “Gender” in the Gender-Free Controversy
Much of the conflict surrounding “gender-free” in Japan concerned the goals of the term.
Ambiguous and multiple definitions of the phrase were exploited in the backlash, and in
response, more academics joined the debate. While some scholars, such as Ito Kimio,
explicitly promoted the term “gender-free,” others, such as Osawa Mari, helped
disseminate the term through government work. Within the definitions put forth by
prominent gender studies scholars, “gender” was presented as a fixed division, and one
should refuse the expectations of gendered difference.
This paper explores how these academic understandings of gender in Japanese intersect
with gender-free activism, and may have contributed to the backlash against feminism.
Scholars who are familiar with heavily discursive definitions of gender in the US
academy may be puzzled when presented with the goal of freedom from gender. To
investigate this difference, I turn to texts on gender in Japanese-language scholarship,
including some of Ueno Chizuko’s influential work. I argue that definitions of gender in
Japanese, drawing heavily from French scholar Christine Delphy, anticipate and then
shape definitions of gender-free. Like the gender-free conflict itself, examining Japanese
scholarship on gender raises questions of translation, canon, and appeals to Western
academic authority. These questions were present in the backlash, when in an attempt to
discredit the phrase, backlashers termed it waseieigo, or Japanese-made English. Thus the
gender-free conflict encourages reflection on not only internal tensions in Japanese
feminism, but international gender politics and the role of academics.
Interrupting the “Gender-Free” Backlash on the Internet: Political Implication of
“Sociality of Connectedness” in Japanese Cyberspace
Between 2002-2005, Japanese conservatives routinely expressed opposition to “genderfree”
to trivialize feminist viewpoints. This move interlaced with their criticisms of Basic
Law for a Gender Equal Society. Their complaint was not that they opposed gender
equality, at least publicly, but the law wrongfully promoted “gender-free” goals, to the
detriment of “traditional” family values.
This backlash was joined by internet users, albeit non-comittally: while many were
sympathetic to the critics of feminism, their sympathy mostly stemmed from a general
mood, rather than a deep political conviction. In forums such as 2-channel, the largest
anonymous message board, users found others to share their dislike of feminism, while
self-congratulating their superior ability to decode liberal media bias.
Sociologists point out that Japanese internet users tend to seek connectedness as an end
rather than a mean to an end: they adapt a political posturing in order to connect with
others, rather than connecting with others to further political causes. Feminism and
“liberal media” are among easiest targets for them to despise and ridicule, especially
when associated with the amorphous “gender-free” ideas.
While the impact of 2-channel and other forums on national politics is insignificant by
itself, it may enable more serious political actors such as conservative politicians to
advance their agenda. This presentation draws upon my own participation in the “genderfree”
controversy as the creator of the influential FAQ on “gender-free” in order to
interrupt the anti-feminist online discourse, and analyses the political implication of what
sociologists call “sociality of connectedness” in Japanese cyberspace.
Convergence of Xenophobic Uprising and Feminism Online: Japanese Internet
Users’ Responses to Mainichi Shimbun’s Denigrating Depictions of Japanese
Women and Girls
In June 2008, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper of Japan was forced to shut down
WaiWai, a column that appeared on its English language website, amid massive
criticisms from Japanese internet users for what the paper later acknowledged as
“incorrect information about Japan and indecent sexual content.” The column was
authored by the Chief Editor of the English edition, and showcased summaries of stories
that had appeared in Japanese tabloids, which were often salacious and/or
While some readers had protested the column earlier without much publicity, a serious
campaign against it was mounted in spring 2008, when participants of the popular 2
channel online message board and other internet users began compiling a list of offensive
articles, and complaining not just to the newspaper, but also to the companies that
advertised on Mainichi’s website. The eventual success of the campaign demonstrated the
power of unorganised masses connected via web-based infrastructure (message boards,
blogs, wikis) by populist outrage.
But at the same time, the rhetoric that developed from on these websites also give a
glimpse into curious complicities of feminism and nationalism, as most critics focused on
the column’s repeated depiction of Japanese women and girls as sexual perverts, as well
as the contradiction between the allegation of anti-Japanese racism on the part of the
Australian-born editor, and the anti-Korean/Chinese sentiments that some protesters
This paper explores these contradictions, and addresses the difficulties progressives face
as the technologies empower simplistic, nationalist moral panic to spread ever more
quickly and widely.
Gender Equality Measures and the Politics of Implementation at the Local Level
In the two decades preceding the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society and local gender
equality ordinances, prefectures and cities established women’s centers where various
activities for citizens could be coordinated and supported. While these centers served
important roles in their communities, they also functioned as complicated sites of
interaction between grassroots feminists and bureaucracy. The new law and ordinances
on gender-equality would at first glance seem to strengthen positive steps forward in
mainstreaming gender-equality goals and women’s rights. Instead, they complicated the
politics of the centers even further, and have functioned as a means for governments to
co-opt women’s movements.
This paper explores how gender policies were implemented in and around the local
women’s centers of Toyama Prefecture, from the gender-free dispute to the present focus
on work-life balance. Toyama Prefecture established the Gender Equality Promoter
System in 1980, which was unique in successfully mobilizing both conservative and
feminist residents to promote local government’s gender-related agenda. The members of
the Promoter System are expected to cooperate the administrative gender policy, which is
heavily centered on raising consciousness of citizens through seminars and events, rather
than implementing concrete local policy changes. As a result, the system has been
counterproductive to the achievement of gender equality in Toyama, with little change
even after the new law and ordinances were introduced.
This study will address the problematic politics between local bureaucrats and grassroots
activists, both feminist and conservative, through the implementation of gender equality