“Average” contemporary Japanese women in contrast to Kogals
Makeup, Media, and Language
Japan may be the land of the rising sun, but the sun has yet to truly rise on gender equality. There is in fact, perhaps surprisingly, an abundance of gender discourses for both Japanese men and women; however, anything that deviates too far from the “norm” is pressured to conform by means of social control tactics—peer pressure for example. Various subcultures challenge these gender ideologies, such as the Kogals.
Japanese women usually remain situated in domestic roles (Childs 1997: 446). This is the case in that conventional understanding of gender relations within Japan has separated spheres of work and the home—men into the place of work and women in the home (Manrique 2008: 245).The gender ideology of men outside and women inside the home originated and developed from the Meiji nationalist gender ideology. Furthermore, this line of thought still dominates gender relations in Japan “… regardless of drastic changes in the social, political, and economic domains (Ashikari 2003: 13).” Moreover Ashikari (2003) affirms that “[a]nthropological studies of Japanese society point out that the terms soto and uchi…” or outside and home, “… are frequently used to describe gender relations (13).” For instance—as Ashikari (2003) states—“men work soto and women manage uchi.” The “rigidity of the institutional sex segregation (Ogasawara 1998: 166),” is personified in the hardworking sarariman (salary man) and the OL (office lady). In the “typical” job track, women are treated separately and differently. This is namely in the “masculine” business world of the company, where women are expected to be “feminine” employees who are referred to by the well known title “OL”—”Office Lady (Ashikari 2003: 17). In fact women are often criticized for not wearing makeup in the office, especially board meetings, in that to not wear it is to challenge the characteristically feminine gender role and thus the norm. In fact Ashikari (2003) mentions a few women who were “…asked to wear makeup by their male bosses, because they looked “cheeky” or “rude and asocial” if they did not (11).” This inflexible set of roles remains the norm despite any formal or informal changes in women’s employment circumstances (Ogasawara 1998: 166). In addition to this professional level pressure to conform, there is the personal relationship level as well.
The majority of men “… continue to seek traditional homemakers to cook, clean, and rear children…” while “… women seek a more equal partnership (Borovoy 2002: 1036).” The former is further explained in that within “…Japan there is a negative association between 1) educational attainment and attitudes towards the gendered division of labor, 2) these attitudes and employment and 3) educational attainment and employment (Manrique 2008: 245).”
It is important to note that most women, even office ladies, remove themselves from the work place after having a child. This is for several reasons including a type of social and peer pressure as well as finances. Indeed “… Japanese society forces women into living up to the ideal of constant nurturer by threatening a barrage of criticism if they seem inadequate to the task (Napier 1996: 359)” This sort of pressure appears to be a constant throughout Japanese society concerning anything deemed “abnormal,” as will later be discussed. Financial issue arise as well, for example Japanese women have “…been supported as housewives through a system of family wages, and they enjoy a great deal of financial stability and independence in their marriages that American stay-at-home wives and mothers do not (Borovoy 2002: 1037).” This seem appealing to many, especially given the fact that women are paid less. In fact, one government survey taken in 1991 demonstrates that a female teenager is paid an average of 91.2 percent of her male equivalent’s wage; this falls to 82.3 percent in her late twenties, and finally to 52.4 percent in her late forties (Ohashi 1993: 102). Even so, many women opt to remain active in the work force and thus lead a dual life in a sense of managing both the work and home spheres. Government policies reflect this gender inequality in that they “… place the burden of caring for the elderly on individual women (Childs 1997: 446).” While there are obvious similarities between Japan and the United States in certain aspects, such as the pay gradient and women being expected to care for the home, there remains the difference of increasing equality of gender roles in America.
Japanese women have constructed “… an imagined America…” as being “… a looking glass for an imagined Japan… (Borovoy 2002: 1037).” These women utilize the West as a means of criticizing gender relations in Japan. This is distinctively the case in the concept of using women primarily as temporary and low-skilled labor as well as the notion of marriage as being founded on a gendered division of labor (Borovoy 2002: 1035). These women also challenge the ideology that women should be submissive and thus not express their opinion. In fact “[i]n popular conduct literature, women are told that expressing their ideas too directly is bad etiquette (Miller 2004: 238).” One young woman describes, in an example that truly exemplifies this notion, that “… in Japan I had no confidence in myself… [b]ut after I went to America I experienced freedom! For the first time I discovered my own opinions about things. By being in America I became confident” (Kelsky 2001: 122). Understanding how Japanese women can abide by these rigid gender roles is further compounded by the “phenomenon of ‘internationalism’ (Borovoy 2002: 1035).” This is especially bizarre in that Japan is an advanced industrialized country, though Japan may have its reason as the following quote on the birth control pill reveals:
“Japan remains one of the few industrialized countries not to give women access to the Pill. Japanese feminists say the underlying reason is the dropping birth rate among women–now at 1.39 children per woman. Officials worry that there will not be enough young people to look after the older population (Anonymous 1999: 5).”
Internationalism, in this sense, represents a sort of access to a global view of the world. A crucial component concerning this contemporary internationalism is women’s exploration of their sexuality as well as the “fetish of the white man (Kelsky 2001: 133).” Just as the White woman is an object of desire for Chinese men (Schein 1997: 481), the Caucasian male—also sometimes black men—are often objects of desire to Japanese women. Borovoy (2002) makes this clear when stating, “In internationalist discourse white men function as a key signifier of male potency and upward mobility, whereas Japanese men are portrayed as infantile, tasteless, selfish, and provincial (1036).” This seems not to be the case for Japanese men and White women. While white men and Japanese women are consistently paired, white women and Japanese men are typically “written out of the global rainbow (Borovoy 2002: 1036).” This could be for various reasons including Japanese male insecurities and especially the gender roles they participate in and even embrace.
Another important factor in describing the contemporary Japanese women is makeup. While makeup may seem to be an aspect that celebrities influence in America, in Japan the poorer classes sometimes define the look that the wealthy try to achieve (Martinez 2002: 37) such as the middle-class Kogals, as to be discussed later. As the previous discussion of women in the workforce alluded to, make up is essential. Ashikari (2003) puts it best when affirming that “[t]he un-made-up middle-class woman in public gives the impression, regardless of her intentions, that she does not appreciate the values of traditional feminine virtues and that she is challenging not only social norms in general but also the gender ideology (11).” The only place some women feel secure in not wearing makeup is in the home. Outside the home is basically the physical sphere where a middle-class woman feels that she needs to wear makeup, though this “varies according to persons and contexts in everyday life (Ashikari 2003: 12).” Nevertheless, this pressure to conform seems to be effective in that the greater part of women—more than 95 percent of them according to one survey—wear makeup in public places. Thus if a woman appeared with an unmade face in public, she would without doubt be making a statement (Ashikari 2003: 5). Table 1 demonstrates the number of women surveyed that wear makeup on a regular basis—the results clearly show that the majority of the time, a minimum of a foundation is applied. A specific type of foundation is white face which is essentially a type of foundation that, when applied, makes Japanese women appear whiter than they are. And though this style transcends modern Japan a more discreet form of it “… is still used as a means of representing the dominant forms of femininity based on the gender ideology in the everyday life… (Ashikari 2003: 9).” And while makeup seems to be a mechanism in which Japanese men can objectify women, it can “… also be used to make political statements (Martinez 2002: 37)” such as in the case of the Kogals which will now be further explored.
As Japanese society advances and changes, it is greatly influenced by a highly globalized world and as such relationships are gradually shifting (Manrique 2008: 245). Furthermore, young Japanese girls have developed into a recognizable presence worldwide, “… as conspicuous consumers of high-end fashion goods, as students at major private universities, and as workers in global finance corporations (Borovoy 2002: 1035).” Though in the midst of the many subcultures existing within Japan, perhaps the one that has become the focus of such “mainstream anxiety and voyeuristic interest (Miller 2004: 224)” is the young women known as Kogals (kogyoru/ こぎゃる) This name is the “… mainstream media label used to describe young women between the ages of 14 and 22 who project new types of fashion, behavior, and language (Miller 2004: 225).” It is believed that Kogal is derived from the morpheme ko/子 (“small” or “child”) and gyaru/ ギャル (the borrowed English word “girl”.) This is a name that outside sources gave them—they typically refer to each other and themselves as simply gyaru (‘Girl’).
Kogal fashion puts emphasis on fakeness and outlandish behavior “… through playful appropriation of the elegant and the awful” and this sometimes“…yields the ganguro (‘blackface’) style (Miller 2004: 227).” The ganguro (がんぐろ) audaciousness challenges the norms of feminine beauty by means of her anti-pretty aesthetic, which thus questions the naturalness of gender stereotypes. This is portrayed in image 1. This Kogal identity is not simply a fashion but a performance as well, which embodies “… various forms of resistance, from language use and behavior to body display (Miller 2004: 228).” In fact, “… her gender-transgressing identity and language style challenge longstanding norms of adolescent femininity (Miller 2004: 224).”
This subculture is not a huge percentage of the teenage population; however, the significance of the Kogal trend is not in the numbers, but in how “… Kogals symbolize the ongoing redefinition of women in late capitalism (Miller 2004: 225).” The Kogals treat ethnicity as a performance, and this is apparent in their utilization of racial symbols, such as skin color, eye color and hair. Kogals are not the only women who criticize the salary man image (Miller 1998), but they are of interest in that they seem much more overt and active in their expressions of disdain for these men and what they represent. But while other Japanese women do this without anyone knowing, Kogals take some enjoyment in their blatant explicitness
In addition to Kogals, there have been many other subcultures that have challenged gender stereotypes. For example, throughout the 1920s there were Kiss Girls who traded kisses for a small fee (Nakayama 1995). In addition, there was the 1986 term Three-Beru Girl (三べる・ギャル), derived from three words ending in beru, (taberu “eat,” shaberu “talk,” and toraberu “get in trouble”) and the 1991 term Old Bag Girl (おふくろ・ギャル), which is in reference to a young girl who is completely dependent on her mother (Yonekawa 1996: 152)
Furthermore, “a recent type is the Pajamas Girl (jinbei gyaru), a young woman who lazes around the house wearing old-fashioned old-men’s-style pajamas (Miller 2004: 227).” Nevertheless, the most similar group to the Kogals was the pre-war Moga, derived from modan gyaru/ モダン･ギャル or Modern Girl. “Moga were a new social class of working women who shocked Japanese society with their independence, fashion, and suspected promiscuity (Silverberg, 1991).” While the Moga and Kogals are similar in that aspect, they differ in that while the Moga challenged Japanese society by seeking independence and economic self-sufficiency, the Kogals threaten the contemporary gender organization through their personification of criticism of modern society such as misuse of the traditional language and being outspoken with their opinions. So while they do attribute their look to a performance of ethnicity “…they do not consider the English-based Japanese they use as something that belongs to another group of people (Miller 2004: 235-236).” The Kogals thus challenge contemporary demands of femininity by speaking in outspoken and surprising ways. This sort of slang is controversial in that “[i]n Japan, the notion of a singular women’s language was a longstanding ideological construct stemming from Meiji-era social and educational reforms (Inoue, 2002: 392).” While the Kogals are changing part of the language and thus the definition of femininity, they “… are not attempting to be masculine… (Matsumoto, 1996).” Nevertheless, Kogals and other young Japanese are blamed for partly ruining the country’s language or of having forgotten how to converse in it (Sakurai 1985). An example of what Kogals do is in cultivating“… riiman from sarariiman (‘salaryman’) (Miller 2004: 232).” Even in this simple twist and use of language it is apparent that Kogals feel a need to express themselves and in fact “… Kogals like to read about one another’s opinions (Miller, 237).”
Part of the concern over the Kogals group is that they—along with other young girls—are assumed to be the next generation of Office Ladies as well as salary men companions, who are being tarnished by the Kogal lifestyle (Kuronuma 1996). And this notion “… stems partly from the fact that Japanese orient to a model of society in which everyone is thought to be middle-class (Kelly 1986: 603).
To combat this deviation from the norm, the Japanese majority exerts social pressure in order to coax the Kogals into conformity. This is clearly parallel to the concept of makeup and the previously mentioned Office Ladies. This social pressure includes derogatory name calling and negative labels such as yamanba/山姥 (mountain ogress) in reference to the white rimmed eyes and dark face that are reminiscent of the noh play and folklore monster. However, ganguro girls have coped with this particular derogatory term, in that they “… cynically adopted the term yamamba and use it to refer to themselves, often in the cheeky form mamba (Miller 2004: 240).” However, the oppression remains a powerful factor in Japanese society. In fact Miller (2004) affirms that “… [w]hen famous Kogals do abandon the fashion associated with the subculture, the media celebrates this as proof that the trend is only a transitional adolescent stage (241).” However, this use of the media to discourage—as in most aspects of life—varies. For example, television tends to instill domesticity and contemporary gender roles as the key to women’s happiness, while in the case of magazines as heartening women to enjoy themselves (Childs 1997: 446). In fact, regarding television, popular drama shows “… about domestic life initially seems to present a variety of possible life styles for women, but ends up overwhelmingly reinforcing stereotypes of women’s proper place within the traditional family system (Napier 1996: 358).” Furthermore, television women are habitually depicted as lazy shufu/しゅふ (housewives) in the Japanese mass media (Ashikari 2003: 14). And though the media influences the Kogals, they remain “… agents in the creation of their own subculture even (Giddens 1979).” Furthermore, and in contrast to the bulk of the populations’ beliefs—apparent with the praising of stars getting out of the Kogals look—is more than just an aesthetic style—it is a total life style, much of which they retain. Miller (2004) reveals the “… term datsu gyaru (‘give up being a Girl’ or ‘Girl-culture dropout’) indicates that being a Kogal is a lifestyle or an identity and is not simply fashion (241).” So while Kogals may relinquish their unique sub-cultural identities, it is doubtful that they will choose to live merely for the sake of their families and the home when they enter adulthood.
Tamanoi suggests that Japan is considered to be deficient in “the scholarly prestige of cultures” and thus it is “hardly expected to contribute to the theories of anthropology” hence the stereotypes imposed on the totality of Japanese people still dominate (225).” Nevertheless, it has been seen with the Kogals that “… there is no simple image of Japanese womanhood. In fact, the range of images can sometimes overwhelm the reader (Napier 1996: 360).” So while there are obviously numerous gender discourses and gender depictions in modern Japan, the “traditional” gender ideology—namely men working outside the home and women managing the home—keeps its prevailing place among them (Ashikari 2003: 3). Thus the most significant role of Japanese men is to work meticulously for a corporation, while that of women is to care for their families and home (Allison 1994). Furthermore—as explored previously—the “career woman” who refuse to be stay-at-home mothers provide the “… stereotype of women who are not ‘feminine’ and thus not desirab+le as wives (Ashikari 2003: 15).” In addition the stereotype of young girls and housewives consists of exaggerated idleness, egocentricity, unreliability, and extravagance as consumers. This “…ideology fosters dominant and pervasive gender stereotypes—a hardworking sarariman husband and a lazy shufu (housewife) (Ashikari 2003: 14).” As a result, Ashikari (2003) suggests, that the gender stereotypes characterize the concept that men with their duty of providing financially are more important than their female counterparts with their task of managing the family (15).
In conclusion, the contemporary Japanese woman is in reality a multitude of different types and subcultures of women, but one stereotype—that of a submissive and self sacrificing woman, who relies on the man’s “superior” intellect—remains the “norm.” This leaves many Japanese women in a paradox in that men want them to be this way, but they also want an education and to be more independent. This can be seen in their desire for the independent Western culture as well as the white man. It is further realized in the example of Kogals—the valley girls of Japan— who challenge gender and social norms through performance of ethnicity and the breaking down of the traditional Japanese language. Japanese society continues to try to quash these deviations from the “norm” using tactics such as peer and social pressure as well as praising for what they deem proper behavior—as seen with the Kogal stars and their abandoning of the aesthetic style. And while Japan may be an advanced and industrialized culture, it still has quite a way to go before gender equality is a reality.
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TABLE 1: Number of Women Answering That They Wore Particular Makeup Products on a daily basis
Image 1: A ganguro woman
Image 2: Trio of Kogals