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"Introduction to Men's Studies"
—studying changes in masculinity and their context

Issei Wake
Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Change and diversity in “masculinity”

There is an increasing amount of consideration given to transgender issues and recently a primary school in San Francisco, USA began an initiative to phase out gender-specific toilets. Meanwhile in Missouri there was a disturbance1 when around 150 students boycotted their lessons in protest against a transgender student who used the women's toilets and changing room. In an article2 published in June 2015 Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported how there is an increasing number of Japanese men in their forties who have never had a sexual experience, alluding to the successful 20015 film The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The film’s protagonist Andy (played by Steve Carrell) is portrayed as a passive nerd who has devoted so much time into his hobbies that he was never able to have a sexual experience over his 40-year life. What is behind this shy nature of Japanese men? Why must virginity be considered a cause for concern, a social problem, in the first place? Does Japan’s porn industry play a role? Is that industry impacting real-world romantic relationships negatively? It goes without saying that the unease shrouding men's abstinence stems from a subconscious assumption that men must be sexually aggressive. Today, traditional views on gender, and in particular notions of masculinity are becoming ever more unstable and diversified, and various related issues are coming to the fore.

Introduction to Men's Studies: Examining changes in masculinity and their context3

This is my second year teaching "Introduction to Men's Studies" within this social climate. Most of the students are female, and I hear the same was the case for my predecessor. These students attend the course for various reasons, some citing their relationship with their fathers or their boyfriends while others expressing a wish to reevaluate their own notions about gender before entering the real world. On the other hand, looking at the motives of the male students, some wish to 'hone their manhood' (although this is not the intended purpose of the class), while others are skeptical about the masculine ideals they had internalized and wish to reconsider them with a wider perspective. In this course, we investigate changes over time in social ideals (and taboos) concerning masculinity, and their social and historical context. In a typical class, a student gives a presentation on a specific topic that we then discuss together. The class offers students an opportunity to express their opinions, citing their own experiences while deepening their understanding independently.

Topics we cover in Men’s Studies include deciphering masculinity in context, keywords such as samurai and bushido (the philosophy of the samurai), masculinity as depicted in media representations such as the hyper-violent martial arts manga and anime Fist of the North Star (Hokuto No Ken) and the long-running and famous animation about Japanese family life called Sazae-san, and the study of masculinity through analysis of advertisements for men's hair removal salons that are rife with phrases like 'Hair removal is the norm for men now!', 'Enhance your manliness,' and 'Body transformation for the over-40s.' Discussions are conducted for each topic in question. One student wrote about issues concerning masculinity in the film American Beauty (1999) and the novel Koshu ("A Loan Boat"), Junichi Watanabe's much-publicized 2010 book depicting the solitude of a retired office worker. I think this student's essay serves as a good introduction to this course. This student joined the class in order to analyze his own father's nature as a so-called "corporate warrior," and his final essay quoted lyrics from a song by Teiji Yamazaki which portrays Showa-era (1926–1989) masculinity as follows:

"I'm not much of a talker, not much of a charmer/Can never find the words I'm looking for/It's all I can do to laugh at myself/If only I could be honest with myself/I don't like it, I don't like it/So stubborn for no reason/It's the song of the Showa-born man."

By analyzing the psyche of his corporate warrior father, he investigated how masculinity was exhibited by the Showa generation, and how that generation of men may cope with life after retirement. During the Japanese Economic Miracle, the Showa-bred generation, on whom economic development depended, competed from a young age and were obliged to outperform their peers. They affirmed their own raison d'être by defeating others, and found it difficult to discover a way a life other than a work-centric one. The mission of men of that generation, backed by a societal system that was backed by lifetime employment and the honoring of seniority, was to work for their families while sacrificing themselves. It was a given in that era that "men have jobs, women have households," and these men as a central pillar supported and protected their families and their wives. In view of such circumstances, it is conceivable that their total devotion to their jobs, and even their communicational reticence, were regarded as positive traits. The student concluded that his own father was just an 'ordinary' office worker who had to shoulder such a duty, and was merely struggling to fulfill it.

From warrior to 'stuffed-cabbage men': examining the struggles of life behind the label

Today, male suicide rates are becoming an increasingly serious issue. In addition, men are under pressure to find a wife, iku-men (fathers who participate actively in parenting) are lauded, and kea-men ('care men') who engage in looking after elderly or infirm relatives are on the rise. In this age, men are said to be adrift, finding it extremely difficult to live, work, be married, and reconcile different values4. The idea of men as strong, tough warriors who fight around the clock, outdo their rivals, lead their women, and are stoic is waning. It is becoming acceptable for the modern-day man to complain and confess about the struggles of fighting all the time. There are ever-increasing categories of masculinity that have been liberated from the constraints of conventional masculinity, such as 'herbivorous men' ("softer, gentler" men who are not competitive either career-wise or sexually), 'creamy men' (who are sweet, mellow, and kind to women), and 'stuffed-cabbage men' (seemingly soft and harmless on the outside, but with a strong masculine core). In class, rather than accept our society at face value, we inquire how it has come about, and investigate the difficulties of life that lie behind these labels while considering their social and historical contexts.

The classes bring to the forefront various ideals concerning masculinity that parents have embedded in their children. These students were born in the Heisei period (1989 to date) but were brought up by Showa period parents and their ideals. I have just completed the classes for the spring semester and I hope the students learn to not pigeonhole all men, but to understand the diversity of masculinity, and pass on a more flexible and diverse notion of masculinity to future generations.

*1 http://www.afpbb.com/articles/-/306012 accessed on Sept. 23, 2015
*2 http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/east-asia/article/1818324/japans-40-year-old-virgins-why-growing-numbers-middle-aged-men
*3 Subject at Global Education Center, Waseda University
*4 Dansei Hyoryu (Men Adrift), Shoko Okuda (2015); Otoko Ga Tsuraiyo (It's Tough Being a Man), Toshiyuki Tanaka (2015)

Issei Wake
Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Issei Wake earned his master's degree at Tokyo Metropolitan University's Graduate School of Humanities and his doctorate at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York in American literature. After serving as Assistant Professor at Meiji Gakuin University's Faculty of International Studies and as Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Waseda University's School of Education, he was appointed to his current post in April 2015

Ethnic Entertainment and Cosmopolitan New York in The Beautiful and Damned, Bulletin of Tokyo Jogakkan College (03/2014) vol. 11 pp. 163–79

Covering the Ground with Alice (D. Zadworna-Fjellestad), Eureka: 150th Year of Alice in Wonderland (03/2015)

Japanese academic societies
The English Literary Society of Japan, The American Literature Society of Japan, The F. Scott Fitzgerald Society of Japan

Intramural committees
Waseda University School of Education Undergraduate Student Committee Representative: April 2015 to present
Waseda University Office for Promotion of Gender Equality Representative: October 2015 to present