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Accepted Paper:

Acknowledging transcendental experiences of female martial artists in Japan  

Author:

Kate Sylvester (Lund University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper illustrates the transcendental experiences of women who engage in hegemonic masculine spaces such as kendo in Japan. In spite of certain inequalities, women experience unprecedented autonomy and profound personal satisfaction in the dynamic self-expression of their identities in the dojo.

Paper long abstract:

This paper illustrates the transcendental experiences of women who engage in typically hegemonic masculine spaces such as martial arts in Japan. Evidentiary in the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index Report, Japan is considered to be a gender inequitable society ranking 121st. Stultified by entrenched cultural practices, Japan's rank has fallen from 98th when the '30% by 2020' target for women in leadership was proposed by the Abe Government in 2011. In spite of the projection of Japan as a power imbalanced society, women can challenge and transcend socially constructed limitations of their gender through martial arts like kendo in Japan. It is relatively straightforward to research gender in Japan if one is seeking confirmation of its inequality. Researchers need not deeply immerse themselves in Japanese society to investigate gender as the divide is conspicuous and media, policy and legislation provide comprehensive examples of discriminative practices. Problematically however, scholarship tends to omit the empowering aspects of women's lived experiences, which respectively diminishes the occurrences and personal significance. Applying the ethnographic method to examine a cultural field can nevertheless provide an insightful perspective and poignantly illustrate how women do positively experience traditional male realms framing kendo as an example. The empirical data discussed in this paper was collected intensively over an 18-month period as a participant-observer in an elite Japanese university kendo club. Multifaceted and nuanced, it was observed that women experienced unprecedented autonomy and profound personal satisfaction in the dynamic self-expression of their identities during kendo training. In this sense, the kendo dojo is a gender-neutral space as women too are expected to cultivate archetypal masculine characteristics impertinent to kendo such as physical assertiveness, brash vocal expression and mentorship skills. Conversely, less symbolic capital is afforded to women's kendo, which adamantly limits their employment opportunities, yet can enable greater intrinsic reward without the pressure of converting their participation into economic capital. Although the autonomy to express identity freely is temporal during university, viscerally and cognitively women recognise that transcending entrenched societal confines of gender is possible when provided with the opportunity.

Panel AntSoc25
Fandom and gender: individual papers