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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Men of No Value: Contemporary Japanese Manhood and the Economies of Intimacy
by Miles, Elizabeth Frances, Ph.D., Yale University, 2017, 414; 10633258
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is an ethnographic examination of how young Japanese men in contemporary Japan are negotiating the effects of postindustrial shifts on the production, consumption, and performance of heterosexual male desire within the "economies of intimacy" of sex, love, and marriage. Moving beyond popular pathologies of Japanese men and of "crisis," I argue that men have been increasingly economically and socially alienated from intimate institutions, provoking either anger toward the larger gender system or a reorganization of personal paths to manhood. This dissertation is based on fifteen-months of research in Tokyo between 2013 and 2014. In addition to interviews with young, unmarried Japanese men and masculinities studies scholars, I conducted participant observation in several key sites, such as "anti-love" demonstrations, matchmaking parties (machikon), and gender equality workshops. My work draws on historical and contemporary popular culture to examine modern discourses of male virginity, debates on romantic love, and the history of sexuality.

Setting the scene of contemporary Japanese manhood, the dissertation begins with a gendered history of postwar Japan culminating in the ideal of the dekiru otoko or "man who can do." This conception of masculinity as ability directly affects the three key intimacies of concern to both the greater Japanese public and to young men themselves. These intimacies of sex, love, and marriage, what I term the "economies of intimacy," and their varied articulations with—and affects on—the lives of young Japanese men form the core of this dissertation. I argue that it is through their ability to "do" sex, love, and marriage that men receive social recognition and value in postmainstream Japan. Amidst the continuing importance of marriage to social ideals of male adulthood and personal desires for children, many young men find the marital union to be unachievable. These men, broadly categorized as "undesirable" (himote), are questioning the current marital-gender order. Specifically addressing the financial burdens and feelings of economic objectification that marriage engenders, I argue that these "undesirables" are challenging feminist scholarship on men as the primary beneficiaries of marriage.

Historically situating the contemporary ideology of "love supremacy-ism" (ren'ai shijō shugi) within the longer trajectory of Japan's modernization, I engage with the various critics of this new ideology, examining how romantic love in contemporary Japan is both intimately entwined with, and mimics, capitalism. Termed "love-capitalism" (ren'ai shihon shugi), this system is a form of evaluative schema in which men are valued and recognized based on their ability to do the work of love. Lastly, I discuss Japan's sexual modernity and the increasing importance of what I term the postwar "sexual contract"—the implicit agreement between the state and its citizens that they will engage in reproductive sex—within a contemporary pronatalist regime. Challenging this contract is the rise of male virgin (dōtei) "movements" whose members and allies are questioning the importance of sexual activity (broadly defined) to both themselves and to the greater public.

Writing against claims that gender exerts less of an influence on men's life choices—a claim predicated on women's upward social mobility globally—I argue that the Japanese gender system, with its increasing demands on men, is forcing young men to renegotiate their desires and abilities. This research brings men's concerns to the forefront of current feminist and queer studies debates on institutions such as marriage and love, particularly the absence of financial concerns and the globally circulating discourses on how sex, love, and marriage are all social goods.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Nakamura, Karen, Kelly, William W.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Asian Studies, Gender studies
Keywords: Anthropology, Gender, Japan, Masculinites, Sexuality
Publication Number: 10633258
ISBN: 978-0-355-10550-6
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