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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“‘Who? Feminist?’: Gender Activism and Collective Identity in Japan”

  • Author(s): Yamaguchi, Makiko
  • et al.

This paper explores the strategies that gender activists in Japan use to advocate gender equality and justice. What is intriguing about this case of feminist activism is that despite its long history, the movement is network-based with many small-scale local groups and no national umbrella organization. Furthermore, unlike feminist movements in areas dominated by the US/European hegemonic model of thinking and organizing, gender activists in Japan refuse to articulate their activism using a single collective label such as “feminist.” Yet their rhetorical strategies, and political narratives that come out of those strategies, demonstrate remarkable agreement and shared understanding of gender hierarchy and injustice in Japan. These strategies weave ideas that are significant to domestic politics and the state of gender relations in Japan together with a global gender discourse. Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews over a 16-month period with gender activists in Japan, this paper unravels this puzzle by looking at individual life histories and their intersection with the larger historical context. By examining how Japanese gender activists make sense of what they do and why they do it, this study challenges our conceptualizations of collective action, strategy, and feminism as a global phenomenon.

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