Doctor Science Knows

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Grass-eaters" in Japan

I probably need to stop going to Rod Dreher's so often. Sometimes he's almost one of the Reasonable Conservatives, but then stuff like this comes out. And yet, he is definitely on the up side of a really pitiful bunch -- he's a Green in many ways, just so goddamned enraging about gender issues.

In any even, poor Rod was shocked by this article about 20-something male behavior in Japan. Rod calls them "grassy-eating sissy monkeys". *HEAD. DESK* I commented:

I'll have to check with my Japan-based sources, but there's one thing you should remember, Rod: Japanese masculinity does not have the same signals or boundaries that American masculinity does. In particular, the sharp boundaries of gender roles in Japan means that men there have a much wider ranger of behavior available to them.

Think of it this way: the defined border between masculine and feminine in Japan means that a man can go right up the edge and yet still count as firmly on the masculine side. In the US, the border is comparatively broad, shifting, and ill-defined, so a man who is anxious about appearing masculine has to keep much further away from the edge. American masculinity is subtractive; I don't know Japanese culture well enough to talk about how their gender roles are evolving.

The Japanese also have a very different approach to makeup and costumes than we do in the US. Thoreau said "beware of all enterprises that require new clothes" -- the Japanese say, "what's the point of one that doesn't?" So the makeup sales (which are likely to be the most accurate part of that story) don't necessarily mean what you think in your fevered American brain.

I wonder, too, if the use of "grass-eating" or vegetarian as an insult has a religious undertone, because vegetarianism is associated with Buddhism.

But as someone whose children are older than yours -- for all your sakes, don't box yourself into thinking that clothing, hairstyle or music choices are the appropriate battlefields for their upcoming teen and young adult years. Worry less about whether they seem manly to you, more about whether they're decent human beings.

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  • I didn't read the article you're referring to because the way that you discuss it betrays some ignorance and narrow-mindedness on the part of the writer.

    I can say that, after 20 years here, I've observed some things about masculinity and Japan. One is that there is flexibility, but only within rigidly defined situations. Japanese people in general are big on role fulfillment so what a person of either gender does to display himself or herself is usually dictated by their job or place in the world. For the average salaryman, this means a suit, tie, and not too much deviation from bland color schemes. Hair product is okay, but no long hair, make-up, piercings, and definitely no tattoos (as they are linked to yakuza).

    If a man is, however, in college, he can do what he wants with his hair and ears, but all of that goes out the window once he assumes his place in society unless he is in an atypical job. Men who work in traditional theater (e.g., kabuki) can do a lot more with themselves.

    All of that being said, unless a man is a rent boy or gay, he isn't going to be wearing much make-up as it is not seen as acceptable for serious and responsible men. In fact, one of my students recently told me that a male friend of hers wanted to put on make-up for fun and she took a picture. When she showed me the picture on her cell phone, she was so disturbed and freaked out by it that she looked away as I looked at the photo. There are extremely concrete limits to what is seen as masculine in Japanese culture, sometimes more rigid views than America.

    Finally, Japanese people associate feminine men with being homosexual. In fact, their view of gay men is decidedly linked to that of transsexuals or men who want to dress up like women. By and large, they believe gay people are flaming and want to be women. Again, this shows that they are exceptionally rigid about roles. If a man in any way resembles a woman, he is gay. This is why men would not casually wear anything which makes their masculinity questionable as being gay in Japan will get you fired from your job unless you keep it under wraps or work in an industry (e.g., fashion) which is more open to that.

    By Blogger Orchid64, at 6:19 AM  

  • Thanks for your insight. The article comes from a Malaysian news source, which claims

    "Coined by columnist Maki Fukasawa, the term soshoku-danshi (herbivorous male) has become one of those cultural buzzwords that hijacks the Japanese media every couple of years. With its implied disdain for vegetarians, the term has been popularised in a bestselling new book called “The Herbivorous Ladylike Men (who) are Changing Japan” by Megumi Ushikubo, president of Tokyo marketing firm Infinity."

    I have no idea if this reflects anything going on in Japan *at all*, though there have been scattered articles about it -- here's a pretty good round-up. Is this something you've actually *seen*, or is it one of the manufactured media swivets so popular in both the US and Japan?

    By Blogger Doctor Science, at 2:57 AM  

  • LMAO. Awesome. I think grass eaters are more manly. They move away from the ultimate masculine weakness by denying their sexual impulses, especially where women are involved.
    Serious, responsible men don't give a rats ass about the other men around him are dressed like, who they do or don't sleep with either, they are instead more concerned with the men being good human beings, and being competent, not to mention intelligent.
    The worth of men is not defined by their income. A mans worth is often a contradictory curve to the inclinations of his penis.
    Americans have this idea in their head that a real man, is selfish pig, governed by his cock, with very little in the way of brains to work with.
    Uneducated. Impulsive. Slave to his cock? Can't think of anything less manly in all the world.

    By Blogger The_Laughing_Seraphim, at 10:14 AM  

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