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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Zoom [Registration link available below]
Event date: 
Monday, 25 October, 2021 - 17:30 to 19:00





Groomed to Please: Constructing White-collar Men’s Bodies through the Female Gaze in Contemporary Japan

From carefully shaped eyebrows to slim physiques and the expunging of excess body odours, men’s bodies and bodily grooming since the early 1990s in Japan have been subject to ever-growing scrutiny, trends that have often been analysed in terms of a heteronormative imperative for men to please or appease the desires of women. Past research on prescriptive discourses and cultural representations of men’s bodies has intimated how such developments may be upsetting orthodox gendered power relations by bringing about new ideals of masculinity that give greater consideration to women. Meanwhile in white-collar contexts, change has been evident in more women moving from irregular and clerical roles to pursuing careers. Such contexts have been orthodoxly marked by male centricity and camaraderie, but the rise in female employees indicates a rearrangement of gendered relations. In recent cultural representations, these developments play out on white-collar men’s bodies which become targets of intense scrutiny from female colleagues. Yet, there is little understanding of men’s actual experiences of increasing bodily pressures brought on by the female gaze.

By going beyond cultural representations and, instead, drawing on interviews with white-collar men in Tokyo, this talk investigates how the everyday body politics of corporate men’s grooming interacts with white-collar gender relations in contemporary Japan. Participants report feelings of anxiety should their (poor) grooming become a topic of conversation among female colleagues or made into workplace rumours, which would lead to damaged reputations, strained work relations or even accusations of sexual harassment. My fundamental contention is that this internalisation of women’s judgment - the desire to be liked or not disliked by women - serves as a form of discipline that reproduces bodily ideals of white-collar masculinity. At the same time, because the majority of men in my study hold hierarchically superior positions over female colleagues, women’s disciplining of men’s bodies simultaneously reproduces orthodox, male-centric power relations.

Christopher Tso received his PhD in Japanese Studies from the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge, where he is currently Newton Trust and Japan and the World Postdoctoral Research Associate. His primary research interests focus on white-collar gender relations and the body, and his recent publications include ‘The women in men’s grooming: reproducing orthodox gender relations through the body’ in Japan Forum, while he is co-editor of Beyond Kawaii: Studying Japanese Femininities at Cambridge.