Rethinking the politics of gender and agency: an encounter with the ‘otherness’ of medieval Japan

Pandey, Rajyashree. 2018. Rethinking the politics of gender and agency: an encounter with the ‘otherness’ of medieval Japan. Japan Forum, pp. 1-23. ISSN 0955-5803 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article engages with recent debates within feminism itself to rethink women, gender, body, and agency as conceptual categories for reading medieval Japanese literary/Buddhist texts. It questions the unreflexive transposition of contemporary understandings of concepts to the past, on the grounds that this produces anachronistic readings of the worlds we seek to understand. It argues that in medieval Japanese texts gender did not function as a ‘social’ category posited against the ‘natural’ fact of sex, and that gender was a kind of script and that it was the specificity of the gendered performance, rather than the sexual attributes and reproductive functions of the body, that gave substance to the categories ‘male’ and ‘female.’
The article also offers a critique of contemporary uses of the term agency in analyses of women and Buddhism in medieval Japan, arguing that agency here is defined as something possessed by autonomous individuals with free will, whose natural inclination is to strive to resist against the oppressive conditions of their lives. This modern liberal conception of agency, which is secular in nature, grants agency to humans alone. This anthropocentric view of the world necessitates the evisceration of the agency of gods, buddhas, dreams and material objects, all of whom are central actors in the cosmological/social world of medieval Japan.

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women, gender, agency, medieval, Japan

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27 July 2018Accepted
25 September 2018Published Online

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Date Deposited:

09 Aug 2018 11:55

Last Modified:

22 Oct 2020 09:42

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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