The Militarization of Women in Japan

The lives of women and understanding of both themselves as well as the global sphere changes based on how one perceives things.  In all cases however, it is shown that their femininity is used as a tool of manipulation by the military.  In chapters 7 of Cynthia Enloe’s book, Globalization & Militarization she looks at Japan specifically and their use of women’s femininity over time.  It’s interesting to see how the female body can be used whether it be through exploitation or manipulation within one culture alone.

Women from all over East Asia were exploited in the World War II era by the Japanese governments.  They were used for sex by soldiers and lived in these spaces where everyone else had the same role.  They were called comfort women, and even though this is no longer practiced, it is still unjust that these women had to go through what they did.  What upsets me the most is the lack of empathy from the Japanese government about what happened; it’s like they try to erase history by not acknowledging that what they did cause many women to suffer.  A women’s organization in Japan (Violence Against Women Worldwide Network), set up a testimony system for the women that were a part of this exploitation.  Women from all over East Asia including, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and other countries testified about their experiences during their time as comfort women.  What they found is that they were treated like slaves and it was a form of using the female body as an object.  It was the military once again objectifying females for the “benefit” of male soldiers.

While the female body is a huge part of this exploitation by the military, it is also one’s identity that is being manipulated many of the times.  For example women that are joining the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are doing so for the idea of a better quality of life.  If we take a step back and see why there are a large amount of women doing this, it is because of the notion that it is safe and according to one woman, a good way to get ahead.

“Aspiring sincerely to international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes […]Land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

-Article 9 (Enloe p138)

Following World War II, the people of Japan felt as though they had suffered a great amount through war; the atomic bomb that was used on them left areas of the country devastated.  The attack alone wasn’t their main concern, but the health problems that preceded the event were catastrophic as well.  Thousands of people faced the health problems that came with the atomic bomb which led to Japan swearing off the use of war to settle international disputes.  In result, many women over the years thought it would be safe to join the Japanese Self-Defense Forces because of the lack of combat that would occur under Article 9.  But now with Japan sending ships off to the Middle East, many women feel as though this would be a violation of Article 9 and are unsure of what this might mean for them in comparison to what they thought they were signing up for.   A lot of them also don’t realize how consumer goods are encouraging them to sign up for the military or how these goods are militarized.

“ [..] Daughterhood, marriage, motherhood, secretarial and bookkeeping jobs, learning English, fast food, education, patriotism, entertainment, sexuality, consumerism, economic security, and fashion.  Militarizing femininities – in all their diversity—seems to be crucial for sustaining the Tokyo-Washington bilateral security agreement.  If no one pays attention to the politics of femininity in particular women’s lives, it is likely that any commentator on international politics will end up with an unreliable analysis on the politics that today perpetuate the Japanese-U.S. alliance. This does not mean that women control the alliance.  They clearly have little power in alliance negotiations.  But the male elites of both countries do rely upon a lot of women to think of their own feminized lives in ways that make militarization ‘normal’ and thus almost invisible.”

-Cynthia Enloe p153

Japanese Self-Defense Forces Flag

The fact that many of the women that have joining the Japanese Self-Defense Forces for easier access to goods and a certain services, really puts into perspective how this is working in favor of the military.  It also shows how goods are not always independent from the military but a part of militarization.  This is continued in Enloe’s final chapter in this book where she writes about how militarization happens on the personal level without us sometimes even realizing it.

“Once again, militarization happens to many more people than just those in uniform or just those who work in defense ministries or national security agencies.”

-Cynthia Enloe p158

Regardless of where we work or where we are, militarization is something that we are all exposed to.  Whether it is subliminally or more directly, we are constantly looking at things that make us want to promote military ideals.  This is extremely problematic because it teaches us to accept the ideas that come along with promoting militarization and ultimately cause us to look at the world in a way that exploits people, causes people to lose their identities, and form alliances that exemplify this patriarchal norm that encourages us to try to exert power over others.

If we can’t look beyond what the military is trying to teach us, regardless of where the military is from, it only causes us to continue to give into this cycle.  It brainwashes us to the point where we don’t even know what we are taking in from them.  Do you see this in your life? I definitely do; every time I walk into a clothing store I can’t help but be hit in the fact with products that promote the military fashion.  Besides goods, is this idea being pushed onto us in more subliminal ways? I think it would be interesting to examine how and where this happens.  It would also be equally interesting for us to try to see how this can be stopped.

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