2008 Student-Faculty Fellows: Union College

Street Fashion:
Rebellion against Traditional Gender Roles?

Mentor: Linda Patrik
Students: Emily Brunelle, Jasmine Maldonado, Nozomi Sakata

Project Abstract

The ASIANetwork grant allowed me to train students in applied philosophical research. Because I not only mentored the students but also participated as a member of our four-person research team in Japan, the teaching experience was more collaborative and direct. Each of us focused on a different form of “gender performance,” and this diversity of specialization gave the students confidence to investigate their own leads and draw their own conclusions. The research findings gathered by the whole four-person team will be posted on a website entitled “Gender Performance in Japan,” which should be online by mid-November 2008. In addition, the three student members of the team will present their research at undergraduate research conferences (NCUR and/or Union College’s Steinmetz Symposium); two student members will give a Nihon buyo (Japanese traditional dance) performance and presentation at the end of fall term 2008 for the college campus and the local Schenectady community.

Emily Brunelle

Throughout Japan’s history, men have represented women on the stage in traditional Noh and Kabuki theater. Today, the popular genre of rock music called “Visual Kei” carries on the tradition of cross-dressing on stage. This genre has been popular for over ten years in Japan and has branched off into many different sub-genres. In my research, I investigated the ways that men in “Visual Kei” represent feminine gender to the audience. I studied the male band members’ clothing, make-up, body movements and ways of speaking and singing. I wondered if their presentation of femininity reflects a feminine side of their own personalities or if, by acting as women on stage, their personalities, in turn, become more feminine. Another important part of my research was observing the audience at concerts and studying the audience-musician relationship, which seemed to be parallel to the more general female-male relationship in Japanese culture. By going to concerts, chatting with fans, interviewing band members, listening to CD’s and looking at magazines, I researched these questions and more. As a major in anthropology, this was my first opportunity to do real field research. My research experience was unforgettable, and I have learned that many skills are necessary to do field research. I am in the process of creating an Independent Study Term Abroad at Union College, which will allow me to return to Japan to continue my research into Japanese rock. This has been a pivotal experience that has taught me that this is what I want to do with my life.

Jasmine Maldonado

The intensive Nihon buyo training I received for three weeks at the Kyoto Arts Center was the perfect preliminary training for the research I subsequently did as an ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Undergraduate Research Fellow. It has been said that studying one philosophical problem chronologically can serve as a guide to the evolution of philosophy as a whole. Through my dance course and my research into street fashion this summer, I investigated past and present perspectives on gender in bodily expression, which serves as a guide to the broader issues of how gender expression evolved in Japan. By learning a traditional feminine dance during my Nihon buyo training, I learned postures that were considered feminine in traditional Japan. Then, by photographing interesting gender displays in street fashion, and by surveying those I photographed, I was able to understand how gender is viewed in contemporary Japan. Contrary to the general American perspective, many Japanese youth view certain forms of bodily posture, clothing and gestures as genderless because they view gender as a physiological trait rather than as a social trait.

As the first of nine siblings to graduate from high school, I had the aim of receiving a quality undergraduate education – but never imagined having the opportunity to do serious research in a distant country. My new understanding of bodily expression will indeed prove useful in the future, whether I am a corps member for Teach for America, an attorney, or a public figure – all occupations in which I am interested.

Nozomi Sakata


The traditional Japanese images of “attractive” men – big and strong – and of “attractive” women -shy and small – are strongly manifested in the two types of Nihon buyo: Otoko Mai (male dance) and Onna Mai (female dance). For instance, in the male dances, the dancers stick out their elbows and create large spaces under their arms. They also open their hips to have bowlegs. Moreover, the dancers playing male roles tend to face directly to the front in order to indicate courage and the power to withstand all enemies. On the other hand, in female dances the dancers attempt to create compact-size bodies; they often make their elbows adhere to the sides of their bodies to reduce body size, and they walk pigeon-toed. To symbolize shyness, a feminine dancer may show a poem or a message to her lover written on the sensu (folding fan), but she soon puts the fan out of sight. She also often hides a part of her face and takes a peep at the audience bashfully; she casts down her eyes in apparent embarrassment. In these and other ways, Nihon buyo clearly embodies the gender concepts that prevailed during the Edo era in Japan.

The opportunity to become a translator and a member of Union College’s ASIANetwork Freeman undergraduate research team has expanded my potential as a communicator and a dance researcher. Serving as a human medium to convey other people’s messages, I translated with consideration of cultural differences; I gained greater skill for choosing relevant words that may communicate someone’s intention to others from a different country. The opportunity to do original research also clarified what I will study when I go to graduate school; I plan to study anthropology, with a focus on dance research. From my summer research, I relied upon different methods to create integrated and well-organized research including: my own practical dance experience, theoretical understanding, objective observation, and conversing with and observing dance professionals. Most importantly, however, I saw the uniqueness of Japan’s traditional culture – my culture – by looking at my own country from a researcher’s perspective.