In Individual & Societies class, we evaluated the impact of the Edo society on how it affected us today and what influence the changes. I investigated
How the status and rights of women were limited in Edo Society
Some background… The Edo period (1603-1868) demonstrates Japan’s strong economic and cultural growth, however, the golden era also illustrates the strict limitations on the people of its society. Peasants and females, for instance, were popularly subjected to social prejudices.
Evidence (Upon Some Research in the Library….)
I found that the religion in the Edo Period played an enormous factor fro introducing gender prejudice upon women. Women were “held women intellectually and morally incompetent and must therefore be protected man…” according to Perez. Also, the Edo Japanese society also introduced the idea that the male act as the leader of the family, thus women are always deemed second. However, Ueno argued that “ the sexual segregation system cannot simply be called ‘repressive’ of women, for while excluding women from men’s world, it also provides them with a secure shelter through their own autonomy and resources.”.
Other research shows that the popular text in the Edo Society also deem women inferior to men. The infamous Three Obedience, originally written in Chinese, were a set of basic moral principles specifically for women in Confucianism” (Taylor) that said:
As a child she was to be obedient to her father; as a wife she owed fealty to her husband; and as a widow she was to obey her adult son.” (Perez 274)
The 2nd text named Great Learning for Women “is an delineating proper conduct … most famously, women. In Great Learning for Women, Ekken promotes a strict code of behavior for mothers, wives, and daughters…” (EXCERPTS) This text also similarly states that
‘From her earliest youth, a girl should observe the line of demarcation separating women from men…’” (Hane 44)
Japanese Tradition also played an great role in limiting females to certain rights such as marriage. According to Hane, marriages were arranged by parents, and daughters had no voice in the matter. A husband could divorce his wife at will while a wife could not. She had to endure hardships and abuses patiently and serve her husbands and in-laws.
Moreover, it was not just Samurais who were ranked. Wives of Samurais and peasants had different statuses, yet their rights were similarly limited.
“Even if a samurai woman could learn to read and write… she never would be allowed to apply her learning to the actual work of government.” (Perez 275)
“Few artisan-class women were allowed to ply their husband’s of their father’s trade if those job happened to be public and required physical strength.” (Perez 275)
Most severely established rule in the Edo Period was the Tokugawa Laws:
“The practice of relegating women below men which had commenced with the rise of the samurai class was formally institutionalized in the Tokugawa period. Even earlier, samurai women were treated like semi-slaves by their husbands.” (Hane 43)
“The Tokugawa rulers legalized the patriarchal family system, placing absolute power … on the male… and women lost property rights…” (Hane 43)
Status of Women in the Society
Women in the Edo Period were subjected to the idea of feminine inferiority due to religion and social ethics according to Perez. Religions that were dominant in the Edo, such as Confucianism, demoralized the position of women by deeming them as incompetent, thus woman was always under the control of the man around her. More severely, women were not only limited by their status in society, but are controlled by it. From the spread of social rules such as the Three Obediences to the publication of the text Great Learning for Women, women were raised under the belief of gender segregation. The segregation regarded women with insignificance, which the society accepted obligingly. The social confinement on top of little resistance from women imprisoned them with low status through the Edo Period.
On the other hand, the Edo society was also organized through feudalism, and likewise, the organization of a family is based upon the idea of patriarch. In both ideas, there is the separation of rank and gender, however, in a patriarchal family, women had a lower status because of their gender. This system, in one perspective, may be viewed as “repressive”; however, in another point of view, by not including women, women are limited to secure shelters with power in their domestic field according to Chizuko Ueno; she adds that this culture compensates for their low status elsewhere. Therefore, to an extent, women were not limited in the household.
Women’s Limited Rights
Since the introduction of feminism, women gained significant rights, but previously in the Edo Period, Hane stated that the Japanese community controlled marriages, and women were abused. This tradition contradicts with the idea that women had power domestically, for it shows that the idea of concubination existed in homes, so many women had limited rights at homes.
As for peasant women, they were commonly found to work alongside their husbands, however, few were seen. This suggests that females were deemed physically weaker, so that objects produced by women are viewed as second-class or inferior to those made by men. Women, therefore, worked unseen and could not participate in trade, which resulted in women not being able to support themselves financially and thus, increased their dependence on men. The dependency encourages the idea of feminine inferiority and limits women’s economic rights.
The same limitations apply for women of higher ranks as well. Samurai women may be educated, but due to their social confinement, her rare education was not used for political work. First, this led to the idea that women did not need to be educated, as they had no use of it. Secondly, women, without education, could not improve their situation due to their failure to realize that they were being undermined by men. Thirdly, the lack of educated women caused women to be underrepresented in politics. This meant that regulations that further controlled women’s confinement met little resistance, thus women were often controlled by law. Conclusively, the lack of powerful, influential female rolemodels spawned the insufficiency of education and the right to participate in government for women. In addition, the law established by the Tokugawa family formally stated that women were officially underneath man, and the shift of power resulted in peasant women losing land ownership. This meant that if female peasants lost possesion, women of higher status also lost proprietary as well. The lose of financial rights emphasizes the previous point, that women had to be reliant on men, which ultimately supplied said men with more power, and thereby trapped Edo women in a cycle of feminine inferiority.
Women in the Edo Period had a lower status and possesd fewer rights compared to men to a certain extent. In one perspective, a female’s status was degraded by social morals and texts, and was viewed to be inferior to men. Confucianism and its teachings segregated these women from men, undermining their position in society so that they were continuously under the influence of menfolk. From another point of view, however, women were seen to have power domestically, yet a counterpoint could suggest that they were still under their husbands authority.
Women also lost economical and political rights due to the (Tokugawa) law and the patriarchal idea. Furthermore, their property rights were taken away, consequently reinforcing men’s power over women. Factors, such as tradition and ranking, fortified the theory that women worked invisibily and lacked education due to feminine inferiority, which led to discriminatory politics that further eroded women’s rights.
- Bailley, Peter. “Professor Emeritus Mikiso Hane, 1922-2003 – Knox College News.”Professor Emeritus Mikiso Hane, 1922-2003 – Knox College News. Knox University, 10 Dec. 2003. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
- “EXCERPTS FROM THE GREAT LEARNING FOR WOMEN (ONNA DAIGAKU).” Asia For Educators. Columbia University, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
- Ekken, Kaibara. Great Learning For Women. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
- Hane, Mikiso. “Tokugawa Rule.” Japan: A Short History. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000. 43-44. Print.
- Perez, Louis G. Daily Life in Early Modern Japan. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. Print.
- Taylor, Rodney Leon, and Howard Y. F. Choy. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism. Vol. Two. New York: Rosen Publ. Group, 2005. Print.
- Ueno, Chizuko. “The Position of Japanese Women Reconsidered.” JSTOR. Wenner-Gren Foundation, Aug. 1987. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.