Japan’s first movement for civil rights emerged in the 1870s, and a small number of women were part of it. Women’s legal status was significantly inferior to men’s in the pre–World War II era, and feminists struggled for decades to improve it. Their activism in transnational organizations often gave them a voice they did not have at home. For example, the Japanese branch of the International Woman’s Christian Temperance Union worked to end international sex trafficking, licensed prostitution, and marital inequality. The Japanese cultural world took a feminist turn in the second decade of the 20th century. Increasing numbers of women entered the classroom as teachers, nurses served on the battlefield and in hospitals, and actresses performed in plays like A Doll’s House. Many of these women were called “New Women,” and an explicitly women’s rights organization, founded in 1919, called itself the New Woman’s Association. When the Tokyo earthquake killed 100,000 people and destroyed millions of homes in 1923, women’s organizations of all types—Christian, Buddhist, alumnae, housewives, and socialists—coalesced to carry out earthquake relief. The following year, several of those groups decided to address women’s political rights. The Women’s Suffrage League grew from this collaboration in 1924. Annual Women’s Suffrage Conferences brought together women of diverse organizations from 1930 to 1937. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Japanese feminists also made their voices heard through transnational organizations, including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Pan-Pacific Women’s Association. When Japanese militarism at home and abroad repressed freedom of expression in the 1930s, feminist groups continued to meet, turning to community activism (like improving municipal utilities) and nonthreatening feminist legislation (the Mother-Child Protection Law of 1937). During World War II, many feminists accepted government advisory positions to improve the lives of women and families, viewing this as a step toward greater political integration. By the 1980s, however, feminists strongly critiqued prewar feminists for collaboration with the wartime government. Women voted for the first time in 1946. In 1947, the new Constitution granted equal rights, the new Civil Code eradicated most of the patriarchal provisions of the 1898 Civil Code, and the Labor Standards Law called for equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, women continued to face discrimination in the workplace, at home, and even in the law. Feminists supported the United Nations International Women’s Year (1975) with vigor. Since then, they have successfully advocated for strengthened employment and child-care leave laws as well as anti–domestic violence laws. But gender-neutral legislation has been hotly contested and has led to a backlash against feminism in general.
China and India together account for over one-third of the world’s population and both countries have considerably fewer women than men.. With long histories of skewed sex ratios and gender discrimination, these two countries have experienced a sharp decline in the birth of girls since the late 20th century. The unfolding and intimate relationship between gendered social structures, son preference, fertility decline, and new sex determination technologies has had serious demographic and social consequences, resulting in millions of “missing” girls, surplus males, bride shortages, and possibly, rising levels of gender violence. Even as women’s socio-economic indicators such as life expectancy, literacy, education, and fertility have improved, families continue to show a preference for sons raising questions between the tenuous relationship between development and gender equality. The advantages of raising sons over daughters, supported by traditional kinship, family, and marriage systems, appear to have got further entrenched in the era of neoliberal economies. Family planning policies of both nations, advocating small families, and the advent of pre-natal sex selection technologies further set the stage for the prevention of birth of daughters. Governments in both countries have since banned sex determination and launched policies and schemes to redress the gender imbalance and improve the value of the girl child. While these policies have not been highly successful, other social forces such as urbanization and rising educational levels are beginning to transform the way girls are perceived. A kernel of hope seems to be emerging at the beginning of the 21st century, as some improvement is visible in the sex ratio at birth in some of the worst affected regions in the two countries.
Social life in imperial China was structured on the Confucian gender principles of the separation of male and female and the division of “inner and outer” spheres. Homosociality prevailed while heterosociality was limited. Homosociality dominated the forms and manners of social interaction. Men moved around freely and faced little constraint in forging relationships and networks, while women were largely homebound and secluded. In general, women enjoyed more physical freedom in earlier imperial times than in late imperial China, when seclusion of women intensified thanks to the rise of the female chastity cult and the spread of the practice of foot-binding. But even in the late imperial period, women were able to form networks and communities, in person or by means of writing. Local traditions and stages in the life cycle influenced women’s lived experiences of socialization, and class also played an important part in social life for both men and women. For example, education and a government career provided main venues for elite male socialization but for the men in lower social classes, their networks were built around localized institutions such as temple associations, sworn brotherhood, secret societies, and native place association.
Cigarette smoking in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a highly gendered practice. The vast majority of China’s three hundred million plus smokers are men: in 2016, about 48 percent of men over age 15 were current smokers, but less than 2 percent of women smoked. The stark difference in this pattern of men and women’s smoking behavior is often attributed to lingering cultural taboos against female smoking assumed to have been in place for centuries. In fact, the virtual exclusivity of male smoking in China is of relatively recent vintage, dating only from the mid-1900s. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, smoking was socially acceptable for Chinese women. Granted, there were gendered and class differences in the location of tobacco consumption. Chinese men could smoke in public, but well-mannered women smoked privately out of view. After cigarettes were introduced into China at the end of the 19th century, some women, especially those living in coastal cities, took to smoking them rather than pipe tobacco. In the opening decades of the 20th century, the number of women who smoked cigarettes increased, but this trend was reversed in the 1930s and 1940s. After the establishment of the PRC in 1949, the number of women who smoked diminished even further such that by the 1980s, only a small percentage of women consumed tobacco products of any kind. Many social, economic, and cultural factors contributed to the gendered pattern of smoking that emerged in China over the course of the 20th century. An essential aspect of this history was the transformation in social norms that made cigarette smoking less rather than more respectable for women as time went on. At the beginning of the century, many women were already accustomed to smoking pipe tobacco. Some women, including those who identified as forward-looking “New Women,” preferred cigarettes. However, by mid-century cigarettes came to be widely associated with a stigmatized type of New Woman known as the “Modern Girl.” Portrayed in popular culture and political rhetoric alike as extravagant and sexually promiscuous, the Modern Girl’s pursuit of luxury came to symbolize bourgeois decadence and insufficient national loyalty. These associations came forward into the PRC period and as a result, most women born after 1949 elected not to smoke at all. Major differences in male and female smoking prevalence rates persist because female smoking remains objectionable to many Chinese citizens in the 21st century.