Discourses of “Herbivore Masculinity” in Japanese Love Advice Books

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In the last decade, discourses of non-conforming masculinities have become increasingly prominent in Japanese mass media. In particular, the so-called “herbivore men” have been made infamous by Japanese newspapers and were accused of being responsible for sinking birth rates and economic stagnation in Japan (Schad-Seifert 2016). In this article, I explore the discourse on the “herbivore men” in Japanese love advice books which are meant to guide and inform the (female) reader’s assessment of potential romantic partners. Utilising Siegfried Jäger’s methodological approach (2015), this discursive analysis focuses on the line of discourse that implicitly criticises the “herbivore men” and rejects their turn away from hegemonic images of masculinity. The analysis yields that the “herbivore man” is constructed as an ‘unnatural’ form of masculinity in these publications, which allegedly causes women to become sexually active and career-driven “carnivores.” Japanese women’s empowerment from hegemonic gender ideals is thereby misrepresented as a symptom of psychological distress due to changing masculinities. By perpetuating ideas of biological determinism linked to the backlash against the “gender-free” movement in the early 2000s, this line of discourse propagates problematic relations of gender and power in Japanese society.

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