This paper will analyze the representation of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1987; 1995; Connell & Messerschmidt 2005) in the Japanese original and American remake of Shall We Dance (Chelsom 2004; Suo 1996). Results of the analysis demonstrate that while the Japanese version foregrounds a dominant social role conformity discourse, the American version privileges a compulsive masculinity discourse. Thus, Japanese hegemonic masculinity is built upon social role conformity while American hegemonic masculinity depends upon distancing oneself from femininity. Accordingly, social role transgression is discouraged in Japan while gender transgression is stigmatized in the United States. Despite the different value attached to these discourses, this paper will also demonstrate that gender intersects with the construction of other social identities.
Keywords: hegemonic masculinity, male femininity, compulsive masculinity discourse, social role conformity discourse.
Recent research has documented a plurality of masculinities which emerge in specific interactional and situational contexts. (Connell 1987; 1995; 2000; 2002; Connell & Messerschmidt 2005; Martin 2001; 2003; 2006; Messerschmidt 2000; 2004; Pascoe 2007; Whitehead 2002). Despite this heterogeneity, masculinities do not align on a level playing field, but form into a hierarchy. Occupying the uppermost position is hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1987; 1995; Connell & Messerschmidt 2005).
The media is one place where idealized representations of hegemonic masculinity circulate in a particular society (Connell & Messerschmidt 2005). While most men cannot embody the exemplary physical strength of professional athletes and movie stars, they serve as archetypes of ideal masculinity that many men attempt to emulate. Accordingly, some men engage in the toxic social practices of excessive weight lifting and substance abuse as they attempt to embody it. The advent of globalization has brought new forms of hegemonic masculinity whose dominance does not rely on physical strength but on intellect, competitiveness, and the ability to exercise control over powerful social institutions. This emergent form of hegemonic masculinity is represented in Shall we Dance (Chelsom 2004; Suo 1996).
Shall we Dances tells the story of a middle-aged man who is disillusioned with his mundane life and decides to take up ballroom dancing. In the Japanese version the protagonist is Shohei Sugiyama, an overworked accountant, and in the American version that hero is John Clark, a corporate lawyer. John and Shohei represent hegemonic forms of masculinity in their respective cultures.
This paper will demonstrate how cultural values influence the construction of hegemonic masculinity represented in each film. The shared cultural value reflected in these films is that ballroom dancing is a practice not associated with hegemonic masculinity. An important point of departure, however, is that while the Japanese version foregrounds a social role conformity discourse, a compulsive masculinity discourse predominates in the American version. In order to resolve these tensions, ballroom dancing is repositioned as a social practice befitting the workaholic salaryman and heterosexual corporate executive. This repositioning reflects the pressure to conform to oneís social role in Japanese society and explicitly assert oneís masculinity in the United States.
Masculinities are "configurations of practices that are accomplished in social interaction and, therefore, can differ according to the gender relations in a particular social setting" (Connell & Messerschmidt 2005: 836). Importantly, the construction of masculinities rests upon specific culturally and historically located embodied structured social actions (Messerschmidt 2004) associated with men. Social action is structured in the sense that gender transgression does not go unnoticed (Butler 1999) and sometimes bodies inhibit individuals from embodying masculinity (Messerschmidt 2004). For example, physically weak boys who are the victims of school violence (Messerschmidt 2000; 2004). In North American society, embodied social actions associated with masculinity include heterosexual prowess and displays of physical and verbal superiority. These social actions converge to construct divergent masculinities which individuals actively embody. (Connell 1987; 1995; 1998; 2000; 2002; Connell & Messerschmidt 2005; Halberstam 1998; Martin 2001; 2003; 2006; Messerschmidt 2000; 2004; Pascoe 2007; Whitehead 2002).
As stated, hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1987; 1995; Connell & Messerschmidt 2005) refers to the temporally and spatially located glorified form of masculinity. Accordingly, hegemonic masculinity is "the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and subordination of women" (Connell 1995: 77). Connell (1995) is careful to emphasize that the relationship between hegemonic masculinity, subordinated masculinity, and femininities is a "historically mobile relation." Therefore, the idealized physical strength of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger which was hegemonic in the 1980s is replaced by the more suave and sophisticated Brad Pitt and George Clooney who embody hegemonic masculinity reformulated for the 1990s and 2000s. In the global gender order, the emerging form of hegemonic masculinity is transnational business masculinity (Connell 1998; 2000). This form of hegemonic masculinity maintains its privileged position not through brute force but through the control over major social institutions.
The protagonists in both films embody aspects of transnational business masculinity. At first glance this form of masculinity appears to be radically different from the previously hegemonic hard or macho masculinity of the industrial revolution. Intense physical labor has been replaced with long hours spent in front of the computer screen and attending meetings. Despite this apparent sophistication, this form of masculinity is also dependent upon dominance over other masculinities and femininities. Corporations are very much masculinized institutions where a survival of the fittest mentality prevails (Martin 2006; Whitehead 2002). The power of these individuals rests on their ability to outmaneuver their opponents and ultimately maintain powerful positions in major social institutions.
The Salaryman and Hegemonic Masculinity
The ascendant form of hegemonic masculinity associated with Japanís post-World War II economic miracle (Vogel 1979) is the salaryman (Dasgupta 2000; Roberson & Suzuki 2003). A salaryman is a white-collar male employee who works for a large corporation or government bureaucracy. In reality, the salaryman represents only one-third of the population, yet it remains a powerful cultural image of Japanese masculinity (Dasgupta 2000; Roberson & Suzuki 2003; Sugimoto 2004).
The life of a salaryman is all encompassing in the sense that he tolls long hours at the company and socializes with colleagues and clients after work. His workplace becomes such a central part of his life that the term company person is applied to him (Allison 1994; Sugimoto 2004). His repayment is the coveted three-treasures of lifetime employment, seniority-based promotion, and company unionism (Borovoy 2005; Roberson & Suzuki 2003). An implicit agreement exists where the employee pledges loyalty to the company and the company takes care of him in return. The metaphor of company as family is often applied to reflect this relationship. The difficult road to become a salaryman, which is heavily dependent upon economic resources, explains why it is unattainable for the majority of the population.
Boys aspiring to become salarymen face an arduous path defined by fierce competition. Japanese society places great emphasis on academic achievement measured by standardized examinations (Allison 1991; 1994; 2000; Rohlen 1983; Sugimoto 2004; White 2002). Accordingly, a young boy must pass a series of difficult examinations during different stages of his educational career in order to advance to the next tier of the hierarchically-organized educational system. Indeed, the accumulation of academic credentials is essential for aspiring salarymen.
The importance of academic credentials becomes particularly salient when university students begin job hunting. The best companies recruit from top universities and are not concerned about prospective employeesí academic majors or particular skills (Sugimoto 2004). Schools are very much disciplinary institutions (Foucault 1977) that instill in students the values of conformity and perseverance. Those with favorable academic credentials demonstrate to prospective employers their ability to overcome adversity and cope with pressure. The ability to persevere under adverse conditions and conform to a hierarchy are necessary values in order to successfully perform the salaryman role.
The formal process of socialization into the role of a corporate soldier commences during a companyís orientation period. Prior to any formal on-the-job training, companies hold a training period in specially designed training institutions (Dasgupta 2000). During this time, new employees undergo various rituals that serve the purpose of instilling in them the values of corporate loyalty and adherence to hierarchical relations which in turn constitute an ideal employee. In these institutions, their meal times, sleeping hours, and exercise regimes are strictly regulated (Dasgupta 2000). They participate in activities such as team marathons and seminars which are designed to instill in them the importance of harmony, cooperation, and diligence. The heavily regulated nature of this training period is a precursor to the type of self-disciple necessary to successfully perform the salaryman role.
Salarymen are not only held accountable to the above mentioned character traits such as perseverance and corporate loyalty but also to the presentation of an appropriate demeanor. This is done through strict attention to body-reflexive practices (Connell 1995). The practices of wearing dark suits, having a neat hairstyle, and reading certain magazines together contribute to the construction of an appropriate demeanor (Dasgupta 2000). They also frequently engage in after-hours socializing with colleagues and clients or play pinball before boarding the train home (Sugimoto 2004). Ballroom dancing is not a practice typically associated with salarymen.
The level of devotion that companies require means that a wife becomes indispensable to a salarymanís success. That is why a discourse of heterosexual patriarchal family ideology influences the construction of salaryman masculinity (Dasgupta 2000). Indeed, wives perform the necessary functions of single-handedly managing the household and childrenís education. Their duties range from balancing the household budget to caring for her husbandís aging parents. So all encompassing is their role that the term lifetime employment has been applied to the fulltime homemaker (Iwao 1993).
The pattern of salaryman husband and fulltime homemaker is the basis of a gender accumulation process which forms a patriarchal dividend (Connell 2002). Men acquire material wealth and social prestige from their salarymen role which in turn become cultural capital (Bourdieu 1977). The roles of wife and mother are very much valued in Japanese society (Borovoy 2005; Lebra 1976; Nakane 1970); nevertheless, women remain financially dependent on men and their social status is ultimately dependent upon their husbandís career success.
The Social Role Conformity Discourse
The above discussion illustrates the importance of social role conformity and group affiliation in Japanese society (Lebra 1976; McVeigh 1997; Nakane 1970; Sugimoto 2004). In the case of the salaryman, this entails acquiring academic credentials, a wife, a corporate position and specific demeanor. The embodiment of this role is supported by the institutionalized rituals that commence during company orientation. This process continues through other rituals that strengthen social bonds such as displaying appropriate greetings to colleagues, daily renditions of the company song with other members of the company, and frequent after-work socialization (Allison 1994; McVeigh 1997; Sugimoto 2004). The pressure to conform to a social role and ultimately group is reflected in the Japanese proverb the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.
Role conformity is monitored by the unforgiving and watchful eyes of the seken or community (Lebra 1984; McVeigh 1997; Sugimoto 2004). The seken is "the surrounding world of community consisting of neighbors, kin, colleagues, friends, and other significant persons whose opinions are considered important" (Lebra 1984: 338). The seken becomes a sort of regulatory device that keeps personal behavior in check (Sugimoto 2004). People perform in their socially legitimized roles for fear of ostracism by the seken. Thus, leaders involved in public scandals quickly apologize to the seken (Sugimoto 2004).
One way to emphasize the importance of appropriately performing in a social role is to conceptualize this as a social role conformity discourse. Following Baxter (2003), "discourses are forms of knowledge or powerful sets of assumptions, expectations and explanations, governing mainstream social and cultural practices" (p. 7). The regulatory force of the social role conformity discourse is demonstrated by the behavioral self-monitoring interactants do in order to conform to community norms. Shall we Dance illustrates the pervasiveness of this discourse in Japanese society.
The Salaryman in Shall we Dance
Shohei Sugiyama embodies many aspects of salaryman hegemonic masculinity. He has performed the culturally legitimated roles of family breadwinner and corporate soldier and consequently attained a prestigious managerial position. His wife, Masako, a full-time homemaker, embodies hegemonic femininity (Schippers 2007), a form of femininity that supports hegemonic masculinity by assuming a subordinate position in relation to it. Masako single-handedly manages the home and raises their daughter while Shohei concentrates exclusively on his career. Consequently, Masako and their daughter are emotionally close and Shohei is somewhat estranged from his family largely due to the amount of time spent at work. Despite accruing the cultural capital of family, successful career, and home, Shohei feels that his life is incomplete. The missing element in his life is eventually filled by ballroom dancing.
The decision to start ballroom dancing began as the pursuit of a woman. Sugiyama notices Mai, a dance teacher, standing in front of the studio window from the train on his commute home from work. One evening he decides to get off the train and inquire about lessons. This results in joining a weekly group lesson.
The significance of the decision to take up dance lessons is that it involves performing outside the salaryman role. While the pursuit of a woman may be considered an appropriate masculine action, ballroom dancing is not. Therefore, one of the reasons why he could take lessons at this studio is that it is far from his home and workplace, leaving little chance of his acquaintances or family members discovering his secret. In contrast to this secretive behavior, he does not keep his intentions toward Mai hidden for very long.
Mai learns of his affections when he invites her to dinner one night after class. She reacts with anger and Shohei vacillates over whether or not to quit dancing. He decides to continue and gradually develops a passion for it. Mai eventually realizes this and begins to respect him.
Ballroom dancing gives new meaning to Shoheiís otherwise predictable life. In one scene, he summarizes the course of his life to Mai:
I got married at twenty-eight, had my first child at thirty, and bought my dream home at forty. I worked so hard for those things and thought that I was happy. Yet something changed when I bought my home. Itís not that I was arguing with my wife or didnít love my daughter, but somehow something was different. I thought that I should just keep working to pay off my loan, but yet something wasnít quite right. When I saw you I thought that I would like to dance with you even just once.
For Shohei, dance eventually becomes much more than a means of pursuing a woman, but gives his otherwise banal life new meaning. Indeed, he expresses this as, "I feel embarrassed to say this, but I feel as though Iím really living. I feel refreshed!"
Social conformity is a powerful discourse which limits the subject positions available to Shohei as he constructs his masculinity. He has performed the socially legitimized hegemonic salaryman role, yet he feels somehow restricted and unsatisfied. Ballroom dancing becomes a way to resolve the dilemma posed by this discourse. Nevertheless, the ever-present seken causes Shohei to keep his new passion secret from his family and friends.
Actual men who perform in the hegemonic salaryman role often face a similar crisis upon retirement. The issue with constructing a masculine identity through work is that once a person retires, he or she is stripped of that symbolically important status. For many Japanese men, work gives their lives a sense of purpose (Mathews 1996; 2003). Allison (1994) summarizes the feelings of many Japanese men upon retirement:
Disengaged from the company where he may well have spent most, even all, of his working years and which has encouraged him to establish his existence separate from his wife and family members, the man, aged fifty-five to sixty-five, is very much alone (p. 197).
The feelings of incompleteness expressed by the middle-aged Shohei reflect the feelings of emptiness felt by many Japanese men. Shoheiís retirement is on the distant horizon so he begins to question the value of his life. This illustrates that while embodying hegemonic masculinity may be the aspiration of many men, this dominant position is only provisional and can be lonely.
Hegemonic masculinity and the American Corporate Executive
The American counterpart to the hegemonic salaryman is the corporate executive. As previously stated, transnational business masculinity is used to describe this form of masculinity. This new form of hegemonic masculinity represents a shift away from working class model where physical strength was the cornerstone of embodying hegemonic masculinity. In contrast, these individualsí power rests upon their ability to operate a new type of machinery: information technology. Those who embody aspects of transnational business masculinity control dominant social institutions such as corporate executives and politicians (Connell 2000). Transnational business masculinity illustrates Connell and Messerschmidtís (2005) point that those who occupy the upper echelons of society do not ascend to their privileged position through the use of force. Quite the contrary, they attain their powerful positions through culture, institutions, and persuasion (Connell & Messerschmidt 2005: 832). Thus, social actors embodying aspects of this form of masculinity acquire cultural capital through intellectual and technical competence.
While this emerging masculinity distances itself from displays of physical power, this is not to suggest the connection between masculinity and physical strength has been totally severed. For example, metaphors link business executives with sports (e.g., team player) and physical aggression (e.g., cutthroat, have balls) (Koller 2004). In Japan as well, salarymen are corporate soldiers or corporate warriors (White 2002) and professional athletes are used in advertisements to market so-called energy drinks which are targeted at salarymen (Roberson 2005). While corporate executives are not expected to attain the level of physical perfection of professional athletes or military commanders, body maintenance remains part of their daily rituals.
In interviews with male corporate executives, Connell and Wood (2005) found that body-reflexive practices were an important part of performing their roles as powerful leaders. In a working environment defined by long hours and high stress, executives spoke of how they "managed their bodies" through diet, exercise, and even meditation. Therefore, body-reflexive practices are still a central part of constructing a masculine identity. As previously stated, salarymen are also expected to manage their bodies in a specific way to reflect a certain demeanor. Thus, we still see traces of macho or hard masculinity in this emerging form of hegemonic masculinity, the suave corporate executive.
A crucial difference between the salaryman and American business executive is that while the former tends to remain loyal to one organization for the duration of his career, the latterís loyalties are fleeting and contingent upon career advancement. This trend is due in part to the advent of globalization, but is also closely tied to Japanese collectivism and American individualism. In an era plagued by economic recession (Ito et al.; Sugimoto 2003; White 2002), lifetime employment may eventually cease to exist in Japan as well and corporate loyalty may diminish.
While the company as family metaphor may not apply to American corporations there are important similarities between the salaryman and American corporate executive. For this reason, I previously stated that both Japanese and American company employees embody aspects of transnational business masculinity. While there are culturally-rooted differences which influence the construction of masculinities, there are also similarities between masculinities which transcend culture. (Connell 1995; 2000; Connell & Messerschmidt 2005). For example, education remains extremely important for those aspiring to top-level management positions. The Master of Business Administration degree is the route taken by many aspiring managers (Connell & Wood 2005; Whitehead 2002). In addition, the long-hours work culture normative in corporations makes it difficult for men to construct a masculine identity outside of work (Connell & Wood 2005; Martin 2001; 2006; Whitehead 2002). Masculinity, then, is constructed in the public realm of organizations where success rests upon the ability to survive long hours of demanding work.
The Corporate Executive in Shall we Dance
John Clarke is a middle-aged corporate lawyer. Unlike the transnational business executive, he has worked for the same company for twenty years. John, like Shohei, has acquired the cultural capital of a family, successful career, and suburban home. An important difference between the two films is that Johnís wife Beverley has a career. Beverley performs a superwoman role by balancing housework, volunteer duties, and her own career. For these reasons, she embodies a version of hegemonic femininity influenced by second wave feminism. Although she does have her own career and presumably financial independence, she faces a second shift (Hochschild & Machung 2003). For example, in one of the early scenes, John returns home where Beverley has already prepared his dinner and is getting ready to leave. In contrast to Shohei, the gap between John and his family seems to come from John and Beverleyís mutually busy lives and the childrenís independence rather than from his work schedule.
A woman as the object of the male gaze is an important similarity between these two films because it positions women as the object of menís sexuality. John notices a melancholy Paulina standing at the window of a dance studio. This becomes his reason for getting off the train and inquiring about dance lessons. Like Shohei, he joins a beginner class that consists of two other men.
John eventually asks Paulina to dinner after class one evening and much to his dismay she outrightly refuses. This causes him much inner turmoil over whether or not to quit dancing. Mirroring Shoheiís choice, he continues dancing and eventually develops a passion for it. In contrast to the social role conformity discourse restricting Shoheiís subjectivity, another discourse limits Johnís subject positions.
The Compulsive Masculinity Discourse
What I am labeling a compulsive masculinity discourse borrows from Kimmel (1987). Kimmel insightfully points out that masculinity must be continually expressed and proven. This insight illustrates the inherent tension between masculinity and femininity within American society. Therefore, masculinity is expressed by distancing oneself from femininity (Connell 1995; Kimmel 2006; Whitehead 2002). Put another way, one must engage in embodied masculine actions in order to remain accountably masculine.
The decision to take up ballroom dancing becomes dilemmatic for John because it is associated with femininity. Social actors may engage in social practices associated with the opposite sex, yet there is a risk involved. To "do" gender is "not always to live up to normative conceptions of femininity or masculinity; it is to engage in behavior at the risk of gender assessment (West & Zimmerman 2002: 13). John is conscious of the consequences of gender transgression and subsequently selects a dance studio far from his home and workplace. .
In contrast to a prevailing social conformity discourse flowing through Japanese society, a predominant compulsive masculinity discourse circulating within American society requires that ballroom dancing be repositioned as an appropriate embodied masculine action. This is accomplished by forming a link between ballroom dance and heterosexuality. Therefore, John can engage in the embodied social action of ballroom dancing and still remain accountably masculine. Indeed, American hegemonic masculinity is very much based on hegemonic heterosexuality (Connell 1987) or compulsory heterosexuality (Rich 1980).
Compulsive Masculinity in Shall we Dance
The group lesson John joins consists of two other men who embody marginalized and hegemonic forms of masculinity (Connell 1987; 1995). Vernís marginalization is due to his race, emotional sensitivity, and weight. Chic, by contrast, embodies a recognizable macho form of hegemonic masculinity. This is most clear in his embodied physical strength and overstated heterosexuality. Initially, there are a couple of women who consider joining the class. However, they swiftly exit the studio after taking one look at Chic, John, and Vern. The rejection by the women is ostensibly a threat to the menís, in particular Chicís, masculinity. The absence of women members requires that they alternate between dancing with the female teacher or another classmate. Chic asserts from the onset that dancing with a partner of the same sex is unappealing to him. He expresses this as "Iím here for the babes. Guys dancing with guys just isnít my thing." In addition, when paired with John he says, "If you touch my ass, I will kill you." The fact that Chic, who embodies an easily identifiable form of macho hegemonic masculinity, needs to proclaim his heterosexuality and thus masculinity provides clear evidence of the tension between dancing and remaining accountably masculine.
In another scene the three of them along with Bobbie, a regular at the dance studio, are having dinner together. Bobbie asks each of them why they decided to start ballroom dancing and the following interaction occurs:
Chic: Iím taking classes to impress the ladies. You know what they say about guys who can dance, right?
Bobbie: That theyíre great in bed.
Chic: Everybody knows that a guy who can move on the dance floor can move in the sack. Most guys canít dance at all. Guys who can get their pick of the litter. Thatís why when Iím done with this class the babes will drop at my feet.
Chic draws on the permissive sexuality and male sexual drive discourses (Hollway 1998) as he reflexively constructs his masculinity. Chicís position as a man who can dance affords him with an advantage in his pursuit of women. The metaphor pick of the litter constructs male sexuality as predatory. In addition, he draws on a familiar gender differences (Sunderland 2004) discourse in his positioning of men as unable to dance. By drawing on these gendered discourses (Sunderland 2004), Chic removes any association with homosexuality from ballroom dancing. No longer is dancing an emasculating embodied social action but a resource to use in the construction of an identity around hegemonic masculinity.
These scenes are particularly noteworthy because they are absent from the Japanese version and they provide insight into cultural ideas related to femininity and masculinity. I am not suggesting that homosexuality is openly discussed or tolerated in Japan (Kazama & Kawaguchi 2003), but emphasizing the stigma toward male femininity in American society. Indeed, while a homosexual man can be masculine, an effeminate man or fag is always feminine irrespective of his sexual orientation (Pascoe 2007; Schippers 2007). The stigma toward male femininity is most apparent in another character, Link, a colleague of Johnís.
Male Femininity in Shall we Dance
The strongest indicator of the tension between dance and hegemonic masculinity is reflected in Link, who embodies subordinated masculinity (Connell 1987; 1995) or male femininity (Schippers 2007). Following Schippers (2007), I prefer the term male femininity because men who embody aspects of femininity are removed from the category of masculine and positioned as feminine. Male femininity more accurately captures the subordinated status of femininity within American society. In contrast to hegemonic masculinity, male femininity occupies the bottom rung in the gender hierarchy among men. Link embodies male femininity due to his soft voice, thinness, meticulous attention to physical grooming, and secret love of dance.
The effeminate Link desperately attempts to construct an identity outside of male femininity. Nevertheless, his feminine demeanor makes him the target of verbal abuse from his colleagues. For this reason, he keeps his passion for dancing a secret. Furthermore, he feigns an interest in football as a defense mechanism to ward off further subordination from his colleagues due to its association with masculinity (Messner 1992).
The tension between dancing and hegemonic masculinity is also apparent when John learns that Link dances. Due to Linkís supposed interest in football, he is taken aback when he meets Link at the dance studio. Johnís surprise symbolizes the inherent tension that exists between masculinity and femininity. Indeed, someone who enjoys the masculine practice of American football cannot possibly enjoy the feminine practice of dancing. For Link, football is a means to remain accountably masculine and distance himself from the subordinated fag discourse (Pascoe 2007).
The fag discourse is Schippersí (2007) male femininity. As discussed, homosexuals can embody male femininity or the fag identity; however, it cannot be conflated with homosexuality. Pascoe (2007) points out that the process of becoming a fag "has as much to do with failing at the masculine tasks of competence, heterosexual prowess, and strength or in any way revealing weakness or femininity as it does with sexual identity" (Pascoe 2007: 54). Therefore, those who embody the fag discourse are feminine by definition and thus inferior. The embodiment of this form of masculinity is particularly troubling for heterosexual men because they become the targets of attacks by men embodying hegemonic masculinity. At the same time, they are denied the strength gained from a community of supporters that effeminate homosexual men often have.
Link is a prime example of the troubling positions the fag discourse offers due to the predominance of the compulsive heterosexuality discourse. His feminine demeanor positions him as a fag, yet he attempts to embody a non-subordinated masculinity. Indeed, he discloses to John that it would be easier to be a homosexual who loves to dance. Link, by contrast, faces verbal abuse, heterosexual rejection, and ultimately emasculation. In the Japanese version, Tomio Aoki, Linkís counterpart, is marginalized yet not positioned within the fag discourse.
Tomioís failure to embody hegemonic salaryman masculinity is the root of his marginalization. His body-reflexive practices are not in line with those of a typical salaryman. Tomioís attire, peculiar manner of walking, and frequent mistakes at work make him diverge from typical hegemonic salaryman behavior. The main difference between Link and Tomio is that while Tomio fails to embody a legitimized social role, Link fails to embody hegemonic masculinity.
The different source of the subordination facing Tomio and Link is reflected at the end of the movie. Link and Aoki participate in a dance competition and are featured in a newspaper article. Up until this point, their colleagues were unaware of their involvement in dancing. A group of Tomioís colleagues gather around the article and make fun of his costume and facial expression. His interest in dancing becomes a further example of his nonconformity to the salaryman role and subjects him to the unforgiving gaze and further ostracism from his seken. However, Tomioís sexuality is never called into question.
When Linkís colleagues see his picture in the newspaper, it becomes an opportunity to further marginalize him as well. Similar comments are made about Linkís costume and facial expression. However in addition to these taunts, his sexuality is immediately called into question. One colleague reads aloud from the article and someone comments that he might "bat for the other team." Linkís desperate attempts to embody a legitimized form of masculinity were in fact futile as he is now positioned within the fag discourse.
Hegemonic Masculinity and Ballroom Dancing.
Common to both films is Shohei and Johnís defense of ballroom dancing. This occurs in the aforementioned scene where Tomio and Link are mocked by their colleagues. Shohei confronts them by proclaiming, "There is nothing wrong with ballroom dancing." This reflexive action by someone with hegemonic masculine status legitimizes the non-normative practice of ballroom dancing. John makes a similar comment when the employees are laughing at Link. Shohei and Johnís endorsement of ballroom dancing indicates the tension between hegemonic masculinity and ballroom dancing. Their defense of ballroom dancing reflects the predominance of social role conformity and compulsive masculinity discourses in each society.
Accordingly, the premise from which ballroom dancing is defended is fundamentally different. Shohei endorses ballroom dancing as an appropriate practice for a salaryman. Johnís support, on the other hand, is based on the principle that ballroom dancing is a legitimized masculine social practice. In the Japanese version, the social role conformity discourse positions dancing as an inappropriate social action befitting the sober, workaholic salaryman. In the American version, the compulsive masculinity discourse positions dancing as a embodied feminine action which by definition conflicts with hegemonic masculinity. The fact that characters who embody hegemonic masculinity have to explicitly legitimize ballroom dancing reflects a tension between dancing and masculinity. It is noteworthy to mention, however, that while they do not explicitly reference social role or gender transgression in their defense of ballroom dancing, these discourses form the basis of their respective arguments. The affirmation of dancing by John and Shohei parallels the findings of Wetherell and Edley (1999).
Wetherell and Edleyís (1999) study focused on how men position themselves in relation to masculinity discourses. For example, participants were shown a series of pictures of men and asked if they could identify with any of them. Interestingly, the participants constructed masculine identities such as Mr. Average and gender non-conformist in an attempt to distance themselves from what researchers consider hegemonic forms of masculinity. One gender rebel, for example, asserted that if he felt like having "a damn good cry", he would very well do so. Paradoxically, these non-conformist identities are contingent upon autonomy and independence which are defining features of hegemonic masculinity. Put another way, what initially appears as gender transformation is in fact an identity that is built on the same principles of macho masculinity. As Wetherell and Edley (1999) maintain, "As a consequence, what is being celebrated in this discourse is not so much knitting, cooking and crying per se, but the courage, strength and determination of these men as men to engage in these potentially demeaning activities" (p. 50). In a similar vein, John and Shoheiís decision to dance in and of itself is not being commended. What is being celebrated is Shoheiís courage to engage in an embodied social action unbefitting a salaryman. Or in Johnís case, his bravery originates from engaging in a embodied feminine action while remaining accountably masculine.
The American version reasserts the relationship between ballroom dancing and masculinity one final time at the end of the film. John, donning a full tuxedo, unexpectedly visits his wife at work. Resembling a fairy-tale, he presents his wife with a red rose and proceeds to teach her how to dance in front of the other employees. This scene is also absent from the Japanese version and once again positions dance as a form of heterosexual courting behavior. Therefore, ballroom dancing is repositioned from an embodied feminine action to a masculine one.
Discussion and Conclusion
The implication of this analysis is that dominant discourses around hegemonic masculinity do not provide social actors with much discursive space to construct alternate masculinities. The salaryman discourse positions men as devoted corporate soldiers who are expected to display a certain demeanor reflecting this role. The compulsive masculinity discourse positions men as heterosexual and necessitates public displays of masculinity. These discourses, in turn, function to support hegemonic masculinity which oppresses other masculinities and femininities.
In Japan, embodying salaryman masculinity requires strict adherence to a narrowly defined role. The ever-vigilant normative community is not forgiving to those who fail to embody this role. Men who are able to embody this form of masculinity benefit from a gender accumulation process whereby they retain powerful positions in society and women occupy the domestic sphere (Connell 2002). Nevertheless, the long-hours culture does not encourage them to become involved husbands, fathers, or public citizens, so they can face loneliness and isolation in retirement.
In the United States, an appropriated masculine gender project (Connell 1995) involves constantly showcasing oneís masculinity and heterosexuality. In order to embody hegemonic masculinity, men must constantly disavow femininity. One way to accomplish this is to dominate individuals who embody femininity. Thus, effeminate men and women can become the targets of physical, verbal, and sexual acts of violence (Connell 1995). Other more subtle, and thus hegemonic, forms of domination include unequal wage structures and subtle sexist remarks.
This paper has also demonstrated the salience of gender in these films. Even though a dominant social role conformity discourse circulates in Japan, gender intersects with other identities in the process of identity construction (Baxter 2003; Connell 2002; Messerschmidt 2000; 2004; Pascoe 2007; Schippers 2007; Sunderland 2004). To elaborate on this further, Tomio was stigmatized for embodying an identity outside the hegemonic salaryman. However, his marginalization was not only due to his appearance and peculiar behavior, but also because he failed to achieve the cultural capital associated with hegemonic salaryman masculinity, namely, securing a managerial position and providing for a family. The salaryman is a gendered identity because it is built upon a heterosexual patriarchal family ideology. Accordingly, a wife and family are crucial resources for the embodiment of hegemonic salaryman masculinity. Tomioís failure to attain these resources prevented him from embodying hegemonic masculinity. Therefore, gender and social role transgression go hand in hand.
The analysis of Shall we Dance has shown that performing gender as well as other social identities involves adhering to certain normative expectations. Those who fail to conform to those norms can face marginalization. While the salience of gender varies by social context, it is intricately linked to other social identities. Accordingly, it is difficult to decipher genderís influence on other identities. Therefore, in both Japan and the United States, those who choose to accomplish gender differently become the nail that sticks up and consequently need to be hammered down in order to prevent the disruption of the hegemonic gender order.
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About the Author
Justin Charlebois is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Language and Communication at Aichi Shukutoku University, Japan. He teaches a variety of courses in the areas of gender and sociology. He received an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from Columbia University and is currently working on his PhD from Lancaster University, UK. His research interests are in the areas of gender and discursive psychology.
School of Communication
Department of Language and Communication
Aichi Shukutoku University
9 Katahira, Nagakute
Journal of Intercultural Communication, ISSN 1404-1634, issue 19, Januari 2009.