Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Women's Soccer and Queer Sexuality in Japan

The growing popularity of female soccer teams in late 20th century Japan introduced a radically new image of Japanese femininity -- "confident, thickly muscled, short-haired, aggressive women." This could not have differed more from traditional and societally accepted standards of femininity and feminine beauty in Japan. Hutchins highlights this concept in his page "Sexuality and the Self," in which he uses makeup as a paradigm and explains that the use of makeup is one way in which "women [make themselves] more sexually desirable to men by constructing themselves in accordance with dominant beauty ideals." This societal expectation is precisely what the rise of female soccer in Japan was successful in breaking down; after the female Nadeshiko League's victory in the 2011 World Cup, these revolutionary female athletes became national heroes and adored celebrities despite the fact that they looked and acted drastically differently than the typical Japanese woman.

Though perceptions of gender norms were clearly expanding, the same could not be said for female sexuality. Female soccer players who exhibited "boyish behaviors and same-sex romances" were treated, accordingly, as "naive adolescents" engaging in "childish fantasies [and] immaturity." Same-sex relationships between women in Japan, even within the world of female soccer, were not just denigrated but were, rather, entirely ignored. The companies that sponsored female soccer teams and the coaches of these teams alike were consistent in their erasure of the concept that legitimate sexual and emotional relationships existed between women.

The world of female soccer gave women a space to exhibit their individuality in terms of their non-normative aggressive behavior and  boyish "soccer style" but expressions of individuality clearly did not extend into all aspects of their lives and they were still very much controlled by the norms of Japanese society and Japan's limited views about queer sexuality. This issue strongly relates to the conceptual discussion about sexual norms in the page "Sexuality and the State." 

Source: Elise Edwards, "The Promises and Possibilities of the Pitch: 1990s Ladies League Soccer Players as Fin-de-Siecle Modern Girls." Modern Girls on the Go.

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