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The Power to Withhold Marriage

December 10, 2010

The Takarazuka Revue is a musical theatre group comprised entirely of women in Tokyo, Japan.  Since 1913, these women have performed on stage as both women AND men.  Upon entering the school around the age of 18 or so, they are assigned to either play as a woman or a man.  When they turn 25, the typical age for marriage, they are to leave the school and become what its founder Kobayashi believes to be the best suited kinds of wives.  This is especially so for the women playing the leading men’s roles.  He argues that because they are forced to be a man and deal with his struggles, that these women will make the best wives and they will understand what their husbands have to go through.  Takarasiennes themselves along with their fans have been some of the women to speak out about marriage…

“I believe [men] are afraid, not lest women should be unwilling to marry, for I do not think that any one in reality has that apprehension; but lest they should insist that marriage should be on equal conditions; lest all women of spirit and capacity should prefer doing almost anything else, not in their own eyes degrading, rather than marry, when marrying is giving themselves a master, and a master too of all their earthly possessions.”

Mill in “The Subjection of Women” raises the idea of women being unwilling to marry while insisting it be on equal grounds.  Both the marriage and birth rate in Japan has been declining drastically for years.  In a society where in 1950 almost 99% of women married, it is strange to see up to 10% of single women vowing to never marry.  The Japanese marriage has been the butt of much criticism for decades, with such critiques as men having too much power over the wife, or putting the company too far ahead of the family.  Many women have spoken out about their husbands – how they are perhaps too harsh, or they are never home – but single women have increasingly spoken out about marriage itself as being something they do not wish to participate in.  While this is certainly due to many various causes, these women sometimes express that they do not wish to marry until things are more equal for them in some way.

These declining rates have created pressure on the Japanese government to become active in making women feel like marriage and childbearing are desirable qualities of life.  It is possible that the vast majority of women are not conscious of how their decision to not get married or bear children weighs on the shoulders of the government to respond, but at least some of them are conscious of this decision that Mill cannot believe.  This decision ultimately belongs to the woman.  And it is this decision they exercise that is a stealthy power in furthering the equality of women in Japanese society.  After all, if a woman feels marriage is just choosing a master, why should she have to get married?




Some supplemental information from Takarazuka by Jennifer Robertson and…


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