Power of materiality over media choices and uses of Japanese women: Analyses of interview data from a five-nation study


This research examines how the materiality of media mediates gendered power relations in domestic settings and supports gender inequalities in the place called home. I found out with interview data in Japan, a country in which over 90% of the population use the Internet, that the material aspect of media such as paper, screen, or phone shapes choices and uses of media for women in gendered households due to their standing in the family as well as their prime responsibility for house chores. News“papers”, for example, are still believed to belong to “men’s items” and television sets are regarded as a medium for “background music for kitchen chores,” regardless of social backgrounds of users, and, as a result, they perpetuate subordination of women. Furthermore, not only with the “legacy media”, but also with newly emerging digital outlets, women across all generations feel less confident about using the latest technologies and look to male members of the family for advice and initiatives to use them in their everyday lives. In such a gendered media environment, the gender division is also seen in the usage of new digital outlets. LINE, for example, is regarded primarily for communication among women and children. This research therefore deconstructs media’s materiality according to the gender division, and contributes to the overall material turn of media studies from the perspective of feminist media studies.

Findings of this study are drawn from face-to-face interviews with 79 interviewees (40 women and 39 men) in the period between June 2017 and July 2018 in the Metropolitan Tokyo area. The interviews were conducted as a part of a five-nation research project. The overarching international comparative project carried out concurrently and obtained interview data from altogether 417 respondents in Argentina, Finland, Japan, Israel, and the U.S., five culturally and geographically distinct nations. Members of the research project were to ask respondents about the last time they consumed news and entertainment, and then continue with a variety of open-ended questions aimed at understanding the respondent’s general media consumption patterns in their everyday lives. Following this format of interview questions agreed among the teams from the five nations, the Japanese team managed to obtain a data set of individuals whose age ranged from 20 to 79, with diverse educational backgrounds and occupations including a garbage truck driver, artists, office workers, housewives, programmers, secondary school teachers, university professors, and retirees.

Finally, this study poses a future challenge regarding how to refine the methodologies of qualitative feminist media studies in identifying how the “gender” factor is embedded and works in everyday practices of media, particularly in advanced industrial countries. I try to depict particular contexts and social backgrounds in which women articulate their concerns and problems with media practices in order to better capture gender-specific problems about media consumption.