Gender Roles In Asian Culture: Their Reflection In Literature

We see many aspects of life when we read. Some are more prominent than others. Since the beginning of human existence, people have had roles. Humans have had distinct roles since the neanderthals. These roles have defined societies from the earliest times. Reading writings from various cultures and time periods reveals implicit stereotypes about gender and prejudices against women that affect people across the world. The fight continues today. They can achieve their greatest freedom and happiness when they reject gender stereotypes.

Literature from this period often reflects gender stereotypes. In this time period, the gender roles were clearly defined. We can see it in some of the finest Asian writings. Man’yosho is a collection that dates back to 759 AD. “Maidens picking herbs in this hillside

You would be asking me: where is your home ?… I am the one who rules so far and wide.

As your Lord, I will tell you everything

I will tell you my name, and where I live.

The excerpt from Man’yosho has a strong undertone that reflects a male-dominated culture. The oppressive voice is still there, even after many translations. The poem shows the male dominant voice in the poem: “I myself will tell you, as you Lord, I will”. Although he may not say these things, they represent his subconscious motives and mindset. We can see this undertone not just in poetry. We can see in other writings by women and men how society conformed both quietly and loudly to gender roles. “When I imagine the life of a woman who lives at home, serving her husband faithfully, there is no excitement in their life. They believe they are happy.

When we examine anything that is dominant in any culture or time, there will always be a pushback. A counter-culture. This reaction has been seen in different times and places, from ancient Greece to today. We will now examine the period that encompasses these two periods. Sei’s personal diary “The Pillow Book”, 1002, reveals her opinions on her identity and role in society. The Pillow Book is comparable to Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, a 1988 entry. These two examples of writings that were written at different times in the same cultural context reveal changes in gender roles. The comparison of the two shows how western culture has influenced a society but also how it has evolved. Sei Shonagon’s society allows her to choose who she wants to love. She can choose her partner, her spouse. The Kitchen is a place where women can make their own choices. The excerpt is full of interesting information. This excerpt tells a great deal about someone’s courage and bravery to transition into a man in a very conservative society. They can be themselves and live their best lives when they have the courage to break away from social norms.

People have the freedom to be themselves and to live their lives as they wish. Gender roles change. Someone has stood up to themselves somewhere. This light from literature will help us guide our future steps to a more brighter and better world. These writings serve as steppingstones for equality, guiding us towards a more inclusive world.


Original: On the other hand

Paraphrased: Conversely

Miller, David Y. Comparative Perspective of Asian Literature. A Guide to Teaching. Routledge, 2016.

Sho?nagon Sei & Ivan Morris Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book is a collection of observations written by a lady-in-waiting of the Japanese imperial court in the 10th century. It contains her musings on a variety of topics, ranging from nature to court life. Columbia University Press published this work in 1991.

Megan Backus. Banana. Yoshimoto. Kitchen. Originally published by Grove Press in 2006.


  • zakhart

    Zak Hart is an educational blogger and professor who has been writing about education for over 10 years. He has written for various publications, including The Huffington Post and Edutopia, and has been a guest lecturer at various universities. Zak is the founder and director of the Edutopia Academy, an online education program that provides teachers with resources and lessons to help them improve their teaching skills.

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