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Leading feminist scholar Chizuko Ueno gives DKU lecture

Duke Kunshan University hosted a lecture by Japanese sociologist Dr. Chizuko Ueno, a leading feminist scholar with a huge following in China where she has sold over 1 million books.

About 450 students, faculty and staff watched the professor emeritus from Tokyo University outline the features and impact of male-dominated societies in her online talk “Unveiling the Patriarchy: Exploring Homosociality, Homophobia and Misogyny”.

Held on Nov. 10 by the Gender Studies Initiative of the DKU Humanities Research Center, the lecture explored the power structures of patriarchal systems, covering interlinked topics such as gender-based violence, homosocial environments and societal expectations of women.

Drawing on her personal experiences, Ueno encouraged students to equip themselves with knowledge about feminist theory so they could call out misogynistic behavior in whatever form it came.

In response to a question from the audience about her upbringing and path to feminism, she recalled how her father had loved her in the way someone might love a pet, treating her differently to her brothers when it came to what they could achieve in life.

“In my family I sensed there was something wrong,” said Ueno, who is chief director of the certified non-profit organization Women’s Action Network.

“Feminism provided me with the vocabulary and the conceptual apparatus to understand what was wrong. It empowered me a great deal.

“When everyone is little they do not know how to express themselves. Then you acquire the words and expressions and the theories and the concepts which teach you how to express your experiences.

“This is what feminism has achieved. We try to create a new concept, a new word to fit the experience appropriately. So you better study!”

The audience gathered in the Innovation Building Lecture Hall on the DKU campus and online to watch the Zoom lecture.

During the question-and-answer session, a female student asked Ueno about men’s reactions to her books after sharing how a male friend felt “an awful person for being a man” after reading one of them.

Ueno said she expected her books to provoke reflections and even hostility from male readers, but added the forces at play were structural rather than individual.

“It’s not his fault, it’s more the social, cultural, structural mechanisms of patriarchy,” she told the student.

“Both men and women are, to a certain extent, collaborators in reproducing it.

“What they can do is make an effort not to reproduce the patriarchal structure. You and you male friend can try the same.”

Highly regarded in academic circles over many decades for her work as a social scientist, Ueno has soared in popularity among the wider public in recent years as an award-winning writer and women’s rights activist, becoming an international figurehead in the fight for gender equality.

Her books targeting general audiences — such as “Misogyny” and “From the Limit: Correspondence on Feminism” — regularly feature in best-seller lists in China and overseas.

An influential theorist on women’s studies and gender theory, she also conducts research on nursing and care for the elderly.

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