Congratulation to Michigan Anthropology graduate student Erica Alpert, who was one of the recipients of the Lavender Languages Conference 20th Anniversary Student Paper Prize for her paper, "Carnivores and herbivores: Playing with masculine possibilities in Japan."


Abstract: Marketers, social scientists, and matchmakers in Japan have identified a new group they call sôshoku-kei danshi, or “herbivore men”—shy, unambitious young men more interested in domesticity and fashion than traditionally masculine pursuits, including sex. In this talk, I present data from my fieldwork with contemporary Japanese matchmakers to discuss how they try to reshape their passive male clients’ problematic masculinities and attitudes towards marriage. I argue that in present-day Japan, romantic and sexual assertiveness have become decoupled from gender. As related terms have proliferated—“carnivore woman,” for example—it is now possible for anyone to declare themselves active or passive in their pursuit of sex and love. As matchmakers see it, the problem with the sôshoku-kei danshi is not their feminine pastimes: rather, it is their queer sexual passivity. Matchmakers encourage all their clients, male and female alike, to aggressively pursue marriage—to meet as many people as possible, be open and engaging conversational partners, and be proactive about proclaiming their desires and intentions to marry to their partners. In the world of matchmaking, everyone should be a carnivore. In this paper, I explore how matchmakers counsel their passive male clients; their goal is not to make them more masculine, but instead, to give them the conversational skills to pursue heterosexual relationships. I conclude that matchmakers’ counseling allows for a surprising amount of gender play and variance within the fairly traditional institutions of marriage and matchmaking.