Christina D. Owens, PhD
White Masculinity in Contemporary Japan
Created in Nagoya, the now internationally known comic strip “Charisma Man” depicts an unattractive, marginally employed white man who arrives in Japan to find himself transformed. In the eyes of Japanese women he becomes a desirable heartthrob and in the eyes of Japanese employers he becomes a valued native English teacher. My first book project, titled Colorblind Imperialism: Liberal Innocence and White Masculinity in Contemporary Japan opens by asking: when white, U.S. men arrive in Japan, do they really become “Charisma Men” and, if so, how might we explain this “charisma”? The project addresses these questions by showing how the figure of the debauched and unambitious white male native English teacher highlights the contradictions of contemporary U.S. imperial power.
As migrants cross borders ideas about justice, innocence, and victimhood travel with them. Tracing the race, gender, class and sexuality dynamics of these travels, Colorblind Imperialism pays close attention to how U.S. migrants’ in Japan respond to white male hypersexualization in expat bars, increasing precarity in the English language industry, and mundane exclusions from Japanese public life. I show how discursive repertoires that have developed within the U.S. since the 1970s in response to civil rights, feminist, and neoliberal social transformations can be redeployed abroad in ways that fortify empire. In the U.S. context, structures of colorblind racism, assertions of white male victimhood, and celebrations of market neutrality have played central roles in recuperating hegemonic white masculinities. When my informants apply these discourses in the Japanese context, they take part in what I call “colorblind imperialism.” As a corollary to Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s “Racism Without Racists,” this is imperialism without imperial subjects. I show how (neo)liberal discourses recode empire as the smooth, unbiased workings of the global market, the universalization of multicultural ideals, or the realization of labor justice. When U.S. migrants frame their experiences in Japan via appeals to liberalism, they often leave unexamined their own connection to and reliance upon U.S. imperial dominance. Weaving together empirical evidence with cultural analysis, this project ultimately points to the flexibility of liberal empire, which can appear colorblind, anti-sexist, and progressive even within encounters that are rife with gender, race, class, and national inequalities.
I construct this argument through a bilingual archive of fieldwork evidence, cultural and government texts, and 65 semi-structured interviews with expatriates and their associates living in Nagoya, Japan’s third largest metropolitan region. My two main field sites – a U.S.-owned expatriate bar and an English teachers’ labor union – inform the structure of the book. While the first two chapters examine how informants participated in or reacted against constructions of sexualized white masculinities, the next two chapters explore how anxieties around precarious employment are also shaped by gender, race, and sexuality. The final chapter brings these concerns together by focusing on Japan’s most vocal white male activist who has deployed human rights and white male victimhood discourses within both Japanese hostess bars and the English language industry. In this way, the book shows how imperial innocence is constructed across multiple sites, with liberalism obscuring the maintenance of race, gender, and class inequalities.
Appointments & Education
Honors Program Faculty, Florida State University
Consortium for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow, Women's Studies, Vassar College
Visiting Assistant Professor, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program in the Global and Intercultural Studies Department,
Miami University, Ohio
PhD in Cultural Studies, with a Designated Emphasis in Feminist Theory and Research,
University of California, Davis
Dissertation Committee: Caren Kaplan, Grace Wang, & Miyako Inoue
Methodologies & Languages
Interdisciplinary Methods using fieldwork, interviews, and a bilingual archive of cultural and government texts
Japanese Language Proficiency Exam Level N1 (highest) -- passed in 2011
American Studies, Vol. 55 No. 4 / Vol. 56 No. 1 (2017).
(A shortened version of this journal article also won Finalist
mention in the American Studies Association's 2015 Comparative
Ethnic Studies Essay competition.)
co-authored with Abbie Boggs, American Quarterly Vol. 68 No. 2 (June 2016).
Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy.
Vol. 24. No. 1 & 2 (2014).
Chong Chon-Smith’s East Meets Black: Asian and Black Masculinities in the Post-Civil Rights Era.
University of Mississippi Press, 2015. Journal of Asian American Studies Vol. 19 No. 2 (June 2016).
Online / Public Humanities:
Fashion Research: Fashion, Culture, Theory (blog), 19 Aug 2015.
Works in Progress
"Queering the Confederacy: Gender, Sexuality, and the Confederate Flag Protests," journal article.
"Healthy Human Resources, Hybrid Neoliberal Governance, and TransPacific Health Care Reforms"
journal article, revising from a dissertation chapter that does not appear in the first book project.