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Performing, selling and buying love: women between commodification of intimacy and self-actualization in contemporary Japan

Project description

Rethinking femininity and intimacy in Japan

Despite Japan having experienced substantial changes in recent decades, gender inequality remains a deeply rooted issue within the traditional model that expects women to prioritise submission and family duties over their individual needs. However, contemporary society is increasingly striving for women's freedom, self-expression, and intimate connections. With the support of Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the Japan PSBL project explores an alternative approach to embodying femininity in the context of the market for commodified intimacy. This market involves female-born individuals providing emotional or sexual satisfaction to other women, thereby challenging the constraints imposed by heterogeneity. Specifically, this project seeks to uncover the role of commodified intimacy in defying societal expectations of femininity and fulfilling the desire for freedom and emotional well-being.


By investigating the development of services provided by women to cater the emotional and sexual needs of women in contemporary Japan, this project addresses the relationship and the tension between the possibility for self-expression, the role of intimacy, and its intersection with the neoliberal market from a feminist perspective. This project stands at the nexus between Japanese Studies and Gender Studies and it investigates to what extent the market for female/female commodified intimacy provides women with the chance to explore alternative ways to perform femininity outside a heteronormative frame. My contention is that occupations where female-born individuals provide emotional and/or sexual satisfaction to other women allow space for expressions of intimacy and gender performativity outside the binary male/female division for both clients and providers. When dating, meeting, or loving another woman within the frame of paid intimacy, both subjects escape the pressure generated by heteronormativity. Commodified forms of intimacy, I argue, allow women to challenge societal expectations about femininity, to obtain increased emotional satisfaction and freedom. By tackling these dimensions, I discuss the dissatisfaction of Japanese women with the dominant relational models (e.g. marriage) and provide a new understanding of the development of alternative relational models to the detriment of the traditional heteronormative family, framing these choices as a form of long-term resistance. The project fills a gap as the investigation of contexts where women are, at the same time, both clients and providers of commodified intimacy is still largely unexplored. In addition, instead of essentializing this phenomenon as a feature of Japan, this project – situated at the juncture of postindustrial consumerism and globalizing neoliberal reformation – and its findings can be applied to contemporary societies witnessing the ramifications of love on-demand.


Net EU contribution
€ 266 318,40
40126 Bologna

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Nord-Est Emilia-Romagna Bologna
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
No data

Partners (2)