A French feminist may not be the first person one would expect to attain a doctorate in the traditionally male-dominated society of Japan by studying its men.
But when Temple professor Fabienne Darling-Wolf, 31, and her husband, architect John Darling-Wolf, moved to the country on a whim after she finished her master’s degree at the University of Iowa, Darling-Wolf became interested by Japan’s constrictive society, and how its media reflected a desire for change.
“All the men on Japanese TV right now are female fantasies – they cook and clean, yet are strong and masculine,” Darling-Wolf said as she motioned to a poster behind her desk of the dark eyed Takuya Kimura, a Japanese sitcom star, “I’m doing a study on him right now.”
Darling-Wolf, who teaches Publishing to the Web (JPRA 357) and Gender, Beauty, and the Media (JPRA 319) explained that Japan is unlike America in its tactics for bringing about social change. While on a fellowship with the University of Iowa, she lived in a village on the smallest island of Japan, Chikoku, and interviewed a grandmother, mother and granddaughter from two families about how they interpreted the masculine images displayed in the media.
“In America, women have fought for equality by protesting on the streets and getting it for themselves, but in Japan the media is representative of its country’s power structure – women get what they want by first changing the men, and in turn they change their society,” she said.
Darling-Wolf won an award for her dissertation and returned to Iowa with an affection for Japanese culture and a name for her now 16-month-old daughter, Hana (Japanese for “flower”).
Darling-Wolf applies the same angle she used in her study of Japanese culture to her studies on beauty and gender. She explained that while many studies examine what is in the media, too few have addressed interpretation of the media. Darling-Wolf disregards notions that there is a “big conspiracy of imposing values,” but does think media messages affect the way people perceive themselves. She is interested in the positive aspects of this phenomenon.
“I think bonding can occur between women through shared notions of beauty such as hairstyles and fashion,” said Darling-Wolf, who has a haircut above her ears and face clean of make-up. “Calorie counting can be a common language, and borrowing clothes between mothers and daughters is often a way to learn about each other.”
While gender studies are what Darling-Wolf calls her passion, she said they can become quite “heavy.” She described designing for the Web as a release for artistic expression. Darling-Wolf has worked as a free-lance graphic/Web designer since she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in 1992.
The French native moved to the states when she was 18, however, college is not what brought her to America.
Before attending Texas, she was an ophair (someone who works, in her case baby-sits, for room and board). A scholarship then opened the doors for an education and she could stop baby-sitting.
During her stay at the university, Darling-Wolf survived a tragedy that she said deepened her feminist beliefs.
Darling-Wolf was raped by a stranger in her own apartment. She feels free to talk about her rape, and by doing so has led other rape survivors, often students, to do the same.
For several years Darling-Wolf worked in different positions at the Austin Rape Crisis Center. While her work in Philadelphia is not directly related to the tragedy of rape, she said her gender studies reflect her attitude of survival.
So what else drives this feminist scholar, artist, mother, wife, and professor?
In a cool French accent she says that her “Memere,” a North Provance word for grandmother, sparked her interest in women’s studies. The professor spoke about this woman who was widowed twice by the age of 36, raised four children on her own, and lived through both World Wars.
“My grandmother’s hands were so numb from working as a welder that she could pull hot pans off the stove without gloves,” Darling-Wolf said. “She was such a strong woman, but never knew it.”
Her grandmother’s lack of self-esteem puzzled Darling-Wolf, and spurned her on to study the female identity. “Wolf” is her late grandmother’s maiden name, and when the professor married, both she and her husband took it in honor of her.
Darling-Wolf wrote a book about her grandmother whose unfulfilled lifelong dream was to be a teacher. When the professor was asked if her own teaching is a tribute to her “Memere,” she smiled and said, “I know she would have liked it.”