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Misogyny in Buddhism and Shinto Religious Practices

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With the introduction of Buddhism in 522 A.D., Shinto became much like the majority of religions that were prevailant in this era, a patriarchal institution with patriarchal ideologies. Along with religion, so came Chinese culture and ideologies where a woman could never and should never be in a position of power. Thus shamanesses were largely obstecrized and radically declined in status. The male dominant hierarchy of Chinese Confucianism and Buddhism made success in the religious spheres for shamaness increasingly impossible. Much less were female rulers allowed. Thus from this point on Shinto largely limited and excluded women in religious practice. There were obvious sexist tensions in Shinto tradition and this leaked into political and social constructs of Japanese society from the Heian period to the modern Meiji period.

Also I would like to state that Shinto in this era was mostly combined with Buddhist principles therefore, the majority of the Shinto religion became Buddhist. Women according to Shinto and Buddhist tradition were often associated with pollution. They were seen as objects full of sinful characteristics; anger, jealousy, instability etc. Because of these indesirable traits, “Women were often pushed out of public religious spaces because of their supposed impurity”. Because women were hindered by this male dominance, they often took up careers in music, dance or theater.

Historian, Emiko Namihira offers an explanation as to why women were often associated with pollution in his work, Pollution in the Folk Belief System. “Along with death, phenomena connected with human physiology such as pregnancy, childbirth, illness, bleeding, and sexual activity are all sometimes deemed to cause states of pollution, and persons and things connected with them may also do so”. Due to this “uncleanliness” women were prohibited from entering Shinto rituals and shrines. In some villages, women were even removed from society whenever they underwent menstruation or were pregnant. “Menstruating woman or one who had just given birth was made to live in an outbuilding used only for this purpose, separate from the house where daily life went on. These out buildings were called ‘monthly house’. In the following Tokugawa period, samurai and warrior classes tried dissuading villagers from continuing this custom but were unsuccessful. “In later years, samurai classes forbade the shutting up of women in these huts, and the authorities of the Meiji period also attempted to ban them by razing them. The people of the island strongly resisted this on the grounds that when the pollution of menstruation or childbirth spread into daily life it caused natural disasters, shipwrecks, and so on”.

Buddhist monks would also preach that enlightenment was only attainable by men, “…man is the personification of the Buddha”. “In certain sects of Buddhism it is diplomatically implied that the only way for a woman to reach salvation is if she were reincarnated as a man. Teachings even went as far as to associate women as “agents of the devil” to seduce men away from attaining Buddhahood”. Because Buddhism came with Chinese Confucionist ideals such as the Yoro legal code so came the categorization of wives. In this code, a wife can be the “primary wife”, “secondary wife” or “concubine.” The primary wife would enjoy an elevated status, reside in the main estate and inherit her husband’s wealth for herself and her children. Later in the Heian period, aristocratic women such as Murasaki Shikobu, The Tale of Genji and Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book use Buddhist values in their writing. A character in Murasaki’s book, Genji states “If they were not fundamentally evil they would not be born a woman at all.” Murasaki uses allegories to represent women and marriages as a means to form political alliances between clans.

In the Tokugawa era (1600-1868), the reign of the shogunate, Buddhism was at an all time high and so was the oppression of women’s rights. “The husband and wife relationship began to reflect that of the lord and subject feudal ideal. During the Tokugawa era the definition of women was clear, ‘marriage was the only acceptable condition for women. Thus the sole purpose should be learning to please her future husband’”. Households were based on patriarchy. 

“Integration of the two major religions of Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism, created a paradox for the female identity. Evaluating the feminine identities deduced by these beliefs illustrates the drastic changes that occured for women”. This mysgony in Buddhism and Japanese society remained the norm for over a thousand years and had a profound impact on gender roles.  

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Misogyny in Buddhism and Shinto Religious Practices. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
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