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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An examination of women's existence as seen through the institution of divorce Li, Agnes Akane


In the past, the male-oriented perspective in academic circles has marginalized women's existence and deemed their experiences unimportant. It was only in the 1980s that the field of women's history received acceptance from academic circles as a legitimate field of research. This thesis builds on the work that has already been done and attempts to locate women in the divorce process of the Tokugawa period. To facilitate this objective, the study focuses on the cultural phenomenon of a high divorce rate in the Tokugawa period and its implications for common women and society. This thesis argues that the high divorce rate was indicative of women's high status and liberated existence. The investigation into the divorce rate and women's existence begins with an examination of the discrepancy between the ideal social order where the men dominated the women and the reality of the situation. To facilitate this, the first half of Chapter One identifies the sources of patriarchy while the second half identifies avenues through which women participated in various aspects of society. In preparation for the discussion of divorce, Chapter Two briefly examines marriage in the Tokugawa period. It examines the wife's position within the family and identifies the various rights afforded to the wife. The inquiry into the discrepancy between the ideal and the actual resumes in Chapter Three with an examination of divorce in the Tokugawa period. Through this examination, it becomes evident that women were able to assert themselves as much as men in times of a divorce. This chapter then investigates the cultural and institutional frameworks which allowed women to assert control in times of divorce. This chapter is important in demonstrating that the high divorce rate was indicative of women's high status and liberated existence. The final chapter inquires into Tokeiji, a temple which offered an alternative to a secular divorce. The chapter discusses the implications of Tokeiji on divorce, women, and Tokugawa society through an examination of social and economic factors of the Tokugawa period.

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