Thursday 11 October 2018

Women in Japan's navy

Japan’s female sailors serve on front line of gender equality

Reuters is currently circulating a very well-illustrated article about women in the Japanese navy.

The best picture spread I've seen is in the Guardian:

The best text is in the Japan Times yesterday.

I'm recycling most of it below, and have added in bold some of my comments comparing the UK situation.

The wonderful photos are by Kim Kyung-hoon and the reporting by Tim Kelly, aboard the MSDF ship Kaga

Women serving on Japan’s biggest warship, the Kaga, are a tight-knit group on the front line of a push to transform the Japanese navy into a mixed-gender fighting force, where men outnumber them more than 10 to one. (This is about the same as UK, 10 to 1, and women are mainly in support roles)

The Maritime Self Defense Force needs more women because falling birthrates mean it has too few men to crew warships in home waters or on helicopter carriers such as the Kaga, sailing in foreign waters to counter China’s growing regional influence. (The UK Navy too, is having trouble recruiting, which is a key reason why it has become more inclusive of women, BAME and LGBT people)

“Women all over the world are working in a wider number of areas and I think Japan needs to be a part of that,” said Petty Officer Akiko Ihara, 31, standing beside one of the helicopters she helps to maintain.

The proportion of women in the Kaga’s 450-strong crew is about 9 percent, a level Japan is targeting for the military overall by 2030 from 6 percent now. That would still fall short of the U.S., where 15 percent of people in uniform are women, and Britain with 10 percent. (The UK Navy has a a 15 per cent target by 2020)

“We all work in different teams around the ship but we are all friends,” Ihara added. “We do sometimes moan a little about our male colleagues.”

The nine-year veteran says she has encountered no workplace discrimination, and would challenge any man who thinks women are unsuited for military life to work with her.

More female recruits are making the SDF a more “rounded” organization, said Ayako Yoneda, 29, a firefighter and engineer on the Kaga.

“When I first joined nine years ago there were few women and it felt like men then didn’t know how to deal with us,” she said. “I think the men now see things more from our perspective. The SDF has become a gentler place.”

Nonetheless, the women do face sexual harassment. In July, the navy discharged a male petty officer for kissing and groping three female sailors over several months. (In the UK Navy too sexual harassment and discrimination are fiercely not tolerated, formally, now.)

Japan’s demographic woes are forcing it down a path taken years earlier by its U.S. ally, which lifted a ban on women on warships in 1993. (And the UK lifted the ban in 1990).

The MSDF, which let women crew ships a decade ago, could soon remove the last major barrier to female sailors by ending a ban on submarine duty, Defense Ministry sources have told Reuters.

Japan has one of the world’s largest navies, with 45,000 crew members on more than 100 vessels, including about 20 submarines, more than 40 destroyers and four helicopter carriers, such as the Kaga.

The Kaga was on its way to Sri Lanka after drills in the contested South China Sea as part of a two-month deployment in waters stretching from the Western Pacific to the Indian Ocean.

Commissioned in 2017, it is among a new generation of warships designed to accommodate mixed crews, with more toilets and bathrooms than older vessels.

Signs at the entrance to the women’s segregated sleeping quarters warn men to keep out. (Men bursting into women's quarters has been a perennial problem in maritime life, in merchant as well as passenger ships, and sometimes women's corridors have had armed guards). The women inside carry electronic pagers that can be contacted via numerical keypads beside the doors.

Those better facilities and privacy safeguards will draw more women to sign up, the MSDF hopes.

Japan’s navy struggles more to find recruits than the air force or army, as young people balk at the prospect of being cut off from social media networks on long deployments.

In 2016, for example, the Air Self-Defense Force received 6,900 applications, versus just 3,927 for the MSDF, even though both have about the same number of enlisted personnel.

Miku Ihara, 22, a woman cadet on the Kaga, says she reads books or studies when off-duty, but misses access to Line and Instagram. Sailors are limited to sending four text emails every day when at sea.

“You just have to get used to not having it and make the most of it when you do,” she added.

The presence of women on board has had one unexpected benefit on the men that report to him, says Command Master Chief Yasuharu Tohno, the most senior enlisted sailor on board.

“They shave regularly and iron their clothes,” said Tohno, who joined up to an all-male fleet 35 years ago. (It can't really have been unexpected, if the MSDF had researched properly. This happened in the UK Navy too, from the 1990s; warships became fragrant with deodorant and aftershave, because men wanted to attract women. There is a strict no-touching rule in UK naval ships. In Netherlands ships people forming a relationships have to tell a senior officer. Also men try harder in competence tests because they don't want to be beaten by women.)

Sunday 7 October 2018

“I am no Man to be tried by a Court Martial”: A Nelsonian Sailor Claims “Neutrality of Gender”

This is a guest blog post, specially written by Dr Seth S LeJacq. In it he reveals a fascinating story about definitions of gender, and sex, in the early nineteenth century Navy.

In 1803, the Royal Navy prosecuted William Morris for deserting from HMS Endymion. Officers from the Foudroyant had discovered the deserter when pressing men from the Hawke privateer. Morris had joined that vessel’s crew under the alias “William MacLosh” after fleeing the service.

Image: HMS Endymion (right). Thomas Buttersworth, Running Action Between the U.S. Frigate President and H.M.S. Endymion (1815). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In a short prosecution phase, the navy’s team established who Morris was and how the sailor had deserted. They made a simple and effective case. A conviction and harsh punishment seemed all but assured. The defendant faced the prospect of flogging, even hanging.

In response, the sailor offered a novel defence. Morris claimed not to be a man, to be “no man.” Naval law only governed men, the logic went. The court had no jurisdiction over those who weren’t male.

This was not, however, an assertion of femaleness; Morris was not claiming to be a woman either. Instead, the sailor defined a status that fit neither of the genders widely recognized by contemporaries.

Legally, it was a weak argument. Naval law in fact governed all in service regardless of gender status. The language in question referred to a “person” rather than a “man.”

But the claim of “neutrality of gender” was plausible to its audience. Early modern people saw, in their own ways, complexities and indeterminacies in their gender systems. They--sailors included (1) --sometimes spoke of “hermaphrodites,” for instance, as people outside of the gender binary.

Image 2: Salmacis et Hermaphroditus (n.d.), engraving by Colinet after Fran├žois Albane. Creative Commons, via the Wellcome Collection.

That may have been the category Morris was seeking to invoke. However, that’s not entirely clear from the records that survive.(2)

Morris did claim, though, that shipmates could prove this gender status on the basis of their knowledge of the sailor’s sexual activities:

“The people onboard the prize [the Bacchante, which the Endymion had captured] Teazed me on accompt [sic] of my having a Girl and slept with her two nights without doing any thing to her. For I am not a Man that could do it. I never had power to do it.”

The author Robert Liddel, deputy judge advocate at the trial, later gave further details in a brief published account of the case. His 1805 book A Detail of the Duties of a Deputy Judge Advocate, a short guide for judges advocate, recounts his version of events. (3)

Liddel reports that even before the trial, Morris had made the “no man” argument. Morris claimed that a ship’s surgeon had performed a bodily examination that very day and agreed that the sailor was not male.

In response, the Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth, Admiral Sir John Colpoys, delayed the trial. The Admiralty assembled a panel of three additional surgeons to investigate further.

They disagreed with their colleague, determining that the sailor “was perfect Man [sic], with the Peculiarity of very small Testicles.”

Image 3: Robert Liddel, A Detail of the Duties of a Deputy Judge Advocate (1805), p. 137. Public domain, via Google Books.

It’s not clear whether this conclusion convinced the court. In the end, the thirteen officers sitting in judgement ignored the defence entirely. A “guilty” followed. They offered no further comment.

William was sentenced to a heavy punishment: 100 lashes with a cat o’ nine tails, to be given in a “flogging ‘round the fleet.” This meant being bound up in a boat that was rowed around navy ships in harbor, receiving a portion of the punishment alongside each, in view of its crew.

Image 4 : A cat o’ nine tails. Creative Commons, via the Wellcome Collection

And yet, regardless of the dubious legal strength of the defence, the records show that everyone involved considered the “neutrality of gender” claim plausible, at least to the extent that it was worth investigating.

They believed that an ordinary lower-deck crew member could possibly be someone very different from what they expected; they were open to the possibility that Morris might only not be male, but also not be female.

The real questions for them were:
• whether that was the case with William; and
• whether Morris’s gender status even mattered to adjudication.

The trial indicates that those in charge concluded it simply didn’t matter.

As a result, the court did not resolve the first question. Events before and during the trial didn’t fix the sailor’s “true” identity in the eyes of the state, beyond establishing that the person in custody was the same one who had joined the force.

The claim of gender indeterminacy carried no legal weight. So the navy did not ultimately declare that Morris was, or was not, a man. The court martial instead ignored the sailor’s “avowed Neutrality” entirely.

Nonetheless, the legal process revealed a surprising diversity of ways in which navy men thought about gender difference.

In Morris’s story, the lower deck understands masculinity in terms of sexual function. If a sailor is unable to have sex with women the way they would expect, then he is not a man.
Note that everyone takes for granted that shipmates would know all about their comrades’ sexual activities.

The medical men, by contrast, base their conclusions on anatomical and perhaps physiological investigation.

I have not been able to find any record of the first medical exam Morris references. However Liddel’s account of the second investigation indicates that it relied only on sexual anatomy.

Strikingly, this case also suggests tolerance of difference. There is no evidence of anyone having strong negative reactions to Morris’s actions before deserting or allegedly anomalous body. Fellow sailors “teazed”. We don’t find exclusion or violence.

Naval historians such as N.A.M. Rodger have argued that sailors in this period reacted in phobic ways to non-normative sexual activities and gender statuses.(4)  Morris’s tale usefully gives evidence of very different attitudes.

Image 5: A flogging, after George Cruikshank’s The Point of Honour (1823). From Edgar Stanton Maclay, A Youthful Man-O’-Warsman (1910). Public domain, via the Internet Archive.

William Morris’s failed defence opens up a window onto a far more complex world of gender, sex, and sexuality than we usually recognize in this setting.

Indeed, it generated an enormous amount of unresolved complexity. The whole process raised multiple possible interpretations. It’s also made them visible to us, while doing nothing to actually resolve them.

Even Liddel, who oversaw the whole case, refuses to offer his readers a firm conclusion.

His little book introduces Morris not as an example of a man claiming to be a woman to avoid punishment. Instead, the case shows the legal irrelevance of such a “plea.”

Yet Liddel does appear to regard the defendant as some sort of unusual person. He ends his account of the case with an odd, discomfiting observation about the punishment:

“when it was all inflicted, [Morris] laughed at it.”

What are we to make of this detail? What was Morris’s own understanding of body and self? What did this sailor’s life and lived experience really look like?

Countless questions of these sorts can’t be answered or even explored given the surviving records. We may be able to uncover a few more archival traces. But we’ll never be able to know who William Morris, alias MacLosh, “really” was.

What this case does show us, though, is that the wooden world was far more diverse and complex than we’ve often recognized. And contemporaries were well aware of that fact.

If we want to fully understand that world, then maritime historians’ accounts of life at sea need to consider the sorts of people we meet in cases like this, and their ways of thinking.

Traditional sources, and traditional ways of analyzing them, have tended to overlook and exclude gender and sexual diversity, to ignore individuals like William Morris.

But by attending to unusual records like these trial papers and Liddel’s little-known book, we can continue to build a richer, fuller, and more inclusive history of life at sea.

Seth S. LeJacq Ph.D. is a Lecturing Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. He is currently a Molina Fellow in the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences at the Huntington Library. He can be contacted at

1 E.g. Read’s Weekly Journal, or, British-Gazetteer, 17 November 1739. Rictor Norton has made this article, available at For additional examples, see, for instance, James Ball trial, ADM 1/5266, 9 Oct. 1706, and a later surgical case history recorded in ADM 101/97/5B, f. 25.

2 His trial records are at ADM 1/5364, 23 December 1803.

Robert Liddel, A Detail of the Duties of a Deputy Judge Advocate; with Precedents of Forms of the Various Documents used in Summoning, Assembling and Holding a Naval Court Martial... (London: by H. Bryer, 1805).

N.A.M Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (London: Collins, 1986), 80, 81.

Thursday 4 October 2018

Toxic maritime masculinity: a conference

After working on the gendered seas for so long I'm very interested that at last there's to be a conference on how exploring maritime masculinity and how it can damage. The April 2019 online conference is organised by

The link is Here's a taster:

"Perceptions, depictions, expressions and performances of masculinity are an important part of maritime topics and have been discussed, for example, at the “Maritime Masculinities” conference held at Oxford Brookes University in 2016.

"For this conference, we are seeking to discuss the influence of the concept of ‘toxic masculinities’ on the history and interpretation of maritime history.

"We invite papers that explore the ways in which standard forms of masculinity have obscured the interpretation of maritime histories, or ways in which standards of masculinity had a negative impact on the lives, strategic effectiveness, leadership, and relationships of men or women with connections to maritime service. This conference is designed to be interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary, global and span all of history.

Subjects for the Conference may include but are not limited to:

~ Hagiography, the making of naval heroes
~ Emotions, masculinity, and warfare
~ Punishment and Discipline
~ Leadership
~ Male relationships in close confines
~ The pitfalls of maritime historiography
~ Maritime social rituals (Equator crossing, superstitions, etc.)
~ Sea shanties, films, theatre, and literature
~ Port towns and communities
~ Identity and nationhood