Women and East Asian Art

Introduction to Women’s Roles in Society Through East Asian Art 

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Women’s Roles in Society Through East Asian Art 

By Kyra Samony, Ana Froom, and Sarah Morgan

Throughout time, women have been depicted in many forms in East Asian art. Although these artworks of women are from different countries, time periods, and mediums, they all share an overarching theme concerning women’s part in society. Moreover, the broad theme is divided into specific sub-themes regarding women’s expression and appearance regarding themselvesroles towards men, and interactions with other women in everyday life 

Women’s Role Towards Themselves in Society 

Women have many essential roles in society, but what is often overlooked is women’s societal views of themselves. In many East Asian paintings, women are depicted with men, children, and other women, while also doing a task or an acceptable feminine activity, such as entertaining men, preparing silk, or caring for children. The women themselves are rarely the focal point in art such as thisIn other words, women’s actions tend to be more focused in conveying the message of the work rather than just existing solely as themselves, with no message or ideal to promoteAs male artists were and are the majority, it is often challenging for women to create independent opinions about themselves through art without the assistance of context, such as background activities or other figures. The opinions of women created by men are viewed as the standard, acceptable opinion, and it is often difficult for women to change that. For example, some of the artworks chosen depict women as lone figures with minimal background. The absence of detailed backgrounds emphasizes women as a focal point in these paintings. Women are additionally depicted having delicate hairstyles and are dressed in extremely elaborate garments. Their outfits are extraordinarily colorful and have ornate floral patterns. The women’s fashion choices in these paintings are bold and invite the viewer to contemplate the social class, occupation, and personality of these women. The detailed textiles are crucial to women, because it provides a means to express themselves, and in turn, influences how society perceives them. The role of women in society can be conveyed through their fashion choices represented in some paintings. 

Women’s Role Towards Men in Society 

In 19th century Chinese and Edo Japanese society, women are also often expected to be submissive, subservient, and passive. Much of this notion was due to Confucian ideals and patriarchal societal norms. Some of the chosen paintings served to perpetuate these expectations, and often modeled examples of women’s behavior and role towards men. These roles included, but are not limited to, serving the man, being attentive to his needs, and yielding to his wants, while also maintaining an aesthetically appealing appearance. For example, some of the paintings reflect this notion that reinforces Confucian ideals and patriarchal societal norms. Women are depicted with children they bore for their husbands, which prolongs their legacy and man’s power in society. Women are also shown as being conscientious, and passive not only physically but also emotionally to their male counterparts. Women’s appearances are wellgroomed and kept, and their corporeal beauty accentuated. These paintings suggest that women’s role in society is to be objects when it comes down to interacting with men. 

Women’s Role Towards Other Women in Society 

In many historical records, there are even minimal references to women pertaining to their everyday lives, habits, and appearances. Hence, these paintings of women and their role in everyday life are momentous. Such depictions are also paramount because they represent women’s various capacities in society, and their interactions with other women such as for leisure, and as caretakers. For example, some of the paintings selected illustrate unalike life routines of women. These paintings allow the viewers to vicariously participate in the daily lives of these women ranging from leisure activity to personal responsibility. In other words, these paintings allow viewers to sense the dynamic social interactions women engage in and daily tasks that need to be completed in their everyday lives via these paintings. The depictions of these women are aesthetically pleasing and span from women wearing colorful garments to them being drawn with extremely fine lines to suggest their personalities, characters, and movements. Overall, these paintings, depicted in detail, portray women interacting with other women, and their roles in everyday life.  

The chosen artworks above provide a wide-ranging representation of the roles women played across multiple places and periods in East Asian art history. Paintings of women’s roles in society, finally, allow women to be illustrated in a protagonist fashion, while also serves as a reminder towards women to behave properly. 


Uploaded by Kyra Samony

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