Last year's cancellation of lectures on human rights in Kokubunji, Tokyo, has pitted key feminist scholar Chizuko Ueno and free-speech advocates against conservatives in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government opposed to the use of "gender-free" -- a term whose definition varies but somehow conjures up negative images.

Experts say the cancellation reflects a backlash by conservative Japanese against the changing roles of men and women.

The Kokubunji Municipal Government planned last summer to hold 10 lectures on human rights -- a project sponsored by the metropolitan government -- and chose Ueno, a professor of women's studies at the University of Tokyo, to teach the course.