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The Other Women's Lib

The Other Women's Lib: Gender and Body in Japanese Women's Fiction

Julia C. Bullock
Copyright Date: 2010
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    The Other Women's Lib
    Book Description:

    The Other Women’s Lib provides the first systematic analysis of Japanese literary feminist discourse of the 1960s—a full decade before the "women’s lib" movement emerged in Japan. It highlights the work of three well-known female fiction writers of this generation (Kono Taeko, Takahashi Takako, and Kurahashi Yumiko) for their avant-garde literary challenges to dominant models of femininity. Focusing on four tropes persistently employed by these writers to protest oppressive gender stereotypes—the disciplinary masculine gaze, feminist misogyny, "odd bodies," and female homoeroticism—Julia Bullock brings to the fore their previously unrecognized theoretical contributions to second-wave radical feminist discourse. In all of these narrative strategies, the female body is viewed as both the object and instrument of engendering. Severing the discursive connection between bodily sex and gender is thus a primary objective of the narratives and a necessary first step toward a less restrictive vision of female subjectivity in modern Japan. The Other Women’s Lib further demonstrates that this "gender trouble" was historically embedded in the socioeconomic circumstances of the high-growth economy of the 1960s, when prosperity was underwritten by an increasingly conservative gendered division of labor that sought to confine women within feminine roles. Raised during the war to be "good wives and wise mothers" yet young enough to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them by Occupation-era reforms, the authors who fueled the 1960s boom in women’s literary publication staunchly resisted normative constructions of gender, crafting narratives that exposed or subverted hegemonic discourses of femininity that relegated women to the negative pole of a binary opposition to men. Their fictional heroines are unapologetically bad wives and even worse mothers; they are often wanton, excessive, or selfish and brazenly cynical with regard to traditional love, marriage, and motherhood. The Other Women’s Lib affords a cogent and incisive analysis of these texts as feminist philosophy in fictional form, arguing persuasively for the inclusion of such literary feminist discourse in the broader history of Japanese feminist theoretical development. It will be accessible to undergraduate audiences and deeply stimulating to scholars and others interested in gender and culture in postwar Japan, Japanese women writers, or Japanese feminism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6075-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Citation Format
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction Bad Wives and Worse Mothers? Rewriting Femininity in Postwar Japan
    (pp. 1-12)

    “Woman-hating.” That title just leapt right off the page. I was more puzzled than offended because the essay in question was by a woman writer whose work I admired for her portrayal of bold, independent, and bravely eccentric female protagonists—women who challenged the status quo, bad girls, some so deliciously bad that you couldn’t wait to see what they would do next. Aha, I thought, she’s going to give those male chauvinists what for. But upon reading the essay, I encountered the following: “I myself have a strange fear of people with whom rational language doesn’t communicate. In spite...

  6. Chapter 1 Party Crashers and Poison Pens: Women Writers in the Age of High Economic Growth
    (pp. 13-52)

    The 1960s witnessed the debuts of a succession of women writers of fiction whose subversive heroines and controversial themes posed a profound and disturbing challenge to cherished ideals of femininity and “feminine” writing. The decade began with the publication of Kurahashi Yumiko’s “Partei” (Parutai, 1960), a wickedly satirical exposé of student-movement dogmatism that took readers aback for its no-holds-barred poison-pen critique. This was soon followed by Kōno Taeko’s “Toddler-Hunting” (Yōjigari, 1961), a provocative blend of themes of sadomasochism, child abuse, and pedophilia. As if to say that no sacred cow was safe from slaughter, Kurahashi and Kōno were soon joined...

  7. Chapter 2 The Masculine Gaze as Disciplinary Mechanism
    (pp. 53-76)

    It is striking how many Japanese expressions related to interpersonal communication employ the word “eye.” In a culture that so prizes wordless communication, apparently the “eyes” have it. Children are admonished to behave lest others look at them with the whites of their eyes. An unpardonable offense can be described as too much for one’s eyes. One’s superiors in a hierarchical system are said to be above the eyes. Not surprisingly, many of these expressions also imply the power of the bearer of the gaze to discipline or dominate the one who is seen.

    Western theorists have likewise been fascinated...

  8. Chapter 3 Feminist Misogyny? or How I Learned to Hate My Body
    (pp. 77-96)

    In chapter 2, we saw the importance of the masculine gaze in disciplining women to behave as “appropriately” feminine subjects. While such discipline implies a negative form of reinforcement of gender norms, it is nevertheless clear that in other stories, the desire for positive validation by the men in one’s life is equally important in rendering women complicit with social constructions of femininity. In this chapter, we will examine three stories that detail the bond between a female protagonist and her male lover or mentor, underscoring the ways male chauvinism or misogyny is internalized and reproduced by the women themselves...

  9. Chapter 4 Odd Bodies
    (pp. 97-126)

    As noted in the previous two chapters, women in the texts we have analyzed so far can be said to be held accountable to norms of femininity, whether they identify with such constructions or not, based solely on the fact that they inhabit female bodies. These norms are repeatedly instilled by a masculine disciplinary gaze that continually reminds women to “behave themselves” according to societal expectations. Women are thus taught to embody and perform femininity so that men can define themselves as masculine, according to gendered binaries that render these two terms opposite and mutually exclusive. Masculinity can therefore be...

  10. Chapter 5 The Body of the Other Woman
    (pp. 127-152)

    In previous chapters, we have explored the ways Kōno, Takahashi, and Kurahashi used literature as a means of exposing, critiquing, and then subverting binary models of gender that sought to confine women within restrictive stereotypes of femininity. In chapter 4, we saw that this binary structure is problematic in part because it is predicated on a logic of “sexual indifference.” In other words, this model of gender difference is able to conceptualize femininity only as masculinity’s logical opposite so that women are assumed to embody only those qualities that men lack (or disavow as “unmasculine”). Aside from the psychological violence...

  11. Conclusion: Power, Violence, and Language in the Age of High Economic Growth
    (pp. 153-168)

    Gender, as envisioned by the Japanese women writers of fiction addressed in this study, is a form of power that disciplines bodies to produce certain types of behaviors and desires that are seen as advantageous to national and societal goals. In the 1960s, the goal was economic growth, and properly gendered bodies facilitated this project through total devotion either to the world of work outside the home or to roles that were supportive of such work, such as domestic labor. When bodies failed to produce the requisite behaviors and desires, “gender trouble” ensued, which threatened not only the binary model...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 169-184)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 185-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-200)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-206)