Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burma

Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burma

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burma
    Book Description:

    Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burmapresents the first study of one of the most prevalent and critical topics of public discourse in colonial Burma: the woman of thekhit kala-"the woman of the times"-who burst onto the covers and pages of novels, newspapers, and advertisements in the 1920s. Educated and politicized, earner and consumer, "Burmese" and "Westernized," she embodied the possibilities and challenges of the modern era, as well as the hopes and fears it evoked. InRefiguring Women,Chie Ikeya interrogates what these shifting and competing images of the feminine reveal about the experience of modernity in colonial Burma. She marshals a wide range of hitherto unexamined Burmese language sources to analyze both the discursive figurations of the woman of thekhit kalaand the choices and actions of actual women who-whether pursuing higher education, becoming political, or adopting new clothes and hairstyles-unsettled existing norms and contributed to making the woman of thekhit kalathe privileged idiom for debating colonialism, modernization, and nationalism.The first book-length social history of Burma to utilize gender as a category of sustained analysis,Refiguring Womenchallenges the reigning nationalist and anticolonial historical narratives of a conceptually and institutionally monolithic colonial modernity that made inevitable the rise of ethnonationalism and xenophobia in Burma. The study demonstrates the irreducible heterogeneity of the colonial encounter and draws attention to the conjoined development of cosmopolitanism and nationalism. Ikeya illuminates the important roles that Burmese men and women played as cultural brokers and agents of modernity. She shows how their complex engagements with social reform, feminism, anticolonialism, media, and consumerism rearticulated the boundaries of belonging and foreignness in religious, racial, and ethnic terms.Refiguring Womenadds significantly to examinations of gender and race relations, modernization, and nationalism in colonized regions. It will be of interest to a broad audience-not least those working in the fields of Southeast Asian studies, colonial and postcolonial studies, cultural studies, and women's and gender studies.26 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6106-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    The Burmese novelMon ywe mahu(Not out of hate), written by Ma Ma Lay in 1955, tells of a tragic romance between Way Way, a young woman from an ordinary Burmese Buddhist family, and U Saw Han, an older and thoroughly Anglicized and impious Burmese man working for a British firm. Set in British Burma immediately prior to the Second World War, the book focuses on the confrontation between Burmese tradition and Western modernity. There is nothing recognizably Burmese about U Saw Han, who has become in taste and habit a replica of a British colonial official. By marrying...

  6. 1 The Colonial Setting
    (pp. 14-45)

    The British colonization of Burma was piecemeal. It began in 1826 with the defeat of the Konbaung dynasty (1752—1885) in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824—1826) and the loss of the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim to the British government (see map 1.1). When the governor-general of the East India Company declared war on the Burmese in March 1824, the annexation of Arakan was not among the military and political goals. Arakan was a major source of tension between the British and the Burmese, however. The forty-year Burmese rule of Arakan (1785—1824) was marked by excessive levying of...

  7. 2 Women on the Rise: Education and the Popular Press
    (pp. 46-74)

    Since Anthony Reid reinforced the argument by George Coedès that women in Southeast Asia were conferred important roles by the culture of the region, the notion of the “traditional” high status of women in Southeast Asia has been foundational to paradigmatic understandings of the region as a distinct geopolitical and cultural entity separate from the rest of Asia.¹ Juxtaposed against images of women in South and East Asia that have been inextricably intertwined with and determined by norms and practices such as sati, purdah, polygyny, concubinage, and foot-binding, claims about the freedom and independence of women in Southeast Asia have...

  8. 3 Between Patriotism and Feminism: Politicized and Organized Women
    (pp. 75-95)

    Following on the heels ofyuwadicolumns were articles and featured columns that focused less on the emergent class of educated young women and were written by and for women in general (amyothami).¹ A growing number of articles for and about women were published as regular features of newspapers and magazines in the 1930s.Toe tet yay,for instance, printed a column entitled “Women’s Advancement”² from the start of its publication in 1933.Youq shin Ian hnyun(Screen show weekly), which also appeared in 1933, featured a regular “Women's Guide.”³ In 1935,Independent Weeklychanged the title of itsyuwadi...

  9. 4 Modern Woman as Consumer: Fashion, Domesticity, and the Marketplace
    (pp. 96-119)

    The educated, patriotic, and politicized women were joined by another incarnation of the modern woman who was less of an icon of social and political reform than were the other archetypes: the consumerist woman. The epitome of thekbit hmi thuas consumer was the fashionista. Referred to most often askbit hsan thu(fashionable woman) ortet kbit thami(girl or daughter of the era of advancement), the trademark of the fashion-consciouskhit hmi thuwas her adoption ofkhit hsanclothing, footwear, accessories, and hairstyles—that is, fashion thathsan(resembles) thekhit kala(era). A less eye-catching...

  10. 5 Mixing Religion and Race: Intermarriage, Miscegenation, and the Wives and Mistresses of Foreign Men
    (pp. 120-142)

    The rapid growth inkabya(mixed) population was an inevitable outcome of colonization.¹ In Burma, relationships between foreign men and native women persisted, and thekabyapopulation continued to expand throughout the first few decades of the twentieth century in spite of the British imperial policies of racial segregation.² Yet the same period also witnessed mounting disdain towards intermarriage and miscegenation among the European expatriate community in the country and among the local population. As the British administration noted in its report on the 1938 Burma Riots, “one of the major sources of anxiety in the minds of a great...

  11. 6 The Self-Indulgent Khit hsan thu: Culture, Nation, and Masculinity on Trial
    (pp. 143-162)

    Wives and mistresses of foreigners were not the only unpatriotic women to appear in colonial-period Burmese discourses. Thekhit hsan thuand other variants of the fashionable female (discussed in chapter 4) also became the target of censorious and often misogynistic representations of Burmese women in the media. These representations, in the form of books, editorials, commentaries, and cartoons that ranged from sarcastic to derogatory, displayed an intense contempt towards fashionable women and their sartorial habits and consumer practices. Take, for instance, the caricature of atet khit thamithat appeared in the March 1938 issue ofThuriya(figure 6.1)....

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 163-170)

    In 1973, eighteen years after the publication of her celebratedMon ywe mahu(Not out of hate), Ma Ma Lay publishedThway(Blood).¹ This less well-known novel revisits the theme of the encounter between different cultures but takes a stance decidedly at odds with her earlier position on the possibility of cross-cultural understanding. InThway,foreign culture is embodied by its Japanese heroine, Yumi, who arrives in Burma in 1967 to search for her younger half-brother, Maung Maung, whom she has never met. Her deceased father had married a Burmese woman by the name of Ma Htway Htway while he...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 171-200)
  14. Glossary of Frequently Used Burmese Terms
    (pp. 201-204)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-228)
  16. Index
    (pp. 229-240)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-243)