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The Other Women's Lib

Gender and Body in Japanese Women's Fiction

Julia C. Bullock

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

It is impossible to thank all the people who should receive thanks for a project of this length. Personally and professionally, I’ve benefited from the guidance and support of far too many to acknowledge here. I only hope that they will see their imprint in my work and feel that it does them justice. ...

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Note on Citation Format

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p. ix

For works originally published in Japanese, both the Japanese-language title and an English translation of the title are provided the first time a work is cited here. For subsequent citations, I employ the English-language title only. For subsequent citations, I employ the English-language title only....

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INTRODUCTION Bad Wives and Worse Mothers? Rewriting Feminity in Postwar Japan

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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, ...

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CHAPTER 1 Party Crashers and Poison Pens: Women Writers in the Age of High Economic Growth

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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), ...

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CHAPTER 2 The Masculine Gaze as Disciplinary Mechanism

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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. ...

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CHAPTER 3 Feminist Misogyny? or How I Learned to Hate My Body

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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 ...

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CHAPTER 4 Odd Bodies

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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. ...

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CHAPTER 5 The Body of the Other Woman

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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. ...

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CONCLUSION Power, Violence, and Language in the Age of High Economic Growth

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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. ...


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pp. 169-184

Works Cited

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pp. 185-192


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pp. 193-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860752
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833879

Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 671812335
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Other Women's Lib

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Feminist literary criticism -- Japan.
  • Japanese fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Women in literature.
  • Japanese fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Human body in literature.
  • Women -- Japan -- Identity.
  • Gender identity in literature.
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