- A Place in Public: Women's Rights in Meiji Japan by Marnie S. Anderson, and: Reforming Japan: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in the Meiji Period by Elizabeth Dorn Lublin, and: Women and Public Life in Early Meiji Japan: The Development of the Feminist Movement by Mara Patessio
The intersections of the modernizing Meiji state with feminisms, sexuality and the sex industry, and constructions of gender have been lively topics for scholars writing in English since Sharon Sievers published her pathbreaking work in 1983.1 But the period from 2010 to 2011 was particularly fertile for monographs on Meiji-era feminisms and gender. The works by Marnie S. Anderson, Elizabeth Dorn Lublin, and Mara Patessio offer different perspectives on similar questions: what role did early Meiji discourses and movements play in the development of twentieth-century feminisms in Japan? How were feminism and nationalism interconnected in the first half of the Meiji period? And [End Page 194] how did women's activism and discourses (on women, modernity, civilization, and Christianity) help to define concepts like "rights" and "citizenship" during the Meiji era?
Each historian addresses these issues by examining a different group of actors. Anderson looks at the men and women whose public actions and words in the 1870s and 1880s shifted the primary frame of reference for political participation ("a place in public") from status to gender. Patessio takes a prosopographical approach to create, from bits of information about a large number of people, a holistic image of the development and dissemination of feminist ideas and women's networks during those same decades. Lublin, whose book spans the entire Meiji period, delves deeply into a long-lived and influential women's organization, the Japan Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and its predecessors. Although Anderson and Patessio focus on the years before 1890, they, like Lublin, address what followed that pivotal year, when women were legally barred from joining political parties and attending political rallies and when officials proposed, but ultimately rejected, a law prohibiting women from viewing National Diet sessions from the visitors' balcony. All three contend that women's activism was not completely stifled by these government-imposed restrictions and that women who wished to be activists found ways to circumvent the restrictions. Most contemporary historians of gender (writing in English) agree that although Japanese feminist activism may have taken different forms after 1890, it continued.
All three historians also suggest that the women activists they analyze, despite their lack of civil rights, were performing "citizenship." As these three studies show, some Meiji women influenced decision makers in significant ways, but they were not among the decision makers themselves. Belonging to a nation as a subject (or as a national in a country that is not a monarchy) and possessing state-recognized responsibilities and rights is not, however, the same as having citizenship, a status that implies agency and empowerment in decision making.2 In fact, most men did not have the status of citizenship in the early Meiji period either, although many men would achieve that status in [End Page 195] due course. In the 1920s and 1930s, when most men had attained the right of suffrage and a number of other civil rights, feminists attempted to perform civic service to the nation in the manner of citizens, even in the absence of civil rights. But they did not have citizenship. Although I am not convinced that citizenship can be attached to the activities of the Meiji feminists discussed by Anderson, Lublin, and Patessio, I do think these women made deep inroads into civil society...