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  • At the Crossroads of Equality versus ProtectionAmerican Occupationnaire Women and Socialist Feminism in US Occupied Japan, 1945–1952
  • Michiko Takeuchi (bio)

On October 11, 1945, a document issued by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) declared the “liberation of Japanese women” to be one aspect of the democratization policies the American occupation would institute in Japan. The policy document proclaimed “the emancipation of the women through their enfranchisement—that, being members of the body politic, they may bring to Japan a new concept of government directly subservient to the well being of the home.”1 This statement about the “well being of the home” suggests SCAP actually undertook to implement American Cold War family ideology under the guise of women’s liberation. This ideology embodied SCAP’s ideal as represented by the middle-class (white) heterosexual nuclear family with rigid gender roles of a male breadwinner and a female homemaker.2 Far from seeing these official statements and efforts as liberating Japanese women, scholars have pointed out the ways American Cold War domesticity complemented Japan’s own modern domesticity ideology of the “good wife and wise mother.”3 Scholars also reject any notion of the male-dominated US military as a force behind women’s liberation in occupied Japan. Such initiatives came from women, particularly highly educated upper-and middle-class American and Japanese women, who together created the occupation’s policies for Japanese women (except suffrage) by forming a de facto women’s policy alliance.4 Members of the alliance were not static or harmonious, but they worked together to formulate “women’s liberation” policies according to their definition, which differed from that of SCAP. However, even when scholars have viewed this collaborative effort as important, they have not considered the complex dynamic that underlay the effort. Internal and external initiatives were at play in the shaping of gender ideology in which tensions and negotiations among American and Japanese women came to the fore. Exploring this complex dynamic reveals that the policy alliance did not just challenge SCAP’s Cold War domesticity ideology but also engaged in the [End Page 114] longstanding “women’s war”; that is, the debates about “equality versus protection.”5 The alliance’s debates about “equality versus protection” show that the alliance’s idea of “women’s liberation” was not invented in the so-called “workshop of democracy” in occupied Japan. Rather, it was built upon American and Japanese women’s decades of activism and their ideological coalition across the Pacific, which predated the occupation. American women occupation members, or “occupationnaires,” played crucial roles in rebuilding this ideological coalition in the postwar period as they pursued women’s liberation in occupied Japan (1945–52).

At the heart of these initiatives was an alliance of women for whom the fundamental idea of “women’s liberation” was also highly contested, because it was related to American women’s long-term debates about “equality versus protection,” especially in the area of women’s labor. In fact, in October 1946 Lieutenant Ethel Weed (1906–75), a women’s information officer who played a leading role in the policy alliance, wrote to the historian Mary Beard (1876–1958) in the United States that “the question of equality vs. special privilege and protection has of course come up here [U.S.-occupied Japan] again and again.”6 Arising in the 1920s, the question of equality versus protection was the crux of what became known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) debate in the United States or what the historian Nancy Cott has called “the dilemma of twentieth-century feminism”—which goes beyond discussion of the proposed constitutional amendment.7 The ERA, stressing the sameness and equality of the sexes, was first introduced in Congress in 1923 by members of the National Women’s Party (NWP), who were middle-class feminists. However, the ERA was fiercely opposed by women labor activists and leftists (later called Old Lefts), such as Mary Anderson (1872–1964), a member of the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) and the first director of the Women’s Bureau, on the grounds that the ERA would nullify special legislative protection for women.8 Weed’s letter...


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