The Japanese "New Woman": Images of Gender and Modernity

The Japanese "New Woman": Images of Gender and Modernity

The Japanese "New Woman": Images of Gender and Modernity

The Japanese "New Woman": Images of Gender and Modernity

Synopsis

The dawn of the twentieth century in Japan witnessed the rise of a peculiar problem: the Woman Problem. This, at least, was the term used in an ongoing debate among the government and various intellectuals over how to define gender roles. While the government worked hard to promote the good wife, wise mother paradigm, certain female members of society had other notions about how to engage with their world. In The Japanese New Woman, Dina Lowy focuses on this new female image as it was revealed, discussed, and debated in popular newspapers and magazines in the 1910s, as well as on the lives of a specific group of women - members of the feminist literary organization known as the Seitosha. These women drew on a variety of sources, including Zen training, Western writings and ideas, and Japanese morals and arts as they tried to open up new spaces for female activity beyond the confines of the home. Lowy shows how the Seitosha set a precedent that would be emulated in the decades to follow as Japanese women continued to question the patriarchal order, experiment with alternative visions, and pursue their rights in a variety of forms. gender debates, and the modernizing process.

Excerpt

I learned of the existence of the women who form the backbone of this work—the Seitō women—during my first year in graduate school. Even though I was an Asian Studies major as an undergraduate, I began my graduate studies unaware that women were engaged in gender debates and feminist activity in early-twentieth-century Japan. I was fascinated to discover this alternative to the stereotype of the “submissive” Japanese woman. As I began to study the writings and activities of these women, I realized that they were part of a large picture. They were connected with the international phenomenon known as New Women, yet they were also distinctively Japanese. Like their international counterparts, these New Women were an intrinsic part of their nation's modernizing process. I wanted to understand them in this context, and my dissertation topic began to take shape.

Two graduate programs and three teaching positions later, I am still captivated by Japan's New Women. This book was a long time in the making. My aim was to produce an account of these women and their place in Japanese history that would be both of value to the Japan specialist and intelligible to a lay audience. In particular, I wanted to provide college undergraduates with an introduction to Japan's New Women, the gender debates surrounding them, and their importance in Japan's modern history, a story that was not available to me as an undergraduate. To facilitate exploration of these topics, I have chosen to rely mostly on secondary sources available in English. An extensive literature on these topics exists in Japanese, and I have cited those works that have most aided me in my research; but many fine sources have not made their way into this book. Most of the primary sources I use are available only in Japanese, but people are currently hard at work on translations to help remedy this situation. Throughout this book, translations . . .

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