Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Anarchist Women of Imperial Japan: Lives, Subjectivities, Representations

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Anarchist Women of Imperial Japan: Lives, Subjectivities, Representations

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In this essay I address competing representations of Kanno Suga, Itô Noe and Kaneko Fumiko, who were each closely connected with Japan's pre-war anarchist movement. In one sense they were not unusual; for they were amongst the many radicals in imperial Japan who before long 'collided with power' and, as Foucault eloquently put it, were 'marked ... with a blow of its claws' (1979, p79). Nevertheless, the notoriety they were accorded in their own time was premised as much upon their gender as their putative political crimes. Hence, in the following discussion I consider depictions of the three by contemporaries and later commentators, with a view to contrasting them with the women's self-representations in texts that range from journalistic works to trial testimonies and prison writings.

This also serves to highlight the ways in which the hierarchical gender constructs of the day conditioned each woman's subjectivity. One crucial factor in the oppositional identity each embraced was to be treated by antagonists and comrades alike as the insignificant 'other half ' of a male leader. The dominant gender constructs of the time ensured that the women's male partners would be more respected by comrades and more feared by the authorities. Hence, as we shall see, the two imprisoned women went to great lengths to demonstrate that they posed the same threat to state and status quo as their men; though all three seemed to want to lay claim to political subjectivities that were in some ways independent of those of their partners. This was not unusual for leftist women then or since, who have often embraced a 'feminism of equality' (Raddeker 2002, pp1-10). Nevertheless, despite common conflations in feminist theory of sexual equality standpoints with assumptions of 'sameness' with men (e.g., Gross 1986, pp190- 204), these women took this no further than demanding the same respect paid to their partners or other male comrades.

This demand for recognition of an equality attuned to individual difference does not suggest that Suga, Noe or Fumiko would necessarily follow the lead of her male partner, politically or philosophically. Nor do their works suggest that the political stance of any one of the three could convincingly be reduced to feminine self-sacrifice (for her man), or to the deranged passions of the typically feminine 'hysteric'. Sadly, however, historians and biographers have been amongst those guilty of an unthinking recourse to conventional gender constructs of feminine subjectivity, as I demonstrate below.

Commentators on the lives and deaths of these women have also tended to paint them in 'either/or' terms as tragic victims or heroic victors. A more nuanced approach is suggested both by narrative theory and their own accounts: for example, the diary Suga penned in the last days of her life, and the prison memoir Fumiko wrote at the behest of a judge (he wanted her to explain more about how her experience of life had led her to her nihilistic/egoistic standpoint). Although it may not have been their conscious intention, in their late writings we see multiple narrative emplotments at work: epic heroism, tragedy, and even irony. No life is inherently heroic or tragic, even where a subject feels forced by circumstances to ascribe a single meaning to that life. When an individual is on trial facing possible execution, she might well feel that resistance and struggle had defined her life; and represent it in such a way regardless of whether intimates or antagonists were the intended audience of a diary or memoir. Yet conventional emplotments have a way of subverting themselves, leaving a text open to multiple readings. The identities of their authors, too, should be interpreted in a manner that is alert to their complexities rather than being reduced to one essentialised feature or meaning. I draw on narrative theory in the main part of the essay where I contrast the women's selfrepresentations with those by contemporaries and later scholars. …

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