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The Other Women's Lib: Gender and Body in Japanese Women's Fiction
216pp. April 2010
The Other Women's Lib: Gender and Body in Japanese Women's Fiction
Author: Bullock, Julia C.;
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.

“Bullock has published a significant analysis of Japanese women writers that should fit seamlessly in North American graduate school courses on comparative literature, because she asks similar questions. They may well also be the kinds of questions that are asked in gender studies or cultural history courses in Japan today. Bullock seeks to include the literary works of these women as a significant and heretofore neglected part of the feminist discourse in Japan. Her analysis informs and often surprises; this is a book worth reading.” —Monumenta Nipponica (66:1, 2011)

“Bullock's writing is impressively clear and incisive throughout the book. . . . Specialists in Japan studies will find much of use in The Other Women's Lib, but the volume will also be accessible to graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and other readers interested in comparative literature, sexuality and gender, and Asian studies.” —Journal of Japanese Studies (37:2, 2011)

“Julia Bullock’s lively study fills a significant lacuna in our understanding of feminist theoretical development prior to the women’s lib movement of the 1970s. Dealing with three of the most fascinating and challenging authors of the era, Bullock’s sustained literary analyses are adroit, illuminating, and informative. Her study is lucid enough to open itself to bright undergraduates, but provocative enough to engage seasoned scholars of modern literature.” —Rebecca Copeland, author of Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan (2000)

"In this stunning and original book, Julia Bullock analyses the ‘philosophies of gender in fictional form’ which were explored by three Japanese women writers in the 1960s: Kōno Taeko, Takahashi Takako, and Kurahashi Yumiko. Bullock demonstrates that, in their exploration of the themes of ‘power, violence, and language,’ these writers anticipated many of the themes of the women’s liberation and feminist movements of the following decades. This book will be of interest to scholars and students in the fields of gender and sexuality studies, literary studies, and modern Japanese cultural history.” —Vera Mackie, author of Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodiment and Sexuality (2003)

“Julia Bullock’s cogent and focused study of three of the most imaginative Japanese writers of the 1960s and 1970s analyzes issues driving the boom in writing by women at that time. There is nothing else like it. She engages with the history of feminism in Japan and pays special attention to ‘second-wave’ feminism. Her book captures the complications these women faced as they grappled to express ideas and experiences before representational schemes and categories were in place. Among other successes, the book helps make sense of the violence of these works, which has troubled so many.” —Doug Slaymaker, author of The Body in Postwar Fiction: Japanese Fiction after the War (2004)

Author: Bullock, Julia C.;
Julia C. Bullock is assistant professor of Japanese at Emory University.
Read the introduction (PDF).
Note on Citation Format

Introduction: Bad Wives and Worse Mothers? Rewriting Femininity in Postwar Japan
1. Party Crashers and Poison Pens: Women Writers in the Age of High Economic Growth
2. The Masculine Gaze as Disciplinary Mechanism
3. Feminist Misogyny? or How I Learned to Hate My Body
4. Odd Bodies
5. The Body of the Other Woman
Conclusion: Power, Violence, and Language in the Age of High Economic Growth

Works Cited