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In Session: Gender and the Proletariat in Transwar Japan
3: Woman as Class: Yoshiya Nobuko’s Engagements with Proletarian Literature
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Boston University, United States
The community of Japanese women writers in the 1930s clustered around the magazine Women's Arts (Nyonin geijutsu, 1928-1932), an important venue for women writers in the proletarian fiction movement. Not all the writers shared the same politics, but they engaged in various ways with this movement. Yoshiya Nobuko was not a supporter of leftist politics, but her serialized novels Women's Class (Onna no kaikyū, 1936) engaged with its categories, posing gender discrimination as a blind spot of the left and proposing "woman" as a category equivalent to "class." The novel explores young women's relationships and sexual politics of the era. For example, Kazuko attempts to live platonically and "equally" with a comrade of her brother (who has done tenkō and moved abroad), but observes the transformation of her feelings and their lives when their relationship becomes sexual and she becomes pregnant. More interesting than showing Yoshiya's anti-proletarian literature and activism stance is considering the way the novels explore the emotional experience of tension between gender and class politics that are the same concerns that came to be a highlight of leftist women writers. I argue that the novel's attention to sexual agency of the main characters and Yoshiya's fine attention to the breakdown of the "platonic"/comrade relationship demonstrate her perspective as a lesbian writer and how she tried to communicate her own view of gender dynamics and sexuality on the left to her author friends from Nyonin geijtutsu.