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In Session: Unchained Bodies: “Women’s Liberation” in Postwar Japanese Culture
1: Work as Liberation: The Doctor, the Policewoman and the Prostitute
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Kingston University London, Spain
Under the Allied Occupation (1945-1952) Japanese women were officially granted civil and political equality. However, scholars have highlighted the gender reforms’ fragmented implementation and the hidden political interests behind them. Operating under strict censorship, the Japanese cinema industry celebrated the figure of the working woman as a symbol of postwar democratic Japan but not all working women were considered desirable models of liberation.
This paper focuses on Gate of Flesh (Nikutai no mon, Makino M. and Ozaki M., 1948) and White Beast (Shiroi yajū, Naruse M., 1950), two films about streetwalkers (panpan) which also feature a policewoman and a female doctor. Whilst these two women are presented as the antithesis of the prostitute, who embodies a dangerous, doomed liberation, the depiction of homoerotic desire and friendship among women complicates the dichotomy. These depictions also provide insight into how the notions of femininity, sexuality and female communities were being reimagined in popular culture as a response to the top-down gender reforms.
While the postwar crisis of masculinity has received great attention in academia, the postwar crisis of femininity deserves further consideration. Various images of women—both normative and deviant—were inspired by Western constructs which were fraught with ideological contradictions and which furthermore collided with abiding prewar gender mores and with women’s everyday experiences of postwar Japan. The relationship between women’s sexual and financial autonomy lay at the heart of the hopes and anxieties triggered by the idea of liberation.