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Transfiguring the female: women and girls engaging the transnational in late twentieth century Japan

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Title: Transfiguring the female: women and girls engaging the transnational in late twentieth century Japan
Author(s): Welker, James
Director of Research: Kelsky, Karen L.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Toby, Ronald P.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Kelsky, Karen L.; Manalansan, Martin F.; Tierney, Robert T.
Department / Program: E. Asian Languages & Cultures
Discipline: E Asian Languages & Cultures
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): women in Japan feminism/women's liberation lesbian community shojo manga/girls' comics
Abstract: This dissertation examines three spheres of women and adolescent girls who overtly challenged gender and sexual norms in late twentieth century Japan: the women involved in the uman ribu [women’s liberation] movement and the rezubian [lesbian] community, as well as young women artists and girl readers of what I call queer shojo manga [girls’ comics]. The individuals in these three spheres found the normative understanding of “women” untenable and worked to destabilize it in part through “transfiguring” elements appropriated from a loosely defined West. Based on both archival research and interviews, this dissertation specifically focuses on uses, effects, and experiences of transfiguration both within and beyond these spheres. The primary chronologic focus of this study is the 1970s and 1980s, when these three spheres emerged, then variously flourished, faltered, fragmented, and took on new forms. At times, I do, however, trace threads both backward to the beginning of the twentieth century—to point to deeper transnational roots than may be immediately apparent—and forward to the beginning of the twenty-first century—to show some of the effects of the cultural work of these women and girls. The introduction situates this project within existing scholarship and introduces “transfiguration,” the central concept I use to frame this study. Chapter two, “Trajectories,” provides histories of the three spheres at the heart of this work. Chapter three, “Terminology,” draws on archives stretching back to the beginning of the twentieth century to trace the transnational etymologies of three terms used within and about these spheres: “uman ribu” [women’s lib], “rezubian” [lesbian], and “shonen ai” [boys’ love]. Chapter four, “Translation,” examines direct translations and other transfigurations of early radical feminist writing from the US, the landmark texts Our Bodies, Ourselves (1971) and The Hite Report (1976), as well as twentieth century literature with an eye toward acts and impacts of translation. Chapter five, “Travel” considers the effects of real and vicarious voyages both on these spheres and on the individuals within them. Finally, the conclusion offers reflections on how engagements with the transnational shaped the ribu, rezubian, and queer shojo manga spheres, the women and adolescent girls within them, and, ultimately, the meaning of “women” in Japan. This dissertation shows that, while some women turned to what they perceived as an advanced West for solutions to or an escape from local issues, most were firmly focused on the local—even as they selectively adapted, even celebrated, Western practices. For the majority of even the most radical women, the Western turn was not a turn away from Japan. Rather, it was integral to being a modern woman within Japan. More significantly, among women and girls in the uman ribu movement, the rezubian community, and the queer shojo manga sphere—and, ultimately, beyond it—the act of transfiguring Western cultural practices into something locally meaningful, as well as the products thereof, resulted not just in change at the individual and community level, but the transfiguration of the category “women” in Japan. This more expansive notion of the female accommodated not merely a significantly increased number of public roles not bound to being a mother or a wife but a greater diversity of gender and sexual expression.
Issue Date: 2010-08-31
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/17040
Rights Information: Copyright 2010 James Welker
Date Available in IDEALS: 2010-08-31
Date Deposited: 2010-08
 

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