Beauvoir in Japan

External online event - Centre for Japanese Studies, UEA

Wednesday 10 November, 2021
1:00pm GMT - 2:00pm GMT


Dr. Julia Bullock

About the Talk

Simone de Beauvoir’s monumental work of feminist philosophy, The Second Sex, was translated into Japanese in 1953, just four short years after its first appearance in French. The timing of this translation, Daini no sei, was fortuitous–Japan had just emerged from the shadow of the Allied Occupation and was struggling with the legacy of its postwar reforms. These reforms offered Japanese women an unprecedented array of rights and opportunities, but those who sought to exercise such rights still had to confront conservative norms that expected them to channel their ambitions into “careers” as wives and mothers. To many who sought an unconventional life-course, Beauvoir’s vision of “freedom” through financial independence and professional projects offered an enticing alternative to the prewar “good wife, wise mother” model of femininity—even if, or perhaps because, this vision was difficult to attain in actuality. In this presentation, I trace the various phases of translation and reception of Beauvoir’s philosophy, life, and public image in Japan, from her rise to feminist icon in the 1950s and 1960s through subsequent waves of critique and reinterpretation in the latter decades of the twentieth century.

Keen to learn more? Check out our MA in Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies.

About the Speaker

Dr. Julia Bullock received an M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Japanese Language and Literature from Stanford University. She specializes in modern Japanese literature from the Meiji period (beginning 1868) to the present, with additional interests in gender and sexuality, feminist theory, history, film and popular culture. She is the author of The Other Women’s Lib: Gender and Body in Japanese Women’s Fiction (University of Hawai’i Press, 2010). This study analyzes the work of three prominent members of the 1960s “boom” in fiction writing by Japanese women–Kono Taeko, Takahashi Takako, and Kurahashi Yumiko–as an avant-garde literary challenge to hegemonic discourses of femininity embedded in the high-growth economy of that decade. Focusing on four tropes persistently employed by these writers to protest oppressive gender stereotypes–the masculine gaze as disciplinary mechanism, feminist misogyny, “odd bodies,” and female homoeroticism–the book highlights the previously unrecognized theoretical contributions of these writers to incipient “second-wave” radical feminist discourse.

Dr. Bullock is currently at work on a book project that is tentatively titled Beauvoir’s Japanese Daughters: Postwar Japanese Feminism and The Second Sex. This study explores the translation and reception of the life and work of this famous French feminist philosopher by Japanese female intellectuals, who were engaged in a similar project to interrogate or subvert the structures of gendered oppression in postwar Japanese society.

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