Organized Panel Session
Under the wave of democracy during the Taishō period, a group of female writers participated in the debates over the protection of motherhood, called bosei hogo ronsō (1918–1919). Stimulated by the translation of Ellen Key’s essays, among them The Century of the Child(1909) and Love and Marriage(1911), they discussed how mothers should reconcile their roles with their personal desires for gender equality and economic independence. The debates were initiated by the magazine Fujin kōron(Women’s Public Debate), which divided their opinions into several groups. Each group was led by Hiratsuka Raichō (1886–1971), Yosano Akiko (1878–1942), Yamada Waka (1879–1957), and Yamakawa Kikue (1890–1980). Although they were all concerned with the conflict between individual desires and mothers’ roles, each had completely different viewpoints on motherhood and reforms of governmental institutions.
This paper calls attention to Yamakawa’s take on the debates and critique of bourgeois feminism. Characterizing Hiratsuka as a conservative thinker and Yosano as an angry feminist, Yamakawa questions the oppressive nature of a capitalist modernity. For her, advocating for the protection of motherhood and shunning the idea of a radical struggle with political and economic conditions represented women’s cooperation with a capitalist reform—one for the privileged class benefiting from the suppression of the exploited majority. This paper uses Yamakawa’s claim as an analytical tool in locating the momentary rupture of the predictable linearity of feminist discourses. In doing so, I investigate how their clashing discussions functioned as a force against Japan’s modernization discourses.