Organized Panel Session
Among the most contentious of all the feminist debates is “equality-versus-difference,” the dichotomy Joan Wallach Scott has set up and challenged in American feminism. Likewise, the seemingly unresolvable conflict between gender equality and sexual difference formed the core of the “motherhood protection debate” of 1918-1919 in Japan. Hiratsuka Raichō (1886-1971), one of its participants, located the crux of women’s issues in their special role as mothers. The revolutionary significance of her maternalism was that it brought pregnancy and childcare into the public realm, not in pursuit of state-defined goals, as in the case of the Factory Law of 1911, but in an audacious fight for women’s dignity, independence, and autonomy. She criticized liberal and socialist feminists for relegating the special needs of motherhood to the margins. Redefining maternal thinking and feminist mothering in her anarchist philosophy, Takamure Itsue (1894-1964) embarked on a series of historiographical activities and located a mother-friendly model of society in Japanese antiquity.
This panel explores how and why Hiratsuka and Takamure advocated the centrality of women’s identity as mothers in feminist struggles. This epochal insight into the “woman question” merits serious analytic attention, because the principle of formal equality still visibly disadvantages women with children. The emergence of 21st-century “matricentric feminism” under Andrea O’Reilly, a Canadian proponent of “motherhood studies,” exemplifies Hiratsuka’s and Takamure’s abiding significance for women’s empowerment. Pursuing maternal values entails a refashioning of the world—locally, nationally, and internationally. Both trailblazing feminists were globally minded, bringing transnational dimensions to motherhood politics and activism.