On the Outskirts of Consumerism: MOGA and Working-Class Women

Barbara Sato (Seikei University)

   From the early 1920s to the present, the image of the modern girl in Japan, constructed and reconstructed, has lacked a clear social referent. My paper attempts to shed light on the extent working-class women, who comprised a large part of the total population and for whom class, education, and jobs positioned them on the outskirts of consumerism responded to the representations of the commodification of the everyday associated with the ambiguous figure of the modern girl who feminized the category of consumption.

    In examining the phenomenon of consumerism and its particular relationship to working-class women as a new gendered subject of modernity, attention will be given to those social and cultural forms that locate questions like agency, power, and politics within the ever-shifting context of the everyday. In an earlier study I showed that the consumer boom of the 1920s bespoke of both fancy and imagination for privileged young women graduates of women higher schools. These women filled the new urban positions opening up for women in the aftermath of the Great War. Waiting to be addressed, however, is the way images of the modern shaped the desires and anxieties of the broader-based, less-fortunate working-class women who labored in factories, filled menial positions as cleaning women in companies, or worked as low-level bank clerks.

    Was the fascination with shopping, the print media, and visual entertainment also a constituent of the working-class woman’s construction of the modern? Did working-class women become targets of consumerism because of the early use of mass women’s magazines as instruments of consumer capitalism through such visual means as advertising and the promotion of new products? To what extent did the impact of consumer culture obscure the stratification of class so that working-class women as a group identified neither with the woman factory worker nor the professional working woman?