The Body of the Modern Girl and the Production of Gender in Visual Culture

Vera Mackie (University of Melbourne)

    Visual culture is important in the dissemination, validation, and censuring of desirable and undesirable models of gender identity. The satirical magazines of early twentieth century Japan were one site where desirable and undesirable models of masculinity and femininity were presented to the reading public. Within the pages of such satirical magazines, societal anxieties about gender and modernity were revealed. The opposition between masculinity and femininity was a constant theme, but cartoons also provided a site for presenting alternative models of femininity: the figures of the housewife, the middle-class lady, the female student, the charity worker, the activist and the ‘moga’ (modern girl) presented an implicit debate about desirable and undesirable models of femininity. At times, the contrast was between women of Japan and those of European countries or other Asian countries. Figures of women could also act as a metaphor for class relations within Japan or for Japan’s international relations with other countries. A particular focus of satirical representations of the moga was the body. In the space of the satirical cartoon a series of fictional and gendered spaces are created. The existence of the female body in each of these spaces acts as a further means of categorisation. Bodies which exist in particular spaces, such as the street or the café, are categorised as deviant, in the contrast with the housewife whose proper place is the home. While the cartoon itself acts as a fantasy space, there are further differentiations within this space: Cartoon representations of moga also make reference to controversies about the representation of women’s naked bodies in ‘high art’. These controversies provide a further excuse within the fantasy space of the cartoon for focusing on the problematic body of the modern woman.