Mark McLelland - Toyota Visiting Professor; Center for Japanese Studies; University of Michigan
In 1992 lesbian activist Kakefuda Hiroko published a book entitled “What it means to be a ‘lesbian’ ” – a scathing attack on Japan’s heteronormative mainstream culture. Kakefuda claimed that the category “rezubian” had become so closely aligned with male pornographic fantasy that it was impossible for her to reclaim the term to express her own female agency. Yet how and why did this male colonization of “lesbian” sexuality take place in Japanese popular culture? During the Edo period, scant attention was paid to women’s same-sex sexuality and Meiji and Taisho-period discourses tended to contrast the “spiritual” quality of women’s “same-sex love” with the supposedly more carnal interests of same-sex desiring men. The immediate postwar period saw a rapid increase in discourse about “perverse desires” (hentai seiyoku) that likewise mainly focused on male agents. Indeed, the category “resubian” (prior to the 1970s spelled with an ‘s’ not a ‘z’) does not begin to appear until the late 1950s. However, there was some media interest in a range of perverse female characters - in particular the “sadistic woman”, the “male-dresser”, and the “Lesbos lover” - categories that expressed female agency at the expense of their male analogues, the “masochist man”, the “female-dresser” and the “Sodomite”. Although there is clearly a prurient interest in women’s sexuality evident in these largely male-authored accounts, this presentation inquires whether it is also possible to read them as a recognition of increasing female agency in the context of the social reforms of the early postwar years.