“Liberation under Siege: U.S. Military Occupation and Japanese Women’s Enfranchisement.”

Johns Hopkins University Press

"Liberation under Siege" analyzes knowledge produced about Japanese womenÕs enfranchisement under U.S. military occupation, 1945-52. American popular memory remembers that Douglas MacArthur "liberated" Japanese women but forgets that the space in which Japanese womenÕs civil rights was realized was one of un-freedom and non-rights. The article reveals the ways in which mainstream and other U.S. media representations over the transwar decade (from 1940 through 1955) contributed to the initial knowledge formation regarding how Japanese women obtained legal and other rights while under occupation.

Relying on the critiques of liberal and radical feminisms by Third World and other feminists of color, the article demonstrates that the knowledge that uni-dimensionally celebrates the U.S. liberation of Japanese women while obscuring the reality of military occupation was in large part facilitated by what might best be termed a cold war feminism. Prescribing equal opportunity for women while insisting on a pure notion of gender and the disavowal of race, class, colonial, and other social relations, this feminism ultimately allowed the United States to assert itself as the liberator and rehabilitator of the defeated enemy while masking the paradox of the simultaneity of violence and benevolence. Moreover, cold war feminismÕs representation of Japanese womenÕs liberation was intimately tied to the American audienceÕs subjecthood: the presence of "Japanese women" helped contain "American women" domestically while centering them securely within cold war global politics.

Finally, the article demonstrates that the knowledge concerning Japanese womenÕs enfranchisement has enduring ideological effects as it continues to be mobilized in the current post-9/11 milieu. Popular memories of Japanese womenÕs enfranchisement reinforces the belief that U.S. military operations serve the purpose of rescue and rehabilitation, so much so that they remain vital to the production of U.S. "just war" narratives. In order to undo this myth that propels us into wars and military occupations, it is crucial to remember that the celebrated space of womenÕs liberation was simultaneously one of liminality, a legal borderland in which U.S. sovereignty asserted itself by both suspending and granting the rights of people under siege.


Pages 885-910