The Woman in the Story
Female Protagonism in Japanese Narratives
March 13-15, UCLA
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The Woman in the Story
This symposium examines the position of women in stories told in Japan from ancient to contemporary times. Although our main focus is on female protagonists in literary narratives, we are also interested in the function of narrative in ostensibly non-literary discourses (historical, religious, legal, political) and across different kinds of media. Unlike other categories of identity that are indisputably modern (such as race, class, or sexual orientation), gender/sex has existed as a legal category in Japan since at least the eighth-century ritsuryō codes. It would thus seem reasonable to posit (cautiously and critically) “women” as a trans-historical category, even as the cultural significance of womanhood has been subject to change over time.
As the experience of structural positions gendered as female (mother, daughter, wife, nun, etc) has varied greatly throughout history, so have the ways in which women have represented themselves or been represented in narrative. Feminist narrative theory—like narrative theory in general—has traditionally focused on the figure of the narrator and the question of who gets to speak. While this is also an important question for us, our focus is primarily on women as the protagonists of narratives and on the question of who gets to act. It is by virtue of those actions that women (whether real or fictional) have their story told by others and indeed tell their own stories.
Proceeding from a definition of “protagonism” as the degree to which a character is central to the plot or action of a narrative, we seek to explore questions such as (but not limited to) the following:
• What is the relationship between literary narratives that feature female protagonists and narratives about women as historical or political actors (i.e., the degree to which women are regarded as central to historical or political events and processes)?
• In cases where women are underrepresented as main characters, can women who play minor or supporting roles in a story be analyzed as characters whose protagonism is structurally restricted or shaped by narrative conventions? What is the relationship between social and narrative conventions of exclusion?
• What happens when a woman or a female character is placed at the center of a type or genre of narrative that usually features male protagonists? Does the gender of the protagonist or main character change the type or genre of the story? If a protagonist is the character that drives the plot of a story, are plots gendered?
• What are the gender politics of the complex relationship between author, narrator, and protagonist of a text?
• What is the relationship between the ways that women are portrayed in written narratives and how they are portrayed in visual media?
• How is female protagonism affected by other categories and relational forms of identity, both modern (race, class, sexual orientation), and premodern (lineage, rank, occupational status)?
• What is our role in creating new scholarly narratives in which women are central actors?
• How can new scholarly perspectives on this topic help us engage with the gender politics of the field of Japanese studies in North America and of our contemporary world?
Graduate student roundtable
Gender and Ethnicity in Japanese Academia
Welcome and Presentations by Conference Organizers
Christina Laffin (UBC)
Torquil Duthie (UCLA)
Amy Stanley (Northwestern University)
Otilia Milutin (Middlebury College)
Takeshi Watanabe (Wesleyan University)
Rajyashree Pandey (Goldsmiths, U. of London)
Joshua Mostow (UBC)
Gergana Ivanova (University of Cincinnati)
Gaye Rowley (Waseda University)
Yurika Wakamatsu (Occidental College)
Friday, March 15
Rebecca Copeland (WUSTL)
Sharalyn Orbaugh (UBC)
Hitomi Yoshio (Waseda University)
Julia Clark (UCLA)
Julia Bullock (Emory University)
Grace Ting (Waseda University)
Kazue Harada (Miami University)
Wednesday, March 13
Thursday, March 14