Mediating New Versions of Womanhood in Asia, 1880s–1950s

Title: 1130 | Mediating New Versions of Womanhood in Asia, 1880s–1950s
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yoshiko Nakano, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (organizer, presenter, chair)
Midori Yamaguchi, Daito Bunka University, Japan (presenter)
Yo Nonaka, Keio University, Japan (presenter)
Emi Goto, University of Tokyo, Japan (discussant)


This panel explores the allure and consumption of new versions of womanhood that developed under the official and unofficial empires of Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, foreign women traveled to Asia as missionaries, diplomatic wives, and vocational instructors, and presented new ideas of womanhood through the promulgation of their own religious beliefs, lifestyle, foodways, fashion and professional norms. In turn, they triggered new desires and aspirations among women in Asia. The panelists will discuss the role played by expatriate women in mediating how these ideas were expressed, experienced, and negotiated in three separate cultural interfaces. Midori Yamaguchi considers the published letters of late nineteenth-century Anglican women missionaries and discusses what they reveal about Asian women's fascination with English fashion, and how the allure of a European lifestyle informed the religious society's strategy for its Asian missions. Yo Nonaka turns her attention to the Dutch East Indies and examines the first women’s magazine in the Melayu language. Established in 1908, the publication introduced elements of the Dutch way of life to members of the local elite and Eurasian women. In postwar Japan, flight attendants were looked up to as icons of modernity. Yoshiko Nakano discusses the American instructor who trained Japan Airlines’ "stewardesses" for their first international flight and the impact she had on their look and service expectations. In presenting these cultural interfaces alongside each other, we hope to contribute to a global history of gender and emotions.

Panel Abstracts:
An American "Stewardess Instructor" in Postwar Tokyo – Challenging Japanese Women's Attire in the Skies
International "stewardess" was considered one of the most cutting-edge and attractive jobs for women in postwar Japan. In 1951, when the newly established Japan Airlines (JAL) called for applications for its first cohort of flight attendants, one thousand three hundred women vied for just fifteen posts. The cabin crew's smart uniform and high-heeled shoes were very much a part of the position's modern appeal. This paper discusses the American "stewardess instructor" who was hired by JAL to train the new recruits for its first international services, and the impact she had on their look and service expectations. The twenty-seven-year-old United Airlines employee arrived in Tokyo in 1953 and, in addition to teaching first aid, emergency and inflight procedures, she took it upon herself to write to JAL's president and suggest several wardrobe modifications. These included the provision of a pair of low-heeled shoes for female cabin crew to change into to perform their inflight service duties on the thirty-hour flight between Tokyo and San Francisco. In her role as intermediary between JAL's male executives and her female trainees, she addressed issues related to women's work attire that continue to be debated today, over sixty years later, by movements such as the KuToo campaign (from the Japanese kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsū, meaning pain).

Mission-box Politics – Manipulating Asian Women's Fascination with British Fashion
In 1866, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) established a Ladies’ Association to support Anglican women’s missionary activities. The Association’s various Working Parties would assist individual missionary stations overseas by sending them boxes of handmade items for sale. Over a hundred mission boxes filled with clothes were dispatched annually from Britain to Asia by the SPG. The politics of clothing in the context of colonialism's "civilizing mission" have already been explored. This paper aims to investigate the practice of mission boxes and their contents from the perspective of the fascination they aroused and aspirations they created in Asian women. In order to promote communication among its members, the Ladies' Association started its own magazine, The Grain of Mustard Seed, in 1881. In addition to reports on donations and expenditure, issues printed letters from individual missionaries commenting not only on the clothes that the mission boxes contained but also on their reception among Asian women. While the allure of the Western style of dress was evident, the letters made it clear that local women had expressed their preference for certain patterns, colors and fabrics. Since the Association depended on the proceeds from the mission boxes to fund their activities, these tastes had to be taken into consideration. The missionaries, acting as intermediaries between the Working Parties and their prospective customers, sought to both manipulate the latter's fascination with Western fashion and reassure the former's members that they were playing their part in expanding the "Kingdom of God."

Putri Hindia – The First Melayu-language Women's Magazine in the Dutch East Indies
This paper examines the Dutch East Indies' (present-day Indonesia) first Melayu-language women's magazine and how it mediated local fascination with, and aspirations for a European lifestyle. The magazine was launched in 1908, at a time when a collective consciousness that was opposed to Dutch colonial rule was beginning to emerge. Despite being published in the local language, Putri Hindia was partially funded by the Dutch royal family and had Dutch women on its editorial board. Advances in transportation had made it more common for Dutch women to accompany their husbands on their colonial postings or to seek a new start in the colonies, and many saw it as their responsibility to serve as role models and improve the life of the indigenous population. The magazine’s articles introduced elements of a European lifestyle for "modern housewives," including recipes for Dutch dishes, tips for family health and hygiene, and advice on children's education. Its readers consisted primarily of the wives of the local elite who were keen to acquire the skills and manners necessary to interact with the expatriate community. Eurasian women, who were legally European but often could not speak or read Dutch, also made up a large part of the magazine's readership and saw it as a means of shaping or maintaining their European identity. This paper discusses how Putri Hindia served as a vehicle for the aspirations and evolving expectations not only of its local readership, but also of the Dutch women who shaped its contents.

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