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"How Can We Represent Oppression, Conflict and Independence of Housewives?"

MURAKAMI Kiyoshi / July 13, 2015

[Japanese]

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Regardless of time and place, "housewives"—my subject of study—are always more or less seen as tormented by oppression and conflict, perceived as a problematic being, and represented as such. At the same time, since becoming a housewife is seen as a step giving the woman total and ultimate happiness, distress experienced by a housewife is treated as complaining about something most people would love, therefore seen as a matter not worth considering. Among such definitions from outside, identities of housewives themselves have always swayed, sometimes seriously, and sometimes with a defiant attitude.

I would like to comment on the viewpoints to catch and express such problems of "housewives" a little here.

When the issues of oppression and conflict of housewives become the focus of attention, in most cases, they are treated in the framework of "pathology". For example, words such as "hysterics" or "education-bent mother" have been established in postwar Japan as common terms describing housewives. While this framework is used to describe a universal collective pathology which is common to the category of the "housewife" in some cases, it is also used to define pathological traits of particular housewives in other cases.

Although this definition ridicules housewives clearly on one hand, it also has consciousness that "if we leave this problem unsolved, it may adversely affect the family / the society—so we have to do something," or that "the suffering housewife should be saved" on the other hand. Thus, on the surface, the definition does not attack housewives but is considerate with them (as a sign of "goodwill"). However, its consciousness has the same viewpoint as that of the above-mentioned position with ridicule in that it considers housewives not as an autonomous individual (social self) but as a social problem to be solved.

In this way, a housewife is prescribed as "a difficult person / a poor wretch / an alarming phenomenon" as well as "a happy person." Therefore, housewives lived on the surface of its contradictory setting sometimes consciously, and sometimes perplexedly.

What we should set now is the viewpoint that does not treat housewives as pathology or criticize social factors which produced such definitions for them but rather confirm and share the varied activities to establish autonomous independence by the housewives themselves.

Such activities are conducted all over the world, and we can find many examples in postwar Japan. The followings are representative examples.
These activities are not necessarily practiced by housewives completely on their own. Such entirely autonomous endeavors are probably hard to find. However, even when an undertaking was "given" to the housewives by men or by women of high social status in leading positions, housewives can still get autonomy from the passive position. Rather I think that such process of getting autonomy has significance and value.

Moreover, what is valued "socially" as a social movement or cultural practice is not the only subject we should pay attention to. When we take into account the peculiarity of housewifefs position, the nameless "movement / work" of housewives, which is not valued socially and thus goes undocumented or does not receive media coverage, should be rather valued as their mental and practical activities. From a standpoint of housewives it may be just their everyday movement / work they are not especially aware of.

In other words, the leading edge of "housewife studies"—if any—can be unfiled writings and products which housewives left due to compelling feelings in daily housework which they are swamped with. The writings and products are ignored by scholars and experts, and housewives do not find it necessary to talk about, record and introduce the writings and products either. Therefore they are never considered to be their "work". However, it is usually difficult to recognize, collect and organize such "objects" because of its property. While it is an inconvenient problem, it is interesting at the same time because of the difficulty. In a manner of speaking, I am a researcher who is going to give life to such field.

I reflect these problem consciousness in one of the special features of the journal Ars Vivendi Vol.8 (http://www.arsvi.com/m/sz008e.htm), which was published by the Research Center for Ars Vivendi of Ritsumeikan University in March 2015, and I am a member of the editorial board of the journal. The title of the special feature is "Creative Mothers". The purpose of the special feature is to confirm two things—(1) how mothers / housewives who do not attract attention as "charisma," not have special talents and social status and not engage in the specific movement / activity, manage their daily life autonomously and practically and (2) the meaning of (1). This special feature consists of the following three points.
1) MURAKAMI Kiyoshi "Special Feature Commentary: The Reason We Focus on 'Creative Mothers' Now"
2) [Round-table Talk] "Oppression to Mothers / Mothers' Creation: The Condition of Being Creative Mothers" HORIKOSHI Hidemi, NONAKA Momo & MURAKAMI Kiyoshi
3) [Essay] MIZUKOSHI Maki "Beyond Criticisms against 'Polite' Women"

If you were excited or angry about the word "Creative Mothers," you should read this special feature by all means. Surely it will disappoint both expectations, but if you can feel something unconvincing impatient when you read this special feature, my purpose is achieved. I look forward to a reaction from all of you.


UP: July 30, 2015@REV:
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