Gender refers to the socially constructed traits of men and women. The characteristics are different in each society and can change over time. For decades, gender has remained a major topic in the academic and professional circles. In this paper, the author will answer three questions on the modern girl based on three articles. The three publications are by Janice Kim, Madeleine Dong, and Miriam Silverberg.
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Analyzing the Modern Girl
How Silverberg’s Texts Capture Her Historical Approach to the Issue of Gender
In the article, Silverberg states that the modern girl must be made a part of the political, economic, and socio-cultural transformations of her time. In addition, this author observes that the modern girl is more about imagining a new Japanese woman than documenting social change.1 The two texts capture Silverberg’s historical approach to the topic of gender. Throughout human history, women have been the victims of large scale discrimination in many societies.2 However, Silverberg believes that times have changed, and women have evolved to become “modern girls.” She looks down on tradition through lifestyle transformations.3
According to Silverberg, the characteristics of the contemporary girl have revolutionized the perceptions that people have about women and gender roles. As such, females should be allowed to take part in political, economic, and social-cultural activities, which lead to the growth of society.4 Dong concurs with the notion that women have changed over time. According to Dong, the modern girl has managed to enter into a society she did not belong to in the past.5 Females have moved from leisure class to middle class. Evolution has made women take up new roles, such as salespersons, clerks, and waitresses.6
Silverberg observes that the discourse on the Modern Girl focuses more on a hypothetical new Japanese woman than on social change. Throughout the book, the author addresses the issue of how Japanese ladies have changed over time. The book fails to acknowledge the change in the general society. Silverberg notes that females have time and money to dress in the brightly colored ensemble of western attires and attend different events.7 As a result, they seem to have been liberated. The statement shows that Silverberg approaches the issue of gender from the perspective of male imagination than from the angel of accurate documentation of actual social changes happening to Japanese women.
How the Approach Helps One to Understand Madeleine Dong’s Emphasis on the Anxiety Generated by the Rise of the Modern Girl’s Figure
Silverberg’s approach helps the reader to understand Dong’s analysis of the modern woman. The reason is that Silverberg’s literature shows the initial transformation among women, which leads to their changes in traits, as documented in Dong’s book. According to Dong, the modern girl has evolved a lot. Consequently, she poses a threat to the men in society.8
In Playthings of Different Times by Shen Baohui, the author argues that there seems to be a turnaround in power relations between men and women.9 The drawing also shows the disparity between powerful females and powerless men. All these factors are associated with the anxiety experienced by men across different societies. The evolution of females into “modern women” indicates that men will no longer assume their accustomed postures, which portray power.10
For example, in the illustration, the man is not standing in the usual male stance where the feet are parallel to each other and legs are apart. The arms are also outstretched from the body. The notion that helps one to understand Dong’s emphasis on women and power is clearly highlighted by Silverberg. According to Silverberg, the modern woman had freed herself from the age-old traditions and conventions.
In Silverberg’s literature, the woman is becoming more like a man both spiritually and physically. The change in attributes helps in understanding Dong’s emphasis on the anxiety generated by the transformation of the modern woman. According to the drawing, females’ posture resembles that of men. The idea is supported by the fact that women are not depicted with their feet together or hand close to their upper bodies. In the past, men were responsible for initiating actions.11
Dong argues that another cause of anxiety is the fact that women no longer ‘keep to themselves’.12 The lady makes direct gazes and flirts more to ‘wow’ men.13 In addition, the modern woman has the power to change her image by wearing fashionable attires, make-up, and delicate high heels. The concept of change is better understood since it is also noted by Silverberg. According to Silverberg, the modern girl has the resources to present herself in a fashionable way.14
The evolution of females, as portrayed by Silverberg, helps to understand Dong’s idea that women are ‘playthings of different times’. The drawing shows that the modern woman has conquered the man. As such, she is no longer a male’s plaything. The changes indicate that men fear they will be overthrown from their position as heads. The reason for this is because males will follow and take female roles.15
Understanding the Relationship between Other Types of Gendered Groups
The works of Dong and Silverberg help readers understand the entire aspect of the relationship between different gendered groups. The books show how the evolution of the female into the modern woman has resulted in changes in their roles.16
In Lives and Labor inside the Factories, Janice gives readers more information on the transformation of women and the shift in gender roles. In the book, Janice provides a detailed account of how factory ladies have managed to make themselves important figures in the industrial sector. In the early decades, women stayed at home to take care of children and act as men’s playthings. However, Janice shows how the modern woman has ventured into the industrial sector, which is dominated by men, with the help of parents.
The idea of women entering into the labor market is also portrayed by both Silverberg and Dong. Silverberg notes that the modern woman no longer acts as a housewife.17 The reason is that ladies have assumed new roles, such as those of sales persons.
Janice helps the audience to understand the relationship between the ‘factory women’ and the modern girl by showing how the industrial ladies have resisted oppression from their employers. The author notes that the females employed in factories worked for longer hours than what was required.18
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In addition, residence within the company’s compound was customary. However, over time, factory women in colonial Korea have managed to develop tactics of resisting oppression by the industry heads. Janice notes that factory ladies calculated their actions and took advantage of fortuitous incidents within hegemonic spaces.19 The move by the female workers to fight for their rights is related to Dong’s and Silverberg’s accounts of women becoming powerful just like their male counterparts.
Janice also shows the link between the factory women and debates surrounding the modern girl by illustrating the desire of unmarried women to enter into waged work. According to this author, unmarried ladies strived to get jobs in order to cater for their parents’ homes.20 In addition, ladies left home, got married, and set up independent households. The evolution of women to self-governing beings has affected the household structure. The factory ladies can be considered as the real ‘modern female’ described by Silverberg. According to Silverberg, real modern girls rise from the ranks of working women who are organized as social ladies.
The Modern Girl: A Global and Local Phenomenon
The modern girl is both a global and a local phenomenon. The reason for this is because in the three texts, there is evidence of women evolution in terms of roles in three different settings. In To Live to Work: Factory Women in Colonial Korea, Janice shows how women changed and acquired the attributes of a modern girl in Colonial Korea. In Who is Afraid of the Chinese Modern Girl?, Dong shows the evolution of women and their roles in China. Finally, in Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, Silverberg talks of the emergence of the modern girl in Japan.21
The modern girl is a product of global cultural shift. The reason is that the entire notion of women and change in attitudes was influenced by new cultural movements. It is also associated with the spread of western thoughts. Silverberg, for example, notes that the modern girl in Japan has borrowed a lot in terms of grooming from the western culture.
Dong, Madeleine. “Who is Afraid of the Chinese Modern Girl?.” In The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, edited by Alys Weinbaum, 195-219. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.
Kim, Janice. To Live to Work: Factory Women in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.
Silverberg, Miriam. Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
Weinbaum, Alys. The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.
- Miriam Silverberg, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 250.
- Ibid, 251.
- Ibid, 249.
- Alys Weinbaum, The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 199.
- Silverberg, 242.
- Madeleine Dong, “Who is Afraid of the Modern Chinese Girl?,” in The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, ed. Alys Weinbaum (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 195.
- Weinbaum, 213.
- Weinbaum, 35.
- Dong, 196.
- Weinbaum, 45.
- Silverberg, 242.
- Dong, 213.
- Silverberg, 243.
- Janice Kim, To Live to Work: Factory Women in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 77.