Women in World History
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Sample Activity No. 3

“Each Woman Should Have Her Own Choice”
Hiratsuka Haru (pen name Raicho), Japan-1911

Feminism and women’s rights were dangerous topics of conversation in early twentieth century Japan. During the early years of the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), women had made some progress toward claiming their rights along side men. By the end of the century, however, male reformers gave way to conservative legislators who reinstated oppressive legislation in the Civil Codes of 1898. Women were lumped together with mental incompetents and minors. Girls and boys were taught different subjects in sex segregated schools. The Security Police Law of 1900 forbade women, who had no vote, from even attending political meetings, or taking political science classes. Traditional means of birth control were forbidden as Japan encouraged population growth after losses in the 1905 war with Russia. The highest achievement expected of women was to fulfill the ideal of “good wife/good mother.”

Surprisingly, in the midst of this repressive era another female type emerged. This was the “New Women,” or Atarashii Onna - women who were perceived to be “modern,” interested in individual self-expression. Popular magazines, photos, and illustrations depicted them as free spirits addicted to fashion and sex. Mainly they were merely women asserting their right to seek new identities for themselves. One was Hiratsuka Haru (Raicho) who was part of group who came from well-to-do families. In 1911 they created a stir by starting a sensational literary magazine called Bluestockings (Seito). The magazine was used as a forum to focus on a revolt against old social and family mores. Stories depicted women who left their husbands and sought independence. Discussions ranged from suffrage to birth control. Bluestockings, during its limited life, became a major champion of the cause for new political and sexual politics.

Raicho at age twenty-five in many ways led the charge. She said, “The new woman...is not satisfied with the life of the kind of woman who is made ignorant, made a slave, made a piece of meat by male selfishness. The new woman seeks to destroy the old morality and laws created for male advantage.” Yet Raicho also felt that the state should protect mothers and give them special privileges. She thought that women could not achieve economic independence without special protection from the government. Her ideas clashed with some of her peers who argued that women deserved all the rights and privileges accorded men, without gender consideration, as well as the freedom to participate equally in life with men.

Reaction: After her marriage, Raicho wrote about her sexual desire, her use of contraception and abortion, and of giving birth to an illegitimate baby. Reporters sensationalized her words, and opposition to her and this image of the “new women” intensified. Raicho’s house was stoned and she received death threats. The magazine was often censored. In 1916 pressure from society’s conservative institutions forced it to shut down.
In 1919 Raicho founded, along with political activist Ichikawa Fusae, the organization later known as the New Women’s Association, which enlisted the help of men to push for women’s political rights. In the years from 1928 on, however, the concept of a new Japanese woman was challenged. The influence of the military, accompanied by fascism, escalated. The Great Depression was deeply felt. Even though another wave of feminism emerged in the early 1930s and women found new work opportunities, starting in 1940 the dominant image of woman was Mother - one who raised her children alone after her husband’s death at the battle front, and who passed on the traditional patriarchal family culture onto them.

“Woman: the True Human Being”
excerpt from Raicho’s Bluestocking’s Manifesto

“When Japan was born, woman was the sun, the true human being. Now she is the moon! She lives in the light of another star. She is the moon, with a pale face like that of a sickly person.....This is the first cry of the Bluestockings!...We are the mind and the hand of the woman of new Japan. We expose ourselves to men’s laughter, but know that which is hidden under that mockery. Let us reveal our hidden sun, our unrecognized genius! Let it come from behind the clouds! That is the cry of our faith, of our personality, of our instinct, which is the master of all the instinct. At that moment we will see the shining throne of our divinity.”
Source: The Manifesto of Seito, vol. 1, no. 1, September, 1911

“To the Women of the World”
excerpt from Bluestocking

“It is very sad that even now I have to say such things as the following to the women of the world. I am often asked the following sort of question especially by women; ‘Are you and the members of the Seito group celibates?’ Whenever I meet this strange question - right, it is a very strange question! - I have to had to answer ‘No.’ And I have sometimes added, ‘I have never advocated celibacy nor insisted upon the idea of the good wife and wise mother...These women have no more substantial thoughts than: ‘Maybe Raicho is celibate since she hasn’t married anyone, though she is old enough to do so’...I wonder why a fundamental doubt about the conventional ideas that women ought to marry once, that marriage is the only way in which women can live, that every woman should be a good wide and wise mother and nothing more doesn’t occur to many of the women of this world. And I wonder why they don’t try to examine more thoroughly what women should essentially be, apart from long-term history, immediate utility or convenience, and especially the traditional womanly virtues which came into being for the convenience of men....
I suppose that, outside of marriage, women’s way of life should have limitless possibilities arrived at individually, as should women’s choice of vocations...be without limit. It would go without saying that each woman should have her own choice....
No longer can modern women who have achieved more or less individual self-awareness be sure that so-called womanly virtues...are welcome. We have thought them over, tracing back to their origins why these things have been required of women, and questioned why society...has come to permit them as ‘womanly virtues,’ and why they have ultimately come to be believed to be our essential nature. What did we find out?...It finally appears that soon there will be nothing of any value except that which suits the convenience of men’s lives....
We are eagerly groping for the gate to the real live of women. We are at a loss, wondering how we should centralize our energies....We are set stepping, doubting, considering and studying the fundamentals of what women’s real life should be with internal insecurity and with external struggle against so much unjustified persecution.”
Source: Seito, vol. 3, no. 4 , April 1913


  • What traditional ideas about “womanly virtues” did the Bluestocking members oppose?

  • Find phrases in Raicho’s writing that illustrate that she, and other magazine participants, saw themselves as pioneers in their society - as people exploring new ways. What arguments did they use to forward their ideas?

  • Raicho once said, “I was not advocating women’s political or social liberation. Rather, in my belief that women had to awaken to their true selves as human beings, I was calling for a spiritual revolution that aimed at total liberation and was not thinking in terms of women’s rights.” Do you agree with this description of her aims? What is your definition of “feminism?” Does Raicho fit this definition or not?


Find other readings in this unit to:

  • 1) Compare the Bluestocking movements with the 1920s United States ERA movement. In what ways was it similar. In what ways different?

  • 2) Look up the complete text of the Japanese Civil codes of 1898. Identity those codes most restrictive toward women.

  • 3) Look up the 1803 French Napoleonic Code. Are the two codes similar with regard to the position of women within the family? If yes, which ones?
    • Raicho wrote that “When Japan was born, woman was the sun.”
    Find out about the goddess Amaterasu to discover what she means.
    • When did women in Japan get the vote? Under what circumstances?
    • Find out who Ichikawa Fusae was. Why is she held in high esteem in Japan today?

"Modern Girls" or "Modan Garu" with short skirts, bobbed hair, and
western style clothes walk with young woman in traditional kimono, 1920s.

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Women in World History Curriculum