"That's really nonsense!": Japan Forum article on gendered logic of postwar education
In 1971, a young woman attempted to enter graduate school at
Kyoto University. Her undergraduate advisor attempted to dissuade her. This
‘incident’ prompted a heated dispute that rallied student activists to support
the young woman, dubbed R-ko, and channeled the anger of female students
at this elite university toward what they understood to be implicit gendered
bias undergirding the university and its definition of who constituted an academic.
I discovered this history when I was working in the Kyoto University archives in 2012, but could not quite fit this story into the manuscript I was working on at the time. It still deserved to be told, I believed. And finally, I've been able to publish on it in Japan Forum. This link *should* direct you to the eprint. But if you can no longer download it for free, please just shoot me a message: firstname.lastname@example.org
The use of the activists who organized to support R-ko of the term "nonsense (nansensu)" interested me a great deal. As you can see in the image above from a 1969 College Neechan strip by Sonoyama Shunji, "nonsense" was a common battle cry and bullshit detector among campus activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The use of this term lead me to adapt Gramsci’s insights on the power arrangements embedded in ‘common sense’ and also to employ a feminist analysis to investigate this localized dispute in the wider context of postwar public debates in Japan on the question of women’s access to higher education. I wanted to take seriously the documents left by a transitory activist movement – a moment – to understand the historical strategies mobilized to counter such ‘common sense’, and also the challenges such critiques have met.
I'm thrilled this story finally found a happy home!