University of Sussex
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Monstrous happiness: a comparative study of maternal and familial happiness in neoliberalism in Japanese and British women's writing in the 1980s

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posted on 2023-06-09, 01:36 authored by Nozomi Uematsu
My thesis is a feminist comparative project on Japanese and English women’s writing, historicised within the social discourses of the 1980s, reading the literary texts of Foumiko Kometani, Doris Lessing, Banana Yoshimoto and Jeanette Winterson. Treating these texts as contemporary, this thesis questions the rhetoric of optimism, with ideas such as “liberty” and “happiness” in the beginning decade of neoliberalism, interrogating how this rhetoric empowers and influences women’s life choices in the 1980s. Simultaneously, I consider how these women writing in the 1980s respond, criticise, and explore this optimism in relation to maternity and maternal relationships: I examine the rhetoric of maternal/familial happiness in relation to the neo-liberal narrative of normativity. In this sense, happiness works as a force for normativity. I argue that neoliberalism offers women new possibilities for various kinds of labour: it opened up more labour opportunities in the public sphere both in the UK and Japan, whilst nonetheless continuing to encourage women to engage in physical labour, child birth through marriage and heteronormative relationships. These two contradictory agendas, the new opportunity for women to work in the public sphere and the requirement to stay at home to reproduce, nurture and look after family members, caused a huge tension in neoliberal lives, and the fictions that represent them at the time. Building from the works of Sara Ahmed and Lauren Berlant, I argue that happiness is the affective glue that holds together and smoothes over this tension between women’s self-fulfillment in the public sphere and in the domestic sphere. To be happy, after all, women were told (and are still told) they needed to be proximate to the conventional family unit. This study thus seeks to contribute to comparative literature across the East and the West, affect studies, contemporary women’s writing and feminist literary criticism.


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