GENDER, HISTORY AND MODERNITY: REPRESENTING WOMEN IN TWENTIETH CENTURY COLONIAL BURMA
This dissertation is the first social history of twentieth century colonial Burma to analyze the central role gender played in discourses of colonialism, modernity, and nationalism. It revises the dominant historiography on colonial Burma that reifies and overly emphasizes the significance of ethnicity and is principally concerned with the identification of the origins of the Burmese nationalist movement. This dissertation redresses in particular the occlusion of women and draws attention to the multiple connections between gender and both sides of the colonial struggle, colonial and anti-colonial. Through an interwoven analysis of English and Burmese sources ranging from census reports and confidential memos to missionary pamphlets, fashion advertising, and serialized fiction, my research investigates the emergence of colonial discourses concerning Burmese women and the explosion of censorious and misogynistic representations of "the modern girl" during a formative period that defined Burma's transition from a pre-modern polity to a modern nation-state. What interests motivated these discourses and representations? Why were there no parallel discourses concerning men or masculinity? I argue that modern colonial rule produced a set of conditions in which colonizing and colonized women and men in unequal relations of power co-authored essentially gendered discourses and binary representations of "East" and "West," "tradition" and "modernity," "Buddhist" and "secular," and "colony" and "nation." The socio-historical conditions I attend to include: the large influx of single male immigrants from England and British India; the establishment of secular government-funded educational institution; the formation of a new textual culture which was founded on popular print and visual media; and the centrality of "the status of women" to the colonial civilizing mission and the modernization projects of the indigenous elite. My study examines the complex and sometimes contradictory effects these conditions had on the status of women in colonial Burma and on the emergence of a popular discourse on "Burmese women" that became a privileged idiom for articulating, interpreting, and discussing new and old social inequities.
Tamara Loos, Eric Tagaliacozzo, Anne Blackburn
Institute of Historical Research (University of London), American Association of University Women, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies (Cornell University), Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program (Cornell University), Department of History (Cornell University), Southeast Asia Program (Cornell University)
gender, history, modernity, Burma, women, colonialism, nationalism, Southeast Asia, Buddhism, feminism, plural society
dissertation or thesis