Two articles recently published in Signs have been awarded the Florence Howe Award for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship from the Women’s Caucus of the Modern Languages Association. The awards ceremony will take place at the MLA Convention in Chicago on Thursday, January 9, from 8:45-10:00 pm in Chicago VIII at the Sheraton Chicago. The awards will also be announced by Rosemary Feal, Executive Director of the MLA, at the official MLA Awards Ceremony (session 660 in the program), which will take place on Saturday, January 11, at 6:45 pm, in Sheraton IV–V.
Suzanne Leonard’s article “The Americanization of Emma Bovary: From Feminist Icon to Desperate Housewife” (published in the Spring 2013 issue of Signs) has been selected as the winner of the Florence Howe Award in Anglophone Languages and Literatures. Weaving together literary criticism, literary history, and analysis of popular culture, Leonard’s essay examines how the English translation of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, particularly the figure of Emma Bovary herself, circulates within postfeminist US cultural texts. Historicizing Emma’s often troubled image, Leonard traces the character’s current popularity to her earlier recuperation and simultaneous Americanization by second-wave feminists, arguing that an interest in Madame Bovary spoke to the era’s interrogation of the effects of gendered power. Leonard contends that, in contrast to these earlier, more forgiving feminist accounts, contemporary appropriations of Emma in literature, film, and television coldly point out the deficiencies of the women characters to whom Emma is compared, citing them as foolish readers who neglect or ignore the insights her struggles could provide. As is Emma, contemporary female characters are assessed from the perspective of ironic distance, a postfeminist sensibility characterized by tonal fluctuations between sympathy and disdain. Subtly observed and lucidly written, “The Americanization of Emma Bovary” documents important aspects of contemporary postfeminist attitudes by considering shifts in the function of the figure of the female reader. Leonard’s use of Emma to elucidate the telling distance that pop cultural representations of women have traveled since the second wave is especially timely as postfeminist frameworks—with their “strident individualism” and ironic detachment—continue to proliferate across US popular culture and public discourse.
The Florence Howe Award in Foreign Languages and Literatures will be presented to Michiko Suzuki for her essay “The Husband’s Chastity: Progress, Equality, and Difference in 1930s Japan” (published in the Winter 2013 issue of Signs). Suzuki uses the 1937 novel Otto no teisō (The Husband’s Chastity) by Yoshiya Nobuko as a window into the complex dynamics of the Japanese women’s movement. Published during a tumultuous period, when the women’s movement was reconfiguring its priorities in relation to militarism and empire, Yoshiya’s text is a critique of the double standard that emphasized women’s chastity but not men’s (and that criminalized women’s adultery but left men’s unpunished). Suzuki’s analysis reveals that the novel’s reliance on notions of sexual purity is complicit with efforts to constitute a pure Japan, efforts that are foundational to imperial discourse. In drawing attention to the text’s yearning for the path not taken, however, Suzuki raises the possibility that Yoshiya may have understood that other, unarticulated visions of change were possible. Suzuki’s essay thus provides a striking example of the potential for literature to shed light on the complexities of social movements and political dynamics. In using a work of popular fiction to articulate the tensions between equality and difference within feminism in 1930s Japan, Suzuki not only shows how The Husband’s Chastity exemplifies the dynamics of social and political change occurring in Japan but also demonstrates that a gendered and feminist analysis of nationalism and empire remains crucial to historical and literary scholarship.
Please join us in congratulating these two wonderfully talented scholars on their much-deserved recognition!