The Journal of Asian Studies

Research Article

The Modern Burmese Woman and the Politics of Fashion in Colonial Burma

Chie Ikeya

Abstract

In the mid-1930s, criticisms of modern women's habits, clothing, and hairstyles exploded in the Burmese popular press, showing that “modern fashion” made a man no less virtuous and patriotic but rendered a woman immoral and unpatriotic. This article examines the nature of these criticisms and their motivations, and reveals that the controversy over the dress and comportment of modern women was a complex and multifaceted phenomenon sustained by irreducibly plural interests. It argues that neither the appeal for traditionalism and national sufficiency in the face of multiple modern and colonial temptations, nor the changing tides of Burmese nationalist movements sufficiently explain the preoccupation with modern women's fashion, and suggests that the discourse on modern women needs to be analyzed as stemming from a profound unsettling of existing notions of masculinity and femininity, and its effect on relations between the sexes.

Footnotes

Chie Ikeya (seaci@nus.edu.sg) is Assistant Professor in the Southeast Asian Studies Program at the National University of Singapore.

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