The Sacrifice of a Schoolgirl

The 1995 Rape Case,Discourses of Power, and Women's Lives in Okinawa

Author: Linda Isako Angst

Abstract:

In September 1995 relations between the United States, Japan, and Okinawa were transformed when three U.S. servicemen brutally gang-raped a twelve-year-old schoolgirl. Okinawan feminists called public attention to the rape, but it wasn't long before the media and political leaders shifted their focus to concerns about Okinawa's colonial history and its postwar occupation by the United States. A crisis of sovereignty replaced the crisis for women and a particular girl, which gradually faded from view, as did the agenda of feminist activists. Through an examination of Okinawa's contentious identity politics, the author traces the political trajectories of Okinawa's component groups and asks why this particular crime, in a long list of crimes against Okinawans by U.S. personnel since 1945, resonates so strongly both in Okinawa and in mainland Japan. The author argues that the rape has been enlisted for its powerful symbolic capacity: Okinawa as sacrificed schoolgirl/daughter. As such it is emblematic of past, prior narratives of Okinawan victimhood, most notably the Himeyuri students in the Battle of Okinawa. Feminists' cooperation in a patriarchal language that posits Okinawa as daughter within a national Japanese family is problematic but necessary as a strategy in the fight for women's human rights.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan

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June 2001
© E.D. Starin