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Mithani, Forum (2019) Reproducing and Challenging the Maternal Fantasy : Representations of Single Mothers in Japanese Television Drama, 2005-2014. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Single motherhood, an increasing phenomenon in Japan, nevertheless continues to be maligned for its association with poverty and deviation from the idealised middle-class, two-parent family based on the male breadwinner/female homemaker model. Theories in psychology and child development reinforced the idea that mothers should devote themselves to childrearing, particularly during the early years. The glorified image of the mother who lives and suffers for the sake of her child has been reproduced in popular culture, often based on the nostalgic memories of adult children (Yamamura 1983). The modern Japanese family model is founded on this “maternal fantasy” (Asai 1990) of a selfless, undesiring mother. Thus, working-class single mothers must not only contend with the practical considerations but also overcome the social and psychological implications of supporting the household and raising children single-handedly in a society that has embraced the idealised image of the middle-class fulltime mother. As such, the single mother seems an unlikely heroine of narratives of motherhood. However, she has often been co-opted by television drama to reproduce the maternal fantasy for a contemporary audience. Such representations should be viewed within the context of the significant social and demographic change Japan has witnessed in recent years. Falling marriage and birth rates have caused anxiety that women are losing their ‘maternal instinct’, thus threatening the institution of the family itself. By exploiting the hardship of single motherhood, creators of television drama, usually men, have revived the glorified image of the selfless, suffering mother. However, these representations also reveal the vulnerability of the fantasy they attempt to recreate. Meanwhile, narratives of career-oriented single mothers that transgress the boundaries of gender norms may hold the potential to challenge heterosexual stereotypes and expose the discrimination many women face in the workplace. However, it must be recognised that while representations of single motherhood in television drama can play a role in revealing the fallacy of the maternal fantasy and the pressure it places on women, the idealisation of these heroines, either as victims or conquerors of an oppressive, patriarchal system, risks reinforcing the maternal fantasy through its exclusion of men from the domestic sphere.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Griseldis Kirsch
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2020 11:06

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