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Cosmopolitanism and the Modern Girl: A Cross-Cultural Discourse in 1930s Penang1

  • SU LIN LEWIS (a1)

Abstract

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Modern Girl emerged in advertisements, cinema and public discourse all over the globe. While she was implicated in nationalist projects of social reform in post-war Britain and Japan, in multicultural, port-city environments such as Penang, the Modern Girl was central to a discourse of ‘cosmopolitanism’. Lively debates about the Modern Girl in Penang's English press wrestled with the tensions between cultural authenticity, diversity and modernity. Male and female readers of the Straits Echo, from different ethnic backgrounds, engaged with each other in a shared public space about issues ranging from education and politics to women's liberality and fashion. The Modern Girl thus represents a new way of looking at the history of colonial Malaysia in the interwar period: one not focused on ethnic nationalism and communalism, but on a shared, multi-ethnic mode of belonging rooted in the globalist environment of the late colonial port-city.

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