Aspiring to Craft Modern Gendered Selves

Author: Sarah C. Soh


Taking the perspective of “person-centered” critical anthropology, this article explores the intersections of gender, class, and labor in the patterns of young unmarried women's agency and life chances in the historical context of the industrial revolution and modernization in colonial Korea (1910-1945). By reading closely the “testimonial narratives” of individual surviving “comfort women,” the article traverses beyond the South Korean nationalistic rhetoric of comfort women as deceived Ch(o)brevengsindae (Women's Volunteer Corps) and victims only of Japanese colonialism. There can be no denying that forcibly recruited women suffered slaverylike conditions and were tragically victimized; some even lost their lives. However, the causal factors for surviving victims' lifelong sufferings are often more complex and divergent than the hegemonic public discourse of imperial Japan's exploitation of Korean women would suggest. In some cases, their victimization began at home where traditional patriarchal mistreatment of daughters drove them away from home to the public sphere. Their valiant acts of self-determination in pursuit of an education, and autonomy to craft modern gendered selves, deserve scholarly exposure and recognition in a more nuanced and postnationalist understanding of Korean women's tragic history of foiled aspirations and horrific ordeals under patriarchy, colonialism, and total war.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: Korea

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© 2004 ILO/Cassidy K.