Gender and Politics in Contemporary Korea, Journal of Korean Studies 19:2

jks.19.2_frontAt last, the special thematic issue on gender and politics in contemporary Korea I co-edited with Jennifer Jihye Chun has been published by the Journal of Korean Studies! It originally began as a “Gender and Politics in Korea” workshop in August 2009 at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (with thanks to Professor Nam-lin Hur) consisting of me, Jennifer Jihye Chun, Nancy Abelmann, Hyaeweol Choi, Elaine H. Kim, Mimi E. Kim, Minjeong Kim, Jane Lee, Seungsook Moon, and Jesook Song.

Years later, the workshop was reprised with several contributors and Hae Yeon Choo, Marisa Karyl Franz, Ji Young Jung, Janice Kim, Yang-Sook Kim, Jennifer McCann, Ito Peng, Andre Schmid, Jesook Song, and Sunyoung Yang in December 2013, hosted by the Centre for the Study of Korea at the University of Toronto.

The issue would not have been possible without the many, many anonymous reviewers who offered critical and generous feedback, as well as the JKS Editor-in-Chief Clark W. Sorensen and Managing Editor Tracy Stober for their enthusiasm and encouragement from the issue’s inception to completion. It was my first time editing a journal issue, and it was humbling to experience the extent of collaboration and collegiality involved in a scholarly production like this. We are quite proud of the outcome.

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Journal of Korean Studies Volume 19, Number 2, Fall 2014
Thematic Issue: Gender and Politics in Contemporary Korea

Introduction: Gender and Politics in Contemporary Korea (pp. 245-255)
by Ju Hui Judy Han and Jennifer Jihye Chun (Guest Editors)

Excerpt: “In this thematic issue on gender and politics in contemporary Korea, we broaden both our historical view and geographical reach. Although by no means comprehensive in coverage, the issue features new empirical studies and theoretical insights that expand our understanding of how and under what conditions gendered power dynamics are produced, reproduced, and transformed.

By featuring articles that examine the complex workings of gender and power in multiple sites and at multiple levels of analysis, this issue shows how gender is intimately bound with inequalities, not only between women and men but also in all social relations concerning class, sexuality, ethnicity, race, migration, and the nation. We emphasize the ongoing centrality of studying the contemporary dynamics of gender and politics in Korea as constitutive of the historical circumstances and material realities that shape people’s everyday experiences of power, inequality, subjugation, and marginalization.”

Ju Hui Judy Han is assistant professor in the Department of Human Geography at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Her research concerns missionary mobilities, evangelical capitalism, and the cultural politics of travel, faith, and aspirations.

Jennifer Jihye Chun is associate professor in the Department of Sociology at University of Toronto Scarborough and director of the Centre for the Study of Korea. Her research is internationally comparative and explores the changing world of work and politics in the global economy. She is the author of Organizing at the Margins: The Symbolic Politics of Labor in South Korea and the United States (Cornell University Press, 2009).

Mothers and Maidens: Gendered Formation of Revolutionary Heroes in North Korea
 (pp. 257-289)
by Suzy Kim

North Korean political discourse is distinctive in its application of maternalism across genders in which motherhood is depicted as an ideal model for men as well as women. This article seeks to explain how motherhood has been redefined in the process of North Korean nation building, and what influences this process has had on the formation of gendered identities as part of modern subjectivity. The following research examines two of the three so-called great classics of anti-Japanese revolutionary works, Sea of Blood (P’ibada 피바다) and The Flower Girl (Kkot p’anŭn ch’ŏnyŏ 꽃파는 처녀), to compare the two female heroines and their roles as consummate revolutionaries. Reported to have originated as stage plays during the 1930s anticolonial guerrilla struggle in Manchuria, throughout the 1970s the plays developed into films, live operatic performances, and finally novels. While the works may officially serve to project images of national unity against imperialism, they raise interesting questions about the role of gender in postcolonial state formation. By comparing the mother in Sea of Blood and the maiden in The Flower Girl, this article explores the significance of gender in the construction of modern militarized citizenship in North Korea.

Suzy Kim is an assistant professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at Rutgers University. Her book Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950 was published by Cornell University Press in 2013. Her teaching and research interests focus on modern Korean history, with particular attention to gender studies, oral history, and social theory.

South Korean Rural Husbands, Compensatory Masculinity, and International Marriage
 (pp. 291-325)
by Minjeong Kim

In the growing literature on marriage migration in Asia, there has been little research on Asian men who are married to foreign-born women. Through in-depth interviews with thirty-five rural South Korean husbands, this article examines how the men construct their masculine identity in the context of international marriage. Using the concept of compensatory masculinity, this article shows how these subaltern men, who have been literally and symbolically rejected by South Korean women—due to regional disadvantages and/or low socioeconomic status—enact various aspects of local hegemonic masculinity. First, the article highlights the South Korean husbands’ compensatory masculinity in respect to their decisions regarding international marriage and their emphasis on heterosexual desirability and virility. Then, it offers a comparative analysis of how the two groups of South Korean husbands discursively construct their masculine identity with two different themes—as Filipinas’ providers and saviors and with Japanese wives’ deference. This study illustrates how global forces and hierarchies reconfigured South Korean husbands’ locally specific ways of doing masculinity, and how gender strategies intersect with socioeconomic status, regional identity, and, more specifically, wives’ nationality.

Minjeong Kim is assistant professor of sociology at San Diego State University. She became a Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellow in women’s studies for her research on marriage migration to rural South Korea with a focus on gender, ethnicity, and citizenship. Dr. Kim has published several book chapters and articles in the following journals: Social Politics, Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, Sociology Compass, Politics and Gender, and Qualitative Sociology. With Christine E. Bose, she coedited Global Gender Research: Transnational Perspectives (Routledge, 2009).

Framing Dynamics of South Korean Women’s Movements, 1970s–90s: Global Influences, State Responses, and Interorganizational Networks
 (pp. 327-356)
by Doowon Suh, Inn Hea Park

South Korean feminist activism has been a paradigmatic case of success in terms of legislating and amending laws and policies germane to gender equality. In explaining the dynamics of South Korean women’s movements, however, existing research that highlights the importance of external structures falls short of analytic acumen. Even when propitious opportunities for movement vibrancy appear, they cannot become consequential gains unless movement participants perceive the opportunities as palpable and capitalize on them. By focusing on the activities of the Korea Women’s Hot Line (KWHL 한국여성의전화), we explore how the KWHL created a gender frame in the 1970s and changed it in the 1980s and the 1990s and investigate how the KWHL problematized gender violence, identified perpetrators, distinguished the root cause, and furnished solutions. This process of frame construction and reconstitution is not only intrinsic to forming a feminist identity and mobilizing women’s movements but also integral to movement trajectories. Yet, framing and its impact are practiced and constrained within specific domestic and international confines. In the South Korean case, gender frames have been formulated and reformulated by three factors: (1) global influences, (2) state responses, and (3) interorganizational networks.

Doowon Suh is a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago and an MSc in sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Inn Hea Park is a research professor at Sungkonghoe University and was awarded a PhD in sociology from Sungkonghoe University.

The South Korean Gender System: LGBTI in the Contexts of Family, Legal Identity, and the Military
 (pp. 357-377)
by Tari Young-Jung Na, translated by Ju Hui Judy Han and Se-Woong Koo

The South Korean legal system is founded on a binary model of gender based on heterosexuality. It regulates the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people by enforcing laws that produce gender in accordance with this binary model. The family in Korean society is associated with the family headship system (hojuje 호주제)—which has simultaneously functioned both as a system of legal identification and as the mechanism directly responsible for the production of gendered kungmin or national subjects. As part of the family headship system, the gendered kungmin is classified as father or mother, wife or husband, and daughter or son, thereby reinforcing compulsory gender roles within the family. The Republic of Korea (ROK) military, too, is an important gender system fixated on binary gender classification, in that it targets all males as objects of conscription, at least in principle if not in actuality, and manages the male body through physical examination and discipline. Persons with nonconforming sexual orientation or gender identity who seek to live outside the prevailing gender system are deemed unfit and in violation of the heteronormative binary gender norms. This article problematizes the South Korean gender system as revealed in its interactions with LGBTI persons in three interlocking contexts: family, legal identity, and the military. By critically examining these modalities of the South Korean gender system, the author argues that the law renders LGBTI persons as unsuitable national subjects because they trouble the existing gender paradigm in significant ways.

Tari Young-Jung Na is a researcher with the Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGILP) and a member of Women With Disabilities Empathy (Chang’ae Yŏsŏng Gong’gam 장애여성공감). She is actively involved in the social movements for queer, disability, and citizenship rights and was the lead researcher of the 2014 “Korean LGBTI Community Needs Assessment Survey,” a large-scale survey of South Korean lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities.

Ju Hui Judy Han is assistant professor in the Department of Human Geography at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Her research concerns missionary mobilities, evangelical capitalism, and the cultural politics of travel, faith, and aspirations.

Se-Woong Koo is a writer and journalist based in Seoul. He earned his PhD in religious studies from Stanford University and taught at Stanford University, Asian University for Women, Ewha Women’s University, and Yale University.

Love and Money: Commercial Postpartum Care and the Reinscription of Patriarchy in Contemporary South Korea
 (pp. 379-397)
by Yoonjung Kang

This article examines how the monetization of postpartum care practices since the mid-1990s has influenced the politics of gender and kinship relations in urban middle-class families in contemporary South Korea. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the Seoul metropolitan area, my findings show that the post-partum period is a critical moment in which young, middle-class mothers negotiate contradictory and competing ideologies around conjugal love and equality within a nuclear family, patriarchal gender and family roles based on parental responsibility and filial piety, and consumption-oriented middle-class lifestyles. I further argue that contemporary economic conditions have increased the reliance of young, middle-class families on their extended family in unexpected ways, revealing a tendency to reinscribe rather than challenge patriarchal norms about how young, urban middle-class couples build family and kin relations.

Yoonjung Kang is a PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Demand from Abroad: Japanese Involvement in the 1970s’ Development of South Korea’s Sex Industry
 (pp. 399-428)
by Caroline Norma

This article describes Japanese corporate and state involvement in the development of the South Korean sex industry in the early 1970s. It suggests kisaeng tourism generated demand for the prostitution of South Korean women, as well as facilitated the transmission of Japanese corporate prostitution practices to South Korea. The role of the Japanese tourism industry and the Japanese government in supporting the emergence of kisaeng travel is also considered. The discussion draws on document-based sources to examine Japanese involvement in South Korean sex industry development from the theoretical perspective of cross-country patriarchal collaboration. It asks, What interest did Japanese state and corporate actors have in collaborating with South Korean government and industry to facilitate the development of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) local prostitution industry and to secure Japanese male sexual access to South Korean women in the early 1970s. The resulting discussion contributes to the development of a feminist “international relations” (IR) critique of prostitution.

Dr. Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban, and Social Studies at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. She is a professionally accredited Japanese translator and spent six months at Seoul National University as a visiting researcher in 2008. She pursues feminist political science critiques of prostitution and pornography in South Korea, Japan, and Australia.

The Soybean Paste Girl: The Cultural and Gender Politics of Coffee Consumption in Contemporary South Korea
 (pp. 429-448)
by Jee Eun Regina Song

In the mid-2000s, the figure of toenjangnyŏ 된장녀 appeared in South Korean popular culture, often depicted as a woman in her twenties or thirties who compulsively purchased luxury goods best exemplified by the Starbucks cup in her hand. This figure quickly became the center of controversy about class and gender in South Korea. In this article, using both Starbucks customers’ narratives and the representation of toenjangnyŏ in popular culture, I explore the cultural politics of this figure. The toenjangnyŏ controversy provides a window into understanding one of the major effects of Starbucks branding in South Korea: the construction of a new form of femininity and the consequent anxiety about how such overt consumerism reflects class dynamics as a performance of cosmopolitanism. In contrast to dominant understandings of consumption as a non-political and individual choice, this article demonstrates how coffee consumption becomes a key site of national anxiety about foreign cultural incursion and consumer-based femininity.

Jee Eun Regina Song is a visiting scholar in the Center for Korean Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her current book manuscript, “Building an Empire One Cup at a Time: Cultural Meaning and Power of Starbucks Korea,” explores how specific neoliberal policies, international politics, and economics have supported, created, and altered people’s consumption practices, value formation, and the changing meaning of work. As the first comprehensive ethnography of coffee consumers and baristas in Seoul, her project challenges the ways in which the commodification of brand-name coffee in South Korea both addresses and overlooks the political, economic, and social restructuring associated with neoliberal globalization in contemporary South Korea.