‘Comfort Women’ Campaigns and Uncomfortable Feminism: The Violent Intimacies of South Korean Youth Activism

Authors: JAEYEON LEE*, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY
Topics: Women, Political Geography, Asia
Keywords: comfort women campaign, Korean youth activism, violent intimacy, feminist killjoy, nationalist
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Studio 9, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


‘Comfort women’ campaigns are a popular venue for youth activism among South Korean women and men. The campaigns draw attention to injustices committed against South Korean women appropriated as ‘comfort women’, or sex slaves, by the Japanese Empire during WWII. The South Korean state has recently begun to treat this form of youth activism as a healthy engagement with political action, and ‘comfort women’ campaigns are increasingly being used internationally to promote South Korean national interests. This paper will critically interrogate these youth activist campaigns, arguing that they commodify resistance activities and foster spaces of intimacy and belonging that perpetuate ethno-nationalist and androcentric social relations. I will draw upon my participation in a 20-day campaign during the summer of 2017 in which thirty S. Korean youth traveled from Washington D.C. to Boston. My findings illustrate the ways in which these campaigns enforce patriarchal boundaries of political behavior for women and men and construct politico-historical narratives where only nationalist perspectives about comfort women are allowed. Furthermore, I examine how female participants continuously challenged the boundaries of comfortability by disturbing male-centered ideological devices to maintain public comfort. Specifically, I pay attention to the female participants’ willful engagement with uncomfortable bodily expressions and ideas. I will conclude by highlighting the necessity of these uncomfortable acts in challenging dominant narratives of South Korean history and creating new possibilities for South Korean activism.

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