History of Feminism and Sexism in South Korea

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After the end of WWII, documents of the Comfort Women were destroyed by Japanese officials and the women who had been forced into sexual slavery became societal outcasts.

In the 1980s, some women began to share their stories. After the Republic of South Korea became a democracy in 1987, women started discussing their issues to the world. The issue flared into an international dispute in 1990 when South Korea criticized Japan after the Japanese government denied the events to have taken place. Afterwards, more women came forward to tell their stories. Japan's government finally acknowledged the atrocities three years later, and the Japanese government finally announced it would give reparations to surviving Korean Comfort Women in 2015, but South Korea asked for a stronger apology and since then the issue has remained divisive. Mostly because Japan recently denied that request for a better apology which is just a reminder that the issue remains as a matter of foreign relations in the past and its effects on the present.

Besides the Comfort Women, during as well as after the Japan occupation of Korea there was a controversial historical feminist named Kim Hwallan. She was a South Korean politician, educator, social activist, and the first women to have a PhD in Korea. Kim is considered a pioneer in Korean women's higher education while at the same time a controversial pro-Japanese intellectual. Koreans have been critiqued for a typically nationalistic outlook, but the debate about Kim Hwallan shows how collective memory of a colonial era uses gender for a nationalistic construction in a way that silences feminists and interrupts their participation in it (Insook). Kim was one of the leading founders of a women's large national organization founded by socialist and nationalist women, called Kunwuhwoe. Its goal was to abolish the remaining Korean practices and beliefs as well as any memories of the occupation of Japan. After Korea gained independence in 1945, Kim supported pro-American changes, which was thought of as dictatorial, anti-Communistic, and militaristic (Insook). Many Koreans, especially men, criticized Kim and blamed her gender for her ideals.

Whether Kim's ideals were correct or not, though there is confusion if she worked with the Japanese military voluntarily or forcibly, the sexism that she and other women experienced in the past has the same root that the women of modern South Korea experience today. South Korea has a sordid history of blatant and violent misogyny, women in South Korea face being beaten up, raped, or killed if they proclaim they are a feminist. Though there are many countless stories of hatred in women in Korean values and culture, many South Korean women are still fighting back and trying to change the systematic misogyny surrounding them.

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History Of Feminism And Sexism In South Korea. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved July 21, 2024 , from

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