Korean “Comfort Women” of Wwii

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“…Use curiosity to ask challenging questions about what appear as normal, everyday banalities in order to try and understand make visible’ the hidden gendering of the practice and theorizing of international relations” –Cynthia Enloe

In times of armed conflict, women are most susceptible to violence and silencing through the sexualization, dehumanization, and stigmatization of their identities. Janie Leatherman highlights this point when stating “gender based violence often intensifies and becomes more extreme in a crisis, even escalating into a tool of war “ (4). This is inevitable in a patriarchal society where hegemonic masculine values construct gender norms and gender expectations. Sexual violence during armed conflict does not develop in isolation from the society’s preexisting socioeconomic and culturally shaped gender relationships. Furthermore, the patriarchal nature of a society does not work alone in creating injustices, such as sexual violence, against women during and after armed conflict; there must be a “framework that embraces the realities, contradictions, and intersections of various global relations of power” (Kempadoo, 29). These intersections include the relationships between gender, race, class, cultural, and societal ideologies. In my paper, I take on Cynthia Enloe’s challenge of using an enquiring, gendered lens to explore the silencing of women during and after war by examining the case of the Korean ‘comfort women’ of World War II. I will analyze how the intersection of prevailing social determinants and ideologies have regulated and perpetuated the rationale and, thus, the invisibility of the Korean comfort women during and in the aftermath of World War II.

Literature Review & Research Methodology

Yoshiaki Yoshimi’s Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military during World War II, Margaret Stetz’s Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II, as well as Toshiyuki Tanaka’s Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II were mainly used throughout my research to gather the testimonies of surviving Korean comfort women. All three books give a comprehensive look into the phenomenon of the Japanese military comfort women system with historical background and an abundance of testimonies and documentation of the Korean comfort women. Because my research focuses on the silencing of Korean comfort women during and in the aftermath of World War II, these oral histories provide crucial supporting evidence throughout my paper. Besides two testimonies by one Japanese soldier and one Japanese military doctor, testimonies by other Japanese soldiers and government officials that have acknowledged the existence of the comfort women stations were difficult to find. Therefore, throughout these testimonies, I specifically looked for patterns that revealed evidence of Japanese gender hierarchies through the diction and accounts that imply any dehumanization and objectification imparted by Japanese soldiers. To investigate the determinants that had cultivated the Japanese comfort station system and, more importantly, the targeting of Korean women for the system, I specifically used Cynthia Enloe’s Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives as well as Janie Leatherman’s Sexual Violence and Armed Conflict. Both authors give insights and analyses of the causes and consequences of sexual violence during armed conflict. They both emphasize the interplay of patriarchal systems, gender constructions/norms, and political/economic/cultural structures as large contributors. In addition to these specific determinants, I incorporate Sara Ahmed’s analysis to sexual violence by considering the “cultural intersections between gender, race, and colonialism” in my analytical approach (138). By applying and intertwining the critical approaches of Enloe, Leatherman, and Ahmed, I am able to isolate the multifaceted, yet intersecting institutions and ideologies that had fabricated...
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