"Things that divide us are trifling": Cold War Feminism in North Korea with Suzy Kim, March 29, 2017, 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Feminism, both as theory and praxis, has long grappled with the dilemma of difference: that is, whether to celebrate women’s "difference" from men as offering a more emancipatory potential or to challenge those differences as man-made in the process of delineating modern sexed subjects. While this debate may be all too familiar within liberal feminist discourses, socialist feminisms that stretched across the Cold War divide were no less conflicted about what to do with gendered differences, most explicitly represented by sexual violence or biological motherhood. Situating North Korea in the broader frame of socialist feminisms, this talk explores how alternative femininities became markers of ideal citizens in the name of state feminism that professed equality for the sexes. While North Korea's authoritarian system is generally characterized as a paternalistic order, it is complemented by maternal affect that elicits love and loyalty for the leaders. In effect, women proved to be the primary cultural icons, and feminine tropes became models for emulation throughout society. Examining the development of alternative femininities in North Korea alongside a women’s history of the Cold War, I argue that the development of the feminist project itself was bifurcated by the global Cold War, the effects of which are still felt in the iterations of contemporary feminism today.
Suzy Kim is Associate Professor of Korean History in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at Rutgers University. Her publications include a special guest-edited volume of Cross-Currents: East Asian History & Culture Review on "(De)Memorializing the Korean War" (2015) and Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 (Cornell 2013).