Comforting The Nation: ‘Comfort Women,’ the Politics of Apology and the Workings of Gender


Park, You-Me. 2000. “Comforting The Nation: ‘Comfort Women,’ the Politics of Apology and the Workings of Gender.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 2 (2): 199–211. doi:10.1080/136980100427315.

Author: You-Me Park


International politics always operates and is imagined in a gendered manner, especially in matters related to symbolic gestures and spectacles such as the declaration of war, the ritual of surrender, the signing of treaties, or the offer and acceptance of apologies. Therefore, our reading of these events has to be performed with a sustained and rigorous interest in gender: we need to ask how a masculine national image is constructed and guarded in these rituals; how the conflicts among various forms of masculinity are negotiated; how the 'common sense' derived from these gendered rituals affects the real lives of real people on a daily basis. In this essay, [Park] examine[s] the issues of masculine national identity and gendered violence in the context of the controversy around the apologies offered (or not offered) to former 'comfort women,' women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Pacific War. By investigating the 'common sense' and underlying assumptions that shape the language around the issues of apologies and compensation for former comfort women, [Park] explore[s] how 'male sexual needs' are imagined; who is rendered deserving of the state protection and who is not; who is dispensable and who is not. [Park] argue[s] that, unless we rigorously examine the language representing and interpreting this particular part of history, we end up reinscribing violent patriarchal assumptions, which made possible the practice of comfort women in the first place. In those instances, the apology can be the biggest insult to those women who silently bore the burden of their sexuality and their female bodies, which are by definition guilty according to Confucian thoughts, for half a century.

Keywords: comfort women, apology, Japanese imperialism, international politics, Asian women's fund, violence, expendability

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Nationalism, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence, Sexuality Regions: Asia, East Asia Countries: Japan

Year: 2000

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