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Panel C: Depictions of Women in East Asia

Location: Rm. 3024

Jiani Yu, “Beyond Romance: Unveiling Women’s Desire in BL Novels”

Graduate Student, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Duke University

Keywords: Danmei, Romance

BL (Boy’s Love), known as danmei in Chinese, is an emerging genre of romantic novels primarily consumed and created by heterosexual women. The romance within BL novels breaks free from the confines of patriarchal marriage, allowing women to project their desire for emotional nurturance onto characters who exist outside of such a framework, thus challenging conventional norms of female sexuality. However, early trends in BL novels in China indicate that BL inherits the legacy of patriarchal gender expectations found in heterosexual romance, with only its framework replaced. This creates another form of the “fantasy resolution” as Janice A. Radway argues, providing women with a temporary “escape” from their physical and emotional labor as wives and mothers, but shifting the focus from the ideal marriage that rewards women with protective and caring husbands to identical ideal relationships.

Nonetheless, even in BL novels, such an “ideal relationship” can hardly avoid the subjugation of women or characters attributed with traditionally perceived feminine characteristics, suggesting the fantasy nature of romance under the current patriarchal system. However, a recent clash between feminist ideologies and the persistence of the “ideal relationship” in BL novels reveals an inconsistency in Chinese women’s pursuit of gender equality while still holding onto the allure of the “fantasy resolution.” In my presentation, I will discuss the transformation of BL novels from early replication of heterosexual gender roles to incorporating feminist ideas into the romance genre. Throughout this process, I argue that the recent contradiction in Chinese BL novels unveils that women’s virtual exploration of potential feminist equal relationships, built upon male identities, unavoidably exposes their disempowerment in the real world and is impeded by the accompanying patriarchal narrative of the “ideal relationship.”

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Pamela Winfield, “Aflame with Desire and Vengeance: Misogynistic Portrayals of Women in Supernatural Kabuki Plots”

Professor of Religious Studies, Elon University

Keywords: popular religion, Kabuki

This talk offers a critical feminist analysis of the religious themes in two Kabuki plays from Japan’s Edo period (17-19th c.). Musume Dōjōji follows the destructive force of a maiden’s unrequited lust for a Buddhist priest. When she transforms into a ferocious dragon spirit, the priest escapes her fury by hiding beneath his temple’s large bronze bell, but she burns him alive by wrapping her raging serpentine body around it. By extension, the play Tokaidō Yotsuya Kaidan takes women’s vengeance a step further, and recounts how a wronged wife, who literally appears as a flaming lantern demon, wreaks havoc on her abusive husband from beyond the grave. Although both morality tales deliver the karmic message that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” these two supernatural Kabuki plots nevertheless popularized and normalized misogynistic images of women as demonic spirits, whose flames of desire and revenge must be extinguished at all costs. This presentation of preliminary research invites suggestions from other scholars for additional visual resources and comparable tales.

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Saehim Park, “Imaging ‘Comfort Women’: Girl Statue (2011) in the Expanded Field”

Keywords: comfort women

The Statue of Peace (2011), known as the Girl Statue in Korean, memorializes the “comfort women,” victims of military sexual violence in the colonial and occupied territories under the Japanese Empire (c.1931-1945). Created by artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, the Girl Statue is a life-size, bronze, freestanding sculpture of an empty chair next to a seated girl, confronting the site of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Since its installation in 2011, the Girl Statue image has proliferated across media, scale, form, and function by artists and the public. The Girl Statue has been reproduced as replicas, watercolor paintings, logo images, gigantic balloons, plastic miniatures, coinage, soft dolls, bracelets, 3D toys, wooden DIY models, LEGO, performances, AR Challenge on social media, and even tattoos. This research explores the expansion of the Girl Statue over the ten years (2011-2021). Despite its aim to raise awareness of the “comfort women” issue and foster solidarity, the Girl Statue has served the desires and motivations of its makers, consumers, and participants. The multiplication of the Girl Statues symbolically compensated for the dwindling numbers of “comfort women” victims. The narrative of vanishing victims is exemplified by novels and films that underscore the decreasing numbers of the last “comfort women” as an endangered group in need of rescue. The immediacy and intimacy of the Girl Statues as collectible souvenirs grant a sense of satisfaction that one is contributing to an important cause for justice. Through a close analysis of site visits, conversations, newspapers, television, social media, archives, and symposia, this research explores how our engagement with the Girl Statue shapes and reflects our values regarding humanity. The uncomfortable burden persists for the “comfort women,” who, in becoming images, continue to comfort the present.