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In Session: New Perspectives on South Korea’s #MeToo Movement: Historical Redress, Media Visibility, and Contemporary Feminist Activism
1: Murmurings from Women on the “Red Island”: Reckoning with the Memories of Sexual Violence in the Jeju 4.3 Massacres, 1947-1954
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of California, San Diego, United States
The devastating 7-year period of massacre known as the Jeju 4.3 Incident (1947-1954) was conducted by state punitive forces sent to Jeju (Cheju) Island, South Korea, under the banner of wiping out "the Reds." The outburst of hypermasculinity that characterizes anti-communist nationalism inflicted particular forms of gendered violence on women, including rape, sexual torture, and killings. Women were also forced to stand witness or to participate in public killings of families and villagers. Such coerced forms of violence complicated the victim/victimizer dichotomy and left an irreparable trauma, which later also contributed to silencing the surviving women living in a close-knit family-based island community. This essay problematizes the widespread assumption that surviving women stayed silent regarding the sexual violence in Jeju 4.3. The voices of survivors have provided witness in the form of oral history, but they failed to claim space in the public discourse. The paper examines how cold war anticommunism, entangled with islander women’s sense of shame, rendered the testimonies on sexual violence inaudible. How can researchers and activists recuperate such voices? Revisiting women’s “silence” in the memory of the 4.3 Incident raises the issue of how today’s feminist activists can further deepen transgenerational solidarity across historical eras.