Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
Mandatory Fields
Kevin N. Cawley
Irish Journal of Asian Studies
Reinforced Hetero-Normativity: Gender Constructs in Chosŏn (1392-1910) Korea
Optional Fields
Hetero-normativity Chosŏn Gender traditions Genealogy Artificial nature
During Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (朝鮮; 1392-1910), strictly codified heteronormalising gender constructs emerged, which for all intents and purposes undermined the possibility of homosexuality to exist in either private or public spaces. By drawing on contemporary critical theorists such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, this paper critiques the socio-historical constructs of gender identity in Korea shaped during this period. Such critiques expose the inherent inequalities of hierarchical ‘gender traditions’ that are reinforced through patriarchies, which in the case of Chosŏn, commemorated the patrilineal genealogies of (supposedly) heterosexual men from the past. I will begin by dismantling notions of gender during this period, which was manipulated and rigidly constructed by (mis)using Neo-Confucian texts and metaphysics, inherited from the Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi (朱熹, 1130-1200). Zhu’s Reflections on Things at Hand, sought to regulate the family, while his Lesser Learning, reiterated rules that facilitated the suppression of women as daughters, wives, and even mothers. While commemorating ‘great men’ and emphasising ideals of ‘good women’, a gender ideology was implanted within the social matrix and recorded from one generation to the next in genealogical records known as chokpo (族譜). This hetero-normative way-of-being was enforced in legal texts and through literature by men, which yoked women into artificially orchestrated modes of behaviour that would also be transmitted by women themselves via texts that they themselves sometimes wrote and distributed. These ideas continue to influence modern Korean society, where women still struggle to dismantle out-dated modes of social expectations, and where the LGBTQ community is only starting to assert themselves and reject ‘compulsive’ hetero-normativity.
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