Today, we are in an era where literature written by women has gained greater popularity. Although this has always existed, historically it has been frowned upon and even censored, so, it is a jewel that we can enjoy today without looking too hard, if we think about hundred years ago, the scenary was different. Some women even struggled to be able to publish their works, so, many times, they decided to use pseudonyms. In this blog, we intend to talk a little about the Korean magazine New Woman which appeared in the peninsula while it was still under Japanese power in 1920; but not before talking about the concept of the new woman and its historical importance. This is just an appetizer to encourage the readers to research the works of the women who were created and published in this magazine.
According to Nicolas Braessas in the foreword of the book ¿Por qué te empeñas en sufrir así? Pioneras del feminismo coreano, during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910), neo-confucianism became the ideology of the state, which affected literary productions. Women in public life did not exist and there was the subject of educational texts to teach about roles within the family, among other things. Therefore, in the literature of the Joseon Dynasty, it was very common to have four archetypes of women: the faithful wife; the self-sacrificing daughter; the fervent believer; and the devoted lover¹. Furthermore, women were not seen as creative beings; although there was literature written by concubines and Kisaeng, such as Hwang Jin YI and Yi Mae Chang, they were the exception to the rule. In the 20th century, this situation gradually expanded, not only thematically but also in terms of women as creators.
During the Japanese occupation- several changes took place within Korean Society. For example, in 1905 Japan intervened in the Korean education models, and since the end of the XIX century, there was an increase in women’s institutions created mainly by protestant missionaries. This change in the role of women in society led many women to begin to study, and many of them even traveled to Japan to continue their studies. It should be noted that the issue of women’s education has been in public life since before, for example, when 1873 Kim Ki Su traveled to Japan to study the Japanese education system, among other tasks, or in 1885 when Percival Lowell, delegated of the United States government, stated that women were taken into account as active subjects in society².
The concept of a new woman appeared in the last decades of the 19th century, and many of the discussions around it were about the liberation of women, the acquisition of knowledge as a requirement, and the idea of a “wise mother and good wife”. In fact, the latter also changed its meaning over time, adding new tasks such as educating children, managing the household, and supporting as an equal their husbands, among other things. According to Jiyoung Sub, “it was simply another framework that relegated women to a specific role in the family” (2013, p.19).
Then, it would be valid to state that the name of the publication New Woman is strongly linked to the historical period in which it emerged, because, in fact, the concept of the new woman is related to the beginning of modern society, and was constantly used in the first decades of the twentieth century. Gradually being a new woman meant more and more, being praised and criticized at the same time. For example, in the mid-twenties there was a negative representation of being a new woman, and women were spoken of as extravagant because of their clothes, and hairstyles, among other things³.
New Woman Magazine was founded by Kim Woo Ju (1896 – 1971), a writer, journalist, and Buddhist monk, in March 1920 when she returned from Japan; her pen name was Kim Iryeop. This was the first women’s magazine in Korea, which was used by its editor, Kim Won Ju, as a feminist platform. According to Kim Young Hee, in her article In Quest of Modern Womanhood: Sinjoya, this magazine was an exclusive platform for women and involved the first generation of professional women, including Na Hye Seok (1896 – 1948) and Kim Myeong Sun (1896 – 1951), whose names are still relevant today. Na Hye Seok was the peninsula’s first professional female artist, while Kim Myeong Sun is credited as the first modern female writer in Korea for her short story The Mysterious Girl of 1917º. These three women met in Japan while they were advancing their education, and became associated with the Joseon Women Students’ Association, and they took part in the March 1st Movement in 1919, even Na Hye Seok and Kim Myeong Sun were arrested for a few months.
Regarding the issues discussed in New Woman, the most important was women’s liberation from patriarchal oppression, feminist and socio-cultural awareness, gender equality, divorce, and freedom of love, i.e, the right to choose one’s partner (a central idea during Korea’s modernization).
The magazine had only four issues between March and June 1920 because of colonial censorship for disruption of social order and morality. According to Kim Young Hee, the first editorial written by Kim Iryeop was entitled “On the Social Responsibility of New Women” and it reiterated the magazine’s goal of women’s emancipation, an idea linked to the international liberation movements. In addition, the magazine invited women to put their knowledge into practice, and specific guidelines on being a new woman were provided. The second editorial was entitled “Our demands as new women”, it talked about women’s liberation and gender equality in addition to the three Confucian obediences where submission to men were preached (father, husband, and elder son).
The third editorial was entitled “Women’s self-awakening”. Kim Iryeop tried to sensibilize women about gender victimization with this issue, also, urges them to be independent. So, Kim Iryeop talked to them about education and job opportunities for women. The last editorial was entitled “First, demolish the status quo”, emphasizing human rights and the importance of gender equality along with the modernization of women. Thus, independence and critical thinking were urged to be put into practice.
Despite the short duration of the magazine, several academic studies have been made regarding the topics and content that were published in its four editions; this shows that the impact achieved in the long term was great. In addition, the content covered in this blog is transcendent to study women as historical figures in the early twentieth century, in fact, it is very interesting how at that time many discussions were being held about the role of women in society and the characteristics they were supposed to have in order to be well regarded. On the other hand, a key aspect is that the magazine New Woman contains the voices of women talking about themselves and not men talking about them as in other publications of the epoch.
Certainly, this text is too short to talk about the stories, illustrations, and articles that were written by different Korean women for this magazine. However, this blog seeks to problematize the concept of a new woman and to contextualize the moment in which the magazine appears. A recommendation if you want to know a little more about these women ‘s literature is the book of Hwarang Publisher ¿Por qué te empeñas en sufrir así? Pioneras del feminismo coreano from 2020 where there are short stories translated from Korean to Spanish.
Written by: Andrea Ramirez
Reviewed by: Luisa Quintero
¹Crononauta. (2019). Pioneras del feminismo coreano—Cultural—ABC Color. ABC. Retrieved on March 12, 2023, from https://www.abc.com.py/edicion-impresa/suplementos/cultural/2019/12/22/pioneras-del-feminismo-coreano/
²Suh, J. (2013). The “New Woman” and the Topography of Modernity in Colonial Korea. Korean Studies, 37, 11–43. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24575275
³Kim, Y.N., & 정미경 (2003). Being Modern: Representing the ‘New Woman’ and ‘Modern Girl’ in Korean Art.
ºKim, Y.-H. (2013). In Quest of Modern Womanhood: Sinyŏja, A Feminist Journal in Colonial Korea. Korean Studies, 37, 44–78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24575276