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Iconic Femininities

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Chapter Summary

Literature in particular has a long tradition of being considered as a vehicle for political and social critique in Korea, and it is within this context that literary fiction must also be understood as a cultural enterprise for creating social discourses. Traditional Korean discourses about the nature of the feminine must therefore be understood as mythologizing practices that promote imaginary and essentialized representations of femininity. The philosophical basis for the Korean conceptualization of femininity ostensibly draws on the Neo-Confucian interpretation of the yin/yang binaries. Myths and folktales, often set in patriarchal kinship structures, generally portray women as agents to advance the culture of men. The Tale of Tan'gun, the foundation myth of the Korean nation, is a particularly good example of how tradition- informed, gendered discourses were integrated within the nationalistic discourses and the perceived role that women occupied as patriotic citizens.

Keywords: femininity; Korea; mythologizing practices; Neo-Confucian interpretation; Tan'gun; yin/yang binaries



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