The case of “comfort women” is one of the most prominent instances of sexual slavery institutionalized by the government in world’s history. During World War II the Japanese military did not only conquer both the land and resources but also the bodies (Qiu et al. 10). As imperial subjects, the Korean women were a target making up to about 80% of Asian women subjected to sexual slavery. This is therefore perceived as a Korean catastrophe and these atrocities have drifted even into the present age. As a result of the patriarchal culture gaining dominance in East Asia, most of the victims remained silent to preserve their identity as mothers, wives or women from being destroyed. However, there was an onslaught of transformations in society in the 1990s that encouraged the “comfort women” to testify about the historical atrocities that happened fifty years ago (Smith 188). This paper seeks to explore the conditions created by patriarchy where the comfort system would thrive and ways in which it led to the suffering of the comfort women before, during and after their time in sexual slavery.
Comfort Women System
The “comfort women” system existed even before the World War II, although the war marked the peak time of the use and expansion of the system. Women were taken to “comfort stations” where they were subject to constant sexual and physical violence by the Japanese military, the stations or places which have existed since the early 1930s. This was the time when China was invaded by Japanese during the war campaign of Greater Asia. Mass rape and murder were committed to the Chinese civilians by the Japanese military (Qiu et al. 15). The entry and gaining control of the Chinese land by the Japanese military was made difficult by the raping and killings committed in China. As a result of hatred and resistance, the Japanese invented a way of containing the excessive violence by the soldiers, where the comfort stations were devised. This meant that instead of raping the civilians in the lands which are occupied, they were handed condoms and tokens to use at the comfort stations, where the women from across Asia were kept (Schoppa 106). The Japanese military convinced the locals that the “comfort women” system served as the protection of the women drawn from occupied lands to the military brothels. This system consisted of women, especially the unmarried young girls. Some of the women were sent to different comfort systems across Asia, while others stayed in their country (Smith 189). The comfort systems abused women from the colonies of Japan instead of providing protection to the civilians. The survivors of the comfort stations took more than 50 years before being released. While the cases of rape and existence of comfort women were acknowledged and dealt with by the International Military Tribunal; Netherlands, East Timor, and China recognized it as a war crime, and did not see how systematically and extensively the comfort women were silenced, gathered, abandoned and assaulted. In the 1980s, the feminist’s groups’ leaders in Korea discovered the truth and tried to uncover but they had to travel to meet the survivors outside Korea. After Kim Hak Sun’s testimony in 1991, the survivors of the comfort women began to gain the courage to open up about their experiences even as they connected with other survivors (Qiu et al. 18).
Patriarchy refers to an institutionalized system of dominance of men against the women and can be defined as the social relationship between the female and male based on material which creates or establishes solidarity or independence among men to dominate the women. The comfort women system in China demonstrated the patriarchy where the Japanese military sexually exploited, kidnapped and enslaved women (Qiu et al. 9). Although the military insisted that setting up the comfort stations was to protect women from mass rape and prevent the soldiers from venereal disease, the implementation of the comfort facilities displayed the sexual comfort for the soldiers as well as institutionalized mass rape. One the survivals testifies that they were “forced to become the military comfort women after their hometowns were occupied by the Japanese forces” (Smith 190).
Patriarchy created an atmosphere of oppression or discrimination of Korean women where they were instructed to follow the way of their father before marriage; their husbands acquiesce when married and obey their sons after their husband’s death. The comfort woman system reveals patriarchy which is deep-rooted in the society of Korea. A woman named, Mun, testifies that when she attempted to obtain education her father opposed the idea of educating a female, claiming that girls turn into “foxes” after education (Qiu et al. 21). She managed to enroll in a school behind the back of her father who later burned her books after discovering what happened. Mun was punished by her father and thrown out of the house, and by seeing that she could not escape her father’s patriarchal control she opted for Japanese recruitment in the comfort woman system. Despite the financial capability of Mun’s family, they could not send her to school, where even her brother Yi’s objected to claiming that educating a girl was useless. Yi fled the situation of repression in their family and took a job at a factory but it turned out to be a comfort station. Japan’s imperialism resulted to economic oppression forcing the Korean women to join the “Japanese groups of the workforce” which served as comfort stations. Kim Tockchin testifies that she tried to escape the Korean’s bleak; however, the economic realities and oppression forced her to remain and serve in the comfort woman system. Also, the death of Kim’s father devastated the family’s economic condition and subjected them to poverty (Qiu et al. 18).
Deterioration family system
The comfort women, Korean sex-slaves, were dominated by the Japanese men and abused leaving them with distaste for marriage, even after liberation from the comfort stations. Yi Yonsu testified that “she could not dare to think of being married” due to the experience she went through in the comfort stations, and claims that she “dislike men.” The same sentiments were echoed by Mun who says “she had no intention of getting married, or even think of being someone’s wife” (Qiu et al. 22). Bareness and the stigma of having venereal disease was lurking on women, which saw some of the survivals shying away from marriage opting to live alone as social outcasts and poverty-stricken members of the society. The worth of a woman was measured by the standards of patriarchy based on purity, child-bearing and marriage (Schoppa 107). The women who got married were also dominated by their husbands, where Kim testifies of the discomfort due to the aggressiveness of her husband when he got drunk.
The deterioration of Korean economy in the late 1960s, even after liberation, led to men controlling the authority, taking political or military leadership and also acted as moral authority dominating women (Qiu et al. 32). However, currently, the economy and the social changes of Korea have tremendously improved due to industrialization, urbanization, democratic reform, social liberalization and military authoritarianism, especially from 1990. Although there are not as many women in politics than men, the women are recently participating in active capacity in leadership and matters of the society.
Qiu, Peipei. Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s Sex Slaves. UBC
Schoppa, R. Keith. “Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s Sex
Slaves, written by Peipei Qiu, with Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei.” Journal of Chinese Military History 4.1 (2015): 106-108.
Smith, Norman. “Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s Sex
Slaves.” Pacific Affairs 88.1 (2015): 188-190.