Can Transnational Feminist Solidarity Accommodate Nationalism? Reflections from the Case Study of Korean “Comfort Women”

Hypatia 31 (1):41-57 (2016)
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Abstract
This article aims to refute the “incompatibility thesis” that nationalism is incompatible with transnational feminist solidarity, as it fosters exclusionary practices, xenophobia, and racism among feminists with conflicting nationalist aspirations. I examine the plausibility of the incompatibility thesis by focusing on the controversy regarding just reparation for Second World War “comfort women,” which is still unresolved. The Korean Council at the center of this controversy, which advocates for the rights of Korean former comfort women, has been criticized for its strident nationalism and held responsible for the stalemate. Consequently, the case of comfort women has been thought to exemplify the incompatibility thesis. I argue against this common feminist perception in three ways: first, those who subscribe to the incompatibility thesis have misinterpreted facts surrounding the issue; second, the Korean Council's nationalism is a version of “polycentric nationalism,” which avoids the problems of essentialist nationalism at the center of feminist concerns; and, third, transnational feminist solidarity is predicated on the idea of oppressed/marginalized women's epistemic privilege and enjoins that feminists respect oppressed/marginalized women's epistemic privilege. To the extent that oppressed/marginalized women's voices are expressed in nationalist terms, I argue that feminists committed to transnational feminist solidarity must accommodate their nationalism
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