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Seon Myung Yoo

My dissertation project, “The White Savior Trope in the Korean and Diasporic Korean Cultural Imagination,” critically examines how Korean and diasporic cultural producers contest the savior trope and the historical context from which the category of the “Asian woman” emerges. I trace how the stereotypical figure of the Asian woman as victim of local patriarchies informs dominant discourses such as liberal feminist scholarship, militarism as humanitarian effort, and the white savior narrative. In light of this goal, I interpret how Korean and diasporic Korean cultural production intervenes in such discourses around the victimized figure of the Asian woman. I find the cultural works that center around the figures of the Comfort Woman, military camp town sex worker, and transnational adoptee as particularly fruitful in questioning the historical context from which the problematic homogenous imagination of the Asian woman as victim emerges. By looking into cultural works that feature these three figures and how they distance themselves from the dominant Western rhetoric of the victimized Asian woman, I am able to discern the ways in which these works restore agency for the women they feature to highlight the subversive ways in which they contest and struggle against these stereotypes that inadvertently further silence them.

Scholarship in Asian and Asian American studies, empire studies, and memory studies have noted the connections between Comfort Women and military camp town sex workers (Soh; Moon) and those between military camp town sex workers and transnational adoptees (Pate; J. Kim). However, the vast literature of scholarly work on these figures does not make the connection amongst all three. My dissertation fills this gap by: first, examining the reasons why the connections amongst these three figures are obfuscated in the cultural discourse and how the dominant discourses erase them; second, using a comparative method of analysis to read cultural production to unveil the way they disengage with these dominant discourses to expose the connections amongst the three figures; and thereby, arguing that such cultural representations contest the forces of imperial militarism and global patriarchy by reconfiguring cultural discourse.