Feminism started from the singular and then evolved into the plural; no feminist theory or method dominates. In a sense, the history of feminism is the history of this realization, for each country in the world has its own history and culture, and women’s issues are spread over various dimensions even within the same society. To imagine feminism as a homogenous unity is to repeat the mistake of conformity and exclusion made by that which feminism resists (patriarchy or androcentric thinking).
Feminism is not a new ideology of domination towards the destruction of the patriarchy. Feminism is a universal project towards the peaceful coexistence of all genders and is inclusive of both women and men. Feminism, in other words, is for all. The actors in feminism are not just women but all of humanity. The ideal world according to feminism is a democratic society in which everyone respects each other regardless of gender and lives together in harmony.
Feminism is critical of historically constituted false gender ideologies and the power relations based on such. Not only are unjust patriarch-centered power relations violent in of themselves, they are perpetuated through violent means. The authoritative violence of patriarchy is deeply rooted in society, even in the lives of the individual and their interiority. Power as expressed through violence destroys human lives and devastates our ability to love. In her book Feminism Is for Everybody, bell hooks says, “love can never take root in a relationship based on domination and coercion” and that the subjects of love could only stand “counter to everything patriarchy upholds about the structure of relationships.”1 In this light, feminism is an opportunity to restore love, and a feminist is simply someone who loves in the most “love-like” way possible.
The contemporary feminist movement in Korea can be roughly divided in two waves: first came the late twentieth-century “singular” feminism in opposition to patriarchy. Feminism began to be examined in earnest by Korean poetry in the 1980s and 1990s. The work of Choi Seung-ja, Kim Hyesoon, Moon Chung-hee, Kim Seung-hee, and Kim Un-hee disclosed the oppression and inequality experienced by women, arguing for the fundamental reform of societal structures and awareness. This movement was followed by “plural” feminism in the early twenty-first century, a comprehensive ideology embracing all of society. Particularly notable in the latter is how male poets have joined women poets in identifying with the feminist movement. Of the six poets in this edition, Kim Hyun and Kim Seung Il are cisgender men. Kim Hyun styles himself as a femi-writer.
The reasons for this shift are varied. First is the criticism against systemic patriarchy, which still holds on to male-centric Confucian values despite our having entered the twenty-first century. Second is a new focus on other minorities such as queer-identifying people, and the subsequent rediscovery of feminism as a voice for such minorities. Third is the recent reckoning with the sexual violence prevalent in Korean literary circles. While it had been long understood that male literary figures perpetuate their power in the process of creating and distributing literature, the specific methods that came to light were more nefarious than what was feared. A new, reflective stance is replacing the previous attitude of compromise and silence, leading to moral discourse on the meaning of literature and aesthetics.