Translating Korean Feminisms
- onMarch 29, 2019
- Vol.43 Spring 2019
- byDeborah Smith
A friend asked me recently: why are you a feminist? Or, given that most of us can answer for the obvious reasons that we're against patriarchy and misogyny: what brought feminism home to you? Of the three things that occurred to me, one was becoming a translator.
Historically, literary translation has been a feminized practice—seen as “women’s work,” associated with values that are coded female, regardless of the gender of the one performing it, and therefore devalued both in terms of cultural capital and actual remuneration.
Proposition: a society that doesn’t value women won’t value translation either.
Right now, many translators and translation scholars around the world are working to change literary translation from a feminized to a feminist profession in three main ways:
· redressing patriarchal canons through what we choose to translate
· exposing the patriarchal norms behind demands that translators be faithful, humble, invisible (the same words which used to describe a virtuous wife . . . )
· dismantling (NOT reversing) gendered hierarchies that subordinate translation to the original
The two authors I have chosen to translate, Han Kang and Bae Suah, are both women, and the press that I run, Tilted Axis, mainly publishes women—part of a joint intervention, a collaborative project with many other translators and publishers I know, in a landscape where twice as many men than women get translated into English.