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Behind the Iron Curtain: Cold War Women in North Korea

North Korean propaganda poster
Wednesday, October 16, 2019, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

While North Korea’s authoritarian system is generally characterized as a paternalistic order, it is complemented by maternal affect that elicits love and loyalty for the nation. In effect, women proved to be central political figures and cultural icons as maternal tropes became role models for emulation throughout society. Situating North Korea in the broader frame of socialist feminisms, this presentation explores how alternative feminine subjectivities became markers of ideal citizens in the name of gender equality. Through excavated histories of Cold War sutures that go back to the Korean War, I show how international women adopted maternalist strategies to overcome the Cold War divide, paralleled by domestic movements in North Korea to address the ‘woman question’. Tracing the history of women in North Korea alongside a women’s history of the Cold War, I argue that the development of the feminist project itself was bifurcated by the global Cold War, the effects of which pervade iterations of contemporary feminisms today.