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Chapter Nine Theorizing Female Consent Familism, Motherhood, and Middle-Class Feminine Subjectivity in Contemporary South Korea Kelly H. Chong Several contributors in this book address women’s accommodations to patriarchal values within changing familial contexts, and they document how particular socialization practices and psychodynamic processes in these families shape their motivations to do so. I widen the lens of analysis to examine the ways that state policies and neoliberal economic values have intersected to influence the structure and organization of the modern middle-class family in South Korea and to explore how these changes have, in turn, generated conflicting subjectivities for women who struggle to resolve them. Of particular interest is understanding why, in the South Korean situation of cultural and social flux, many middle-class women have chosen to resolve mental distress by embracing a conservative form of evangelical Christianity that paradoxically reinforces certain patriarchal aspects of Confucian values and practices in these changing family systems and mitigates against women’s exercise of transformative agency even in the face of alternative options. In particular, I argue that while church participation serves various functions, the conversion experience itself represents a cultural compromise solution (Quinn 1996) for many middleclass women experiencing these common psychological conflicts. For them, the conversion process involves a sincere recommitment to the principles of the traditional patriarchal family by stressing the necessity of women’s total obedience and endurance as fundamental principles for conjugal relations and prerequisites for family harmony and cohesion. Thus, I argue that Korean women’s motivations for supporting the status quo are not simply a function of a lack of choices in life but are motivated by deeper, underlying positive conservative desires. The realm of subjectivity—defined by Ortner (2005, 31) as ensembles of 175 modes of perception, affect, thought, and desire that animate acting subjects as well as the cultural and social formations that shape, organize, and provoke those modes of affect and thought—provides a key link between the realms of structure and agency. This concept is particularly relevant for analyzing how women, through their inscription in specific social and material relations, discursive practices, and networks of power, come to be invested in certain subject positions. I begin the chapter with an examination of how state policies and neoliberal values associated with rapid economic modernization have altered the structure and goals of the Korean middle-class family. I outline the impact of these changing values and family dynamics on the construction of different feminine subjectivities , examine the domestic conflicts and psychic fracturing experienced by middle-class women as they attempt to navigate new paths for themselves, and explore the role of religious conservatism as a cultural compromise solution to these conflicts. Finally, I consider the implications of these findings for theories of consent and agency. I conducted ethnographic fieldwork between 1996 and 2006 in South Korea, including in-depth interviews and participant observation with sixty married women in two large Protestant evangelical churches, one Presbyterian and the other Methodist. My previous works (Chong 2006, 2008) examine the meanings and significance of evangelical participation for these women in their particular family and social contexts in order to shed light on the issue of women and religious traditionalism. This chapter draws on these data to focus particularly on the experiences of women between the ages of 35 and 55, who comprise the generation born between Korea’s postliberation (from Japan in 1945) era and the 1960s. These women came of age between the 1960s and early 1980s, and their life experiences reflect the complexities and contradictions of South Korea’s industrialization and modernization period. State Policies, Economic Modernization, and the Changing Korean Family An important premise underlying this chapter is that the family is a key institution that exposes the intersection of state and community values and restructures these into patterns of gender and age relationships and role expectations for its members. These expectations, in turn, influence the construction of individual subjectivities. The feminist scholar Valentine Moghadam (2004, 137) notes that the family is perhaps the only societal institution that is conceptualized as 176Chong “essential” and “natural.” Yet family structures and the roles members occupy change constantly in response to various social, economic, and cultural pressures . Moghadam (2004, 138) finds that the family question and its correlate, the woman question, tend to come to the forefront of state attention during periods of rapid social change, socioeconomic difficulty, or political crisis. Dongno Kim (1990) documents two profound changes that accompanied the rapid industrialization...


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