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Bandaging UpYun I-hyeong

To get angry with you for not doing anything, then when you do, attack you as not having the right to, that’s not solidarity. That’s just hate (pp. 108-109).

『Bandaging Up』

Author : Yun I-hyeong
Publisher : Jakkajungsin
Publication date : January 14, 2020
Number of pages : 200
Format : 108x190mm
ISBN : 9791160261561

Yun I-hyeong

She started out as a writer winning the Joongang Ilbo New Writers Contest in 2005 with her story “Black Starfish”. She went on to become the recipient of the Young Authors Award in 2014 and 2015, Moonji Literary Award in 2015 as well as the Yi Sang Literary Award in 2019. Her works include the short story collections Waltz for Three, The Big Wolf, Blue and A Society for Little Hearts.

Beyond “Real Feminism”

 – How Yun I-hyeong’s Bandaging Up Talks About Feminism(s)

 

Yun I-hyeong’s novels have always focused on the question of minorities and the disadvantaged. By the careful observation of everyday life, through her unique sci-fi imagination, she keenly captures, through her distinctive point of view, the oppressive nature of our society’s order and customs, as well as the feelings of the minorities who are obliged to live within it.

Recently, these interests of the author have expanded and been embodied into the feminist issues that are stirring up Korean society. Lately, with the explosion of interest and response to feminism in Korean society, novels that display a critical perception of the violence and the oppressive reality that women have endured are increasing in popularity. Those that are as sensitive and self-aware about the issues as the recent works of Yun I-hyeong are few. Representative examples of her works are “A Society for Little Hearts,” depicting married women’s struggle to become autonomous political agents, “Seung-hye & Mi-o,” which denounces the violence of our society’s sense of normality toward lesbian couples, and “Pickle,” which reveals, across our own stereotypes and common notions of victims, a discourse about sexual violence devoid of meaning, where only the confrontational structure of “abuser/victim” that focuses on whether or not someone is a victim of sexual violence, remains. Yun I-hyeong’s novel Bandaging Up is a new addition to her work focused on feminist issues.
The story of Yun I-hyeong’s novel Bandaging Up looks at the relationship between Jin-gyeong and Se-yeon, two women in their forties, who met in high school and continued to have sporadic contact. From these two, the stories of various surrounding characters branch out, unfolding by free association. The novel’s narrative can be said to be a “collaboration” of the different stories of the diverse women who are connected to each other, without converging into a center. This structure is itself reminiscent of the book in the novel about “women’s friendship” aimed at “women of various ages and professions” that Se-yeon aspired to write (pp. 79-80). At this point, the following question might come to mind. Is friendship possible among women of different ages, occupations, tastes and temperaments? This is also a question that arises naturally as we read about the thoughts and stories of the diverse women in the novel. Young women are angry, and old women are concerned. Some women take part in the “Escape-the-corset” movement, rejecting the “labor of embellishment” that they were “naturally” assumed to undertake, while others insist that the beauty resistance campaign should not be another repressive norm for women. Full-time housewives and working moms, married and unmarried are hostile to each other rather than understanding. Would sisterhood be possible among these opposites? This lies at the core of the problems that this novel is suggesting, through the wide-ranging episodes and dialogues among women, each different in position and situation.

To these questions that spring from both within and out of the novel, the author does not provide any direct answers. A model answer we might easily guess like “sisterly love” for example. Instead, the author asks questions. Such as, why differences lead to hostility, what is the force that enables women in conflict to coexist with each other, how is friendship between women who endure each other’s differences possible? In this way, she opens up the novel so the readers can ponder and discuss these questions from the particular position of each. As this way of questioning is intertwined with the casual and impulsive relay of the characters, it illuminates the differences of positions and the variety of views of women themselves regarding feminism. This narrative format breaks away from dividing the issues around feminism that are actively discussed in Korean society into a confrontation between genders, and turns the problem itself into a non-dualistic and non-confrontational one, thereby making it possible to look at problems familiar both to the characters and readers from a different perspective.

The fact that no male characters appear in Bandaging Up is related to this. Often, the difference between women regarding feminist issues is split into “hard-core radical feminist versus common sense woman” or “fake feminist versus real feminist,” but ironically, this dichotomy is not that far from the old male-centered schema of “Madonna (housewife) or whore (literally prostitute).” The problem is that this kind of schema erases the various realities of women to fix women into a few simple images. Moreover, because the power of this anachronistic and old schema is still strong, it is harder than you might think to escape from it. So, if gender relations are considered without an examination of the structure that is generating gender difference, there is a risk that there will be an inevitable repetition of consuming gender confrontation or obvious debate of gender differences. In this respect, the author’s positioning of characters excluding male figures offers a possibility to escape from the inevitable dichotomy of gender division to think freely about women. Only then can women be named and recognized as individual subjects formed in contexts particular to each, and not only exist in a form that a man would or would not want within a relation of “being-for-others.” This is also why the female characters in Bandaging Up can talk about themselves, and not as someone’s daughter, or wife or mother. Thus, the novel leads us, in a pointillist style, in which individual dots overlap to make the whole image, to the world of familiar yet unfamiliar stories of women, letting someone’s story overlap and connect with someone else’s.

 

By Shim Jin-kyung
Literary critic



Translated by