Nationalism, globalization, peace and women. These are the four issues that professor Chung Hyun-baek weaved together into one book entitled The Nation and Feminism(published by Dangdae). The Women's News interviewed her in her office. She is one busy woman these days, working as a co-representative of the KWAU and co-chair of the Women's Alliance Committee of the Women's Academy. She is also leaving for the US early June with representatives from NGOs and the ruling and opposition parties as part of the 'Korean Peninsula People's Association for Peace' for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.
"It's hard for a scholar to be involved in the movement. University professors are always fighting against time, and having to allocate a lot of my time to civic groups and the movement sometimes puts me in a difficult spot. But being an activist helps me maintain a sense of humility regarding issues over which I could easily have become narrow-minded or arrogant as a scholar. In the past, my thoughts were somewhat abstract and I studied only what interested me, but these days I keep asking myself if what I'm studying is practical and necessary, so I don't think being an activist is a minus for me."
Authored by a scholar with a long-standing interest in learning rooted in activism, The Nation and Feminism is filled with observations made in the field, such as 'Globalization and the Feminist Movement,' 'Women's Reunification Movement in Korea,' and 'Challenges for the Korean Women's Movement in the 21st Century.'
Why are 'nation' and 'women' - two themes that have yet to find a workable point of contact - the recurring question throughout the book? "Nationalism is a strong force in Korea, and it's true that it has worked as a mechanism in strengthening the patriarchal system. But I thought that we shouldn't just accept the western capitalist feminism's view of nationalism. Some say nationalism and feminism must be separated from each other, while others say that is wrong. Disagreeing with both views, I focused on the practical view that since the concept of 'nation' is a country in itself and a realistic force that moves society whether we like it or not, women should criticize it on one hand while actively leveraging it on the other."
Chung also explains that women should maintain a critical view on the accelerating world capitalism while at the same time embracing national issues. She also points out that since women exist in state units, rather than trying to ignore this reality, they should participate in the remaking of the people's state.
Reflection on the methodology of writing women's history is another aspect that adds weight to Chung's book. "Women's history isn't just about what kind of clothes women wore, what we ate, what religion we practiced or what kind of education we received. For women's empowerment, you need a theoretical approach that shifts the paradigm on how we view history, without which women's history will continue to remain just a small portion of general history."
As a professor of Western Women's History, Chung's main interest these days is on women's economic activities, that is, the role of women in economic history. Through their labor in the fields and their labor to support the livelihoods of their families, women have long been actual breadwinners. Based on this recognition, Chung suggests that we question if men were really the subjects in the public arena. In the street warfare during the French Revolution, and in the riots for bread that preceded and followed the revolution, women were already subjects, and their role was a huge force that made history. Chung claims that creating a framework to contain such discoveries the new way of writing women's history.