Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This dissertation problematizes the ways in which the experiences of the survivors of the "comfort system," the Japanese military's Asia Pacific War/World War II system of sexual slavery, have been articulated and narrativized, with particular attention to texts by and about the Filipino comfort system survivors, or "Lolas." The juridical contexts in which the former comfort women have so frequently been asked to speak of their experiences have resulted in a paradigmatic comfort women narrative, one that is inherently problematic, despite having proven expedient and politically useful in the short term for generating public interest and support for the cause. This juridical unconscious, whose influence extends to extrajudicial contexts, has reduced the survivors' stories to spectacles of broken, violated bodies, and the survivors themselves to figures of eternal victimhood--representations that ultimately replicate the sexist, racist, and imperialist attitudes that led to the institutionalization of sexual violence during that war.
I argue, however, that the comfort women's stories resist total containment; outside the paradigm of redress these narratives are rich sites of knowledge and remembrance whose meanings extend beyond the pursuit of reparations and the promise of closure. This is evident in the texts I examine here, texts by and about Filipinas, whose specific experiences of military sexual enslavement have often been overlooked in international public discourses on the comfort women issue. In the autobiographies Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny, by Maria Rosa Henson, and The Hidden Battle of Leyte: The Picture Diary of a Girl Taken by the Japanese Military, by Remedios Felias, the survivors/authors flesh out the familial, cultural, and political contexts that inflected their sexual enslavement during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Both authors also employ multiple languages, including the visual, as they chip away at the limitations of the paradigmatic narrative, re-membering their traumatic pasts and reconstructing socially legitimate identities. In the aftermath of a different kind of wartime sexual violence, the Lolas of Women of Mapanique: Untold Crimes of War, by Nena Gajudo, Gina Alunan, and Susan Macabuag, adopt and adapt the rhetoric of the comfort women redress movement in order to make their own voices heard. In so doing, they reveal difficult truths about the limits of our ability to comprehend and act upon sexual violence against men during wartime. Finally, I discuss three poems: Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo's "Balada ni Lola Amonita" ("The Ballad of Lola Amonita"), Joi Barrios' "Inasawa ng Hapon" ("Taken to Wife"), and Bino A. Realuyo's "Pantoum: Comfort Woman." I find that by drawing upon the signs, symbols, and rituals of precolonial indigenous and religious Filipino culture, and by superimposing the metaphorical landscape of memory onto the literal landscape of the archipelago, these poems can offer what the paradigmatic comfort women cannot. The opportunity to break out of our voyeuristic consumption of trauma and share cultural space with the victims and survivors, and the chance to see the Lolas' collective experience as an indelible part the nation's past, present, and future.
Copyright 2011 Katharina Ramo Mendoza
Mendoza, Katharina Ramo. ""In war, and after it, a prisoner always": reading past the paradigm of redress in the life stories of the Filipino comfort women." doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa, 2011.