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Lani McGuinness

MA work

Producers/Reproducers: Women by Design in North Korea

This thesis explores the relationship between propaganda and reality in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly referred to as North Korea, with particularly reference to the construction of an ideal woman that has been propagated by the state. Propaganda and reality are in a constant battle in North Korea, and it may well be that nowhere in the world does such a large chasm exist between a government’s projected image of its citizens and the actuality of lived experience. An ideal of national identity has been designed by the regime, which clearly identifies desirable behaviour necessary for citizenship. 

Women constitute a major social group that has been relentlessly targeted by North Korean propaganda, which claims to have completely liberated women from the oppression associated with the periods before the division of the peninsula. Various forms of propaganda, including the visual arts, revolutionary opera and film, and the manipulation of history,  have been used to assert that women in Korea are truly emancipated, and that the country is free from gender-discrimination. However, it is clear that the oppression that has historically been suffered by Korean women has actually been intensified under the current regime. Whilst pre-division women were expected to take care of all housework and child-rearing, North Korean women today carry the double burden of balancing all family-related tasks and working full-time outside the home. In addition to this, women are expected to be great revolutionaries, carrying forward the perpetual Korean socialist revolution that attempts to legitimise the hereditary rule of the Kim family. 

A key tool in the state’s dissemination of the ideal of the nurturing mother-worker has been the use of iconic women, or ‘female heroes’, both historical and fictional. Real heroes have been intermingled with those from popular films and operas, creating an imaginary model citizenry. Yet for all this promotion of the chaste, virtuous, nurturing Korean woman, gender-discrimination against women, especially in the forms of violence and sexual assault/rape, is rife in the manifestly patriarchal state. In its attempt to stifle the voices of those it wishes to subjugate, the DPRK uses propaganda ferociously to create a mediating layer between itself and the world external to it, which replaces the real with the ideal.  


  • Profile photo
  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2014

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) History of Art, SOAS, University of London, 2012
  • Publications

  • 'Unmasking the Truth', Unmaking Things, 2013