Fundraiser: Plum Concentrate (Maesil) by Korean Unwed Mothers' Families Association (KUMFA)

Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association (KUMFA) is selling Korean plum concentrate. You can use this amazing stuff to make your own juice or plum liquor by diluting or mixing, yum! 

It is pesticide-free and grown in an eco-friendly farm, fermented for three years and with only organic sugar added. No added preservatives. 

All proceeds will be donated to KUMFA. 

One 1.5 liter bottle is 28,000 won and two bottles is only 50,000 won (these make great presents). Please inquire for additional discounts for purchases of three bottles or more. Additional charges for shipping. For questions or to place an order call 02-2682-3375 (Korean) or contact KUMFA on Facebook (English). 


한국미혼모가족협회는 매실원액 판매함

한국미혼모가족협회는 매실원액 판매합니다.

덕유산자락 300m 고냉지에서 무농약친환경으로 재배한 토종매실로 담구었습니다.

처음발효시작에서 3년의 숙성기간을 거치며 유기농설탕(고이아사)만을 사용했습니다.

농약한번 치지않고 살구 등 일체의 다른 성분을 가미하거나 추가하지 않은 순수한 매실과 유기농설탕,농부의 정성만으로 만들었습니다.

매실판매의 수익금은 한국미혼모가족협회에게 기부됩니다

1.5리터 한병 28,000원
두병은 50,000원
세병부터 문의주세요
택배비는 별도입니다.

문의 02-2682-3376



Kpop Rape Culture "Inconvenient Truth" "불편한진실": A Petition to Infinite and Woolim

Angry K-pop Fan writes, 

"Inconvenient Truth" ("불편한진실"), a track performed by Korean male pop group Infinite, is a production embedded with misogynist messages and triggers for gender-based violence. The lyrics promote victim-blaming and gender oppression, while the music video depicts rape culture and undermines its severity. The video is currently being screened in all 31 venues of their world tour "One Great Step."

As much as misogyny in any form should immediately be confronted, there is great concern about the effects this will have on the thousands of fans who will attend these concerts, most of whom are female and in their critical years just before adulthood. As a pop culture product, it stunts efforts against gender inequality and violence by misinforming about sex, interpersonal relationships, and individual liberties. As a production undertaken by Infinite, young men whose voices thousands listen to, it is a betrayal to their obligation not only as role models, but as influential members of society.
The lyrics promote victim-blaming. Reprimanding a woman because of her decision to wear the clothes she chooses justifies that it is her fault she is attracting unwanted attention. This is wrong because it encourages the idea that the reason behind potential violence and abuse is because she is a woman; the acceptance that women will always be violated because they are women; that there is something inherently wrong with being a woman. This is not a healthy message. It steers the blame away from those who are truly responsible: the people who leer at her and the people who violate her. Some examples in reality include this case of an 11-year old Texan girl who was gang-raped and blamed; a 23-year old woman in India who was also gang-raped and continually shamed even after her death. In South Korea, a 29-year old woman who took her own life after being insulted by the court judge; and a 12-year old whose assailants have been excused from certain criminal laws because 'they thought the girl was older.' The ones who commit such horrid acts are sympathized with at the expense of their victim's dignity and self-worth; and the ones truly prosecuted are those who were hurt and abused. This is unfair.

The lyrics promote the assumption that women ought to fear men. The line “men are wolves” (”남자는 모두 늑대야”) is the center of this concern. To accept this as fact is extremely dangerous for a number of reasons. First, this is merely a gender construct and serves to strictly define what being a 'man' really means. Gender constructs buttress power inequalities between sexes because what a man is 'supposed to be' is often a more privileged and advantaged position than a woman. On an individual level, this encourages men to be forward in their approach, as it is an expression of their 'masculinity', even at the expense of a woman's comfort zone. At its extremity, it gives the go-ahead to sexual aggression. Second, men themselves are pressured by definitions of masculinity, thus such characterizations are very reductionist and dismissive of the myriad of ways men choose to express themselves. Third, because it is seen as part of ‘man’s nature’, it is rendered into something that can not be helped. It thus allows for women to be dictated by male-defined standards in how they should behave in society, completely disempowering them from carving out their own individualities. Fourth, it reiterates that the cause of rape and forms of sexual violence and harassment is because, again, a woman is a woman, not because a man violated her. Are women are the ones who need to ‘restrain themselves’ in this situation? This discourages proper prosecution against sexual aggressors, the real instigators of violence and abuse. Finally, as men are reduced to merely their sexual urges, women are desexualized. Women ought to be allowed to express their sexuality (responsibly and consensually) as much as men do; but instead they are discouraged as they are shamed, ridiculed, and automatically thrown under the threat of violence. Men are not told to think they are in danger of the opposite sex, but women are. Men have the agency and a voice that is heard when they fight against harm, but women don’t. This is unfair.

The music video not only depicts patriarchy and rape culture but undermines the severity of it. Rape culture describes our society today: the normalization and perpetuation of violence against women through images and language in advertising, music, movies, TV, books, politics, and personal, everyday life. It is so ubiquitous that we ourselves do not know we allow it to continue through our own experiences, through the words we say and the decisions we make. Portrayals of the Infinite members staring at the woman’s breasts and attempting to look up her dress to the backdrop of lyrics that put the responsibility for these behaviors in the hands of the woman alone - this is rape culture in action. The woman is not communicating any consent whatsoever to being stared at and eventually harassed. “But her clothes?” This communicates the flawed belief that all there is to a woman is her physical beauty, and that she is nothing but a object for men to gaze upon. This arbitrary deprivation of her liberty, the subjugation of her individuality to men, is violence. Furthermore, all of this placed in a humorous light that plays to the affection of Inspirits minimizes the gravity of this issue and impedes them from knowing how to properly identify abuse and violation. Rape culture and patriarchy is the reason why women feel inferior and constantly threatened out in public, and even in their own homes. It is the reason why women experience higher rates of sexual assault than men; why you see on your local news reports of rape incidents in which the victims are women; why a close male friend, acquaintance, or relative are among those who are likely to assault a woman. This is unfair.

We call upon not just the K-pop community but anyone who stands against any form of misogyny to sign this petition to request Infinite, Woollim Entertainment, production and management teams to 1) re-evaluate the concept and execution of "Inconvenient Truth"; 2) consider canceling screenings of "Inconvenient Truth" at upcoming world tour venues and plans for any official release; and 3) acknowledge and understand the reasons behind these requests. We wish not to pin ourselves against Infinite and Woollim Entertainment, but rather work with them as a community in sincere and mutual interest to foster genuine understanding of our plights as young men and women in today's society. Because we are all affected by the implications of a thriving rape culture, we strongly believe that this is a responsibility that requires as collective of an effort as possible.

This may be against one pop culture product, one of which may not be widely known. Regardless, celebrities and figures in entertainment have a voice many of us wish we had. The thousands of fans we are hoping they will feel obligated to enlighten equates to the thousands more these fans will influence at several points in their own lives. Our wish is that this petition be the rock that instigates that powerful ripple effect." 


CHEWSOCK Film Fest, Sept. 18-19 at Art Nine in Seoul, Korean Films English Subtitles

Looking for Korean films with English subtitles to watch this Chuseok holiday? 
Check out these Korean films screening with English subtitles at ArtNine (12Flr, Megabox building: Line 4 Chongshin Univ Station, Line 7 Isu Station, about a 10 minute walk from Line 2 Sadang Station via exit 10).

Make reservations in English at Cine In Korea with an easy bank transfer

Here are screen grabs of the brochure with descriptions of a few of the films that might interest our readers (or at least I think they sound interesting... better not sell out before I get my tickets!):

Please see the programs below for more information:

Pansori Performance (HWANG Eri)
11:00 ~ 18:00
-Traditional Korean Games
-Make traditional crafts
-Learn to set up a Chuseok meal
Gugak Performance
(National Gugak Orchestra members)
Opening Ceremony + Reception (Invited guests, sponsors, package pass holders)

Chuseok Lunch
(Chuseok Film Festival ticket-holders only)
10:00 ~ 17:00
Chuseok Flea Market
Traditional Games Contest (with prizes)
10:00 ~ 18:00
-Traditional Korean Games
-Make traditional crafts
-Learn to set up a Chuseok meal
Fusion Gugak Performance (Namyeoul)
Award Ceremony
Closing Party (Itaewon)

9.18 ()  문화 행사
판소리 공연 (황애리)
11:00 ~ 18:00
-전통 공예품 만들기
-차례상 차리는 법 배우기
국립국악관현악단원 공연
개막식 및 리셉션 (초대장 소지자에 한함)

9.19 ()  문화 행사
추석 점심
(추석영상기획전 표 소지자에 한함)
10:00 ~   
민속놀이 대회 (경품)
11:00 ~
-전통 공예품 만들기
-차례상 차리는 법 배우기
퓨전 국악 공연 (..)
폐막 파티 (이태원)
9 18 15:30 공연
황애리(소리꾼) HWANG Ae-ri(Pansori Singer)
중앙대 국악대 음악극과를 졸업한 소리꾼 황애리는 전통 판소리뿐만 아니라 프리뮤직, 가요 등을 비롯한 각종 예술 프로젝트에 참여하며 다방면에 걸친 활동을 해왔다. 2008년 제35회 춘향국악대전 일반부 판소리부문 대상을 수상한 바 있으며 이태원프로젝트판소리에듀케이션워크샵을 진행하였고 하찌와 애리, 우리소리 바라지의 멤버로 활동해왔다.
2008년 제35회 춘향국악대전 판소리 일반부 대상
2003년 땅끝해남 전국국악경연대회 민요부분 금상

9 18 17:00 공연

문형희 대금수석
-중앙대 음악대학 한국음악과졸업중요무형문화재 제45호 이수자국립국악관현악단, 성남시립국악관현악단 외 다수 협연서울국악예고 강사역임중앙대학교 출강현) 국립국악관현악단 부수석
09년 문화부장관상 표창
안수련 해금수석
-중앙대 음악대학 한국음악과 졸업-중앙국악관현악단 단원 역임-서울 국악예고 강사 역임국립국악관현악단, 중앙국악관현악단, 대구시립국악단, 코리안심포니오케스트라 협연 외 다수인천시립무용단 20주년 기념 초청 연주 협연일본 아이치 박람회 한국대표 한,,일 실내악 합동 연주베트남 하노이 초청연주회 협연“소리 숲을 걷다” 해금독주회해금퓨전음반 1~4집현) 국립국악관현악단 단원
수상경력: 33회 전국 난계 국악경연대회 일반부 대통령상
문양숙 가야금수석
95년 국립국악관현악단 22현가야금 지도98년 국립국악관현악단 입단국내 및 해외 독주회 5회국립국악관현악단 외 다수 협연국립전통예술고등학교, 중앙대학교, 목원대학교 강사역임영남대학교, 목원대학교 겸임교수역임01~03년 여성국악실내악단 “다스름”단원역임현) 서울대학교 출강숙명 글로리아 가야금 앙상블 연주 트레이너국립국악관현악단 부수석
이승호 타악
국립국악관현악단, 중앙국악관현현악단 외 다수협연민속악회수리 악장 역임
임교민 신디사이져 협연 출연자
그룹 수풀림 멤버

9 19 19:30 공연: ..

창작음악그룹 <..>은 “남자 여럿 울린” 때론 “남자때문에 여러 번 울기도 하는” 음악하는 여자들이 만나 만든 밴드이다.
봄타듯, 가을타듯, 음악타는 여자들<..>은 조해인(작곡,건반,바이올린), 박경진(타악/소리), 박미은(피리/태평소/장새납),이송이(가야금)을 주축으로 2010년 창단하여 창작음악과 전통음악 재창작 작업을 꾸준히 이어나가고 있다.
이들은 장르의 형식에 구애받지 않고 전통음악, 현대음악, 포크, 모던 락, 클래식에 이르기까지 예술가와 관객의 관계를 깊게 고민하며 '감정에 충실한' 달콤하면서 때로는 쌉사름한 창작음악을 선보인다

연주자: 조해인(건반,바이올린)
김애리(가야금, 보컬)



Women-Only Spaces & Allegations of Reverse Sexism

The Korea Times ran “'Male-free' zones ignite uproar: Some question the legitimacy of woman-only areas” by Park Jin-hai, Kwon Ji-youn, and Yoon Sung-won.

I have never once seen a space in Korea designated 'male-free.' I have seen a few women-only seats and lounges, but even these are rare. The reason Park, Kwon and Yoon flip the script from (still rarely used) 'woman-only' to 'male-free' is to call attention to their perception of reverse discrimination. The article contains a few half-hearted attempts to say that sometimes maybe possibly spaces reserved for women to prevent sexual harassment could maybe possibly sometimes be sort of important to public safety -- BUT really asks 'what about men's rights?' The purpose of the piece is to assert that men’s rights are being denied and that women-only spaces are reverse discriminatory. Park, Kwon and Yoon even go so far as to try to convince us that by pursuing public safety we are unwittingly putting the status of women in jeopardy[1].

That kind of rhetorical game was probably deployed to mitigate the way that the authors disregard evidence of sexual violence, or to  try to show a paternialistic concern for the status of women, or maybe to presume to understand the needs of women and convince women that such spaces are somehow not in their best interests -- but I'm not buying what you're selling.

The authors claim that
“All people agree to some extent that women including those with children should be provided with special care. But as some of the measures put in place include absurd directives it has triggered “reverse discrimination” against men and thus worsened confrontations between members of the opposite sex.”
I argue that it is not just providing for women-only space that cause conflict, but that the larger issue is a lack of public education explaining why such measures are necessary. More importantly, c'mon, sexual harassment itself is already a huge glaring pattern of 'confrontation between members of the opposite sex' that these spaces are designed to address. From a woman's perspective, let me tell you, if I were to weigh the 'confrontation' of sexual violence and harassment with the 'confrontation' of engaging in a dialog with a man explaining why women-only spaces are important, I KNOW which one is the WORSE 'confrontation.'

Reading closely, in the interviews shared in the article, the most-repeated statement by an interviewee is a variation of "I don't understand..." The authors also seem to either lack an understanding of why some spaces were reserved only for women, or they failed to investigate and report the reason in this article. I do think that campaigns that simply label a space ‘women only’ without providing an explanation could cause confusion and misunderstanding.More importantly, inadequately explained policies or labels are a major missed opportunity for public education about sexual violence, privilege and the importance of measures to promote safety.

The authors go on to cite women’s lounges at schools and law firms,
“there are special pink buses exclusively for female passengers. “The idea of having a safe bus ride is good. But having a bus which men are banned from, is tantamount to criminalizing all men and viewing them as potential sex criminals,” said Kang Hyun-chul. “It reminds me of the old-time black-white segregation of the South Africa. It is very insulting.”
*I am not an artist, but you get the point~
Park, Yoon and Kwon describe the activism of members of Ilbe and Man of Korea/남성연대 who snap pictures of women-only spaces for online discussion and offline complaint. Of course Ilbe and Man of Korea/남성연대 members can rush to claim reverse sexism by snapping a pic of the 'women's seat' at the library, because they don't know about or understand that there have been safety problems at the library. These self-proclaimed ‘men's rightists’ argue that they are excluded via reverse discrimination, and this may be partially attributed to the fact that they are not educated about the extent of their male privilege in this context. While the ‘men’s rights’ group thinks that they are being excluded from learning spaces at schools and library, their outrage is amplified the rapid gains made in women's educational attainment. At the same time, they do not realize that by being men they are not profiled in public spaces as a target for sexual harassment.

The signage could read something like “in accordance with ### law to prevent sexual harassment, this seat is reserved for women only” or “due to reported incidents of sexual harassment, this seat is reserved for women only” rather than simply saying “women only.” Doing so would immediately highlight our consciousness of harassment and possibly promote survivor reporting and bystander intervention.

The authors conclude,
“The hard facts still suggest that the status of Korean women lags behind those of other countries ― the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap report for 2012 ranked Korea 108th out of 135 countries around the world.
Yet, some of the measures that have been introduced without being given much thought as to their implications only jeopardize the status of women.”
The authors never explain the decision-making process behind making these women-only spaces and the critique that these are randomly designated spaces ignores the crime reports that are the actual basis for making safer women-only designated bus seats, train cars, library seats and lounges. Let’s get real; promoting the safety of women is NOT going to ‘jeopardize their status.’ Rather than internalizing, accepting and tolerating sexual harassment, visibility around sexual harassment teaches women and men to stand up for safe spaces for everyone.

Finally attitudes described by Professor Kwak,
“As more women pursue careers and succeed in these, the traditional viewpoint that regarded women as weak members of society has changed,” said Kwak Geum-ju, psychology a professor at Seoul National University. “Consequently, some males now go as far as to perceive women as competitors, exacerbating confrontations between the two sexes.”
demonstrate that we need to fill an education gap. We need to make sure that men and women understand these initiatives in the context of public safety, and do not mislabel them as competitive advantages for women. It isn’t about giving women a leg-up in the workplace; it is about preventing the sometimes debilitating effects of sexual violence so that women can safely access education.

Without appropriate public education campaigns to spread awareness, misunderstanding and backlash grow. Efforts to create safe spaces are overturned and women and social minority voices are effectively being silenced by backlash against human rights campaign progress. So let’s spread the word ourselves and help the public understand the reason that these projects exist. Let’s share information about sex crimes, let’s track where they happen, let’s stand up and intervene when we see sexual harassment, and let’s give public education to those who compare the pink car on a subway train to apartheid in South Africa.

This December a new public education project to promote awareness and reporting of street harassment will launch nationwide in Korea. Korean Gender Café 한국 젠더 카페 will soon post updates for those interested in this evolving project.

We'd like to highlight a few examples of our public awareness promotion around sexual violence, please see:

Sexual Assault and Harassment, Child Self-defense, Domestic Violence Shelter Volunteer
Seoul Rape Medical Treatment and National Police Hospital (Located on Line 3, exit 1)
What is quasi-rape? Is Park Si-hoo charged with rape?
Queer Corner: Imbalance of Power and Rape in the Korean Gay Community
Sexual Violence as a Migrating Woman, Re: India Story You Never Wanted to Hear
Queer Corner: Violence in a Label - 마짜, 때짜, 올
가정폭력 Domestic Violence Awareness : Music & Media

For another discussion on reverse sexism please see So-called "Reverse Sexism" in Korea 소위 ‘역차별’

For background on Ilbe and Man of Korea/남성연대 see our posts
What is "Men’s Korea" (formerly Boslachi)? 맨즈코리아 ('보슬아치' 사이트), 그들은 누구인가?
What is Man of Korea? ‘남성연대’, 그들은 누구인가?
Korean Male Union & Sexual Harassment 남성연대와 성희롱
Dangerous Man of Korea Fundraiser Ends in Death
‘남성연대’, 페미니즘 그리고 여성가족부의 대안 “Korean Male Union”, Feminism and Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family

This is the 70th post on the Korean Gender Café 한국 젠더 카페! *^^*

[1] There are cases where public safety initiatives HAVE put women’s status and safety in jeopardy. For example, I urge Park, Kwon and Yoon to do some reading about refugee camps and peacekeeping operations under investigation where women were segregated and forced to trade sex for resources, were raped by peacekeepers, or were raped while searching for resources due to poor facilities for displaced persons. The pink car on the subway is NOT such an instance.


How was the Korean Housewife Constructed?

Yesterday I posted a critique of the lazy way we toss around the term Confucian to describe contemporary Korean gender roles. A great comment by a reader prompted me to add additional explanation of what we might overlook when we focus on ‘Confucian’ and ‘traditional’ values. For a more specific discussion of Confucian ideology, I have written about Confucianism and the Choson Dynasty on this blog a few times: Power & Gender in the Early Korean State, Fashion: Regulating the Inner/Outer in Choson Korea, Comparing Marriage in the Middle Ages and Korea’s Choson Dynasty: 서양의 중세 초기와 조선의 결혼비교, and 조선 초기의 파워와 젠더체제. Here I’d like to throw out for our consideration some important alternate explanations of the contemporary construction of family life in Korea. 

I point out internal and external factors that have affected Korea in its modern history to emphasize the breadth of forces at play that are left entirely out of the discussion when we rush to attribute something to Korea's Confucian past. 

Many Confucian social and legal regulations were codified that affected family life, especially between 1300 and 1700. But there is significant doubt as to how deeply Confucian values penetrated into the common social consciousness, as they were largely codes to regulate the elite yangban. The colonial period was immediately predated by a ‘rush to modernize’ to avoid colonization in the late 1800s. On top of that the colonial period through 1945 was a major disruption in so many social structures that we might dub ‘traditional’ so that what we are calling ‘traditional’ today is a complicated reassertion or reconstruction or reclaiming of ‘traditions’ which shouldn’t be presented as a continuous march to the present. There are absolutely some lingering legacies, but we need to add depth to our understanding of Confucianism if we are going to throw it around as an explanation for Korean society today. Worse, I fear that by relying too heavily on the convenience of the Confucian explanation, we overlook more important influences on family life.

For example, in talking about housewives, we should not have this conversation without discussing the following major influences in recent history:

THE FIRST being the urbanization drive under Park Chung Hee, which disrupted ‘traditional’ family life in incredibly transformative ways. In Confucian and even in colonial period Korea family structures were generally larger multi-generational networks and geographically close. Pre-industrialization in Korea (which was only partially ushered in during the colonial period) families were more agrarian and family roles quite different from today. Here on the blog we have discussed the Theory of Compressed Modernization, which describes how Korea underwent rapid transformation in under 60 years that Europe process over the course of 200 years. When Park Chung Hee pushed urban industrialization, state policy transformed the family. Where once a network of women and men cooperated in a large family unit, now a mother was mobilized to prepare her husband, children (male and female) for economic competition in the city and factory. When the state didn’t have the foresight to prepare some social safety nets for the elderly left in the countryside, it was more convenient to criticize women for abandoning their ‘traditional’ roles than acknowledge how the state had reconstructed family life without preparing to care for the old. Newspapers in the 1970s criticize women (similar critiques emerged of the ‘New Woman’ in the colonial period). This transformation under Park Chung Hee sounds a lot more like the housewife Harper describes than anything in Confucian texts or dating back to Choson. There are absolutely some lingering legacies of Confucian ideology in Korean society, but these are redefined and deployed by contemporary actors.

SECOND, we can’t overlook the reality that European and North American societies made basically the same general decisions about gendered division of labor amidst industrialization. This is another reason to doubt a uniquely Korean tradition that created the housewife.

THIRD, I think the intensification of competition for rapid modernization probably has had the most direct and adverse affects on human rights conditions in Korean society. This means that in thinking about how to address these harms, we are distracting ourselves with ‘Confucian tradition’ when maybe we should instead be thinking about the hegemonic way Samsung corporate structure harms family life in contemporary Korea, or the continued mobilization of the people by government to make steep sacrifices with inadequate social safety nets. Looking too distantly and too ‘culturally’ into Korea’s past obscures the political and economic changes we can demand today that are changing patterns of inequality. We need only look to the incredibly important influence of the IMF crisis in the 1990s, which reversed a lot of trends in Korean society toward gender equality. Not unlike recessions in other regions, women pay a heavier price for economic slowdown, and that isn’t unique to Korea. It is a failure of most societies to adequately engage women productively in society in ways that respect their human rights. For more discussion of Compressed Modernization Theory on this blog, please see Compressed Modernization for Gender Studies 압축적 근대성와 젠더 and 압축적 근대성 이론 Compressed Modernization Theory for Korean Studies.

TO wrap this up, I think it is really skipping quite a few steps to simplistically say that the housewife in contemporary Korea is a Confucian tradition unique to Korea. It just isn’t that linear. Better to understand a variety of factors and locate the influences that have the most detrimental effects on women’s human rights.

Lastly, I've written a few times about the problem of associating violence against women as 'unique' to certain societies. Some of these earlier posts could definitely use some revisiting, revising or renewed debate. In the following posts I emphasize that HOW we talk about violence against women is very important:

Sexual Violence as a Migrating Woman, Re: India Story You Never Wanted to Hear

Yoon is NOT in a 'sex scandal'

Buzzfeed! Fearing rape is not a “Unique side effect of being an Indian girl”

Single Moms & Korean Fertility Policy 싱글맘와 한국의의 가족계획

~녀 뉴스 or Nyo News, the Female Files

MBC 응답 Responses to MBC's The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners

Rape and Sex Offender Registry in Korea 성폭행와 성범죄자알림


Solidarity is for White Women in Korea, too. Re: The Fear of Becoming a Housewife

Let’s talk about how so many writers lazily toss around Confucianism and its’ impact on gender roles in Korean society. Let’s pursue alternate, more complicated and more rigorous discussions of Korean society. At stake is not only intellectual rigor, but the pursuit of mutual understanding that can only be achieved when we stop recklessly dismissing cultures when we could be building solidarity. Although there are many pieces in which we encounter the assertion that Korean gender roles are Confucian, I am going to point to a piece by Megan Harper who recently contributed “THE FEAR OF BECOMING A HOUSEWIFE” to Groove Magazine.

Harper writes (emphasis mine),  
“This year, I married a Korean man. He isn’t “Korean-Korean,” which is our code to mean he is comfortable with the ways of life outside of the peninsula.”
"He understands the limits that Confucianism places on women and tries his hardest to understand my expectations of equality."
"I have met many women with advanced degrees in subjects such as Russian literature, Chinese and graphic design who abandon all career goals once they marry. Or maybe it is because many of the young women I work with consider university to be simply a way to meet a wealthy man and become his housewife."  
"What I was not prepared for, though, was the depth of his parents’ gender roles, my feelings toward their way of life and the effect these things would have on my ability to relate to his parents. It is hard to hide my discomfort when I see my mother-in-law prepare a beautiful dinner that her husband has half eaten before she even has a chance to sit down. I cannot understand why she tolerates this lack of family assistance. Although I am embarrassed by my own narrow-mindedness, this type of event, and my perception of her, makes it very difficult for me to relate to her; my own refusal to take on the “housewife” role has made it hard for me to embrace this woman.
I know that traditional gender roles continue to exist in my own culture, but they feel much more limiting in Korea. Perhaps it is because, as an outsider, they are easier to see." 
When I hear similar comments from Americans (ex. I frequently hear something like "At Chuseok all the men drank and all the women cooked and cleaned, can you believe how sexist Korea is?") I add this bit of analysis: Perhaps it is easier to see Korean women this way because I was raised in a culture that stereotypes Asian women, I was raised falsely to think that my culture has the 'most' gender equality, I was raised in a culture willfully blind its own exploitation of Asian women. It is important for people from my culture to unlearn some of the racism and nationalism we were raised with. .

TO SUMMARIZE the piece, the author (not Korean) discusses a process of negotiating gender role expectations with her (Korean, but not so-called “Korean-Korean) husband. The author also reflects on her own attitude toward her (I guess the author would say, “Korean-Korean”) “traditional” mother-in-law’s gender role and Korean women's sacrifices for family. The piece emphasizes a link between “traditional Korean” (Confucian) culture and gender role expectations, contrasting this with only the briefest of references to her own culture. Her unnamed and largely un-examined culture is not subjected to the same lens. The key words used to describe women and her home culture include: equality, independent, respectable, equalized gender roles, etc. 

Honestly, at first I wanted to get behind the effort the author says she is putting into understanding her mother-in-law, but ultimately found the piece somewhat offensive and the cultural explanations kind of lazy and stereotypical. This is no doubt because SO MUCH of our dialog in English-language literature talks about Korea in this way. I struggle to find English newspapers abroad that don’t talk about Confucianism in every piece about Korea, even when it is about a plane crash >.< Even many Korean friends and classmates will emphasize Confucianism instead of other explanations possibly because it has become a quick and easy way to describe and emphasize perceived differences. Back to what the Grand Narrative dubbed 
the author concludes,
"I hope to share with others my unexpected limit in understanding that arises from my own gender role expectations. Regardless of my mother-in-law’s reasoning, it is futile for me to judge her. I will strive to respect her for the sacrifices she has made while using my own life to demonstrate equalized gender roles."
FIRST and FOREMOST I have to critique the way that the author positions her life as a demonstration of equalized gender roles to her mother-in-law. Despite prior reflections on trying to be open-minded, the piece asserts a instructive superiority of a not 'Korean-Korean' life and mindset over a 'Korean-Korean' life and mindset. The author also leaves out a lot of incredibly important context about these so-called 'equalized gender roles.' This discussion may also reveal our blindness to our own privileges and complicity in exploitation that we externalize and blame on others and other cultures.

LET’S START with how not unique to Korea it is to have a mother-in-law that does the majority of the housework or who has ‘traditional’ views about gender, motherhood or being a wife. Personal disclosure, I recently married an American man and my mother-in-law and I have some quite different and some shared views about culture and gender roles even though our citizenship is the same. Before my partner, I once lived with a long-term with a partner and his mother who migrated to the US from Mexico. My partner’s mother and I also had some different and some shared attitudes about culture and gender roles despite not having the same citizenship. I lived in a homestay in Korea for over a year, and once again similar and different ideas about gender roles. My mom did all the cooking and cleaning except for once a week when my father typically ordered in food and dumped trash. Guess what, if you are raised by a single mom (as I later was, and as my cousins were), who is it that is doing the cooking and cleaning? I bet it is usually still mom and not dad. Thinking about the men in my life growing up, I have an uncle who migrated from Greece to the U.S. Another uncle migrated from Iraq. During all of the Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox Catholic, and Islamic holidays, also during the Chuseoks, Thanksgivings, the quinceañeras, even during the national holidays and other special occasions that I have attended and participated in, women did the cooking, the cleaning, the care and love work. 

NEXT, the author is worried about becoming a Korean housewife and wants to keep working. I would like to see a follow-up reflection by the author on how she engages her husband, husband’s boss, her boss and most importantly her mother-in-law or possibly a nanny in a few years when she wants to keep working and is struggling to find daycare. Will grandma be more relatable or her gender role more appreciated when the time comes to make that decision? Though, I honestly really hope we don’t need that reflection because I hope SOME administration will start taking social welfare policy seriously.  

I sense a rebuttal: So you say American women and European women's workforce participation has surged? Let's break that down a bit, too. Women in my family, a grandma or an aunt not working outside the home, absolutely took on the care work while both or a single parent were working. Let's look at broader social trends. At the same time that women's workforce participation in the US and Europe has surged, simultaneously world migration trends reflect a major shift toward a majority of migrants being female? In origin societies we see complex family decisions over whether or not to send daughters and wives abroad for migration to destination states in Europe and the Americas. Migration patterns all over the world are pushed by gender roles that haven’t changed THAT much in the ‘West’ and by economic competition that compels all sorts of changes in societies. What work are female migrant laborers doing? Largely care, reproductive and sexual labor. How many affluent households in the U.S, in Western Europe, in Korea and Japan are replacing middle and upper-class family housewives with migrant or increasingly 'competitive market-solution' labor like fast food, boutique daycare, dry cleaners, etc.? I love all the fancy jargon we (myself included!) use to glorify and add scientific weigh to our own cultural solutions while we dismiss other countries for having ‘traditional’ or in this case ‘Confucian’ solutions.

FINALLY, let’s get to Confucianism. I don't think the author understands Confucianism and how it has transformed and been transformed by Korean society. Nor do I think the author tries to think of other explanations besides Confucianism. The Confucian card is over played and we are missing out on better explanations. Too often, writers use Confucianism as a neat and tidy quick way to dismiss something in Korea as essentially 'pre-modern' while simultaneously failing to make any further inquiry into Korea's modern history and society.

In particular, let’s drop the 'backward Confucian Korea' trope and seek more nuanced explanations. Frankly, in the context of this piece, the Confucian trope pretends that all issues in Korean society today are 'pre-modern' and tied to some ingrained sexist cultural/religious though pattern. I think that bit of explanation is tidily left off because that would implicate modern structures all over the world and also require consideration of Korea's colonial and occupied recent history. In turn, this ignores the role of government intrusion into family life in modern Korean history, and especially the mobilization of family and housewife for a decidedly neo-liberal international market. Was Park Chung Hee acting in accordance with Confucianism or aligning policy with the cold war and international markets?

Furthermore, is that mobilization of women and family an isolated experience in Korea? No. Even seen a poster of Rosie the Riveter? Or a war-time volunteer nurse? Or a Red Cross volunteer knitting socks? Oh, those examples are too distant and you don’t want to compare US and Europe in WWII to post-colonial and Korean War recover era Korean workforce mobilization? What happens to American and European women during recession? Hours and benefits cut to keep “more people at work” rather than all-out cutting jobs? Funny how we keep reading that women and people of color in America are disproportionately losing benefits and having hours cut.

Like the Americas and Europe, Korea has also had mobilization of women for home labor, for labor in manufacturing and unpaid care labor for troops, students, husbands and sons, and so has every other country ever. How can we use Confucianism as the sole explanation for anything in Korean society while ignoring the influences of religion (Protestantism anyone?), Japanese colonial state education of women for low pay low skilled labor (Thank you NEW RIGHT textbook revisionism, what a TRIUMPH that was for gender equality), US-ROK economic ties and international markets that mobilized men abroad to wars and oil fields, rapid modernization pressures and lacking social safety nets. I don't have a full explanation, but lazily tossing around "Confucianism" isn't good enough and we need to start a better dialog about societies. More urgently, we need to keep promoting less offensive conversations about Korean women, men and their families. Not just on blogs but also in news media and academia, too.   

Maybe in Korean society we need a dose of something similar to what intersectional feminism and the recent #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen dialog represent in the US. As feminists, let’s stop dismissing other women’s culture and start listening. This dialog would be a vital precondition for really working together to face inequality and other challenges we face in our societies.

I’m guilty of some laziness too, that’s why I need to keep listening, studying, reflecting and looking for other viewpoints. Re-reading some of my posts on this blog, I realize that in my living and studying process I’ve changed my views quite a lot over the past 14 months of blogging about gender and Korean society. Thank you to readers and critics and friends for your dialog. Since I know I am also in a privileged space where I can access information as my full-time occupation, to spread some of that around, here is a short reading list that inspires much of what I have written here:

Chang, KS and MY Song. 2010. “The stranded individualizer under compressed modernity: South Korean women in individualization without individualism” The British Journal of Sociology 61(3): 539-564.

Cheng, Sealing. "Sexual Protection, Citizenship and Nationhood: Prostituted Women and Migrant Wives in South Korea," Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Vol. 37, No. 10, Dec. 2011.

Cho, Uhn, “The Encroachment of Globalization into Intimate Life: The Flexible Korean Family in “Economic Crisis”” Korea Journal 45(3), 2005.

Cho, Joo-hyun. “Neoliberal Governmentality at Work: Post-IMF Korean Society and the Construction of Neo-liberal Women” Korea Journal 49(3): 2009.

Nelson, Laura, “Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea,” 2000.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work, published by Stanford University Press, 2001.

Kim, Hyun Mee. "The State and Migrant Women: Diverging Hopes in the Making of “Multicultural Families” in Contemporary Korea" in Korea Journal, Winter 2007.

Yi, Eunhee Kim, “’Home is a Place to Rest’: Constructing the Meaning of Work, Family and Gender in the Korean Middle Class,” Korea Journal 38(2), 1998.