“Korea has an interesting view of women,” I said to a friend.
“You live here long enough you get used to it,” he said.
I don’t think I ever will. I’ve waited awhile before writing this post. It’s important to understand cultural differences before you condemn them, right? Walking that line of cultural sensitivity and bullshit is tough some days. And for me the way women are treated is constantly calling for someone to change things.
Lonely Planet Korea says, “At times Korea resembles America from the 1950s (conservative and innocent).” Lonely Planet put it much too mildly. Women are a man’s best accessory. Women are not expected to make decisions, initiate a conversation or speak for themselves.
When I go out with men, they are always asked what we are eating or drinking. I hate having other people order for me, but I have to get in the waiter’s face to order for myself and even then they may not take my order until a man says it.When I go out with men, we are often approached by Korean men. They never talk to me, always to the man. Even if they have a question for me, they expect the man to answer.
When I go out by myself, I am occassionally approached by men who ask where I am from and what I am doing here. Only once have I been approached by a woman. Her husband (boyfriend?) immediately took her hand, pulled her away from me and took over the conversation.
When I go out with other Korean women, I am always the loud, rude, obnoxious American. The women I am with are very quiet–almost like they are trying to hide. They don’t like to go out without their boyfriends. And they say they feel uncomfortable going someplaces “alone.” (By which they mean with women, not men.) The Korean women I know have spent alot of time with Americans so they know this is strange to me and they try to humor me.
Women are not allowed to be visible most of time. The expectations for women are beyond absurd. If you think the standard for beauty in America is unattainable–try being 5 feet tall, dark haired and small eyed wishing for a Barbie body, a small face, big eyes and blond hair.
Women are always dressed well in Korea. They take great care to look their best every day. They also go to extreme lengths for beauty–high heels, eye surgery and an exhaustive skin regime. It doesn’t seem to ever stop.
All this misogyny makes me want to scream. I love the retro fashion, but where are the flappers their clothes bring to mind? Where are the women who won’t just be an accessory any more? What is going on here? Isn’t anyone frustrated by the complete lack of women in government and business? Doesn’t anyone want to know why birth control isn’t available? Doesn’t anyone want to start talking about domestic violence?
As a foreigner I get away with acting like myself most of the time. Many Koreans probably think, “Look at the stupid foreigner. Being silly and talking for herself. She doesn’t know any better.”
I have a tendency to think, “Look at those Korean. Not allowing women to speak. They don’t know any better.”
Now to go find someone even closely resembling a feminist.