The Changing Status of 20th Century Korean Women

Discusses and compares the changes in the Korean woman’s status with that of the Indian woman’s status.

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This paper explores the changing status of Korean women in the 20th century, with occasional comparison to similar developments in Indian society. The paper discusses elements of the traditional roles played by Korean women in light of the dynamic change that arrived with Western influences and economic and political changes that have served to transform Korean ‘traditional’ society and its mores. The paper also shows how there is more than one kind of female reality; women are often impeded by differences of class that in some extremes can mean the difference between life and death.
“Steinberg summarizes how the Korean family system, as a source of social solidarity over a turbulent history, often placed women in roles that more supported family cohesion and survival than they did the individual prospects of women. (1989, 75) In traditional society, daughters passed from patriarchal homes to similar venues at the time of marriage. Their status was determined by whether or not they produced children, and principally, male offspring. The respectable, educated woman was once encountered most often within the confines of the household. Through the 20th century, social change along with periodic rounds of necessity have encouraged a great many more women to take up unconventional employment and activities which are more in keeping with what is enjoyed by Western women in their responsibility for themselves and its related freedoms.
“There has, of course, been great variation according to social class, lineage, and economic prospects of Korean women. Confucianism automatically instilled hierarchical social arrangements and in which women tended to have fixed roles and status; the organization of the family rather duplicated the ordering of Korean society in an automatic assumption that some kind of hierarchical pattern would be at work. Steinberg explained how the pre-Confucian social order in Korea had been even more hierarchical and dismissive of individual and women’s rights: the ancient emphasis placed on a yangban system of ‘bone rank’ often did women a disservice in terms of ensuring that their roles preserved the family at the expense of themselves or their daughters. (1989, 93)”

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