This is Dominique, I’m usually based in Singapore but taking over the newsletter for the next fortnight from wet and dreary Seattle. For this week’s edition, marriage and gender roles are on my brain.
The institution of marriage (at least, heterosexual marriage) has historically been associated with rigidly prescribed gender roles. Husbands were breadwinners and wives were caregivers whose bodies, rights and access to resources were strictly controlled. In the U.S., married women were long bound by the laws of coverture, which stipulated that women did not have a separate legal existence from their husbands. That went on till well into the 19th century — and its impacts continued to be felt for decades. Heck, even today, women in the U.S. — “breadwinners” included — spend, on average, 60% more time on housework than men.
And while these gender dynamics have, of course, begun to shift, deep-seated inequalities remain.
Take South Korea, the birthplace of my mom. For centuries, Korean women have been expected to leave their parents’ home after marriage to live with their husband’s family. There, the married woman, who had few freedoms and fewer rights, occupied the lowest position of status — managing the home, rearing children and caring for aging parents-in-law.
In more recent decades, South Korean women have attained more rights and entered the workforce in droves. Many have rejected these old norms. Still, as HuffPost Korea reporter Sanga Kwak explores in an interview with a married Korean woman and author, women continue to struggle under a yoke of sexism and oppression — including, and in some cases particularly so, in the home.
Misogyny, Sanga told me from Seoul, is “absolutely” alive and well in South Korea. The culture is “very patriarchal,” she said, “even though feminism has been rising more recently.” South Korea’s gender pay gap is, by far, the worst among all OECD countries, Sanga pointed out. Last year, the World Economic Forum ranked the country 108th out of 153 countries in gender equality.
For these reasons and more, Sanga said she was compelled to interview Young-ju Kim (pictured), an author of “A Daughter-In-Law’s Letter of Resignation,” which was published in 2018. In the book, the writer details her real-life experience of submitting a resignation letter to her husband and his family, in which she announced her decision to quit the role of “daughter-in-law.”
As Sanga explained, daughters-in-law in South Korea can sometimes be subjected to poor treatment at home.
“Some people think that a daughter-in-law is essentially some kind of servant,” she said, noting that many young Korean women now reject the institution of marriage to avoid these “unreasonable burdens.”
Sanga, who is unmarried, said she was “shocked” upon reading about the author’s decision to “resign” as daughter-in-law.
“Young-ju is very brave. She shows that women can, and should, be able to have their own lives even after getting married,” Sanga continued. “I believe that’s a very important lesson.”
Read Sanga’s interview with Young-ju Kim here.
Have you observed gender dynamics in marriage and partnerships changing in your culture or community? Share your thoughts with me at email@example.com.
Till next week,
Dominique Mosbergen, Senior Reporter, HuffPost U.S.
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