This topic is obviously one that I consider on a daily basis being a woman living in Korea.
When I first came to Korea to live back I 2009, I realized right away what a commodity I was as a blonde, white women working in the Korean education industry because that’s the ideal. The private education industry (hagwon’s) wants someone that is going to be friendly and cute and appear as the ideal that they stereotypically think is a foreign English teacher. I learned quickly how important appearance was to people here. Although people were quite nice to me at work and around the area were I worked, I quickly realized that mostly they just wanted to use me, mostly because of my appearance.
I was also struck by limitations that some people had in their thinking. For example, I had a co-worker who worked as a secretary and she wanted to marry her boyfriend. But, that was impossible until she passed the teacher certification exam so she could get a job that her future in-laws deemed acceptable to their son. This is not an isolated experience.
I had many instances when I worked at the college when girls would be talking about their jobs in respect to what type of man would qualify them for marriage. For example, the dream goal for the female students that were studying at my college was to become a flight attendant. If they achieved this position for employment, it is considered a classy and sophisticated job. They’d get to possibly travel the world and maybe even meet some rich guy in first class. Because, then their life would be set. I’m not making this up, I’ve heard conversations like this before.
I think it’s easy to mix up what people around the world see on TV and on YouTube like Kpop and Korean Dramas, and think this is what Korea might be like in reality. Sure, this place has really attractive people in it. Korean dramas definitely reflect some accurate attitudes about Korean culture and how people here think. Kpop to us is the result of hard working people putting their heads together artistically to create a product that is attractive to many around the world. But there is also a story of the people of Korea that is not reflected at all in Kpop and Korean dramas.
But, women more and more in Korea are doing amazing things! They own businesses, they go to university, graduate and find jobs, and are simply becoming more empowered. Considering where they came from in the last 30 years, the role of women has grown exponentially here. In some ways now, Korea is undergoing that women empowerment movement. This is exciting for me since although I’m not Korean, I feel I can see it happening firsthand.
But still, this place is not perfect. One thing that bothers Richard almost as much as anything here (he mentioned this in the video) is the amount of stares he sees come my way when we go out in public together. This happens almost entirely from older men. Women do not really do this to me, only men. And it seems like every time we turn a corner he spots another man looking my way for longer than seems acceptable. I think this probably happens a lot to foreign women that live here and visit. I also think in Seoul this happens a bit less because Seoul really is becoming an international place. We live in Suwon (which is outside of Seoul) and depending on where I’m walking and what I’m wearing I might get stares. It’s not comforting and wish it didn’t happen as much, but there’s not a lot I can do about it.
This place, just like any on earth, is far from perfect. Women are going through a positive transformation here that’s encouraging. From celebrities to normal Korean people, females are gaining an edge they’ve never had before. Lets hope this trend continues! ☺