The Old, The New: The transformation of Japanese and Korean women
Identity is actually something formed through unconscious processes over time, rather than being innate in consciousness at birth. There is always something 'imaginary' or fantasized about its unity. It always remains incomplete, is always 'in process', always 'being formed'. – Stuart Hall
Today, when we talk about Japanese or Korean women, we picture someone who is educated, who is empowered, who is independent; We picture women clad in fashionably short skirts, equipped with newly polished nails, a face decorated with make up and newly done hair, strutting in the streets of Tokyo or Seoul. However, what is unknown to us is how Japan and Korea’s women of today came to be. The women of today didn’t just come up out of nowhere. They are so to speak, socially and historically constructed, a product of change, of events and incidents that took place many years ago and is gradually “in process” and “being formed” even until this very moment. What are remarkable is how both these women despite being from different countries; share some similar aspects in arriving at where they are now. According to Barbara Sato, Author of “The New Japanese Woman: Modernity, Media, and Women in Interwar Japan”, due to social changes happening around the globe, from technological growth to industrial expansion to the acceleration of urbanization, the image of the feminine had been redefined. This redefined image challenges the existing perception of what the feminine is and who she should be. It is in other words, a transition from the perception of the feminine as a traditional Japanese and Korean wife to one as a multifaceted modern woman. During the Choson period in Korea and the Meiji Period in Japan, women were seen as the second gender, as inferior to men. During these periods, both Korean and Japanese people upheld the Confucian way of life where women are lower in the hierarchy of societal relations than men. For example, according to Confucian custom, women have to leave their parent’s house permanently and fill the lowest position in her husband’s family once she is married. Not only does she have to endure this but also her mother-in-law’s mistreatment and abusive behavior towards her. Moreover, her relationship with her husband is best described by the Korean proverb: "By day, like seeing a stranger; by night, like seeing a lover." This depiction of what the traditional Korean wife is like is seen in the video we have seen in class. In the film, the main character was engaged and married to her husband at a young age. She is then forced to leave her parent’s home and live with her mother-in-law and her husband. Her mother-in-law then strictly teaches her how to become a good wife to her husband. She often feels lonely and abused by her new life but she still stands firm and somehow made it through. According to Gordon’s article entitled “Social, Economic, and Cultural Transformations”, during the Choson and Meiji Dynasty, the government was responsible for promoting nation building and in the middle of it came the home. During this time, women were the foundation for implementing a new national identity in Japan. The government promoted “hard work and simple living” as the virtue for all Japanese citizens and these traits were epitomized by the “good wife” Confucian values endorsed. In both the Choson Dynasty law and the Meiji Civil code, women were taught about their legal and social status, and their place in the family. They were given little rights compared to their male counterparts. For example, in Barbara Sato’s Book, according to Hirabayashi, an early advocate of gender equality: Inequality between men and women is not a result of inferior biological differences- rather it is a gradual process that begins at birth because of our social system and ingrained customs… Women should rebel against despotic fathers and husbands. Since individuals no longer have...
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