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Marriage and Divorce in Colonial Korea Essay

The article “Where Boys Were Kings, a Shift Toward Baby Girls” from The New York Times relays to readers the significant and profound changes in Korean society in relation to preference of female children over their male counterparts in Korean families.  In Korea, preference for boys is a centuries old custom and was rooted in part in an agrarian society that relied on sons to do the difficult work on family farms.  Men were also accorded special status because they were considered the carriers of the family’s all-important bloodline.  As Yang mentioned in Korea times, many people (mostly men) still think that “men are sky and women are land”. Under a highly conservative Confucianism based society, these changes in preference of baby girls especially highlights a shift in women’s status in Korea.

The New York Times provides an example of Ms. Park’s situation.  Ms. Park is a 61-year-old newspaper executive who has three sons.  Only several decades ago, women who could reproduce many boys were considered the ideal wife.  However, Ms. Park now says that “within a generation, I have turned from the luckiest woman possible to a pitiful mother”.  As seen in Ms. Park’s interview in South Korea, once one of Asia’s most rigidly patriarchal societies, a centuries-old preference for baby boys is fast receding.

This kind of significant change started from 1987 when “the government banned doctors from revealing the sex of a fetus before birth”.  Since then, women’s status improved each year.  As compared to fewer than one out of ten women entering college in 1981, six out of ten did so in 2006.  Also in “the National Assembly, once one of the nation’s most male-dominated institution, women now hold about 13 percent of the seats, about double the percentage they held just four years ago”.

As we examined in Yoo’s article “The ‘New Woman’ and the Politics of Love, Marriage and Divorce in Colonial Korea”, there was a time when education, political involvement, and sense of freedoms were limited for women in Korea.  For being one of the group of young educated Korean women, I am very proud. For the older generation of women, who have tried to find their true rights as a “modern girl”, I owe their struggles to my success.


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