My Korean Women - From Tradition to Self-reinvention

by Dana Ramon Kapelian, 13/04/2014


As a traveling artist, I have had the privilege of living in and being exposed to different cultures. Arriving in Korea, my home for the next five years, I availed myself of whatever information I could lay hands on; books, essays, films etc.

I became deeply fascinated by the richness of Korean culture and its contradictions Replica Watches. I was especially struck by the issues Korean women are confronted with: torn between ancient Confucian dogmas and endless 21st Century’s options to reinvent oneself physically and socially as well as in the familial context. I decided to create a platform for women to express their views and tell their personal stories in order to better understand the major characteristic of the society I live in. The women revealed a feminine world in rapid transformation, helping us understand where things are, state  their priorities, and share their dreams for the future. 

I set out on a journey, taking portraits and interviewing women of all social strata, starting with older women, retainers of cultural heritage, and moving towards the younger generation, how do they perceive  women's conditions in Korea today and how do they envision the future.

I am grateful to all the women who opened their homes and hearts to me, revealed their personal stories, throwing a light on the contemporary history of this old yet young nation: judge, theologian, Korean TV drama star or the president of the Seoul International Women Film Festival. Housewife, student and alternative indi-pop singer, farmer/poet, mudang (shaman), haenyeo (diver) or salpuri dancer, to enumerate just a few. The list cannot include nor does it claim to represent all Korean women. It reflects my personal voyage. Being an outsider allowed me liberties to ask questions interviewees could answer more freely, unrestrained by formal codes of conduct.

Korea is opening up to the world in a fast forward mode. It is revered for the economic miracle it underwent, the rapid development of its industry in general and its entertainment industry in particular.  Western models have greatly influenced contemporary Korean society but while in the West we had a few centuries to learn, rebel and digest changes, Korean society had to undergo rapid transformation processes in a short period of time.

In the family, hitherto accepted positions are being questioned: the role of parents towards children, the place of men and women in relation to each other. Albeit changes are inevitable, their pace may be quite destabilizing because of the difficulty in identifying one’s new social role and place; the rapid changes do not allow for the time requiered to cope with and adapt to the ever-growing demands of a rapidly developing world. Obviously, old is not necessarily negative; if adapted with commonsense and discrimination to fit new conditions and demands, tradition can often be a source of strength and wisdom.

I refer to all male persons in the texts, with the exception of Mr. Lee who was present at his wife’s interview, by their titles as husbands, lovers, fiancés, boyfriends, sons, brothers, uncles, etc. I avoided mentioning their names for two reasons: first, they were not present and could not speak for themselves. Second, the book is about the women’s subjective point of view and their vision of life. It might not always be the absolute truth, but it is the way they experienced their lives and they way they wished to share their experience. Their words are neither right nor wrong, they simply are their own words. A few women said they did not love their husbands or that they never knew love. It might sound harsh to occidental ears, but we must remember to place it in it’s cultural context; In Korea, as in many traditional cultures, people do not consider love as the most important value when contracting an engagement between two persons – hence this should not be a shocking remark.

All women were asked similar questions about their personal situation and their thoughts about the place of women in contemporary Korean society and their messages for a better future. At times, their answers were not to the point or were in contradiction with other thoughts they expressed during the interview. I kept the women's original answers, believing that whatever these answers are, they speak for themselves. . I chose not to expand on the work they are engaged in, unless it had direct implications on their story or if they expressed the need to share.

Unless the women spoke English or French, I enjoyed the help of a translator. Although it is not my mother-tongue, I chose to write in English, since it has become a lingua franca. I have traveled to different places through the changing seasons, endeavoring to present some of the rich variety and complexity of Korean life style, customs, traditions and heritage.

K4E Note:  The book is available at Kyobo bookstore for W40,000 and via Amazon. It can also be ordered via Noonbit Publishing by emailing address and telephone number to noonbit88@gmail.com (specify number of copies ordering). Payment from abroad via Paypal (ID: noonbit88@gmail.com) or within Korea via bank transfer to Kookmin Bank (KB) 069101-04-154392 / Noonbit Publishing co. No delivery cost within Korea. Email Noonbit to find out overseas mailing fee. The book will be mailed once payment has been received. 

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