About the terminology

[Special Report on Korean Culture] Korean Wedding Culture

What is an “unwed mother”? 

“Unwed mother” is the literal translation of the Korean word “미혼모.” Unwed mothers who are raising their kids are especially discriminated against in Korea specifically because they have never been married. That is why so many unwed mothers’ kids get sent for adoption within the first 2 days of life — because social prejudice and the adoption industry work together to make it almost impossible for unwed moms to raise their kids.

In Korea, marriage is viewed as the beginning of your adult life, the most important moment in your life, and the beginning of fulfilling your purpose in life (having a baby if you’re a woman, preferably a son first), and is therefore is very central in society. That’s why Koreans always want to show you a Korean marriage if you’re a tourist — and especially if you’re an adoptee, which is sadly ironic … People think that if you’ve never been married, there must be something wrong with you. If you went so far as to have a baby and are raising your baby without being married, you must be really corrupt and on the fringe of society! How dare you do things out of order!!! Of course, having an unplanned pregnancy would also be considered all the woman’s fault.

“Single” can refer to women who were married at one time, but were then divorced or widowed and who are raising their kids. We want to expand the definition of “single parent” (한부모) to include all the women who raise their kids despite the many difficulties that face them. In order to expand the definition in a way that Koreans can accept, we are borrowing the word “single mom” from English. In Korean, we spell it “싱글 맘.”

“싱글맘 벙글맘, 짝짝짝!” (It’s cute and funny in Korean.)

As it so happens, 싱글 벙글  in Korean describes the appearance of smiling. Therefore, our super-clever slogan for Single Moms’ Day, “싱글맘 벙글맘, 짝짝짝!” (Singeul mom Beongeul mom, Jjak Jjak Jjak !!!) is a play on words. “Single” is a pun on “smiling”, so the slogan means “Single/smiling mom 싱글맘, smiling mom 벙글맘” followed by the sound of applause (짝짝짝).

[Sound of crickets.] OK, telling why something is funny never really works … anyway ….

Why do you keep talking about unwed moms and not unwed dads? 

It’s a gender discrimination thing. First of all, there are maybe one or two unwed dads raising their kids alone that we know about in Korea through a shelter that houses single (divorced or widowed) fathers and the unwed mothers’ group in Seoul. Second, South Korea lags far behind in terms of women’s rights. The World Economic Forum’s 2010 report on “Measuring the Global Gender Gap” ranked South Korea ranked 104 out of 134 countries, between the United Arab Emirates (103) and Kuwait (105). That means that men who get women pregnant out of wedlock are not held responsible to support their children, and it is the women, not the men, who bear the brunt of social prejudice for raising a child outside of marriage.

While some people blame “Confucianism” as the reason why unwed mothers who raise their children have it so tough in Korea, we should remember that the Australian “unmarried” mothers’ group that paved the way for other unwed moms to raise their kids was in pretty much the exact same situation 40 years ago. But they didn’t blame Confucianism. What is to blame is the Confusion of patriarchy that says a woman cannot raise her own baby if she is not socially attached to a man, and the lack of social welfare to take care of children.

Sidenote: I just learned the word for “widow” in my class. It’s 미망인 in Korean which comes from the Chinese characters 未亡人. It is commonly used in Korean and people don’t think about what it means. It means “not dead person.” Because if your husband died, what are you doing thinking that you should go on living? Aren’t you dead yet?!?!? 😦 So in small ways like this, you can see the patriarchy and what the society thinks is the meaningless of a woman’s life if not stuck to a man.

Let’s change all that.


About jjtrenka

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